Review by hecktic00

"Squall's the Yin to my Yang... Or whatever..."

Final Fantasy VIII is the much anticipated sequel to Squaresoft's biggest hit of all time. Gone are the days of Cloud and co. Here we have a new hero, adorned in odd clothing and wielding a Gunblade. Ok, so he and Cloud both wore weird clothing, that doesn't mean they're anything alike!

At first glance, I can see why this game isn't on everyone's Top 10 list (as if FFVII deserves it more...), but while replaying it my first time I noticed something. It has a certain charm that the other Final Fantasy games seemed to miss. Granted, it's not without its problems. It still has something however, and I'll be damned if I let that slide.

A lot of people like to say Final Fantasy VIII has got to be the worst in the series. I only have one retort for them, though. Have you played the first two Final Fantasies? The ones on the NES? Seriously? Final Fantasy VIII is no where near the worst in the series, and while I respect opinions, I honestly have to wonder what some of these people are thinking when they say that. It's like me claiming In Utero to be Nirvana's worst album. Now, while I'm not too keen on In Utero, it surely isn't their worst album. Subjective or not, most people can clearly tell when something is truly bad if they take the time to dwell in it.

And just as there are far more albums in the Nirvana collection that deserve that "worst album" title, there are far more titles in the Final Fantasy collection deserving of that title. I think people jump the plank too quickly when they're playing video games and fail to compare properly when noting something that profound. You can never be too strict in the reviewing world because these things require time. And when I say they require time, I mean they require dedication and understanding.

For me? Final Fantasy VIII required at least one extra play through for understanding and enjoyment. I'm in no way saying that you must play through a game ten times before you're going to enjoy it, that's just stupid. I'm saying that you should give those titles extra chances when you're unsure, which I think a lot of people were about this game. I think they were unsure about its prospects, but decided to jump the gun and label it a bad game anyway. I think this because a lot of the reviews I read and a lot of the comments I read can be easily neglected through further inspection.

Gameplay:

Final Fantasy VIII, like most other Final Fantasies, is a Role Playing Game. More specifically, since the Japanese don't like change apparently, it's a Japanese Role Playing Game. You'll run around and get into random battles. From there you must take turns beating down the enemies until they are no more. You will then run out and repeat. The battles are played out like most Final Fantasies. Your turn is based on the Active Time Battle, where a little bar will fill up and then you'll be able to attack.

RPG, by my basic ideas, should be a game involving a leveling system intertwined with some kind of easily explorable experience system. Final Fantasy VIII surely contains all these things as it is a Role Playing Game.

Like a lot of Final Fantasy games, you'll gain levels based on the experience you win from enemies when you defeat them. Unlike other Final Fantasies, the monsters level up as you do. If you're at level 15, the monsters will probably be around level 18-20, or slightly above the average level of your whole party combined. The bosses in the game won't net you any experience points and they'll also level with you, so it's perfectly possible to go through the game and not gain a single level. The game also contains a completely separate system for raising stats/etc. This system is called the Junction system.

New to the Final Fantasy franchise, the Junction system allows you to take various magic spells and junction them to various stats to make your characters stronger. Being that way, the magic in Final Fantasy VIII is not done through Magic Points(MP) but rather through numbers.

In order to obtain magic you must draw it from monsters, draw it from various "draw points" scattered throughout the world, or create it by using special skills and modding certain items. What's fun about this is that it can not only be used to create your own special types of characters, but it's also something to take up time. It's like those games where you get to create characters at the beginning by giving them various attributes, etc. Instead, though, you get to build them as you go along and also change them around if you so wish.

People complain that this makes the characters too similar to each other (ala Final Fantasy II), but rather, it doesn't. It doesn't if you wish it not to, as I don't. I don't know about you, but I can't go through a game with 3 characters constantly being power houses. I need my one mage/item user, my one powerhouse, and my one thief/mage/power combo. Which is what I get from Final Fantasy VIII. The true beauty behind it is its customization, which a lot of games fail to incorporate.

On the other hand, yeah, I can fault it for being too customizable, just like I can fault a lot of other games. And so I do fault this one, because I can clearly see how easy it would be to abuse. But, then again, if you're going to go through the trouble of finding/getting 300 Ultima spells to junction to your strength to get 255 with each character, don't you deserve it? Trust me, Ultima isn't the easiest spell to come by. It's not extremely hard, but it's not something for the undedicated/uneasy/unexplorative people.

