Review by Neptune Star
"One of the greatest games of our time"
I'll admit it-Final Fantasy 8 was my first in the series and my first RPG. Although I have a huge collection of video games, I'm probably not what one would see fit to label a *hardcore* gamer. With my miserable attention span, I typically need something that can be picked up and put down in an hour, like The Sims or Midnight Club 2. Before FF8 I was used to playing games like Zelda: Ocarina of time and Castlevania 64. I was completely unfamiliar with RPGs as a whole. After receiving both FF7 and FF8 for Christmas along with me brand new PSOne, I didn't really know what to expect.
I was overwhelmed when I put in FF7. I mean, the characters actually had to stand in a row and take turns before attacking! Inconceivable! Well, it was for me at the time. See, I was used to roaming freely throughout Hyrule while fighting in real time. The prospect of random battles was crazy to me. Disappointed, I put FF8 in my new PSone and while I was confused by terms like "SeeD" "Balamb Garden" and "GF" I was instantly captivated by the gorgeous graphics and realistic characters. It was the first, and sadly, ONLY RPG I've ever saw through to the end.
Now most hardcore RPG fans will shake their head at my ignorance and assume that I'm a graphics snob. Now I will admit the graphics are what sucked me in, but I immediately felt attached to the characters and eager to learn more about them. Personally, I find it harder to feel attached to Lego characters with missing facial features like in FF7. The FMVs only made the characters seem more alive and realistic.
In FF8, the player controls the main character, seventeen year old Squall Leonheart, a member of a group of mercenaries called SeeD. Squall has lived in Balamb Garden for years, a military academy that trains teens to become members of SeeD. The main cast of characters also include Rinoa Heartilly, a beautiful young woman who is a member of The Forest Owls, a resistance group that despises President Deling, Zell Dincht, a hyper-active short tempered young man, Quistis Trepe, a serious, sensitive SeeD who has just been fired from her job as instructor, Irvine Kinneas, a gun-toting ladies man with a cowboy hat, and Seifer Almasy, a troublesome young man and Squall's rival at Balamb Garden. Laguna Loire is a mysterious ex-soldier that Squall sometimes has mysterious visions of. What does he have to do with Squall? While they never really come right out and say it, you can figure it out.
Squall is sent out on his first mission as a SeeD-to meet up with the Forest Owls in the town of Timber and give assistance to them. Squall, Zell, and Selphie meet up with Rinoa and the rest of the Forest Owls and a plan to kidnap and assassinate President Deling is laid out. They soon discover that he is just a puppet for the real threat, a sorceress named Edea. But even that is not the whole story, and there are many more twists in store.
Unfortunately, the real baddie isn't even introduced until very late in the game. Unlike in past Final Fantasies, the final boss is someone we really don't even know and has had absolutely zero character development. They definitely could have come up with a better plot, but it was good enough for me. The main baddie in FF8 is definitely not fit to shine Sephiroth's shoes, I'll give you that.
Now onto the gameplay. As in any RPG, you traverse the world visiting towns and dungeons fighting several bosses along the way until you reach the final boss. In FF8's case, you don't reach the final boss until the fourth disc. This isn't news to anyone that's ever played an RPG before, but FF8 has a lot of gameplay elements that are very different from other RPGs, and a lot of people despise them.
While traversing the world map you run into random encounters with enemies and are thrown into a fight. With the exception of bosses, you can escape from the fight if you so wish. You'll have a maximum of three characters lined up to fight the baddies. The party members must take turns performing an action, whether it be striking the foe with a basic weapon, casting magic, or summoning a GF.
Oh yes, GFs. GF stands for Guardian Forces. If you're a Final Fantasy fan you're familiar with espers and summons. They're basically the same as GFs. They can be summoned during battle to come to your aid by performing one attack unique to them. For instance, when Shiva is summoned, she'll perform Diamond Dust an attack that blasts the target with ice. Most GF's have an attack that's element based. So since Shiva's attack is ice, it will work great against enemies that are weak against ice attacks. Ifrit's fire attack works best against enemies that are weak against fire. Some GFs, on the other hand are there to serve you, not to fight. Some will revive fallen party members or cast defensive spells on the party members. In order to have a GF join you, you need to either find and defeat it in battle or steal it from an enemy you're fighting. Each GF has HP of their own and when summoned that GF guards that character and takes over his/her name until he comes (it only takes a couple seconds). If a character is attacked while a GF is guarding him/her that GFs HP will go down. You can use this to your advantage in some battles if you want to protect a party member but don't care about the GF dieing, such as in the final battle.
