Review by Osafune2

"A fantastic game that receives unwarranted criticism due to the acclaim of its predecessor"

Final Fantasy VIII was always going to be a tricky game for Square, how could they possibly follow on to the sublime Final Fantasy VII? And because of this, many fans, myself included, initially slated this game because it was too different and “too innovative” and I disliked the characters after being in love with the characters and story from VII and dismissed it and didn't touch it for a good few years. Now I recently went back to it with a more open-mind and decided to play it again after replaying VII and IX, two of my favourite games of all time. I discovered that now I am a more mature gamer and my VII fixation has worn off slightly and I fully realised what a good game this is, even if I will never prefer it to VII or IX.

Story:

The story of Final Fantasy VIII is a rather enjoyable one; it starts out in a large military academy called Garden, in the small continent of Balamb. The main character, Squall, is recovering from an injury suffered from training with one of the future antagonists; Seifer Almasy. At this time it seems the Galbadian Regime is preparing to launch an assault upon Dollet, and a request is put in for SeeD, an elite combat unit present in Garden and Headmaster Cid of Balamb Garden decides to use this mission as a field exam for the SeeD candidates, of which Squall and Seifer are two.

Squall is put in an attack squad with Seifer and Zell Dincht and they travel out to Dollet, the exam goes well though Seifer abandons his post and subsequently fails to become a SeeD whilst Squall and Zell pass with flying colours along with Selphie, another of the game's characters. They are assigned to help a small resistance force known as the Forest Owls in Timber and they are accompanied by Quistis Trepe, Squall's now demoted instructor with a penchant for whips and kinky outfits.

While on this mission Squall meets Rinoa Heartilly, a free spirited young woman whom Squall can't seem to relate to since he is a cold, unsocial young man raised on discipline and Rinoa is annoying. But predictably there is a love story between them, which is fairly well executed. Anyway, after this they are assigned to assassinate a sorceress named Edea during her parade in Deling City, this goes wrong however after sharpshooter Irvine Kinneas wusses out and cocks it up. Things get more serious with a threat of a missile launch against Garden after Galbadia learn that SeeD were responsible for attacking the Sorceress.

That is a brief outline of the story at the start of the game because I do not wish to spoil it anymore, though another point worth noting is some mysterious dreams or illusions Squall has of a man named Laguna…

Graphics:

The graphics in Final Fantasy VIII are very good for the Playstation and for the first time in the series realistic character models are used, meaning that they have the correct proportions and height etc. The character models in the field are the same is in battle and luckily they do look good though their features are a little pixelated under close scrutiny, but this does not really matter too much. Much like its predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII uses pre-rendered backgrounds to good effect which allow a decent level of detail in all the environments.

The world map looks a bit iffy in places and the towns you see are very pixelated and do not look nice at all but it is an overall improvement from FF VII. The battle arenas are also very nice including the monsters that are all well distinguished and boast huge variety, also the battle arenas tie in with the surroundings very well, you will see landmarks in the battle arena that you were standing near in the normal field screen which is always a nice touch.

The various spells characters can cast all look excellent and when a Guardian Force is summoned you can expect an incredibly cinematic sequence as the GF rises up and performs a devastating attack against the opponent, the only complaint is that they are too long and tedious after you have seen them for the umpteenth time and you cannot skip them and the animations are never shortened unlike in Final Fantasy IX.

The FMVs in this game are also a huge improvement, they still look good today and at the time I remember being absolutely blown away by the FMV where the ships go to assault Dollet on the demo, it was simply stunning and it looks a little dated now but it does the job fine.

There aren't any real complaints with the graphics considering it is a Playstation game and at the time they were fantastic and some of the most polished visuals available on the system. Ok, they might not stand up to the power of the Xbox 360 and PS3 etc. but that is no reason to mark them down.

Sound and Music:

As usual the music and sound in this game is fantastic, just what fans come to expect from Nobuo Uematsu. The theme song of the game, “Eyes on Me” is the first vocal theme song of a Final Fantasy game and it is fantastic. The themes in the various towns and cities are all great; I like the slightly seedy tune that plays in Deling city and the sleepy, relaxing song of Balamb Garden. The world map theme is excellent, though not as epic as VII's main theme; it is still good and fits the feeling of travel perfectly.

The battle theme could be a little better as you will soon tire of hearing it for the 9 millionth time, though the battle music in the Laguna sequence is some kind of absurd rave music, but I like it. The boss theme is excellent; I really enjoy it no matter how many times you hear it in the game.