Back to the game mechanics... Like you've probably read, a lot of the game's stuff is done through GFs. GFs are Guardian Forces, which are the summons for this installment of Final Fantasy. You'll get these various Guardian Forces(I think there's 16 GFs total...) through either story sequences or, mostly, through sidequests and drawing. Yes, on special occasions you can draw a GF from a boss and keep it forever.

As previously said, almost everything in this game is done through GFs. GFs all come with a certain set of abilities they'll learn by gaining AP(Ability Points I think...) These abilities are split three ways. Some of them will open up new junctions for you; such as the ability to junction magic to your life, or the ability to junction magic to your Elemental Attack. This is what was meant by GFs running everything.

From there you can junction any magic that you find to your various stats you have unlocked. Some magic works better for certain stats than other magic would. Example: Haste is going to raise your speed stat more than Cure would. You also have Elemental Attack junctions which give you a boost of damage if the enemy you are facing is weak to that element. Example: If you're fighting a machine and you have 100 Thunder magic junctioned to your Elemental Attack, you'll do more damage to it than you would normally. You'll also get Elemental Defense junctions and Status Attack junctions and Status Defense junctions, of course.

On to player abilities; you'll come across various ones through out the game. In order to even be able to fight properly, your characters are going to need at least 2 GFs. GFs allow you to equip the basic abilities, and that's the only way you're going to be able to. Meaning, in order to cast magic you're going to have to go into the menu for junctioning abilities and junction the "Magic" ability to yourself by having a GF on you. If that seems complicated, sorry, it's my wording. You'll easily be able to understand it by playing the game.

On to my problems with the game... A lot of the spells, like every dang Final Fantasy game, seem kind of useless. I never use the basic spells while playing, and if I'm going to cast magic it's usually support magic rather than attacking magic. The only big purpose I see in having them is to junction them to my stats, but then I rarely ever get use out of them in battles. The problem is that if you have 100, or whatever, Thunders junctioned to your strength, you're not going to want to cast Thunder in battle. If you cast Thunder in battle, your number of Thunders junctioned to your strength is going to reduce by one leaving you with 99. This will in turn lower your strength.

All is not lost in the magic department, however, for you do have those wonderful GFs to play with. Unlike other Final Fantasy games, summoning GFs is not done through the use of MP (how could it? you don't even have MP...) Instead, it's done by a method of "charging." You'll select which GF you wish to summon and a bar will come up where your life used to be. During this time, the GF's life will take your life's place and if you're attacked the GF will be harmed, not you. This is kind of weird, but it serves more purposes than one. If, by chance, you're struck with a deadly spell, the GF will take the damage. If it dies then it's gone until you can resurrect it. If it dies while charging, the charge will fail and your turn will start over. Charging time is lowered by summoning the GFs in battle more often. Each character will have a compatibility stat with each GF and the more you use it in battle the more compatibility you'll have with it, which makes it faster to summon.

Whew, ok so any problems with the GFs? Yeah, there are. For starters, most GFs seem pointless to the experienced FF8er. That isn't to say they are completely pointless, but it mostly depends on which route you want to take. If you can junction enough of a powerful spell to your strength stat, you're going to see little point in making use of GFs. The GF summoning sequences(animations) are very bloated indeed. Some of them can take upwards of 5 minutes to finish their little animation spiel. To counter this, Square made it possible to "Boost" a GF. This is done by tapping the square button while the animation is going on. It not only makes the damage more powerful, but it distracts you from having to watch the full animation every time you summon it.

You don't get to equip armor or accessories or weapons in this Final Fantasy. Since everything is done through junctioning, armor would seem pretty pointless. You can, however, remodel your weapons to get more damage and, in some cases, more skills(limit breaks). To remodel a weapon, you need to locate various tools and parts and bring them to a shop to get a new weapon made. While this seems like a neat thing, some of the items can be rather irritating to find.