Everyone who's played Final Fantasy knows what limit breaks are. In FF7, you'd have a limit break meter that would fill up more every time the character was struck by an enemy during battle. Once the meter was full, the character would be able to unleash a special, more powerful attack called a limit break. Things have changed a bit in this installment. First of all, you no longer have a limit break meter. Instead, when a character's HP (their life, of course) reaches a critical low, a blinking arrow may appear beside the attack command. Hold the right directional button on the cross pad on the controller and the name of the character's limit break will appear. Select it and that party member will unleash a powerful attack. If the arrow doesn't appear when their HP is in the yellow all you have to do is keep rapidly pressing the button that toggles between the party members and the limit break arrow will present itself in no time. So, as long as your HP is very low, you can pretty much use limit breaks as much as you want until you're killed. This peeves off a lot of FF7 fans, saying it makes the battles far too easy. I would agree that it makes things a bit easier than in FF7, but I myself thought the system worked well. It's not like you can sit there unleashing limit break after limit break, you're usually killed off before you can keep using it, since your HP is already low. It's like opening one last can or two of whoop a$$ before dieing. Unless, of course, you unleash a limit break and then heal yourself in time.
Now we must inevitably discuss the junction system; the bane of many. The junction system allows you to do several things. It enables you to customize your characters and perfect them, and it enables you to equip GFs to characters and perfect them as well. It took me a very long time to fully understand the junction system and take it from someone who knows, you shouldn't even attempt to go through the game until you fully understand how to junction. I learned that lesson the hard way. But now I see that it's really not that difficult to understand. Each character has stats. HP, strength, vitality, luck, etc. Each character has a maximum amount for each stat. The higher, the better, naturally. For instance, 9,999 is the maximum amount of HP for all characters once you've raised their maximum HP to it's highest. So how do you do it? You junction or attatch magic spells to each stat to raise them. For instance, say you attach 100 Cure spells to your HP stat. This will make your maximum HP go up. Attach 100 Cura or Curaga spells (stronger versions of Cure) to your HP stat and your maximum HP will soar. To raise your vitality or spirit (resistance to magic attacks), you should try junctioning defensive magic such as Protect or Shell. The downside to junctioning is that once you junction magic to a stat, casting that magic will use up the spells that are junctioned, resulting in your stat going down if you use too many. However, I find that if, for instance, I have 100 Ultima spells junctioned to strength, casting Ultima in battle a few times doesn't lower the stat, but if you do it four times or so, it will start to lower slightly. So, as a lot of people complain, using magic too much is discouraged.
You also use the junction system for your GFs. You use the junction system to junction a GF to a character, or equip a character with a GF. Once a GF is junctioned to a character, you guessed it, only that character can summon that GF during battle. Each GF has a list of abilities that they can be taught that either helps the GF or the character it's attached to. For instance, HP+20 will help the GF itself but Haste will speed up the character the GF is junctioned to in battle. Some abilities only reveal themselves after some are learned. The GF learns abilities with AP, points that are awarded at the end of battle. The characters themselves level up with experience points, the GFs level up with AP. Just like the characters, the GFs can be perfected.
There's not much in the way of mini games in FF8. There's a Chocobo breeding game that I've never bothered with and an addicting card game called Triple Triad. Sounds boring, I know, but it's a blast. There are several cards that you can collect throughout the game with pictures of monsters or characters on them. Each card has four numbers on it, from 1 to 9 (A represents 10). You play with one opponent on a grid with nine squares. You take turns placing cards on the grid and capturing each other's cards. For example, say you place a card on the top left hand corner square on the grid. This card has a 6 on the bottom of the card. It's now your opponent's turn. He places a card on the square under yours. This card has a 7 on the top. When two cards (one from each player) are touching, the card with the highest number that's adjacent to the touching opponent's card wins and you capture the weaker card. Whoever has the most points at the end gets to keep a card from the loser. What's the point, besides entertainment? Well, the GF Quezacotl can be taught an ability called card mod that allows you to turn cards into valuable items if you don't mind losing your cards. So besides entertainment, the game can be extremely helpful. Personally I found Triple Triad to be a game in itself. Just be sure you save often in case you lose some of your good cards.