Sound is never really a stand out point to remark upon in Final Fantasy games, it is just there and you never notice it as such, but you would notice it were it not there if you get my meaning. Anyway, it is all solid and there are footsteps to be heard when walking or running which is always nice though sometimes it can go a little crazy with two party members following you. The sound in battle is good, the blazes and fizzes of spells and the slash and rumble of Squall's Gun blade sound awesome and it really makes it feel meaty as if he has really done some damage, very satisfying.

Gameplay:

The Gameplay of Final Fantasy VIII is the largest cause of debate among FF fans, some people love it and some people hate it. I myself initially hated the system and thought it too complex, but on replaying it I discovered just how excellent the Junction system is.

In Final Fantasy VI and VII you had Espers and Materia respectively, which were easy to get to grips with and made for some lethal characters, and all FF games have had some kind of system a bit like that. Final Fantasy VIII's unique Junction system is a lot more complex on first inspection, but it is still pretty simple and easy to learn though hard to master which is the beauty of it.

Basically there are Guardian Forces or GFs for short, such as Ifrit and Shiva etc and they can be junctioned to each character and once they are you can then select abilities for the characters for use in battle such as Attack (mandatory), Item, GF (summon), Draw and Magic. There are other battle commands available and also support abilities such as HP +20% that you can equip depending on whether the GF has learned the ability. So to acquire extra abilities you have to go to the GF menu and select “learn” under a particular one, the white abilities are learned and the grey ones are not yet learned, they also have AP near them, AP are earned at the end of each battle and go towards the selected ability that you wish the GF to learn.

Once the ability is learned the GF automatically moves to the next ability, but you can change them to learn whatever you want whenever you want as long as you can acquire AP from battling. These abilities will be things like “Card” which can turn enemies into cards when used in battle, these cards are then used in Triple Triad, and there also abilities like HP+, Str+ and things like that. You will also notice “Hp-J” and “Vit-J” these ones refer to stats and allow you to junction magic to them in order to improve them.

There is no MP in FF VIII, instead you use the Draw command to extract varying numbers of Magic spells into your Magic inventory, when you cast one it decreases by one and you can run out. This may seem like a chore but the main use of magic is for junctioning and you can also Draw-Cast, where you directly cast the spell after drawing.

When it comes to Junctioning magic to statistics, it can be a little confusing, but it basically eliminates the need to level up as you can get Godly stats early on. There is a slight element of common sense involved here, you should always junction Cure to HP or Vitality for best results and things like Esuna, Shell and Protect apply as well. You can select Auto to have the game Junction to Attack, Defence or Magic, but it is more rewarding to customize and experiment for yourself.

You also get to Junction to Elem-Atk and Elem-Def which are Elemental Attack and Defence. So if you are in an area with mainly fire monsters, you would junction, say 50 Blizzard Spells to Elem-Atk to inflict 50% more damage with your physical attacks, and you might attach 50 Fire spells to your Elem-Def to negate 50% of the damage. Attaching the more powerful spells like Firaga and Blizzaga can allow you completely negate all damage from those elements or absorb some, so if you end up with 150%, you absorb 50% etc.

I absolutely love this system, you can manage to get 1000 HP for Squall at about Lv 12 with a little work and the game is easy or hard depending on your Junctioning, I do not understand the complaints directed at this system. Because of the Junction system enabling you to own anything in your path, the enemies level up with you and get MUCH better stat bonuses, so be careful not to over-level, if at all.

The battle system of Final Fantasy VIII is very familiar, it uses the ATB system where a gauge fills and when it is full the character can enter commands. This is very easy to use and aficionados of any modern Final Fantasy game will feel right at home, you can alter the speed in the configuration menu and at full speed the battle system is very quick, which is a good thing in my book as I cannot stand waiting for the ATB gauge to fill.

Gameplay in FF VIII receives full marks, exactly what you expect from the RPG masters at Square-Enix. The storyline will pull you in and keep you playing and you will spend hours hunting every GF there is and also experimenting with Junctioning.

Conclusion:

Final Fantasy VIII us unjustly criticised in my view, it can seem confusing at first but give it time and once you understand the Junction system fully you will love customising your characters. The storyline is very enjoyable, though it may not be the strongest in Final Fantasy's rich history and some of the characters are a tad on the annoying side but for the most part they will grow on you, and the Junction system means that the choice of party is completely down to you and you do not have to suffer having an annoying-but-useful character in your party. My advice to you is that if you enjoy Final Fantasy games and other RPGs, then buy Final Fantasy VIII and it won't disappoint as long as you learn to remove your FF VII spectacles.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/09/06, Updated 07/18/07


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