A big addition to the Final Fantasy world is the ability to play a card game with almost anyone you see walking around. This game is titled Triple Triad. You basically get cards from killing enemies or using special skills to turn them into cards. You can also win cards through the game, or get cards as prizes for various quests. There are various rules to the game that are separated by regions of the world and you'll be able to mix and carry rules to other areas of the world as you go on.

The basics of the game require simple addition math in order to play. Each card will have numbers on four different sides(up, down, left, right) and you must be able to beat the number on another card's opposite side. Say your card has an eight on its right side, well if you place it next to a card with a number five on its left side, you'll flip that card. The player who has the most cards controlled at the end of the game will win and then they'll be able to take one of the opponent's cards as a prize. While this game isn't required to play in order to beat the game, you can get items from the cards by using a special ability to mod them. The rarer cards will net you great items to help you beat the game.

Since it is a Final Fantasy game, there are tons of other side quests you can beat throughout the game and most of them are usually worth the effort. Traveling in FF8's world isn't too bad for the most part, but you won't get any air travel until very late in the game. You're usually stuck with walking or using the floating school you have to get around. Sometimes, you might feel stuck in the game, but it only requires a little thought to actually find your destination.

As a breakdown for this section, as I realize it's pretty long and complicated to understand, here are my thoughts...

+Interesting and complex junction/level system.
+Card game is very fun to play.
+You can customize a great deal, and you can pretty much make the characters what you want them to be.
+Enemies level up with you, so if you don't feel like standing around and building levels, you don't have to.

-Traveling the world can be hard at times, but only if you refuse to think about the game.
-Sometimes the customization can be a little too much, but it's not that big of a deal even if it makes it too easy sometimes.

Cosmetics:

Given the abomination Final Fantasy VII was in the graphics department, and let's face it, it was an abomination, Final Fantasy VIII's graphics are outstanding. The character models are life-like, the CGI FMVs are beautiful and detailed, and everyone actually has hands! Sorry, that was a clear low blow at FFVII's crappy graphics.

The opening CGI to this game is probably enough to make you want to play through the whole game. And the rest of the CGIs and related events in the game will not disappoint you. You'll find yourself storming beaches, taking part in detailed assassination missions, and fighting off entire armies from over-running your school.

The overworld in this game is well done and split off into regions like a real world would be. It's kind of like our world in that each area is a country and even certain countries have separate regions and areas.

Menu-wise, this game is pretty solid. Sometimes it's rather unclear about what menu you're currently in, but by the 2nd disc you'll have it memorized. You can sort items customized-fashion, or just sort them automatically.

As was said earlier, the GF summon animations are pretty bloated and long. These can get boring watching over and over again, but like I said, the boosting function pretty much keeps you occupied if you make use of it.

Backgrounds are detailed as well, and they even fade in and out depending on how far you are away from them. If I had to make one complaint here, it'd be that you can get lost in some areas. Well, sometimes you can't exactly pinpoint an exit. Unlike Final Fantasy IX, which made use of the select button bringing up a hand over your head and red arrows dictating exits, Final Fantasy VIII is lacking in the direction department. Still, this only hurts at a couple of small points in the game, and it's really not that big of a deal.

The towns and various areas in the game are much more realistic when compared to something like Final Fantasy VII which sported a post-apocalyptic type setting. The towns in FF8 are all something you'd expect to see in real life, even if they combine a little too much 50's humor with futuristic environments. One specific area makes me wonder if Georg Lucas decided to rip it off for his last three Star Wars flicks, which states how futuristic it actually looks.

Musically this game is very well done. This would probably have to be my 2nd favorite OST as far as Final Fantasy goes, only bowing down to FFIX. A lot of it is very reminiscent to that of "One-Winged Angel" but it also contains more odd-ball stuff, like Esthar's track. It really varies from heavy sounding, heart-pumping stuff to soft, elevator type music... Which I don't usually condone, but it works here so whatever. The normal boss battle music is amazing and probably my favorite track of any of the Final Fantasy games.

Since I did it for the Gameplay section, I might as well do it for the Cosmetics section... You know, to be consistent and all.

+Detailed character models
+Detailed backgrounds
+Amazing CGI FMVs
+Fun atmosphere
+Nice overworld
+Great music

-GF animations can get boring
-Can get lost in a couple places during the game due to unnoticeable ladders/exits/etc.