Now onto the graphics. FF8 offers the best eye candy on the Playstation 1 that you can find. Nothing on the system can compare, other than FF9, of course. There are several movies or FMVs throughout the game. Now some people complain that they want to play the game, not watch it, but I disagree. I loved watching the FMVs. They make the characters seem much more real, and they bring the environments to life. Quite honestly, I think the FMVs could stand on the PS2 and still be some of the best. They're almost as good as FF10's. And after all the time you invest in the game, the half hour long ending cinema is one hell of a reward. It truly takes the cake as one of the greatest ending cinemas in all of video game history. Sure, it's a little sappy (the whole game is based on the theme of love), but it's astoundingly gorgeous and it's great to see the characters celebrating after the completion of their quest. And yes, it really is a half hour. And don't leave when the credits start to roll, because it ain't over. Squall does something he's never done before (no, not that, you sickos). The in game graphics are very impressive as wells. The textures of the furniture and environments are great. There's a bit of pixellation during battles, but don't all PSOne game have pixellation issues at times?
The music isn't as great as other games of its ilk but it does contain some great tracks. The love song, Eyes On Me, performed by Faye Wong is one of highlights. The main battle theme is pretty dull, but Laguna's battle theme is great. The music in the towns and villages is very relaxing and fit the atmosphere. But, some of the songs are pretty mediocre. That Galbadian Garden theme is the pits, isn't it?
Now before signing off I'd like to mention a few things that people most commonly bash FF8 for (besides the plot).
The GF animations are too long, you can't skip them, and your reliance on GFs is too heavy. Well, at the start of the game, yes, your reliance on GFs is heavy. And yes, you'll have to watch a lot of GF animations over and over again. This may bother some people, but despite my low attention span and lack of patience, it didn't really bother me. Eden's (the strongest GF that exists) animation was way over the top length-wise but you don't get him until late in the game. I just spent the time planning my strategies and next moves, and when I learned the boost ability, I spent my time wearing out my controller. It was enough to occupy me. I guess it just depends on the person. It might bother you enough to hate the game, and you might hardly even think about it. BUT, if you don't want to use GFs so much, all you have to do is work on your character's strength stat and upgrade their weapons.
Upgrade their weapons. That brings me to the next common gripe. Most FF fans HATE not being able to buy weapons in this installment. Instead, you have to steal or win items from enemies and bring the required ones to the shop so they can upgrade your weapon. I enjoyed having to work so hard for some of the items. I even managed to get Squall's strongest weapon, the Lionheart on the first disc! It took a long time but it was worth it. I think it would be too easy to just be able to walk into a shop and purchase a new weapon, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, this didn't bother me either. I felt like I had actually worked for and earned my new upgrades.
The lack of armor. People complain that the characters no longer use armor. This is silly. FF8 is a futuristic game. Set far off in the future. In a time of hover boards, flying schools, and car rental workers that don't care if you abandon their car in the woods without gas. Do you honestly think they'd be wearing medieval armor? The characters were meant to be more realistic and modern than that.
So, why do I love Final Fantasy 8? Well, I felt very attached to the realistic, distinctive characters and I truly cared about their quest and their dilemmas. I even shed a tear or two. I loved being able to experiment with the junction system and the level of customization it allows. You can make it so that Selphie is physically weak but excellent with magic or so Zell isn't as good at magic but he's extremely strong. Or, you can just perfect all of the characters! The card game was addictive and it was a lot of fun to collect all of the rare cards. The boss battles were challenging and it was a blast thinking out strategies and assigning different abilities and commands to different characters to best suit the battles. The control was silky smooth and intuitive (unlike FF7) and the gorgeous FMVs are the icing on top of this delicious package. All in all, I had an absolute blast with FF8.
So, the bottom line is FF8 is a love it or hate it game. It really depends on the person, but you can never tell. I have no patience and a low attention span and I loved it. Who woulda thunk it? For me, it was a good RPG for someone who can never get into RPGs. And for the low price that it goes for nowadays, it's a steal.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/07/06
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