Storyline:

Here's the next big section of the game that is usually mocked, or misunderstood. People claim it is full of plot holes, but I really haven't found any big enough to warrant a score degrade. The ones I have found are rather in-game plot holes and not really ones associated with the storyline.

You take on the roll of Squall. He's a student at Balamb Garden(a school). Balamb Garden trains SeeDs for the purpose of disposing of the evil Sorceress should she ever decide to run rampant and destroy the world. In this game's case, you must deal with the Sorceress, Edea. She becomes leader of an area and starts killing people, and you are sent out to take care of it.

Squall also has a life-long enemy in Seifer, the antagonist. Seifer is also a student at Balamb garden and he and Squall are constantly at each other's necks. Kind of like a bully and the bullied.

As far as side-stories goes, there's the relationship of Squall and Rinoa. Squall's character can sometimes be annoying to deal with, but he eventually(and this timing isn't wrong either) comes around and shows his true self. Unlike Cloud, who didn't even change at the end of the game, Squall starts out as a closed-in angry teenager, and develops into a true leader.

His relationship with Rinoa reflects on his growth as a person, as he starts out shut-in and doesn't really know how to let Rinoa close. Eventually, through dramatic circumstances threatening the life of said love interest, Squall changes and starts speaking out about his feelings and taking charge. The love story is truly one of "aww" moments, rivaling that of the most sappy love novels. True to its nature, it even has the sappy pop-love music to go along with it.

I'll admit that some of the characters seemed pretty stupid and lacked context. Zell, for one, was never one of my favorites as he had little air time and his past was only explained in tiny tid-bits. Quistis is another fine example of how wrong a character can be done.

But, then you have to ask yourself, would you rather know about the characters and hate them, or not know about them and just not care? Sometimes I take one or the other. In the case of Final Fantasy VII, I choose to not have known much about the characters as most of them made me gag. In Final Fantasy VIII's case, I think it was the proper choice to do what they did. Going by Zell's personality, having to deal with any of his past or a separate side-story for him would probably drive me crazy.

Zell is a loud, energetic pest. He jumps around constantly while flinging his fists in the air and trying to get attention. Quistis resembles an up-tight rich girl, who's actually a school teacher/instructor. She barely talks, and when she does it's usually to mock the main character. Rinoa has life, but she's usually too used up trying to get Squall to notice her. Irvine is your typical, "I'm a lady's man, and a cowboy. I'm a loner by nature, but I have all the time in the world to pick up chicks." kind of guy.

The stories involving the characters aren't too big, as I've said, and they all intertwine together to form one big plot twist. Which, I think was a good choice considering the characteristics of said characters. I really had no urge to figure out why Irvine turned into a cowboy, or why he thinks he's Don-Wan.

Again, consistency:

+Enjoyable storyline
+Enjoyable main character
+Understandable and admirable plot twists
+Lack of character development. Weird, I know, but in this case I don't think it matters.

-Besides Squall, the characters seem rather one-dimensional.
-Major bad guy(s) in the game are often hard to recognize, but eventually it becomes clear at the end of the game.

Overall/Explanation/Recommendation:

So what do you do when you have a game every die-hard fan loves to hate? I truly don't like this game because it's the anti thing to do because I'm rather anti about the anti as well as the in... If that made any sense...

But, rather, I like Final Fantasy VIII because it brings more to the table than it takes away. And, while I could see why people would not like the game, I clearly do. I enjoy it a lot. And I'd recommend it to you, and your friends.

Final Fantasy VIII's junction system is pretty expansive, regardless of how fast you learn it. The reason you learn it so fast is because it's easy to grasp, but the value is still there. And for that reason, Final Fantasy VIII wins.

It certainly isn't without flaws, but the good stuff is clearly better than the bad stuff, and the game deserves at least an 8 because of it. It all matters how you look at it. And this game, like a lot of others, is truly based on personal preference. Some people love the junction system, some don't. Some care that Zell's triumph in the fist-fighting industry isn't explained, some don't. I guess I'm just one of those ones that don't.

While I could probably write a completely new review bashing the game to no end for these things, I really see no point because I felt it inside me to enjoy the game and that I did. So, one last time, I recommend this game to you. You'll find problems with it, you may even hate it, but I still recommend you play it.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/04/06


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