Review by zilaroth
"8 Years Later and It's STILL My Favorite"
You might be wondering why anyone would bother writing a review for a game that's been out for almost a decade. Like every Final Fantasy (FF for short) before it, FFVIII had a tough act to follow. FFVIII, released in 1999, has managed to remain my favorite FF (video game in general) for 8 years with nothing even coming close, so I figured that was reason enough to share why I thought it was the best game ever made. With that out of the way, on to what you wanted to see.
The plot of the game follows Squall, our typical sword-wielding main character/hero. Living in Balamb Garden, he is training to become a SEED, or a highly trained mercenary. After an impressive opening CG sequence, you meet your first party member and instructor, Quistis, and are pretty much thrown right into your first test to become a SEED. After this, there is one more test before SEED graduation, and after a handful of events you are sent on your first mission where the story really picks up. I really enjoyed the story for the most in FFVIII. The main story follows along at a decent pace where other parts slowly unfold and by the end they all [should] make sense. By late to end game I was pretty confused and still don't completely understand the story, and it was by no means my favorite part, but it has enough hook to keep you playing from start to finish.
For any RPG I think it's important to have a good cast of characters. What's the point of a fantastic story if you can't stand seeing the characters act it out? Without saying too much, the main 'usable' characters of the game are Squall, Quistis, Zell, Rinoa, Selphie, and Irvine. There are of course other characters but these six are the ones you will probably be seeing the most of. They all have their own personality and I would have really loved to see voice acting (but alas not until FFX). None the less they all are unique and display their personalities perfectly. You almost certainly be able to find a favorite (and maybe a least favorite) among them. As well as having outstanding personalities they all develop as the story goes on. The point taken off was for the backstories behind the characters. Without spoiling the story, there are some events showing a small bits of backstory but I would have liked to see more.
Keeping in mind the graphics are on the PlayStation, they are fantastic. FFVIII is a huge improvement over FFVII in both ingame and CG sequences. The characters are no longer blocks and have actual detail to them. The environments are just as good as well as the numerous different monsters. The CGs are jaw-dropping and make more appearances than FFVII. The spells and abilities are all pleasing to look at as well, and something to definatly note, the monsters rarely get palette swapped (one monster does, I think) which is something Square tends to do. This means that all the monsters are unique and helps break monotony as well as add to overall graphic content.
There is a reason Final Fantasy can afford to release soundtracks of their games' music. The music in FFVIII is amazing which I have now come to expect from every FF. The music almost always reflects the mood and it seems to fit every area perfectly. The only track you may start to get sick of is the battle theme, not because it isn't good, but because you'll be hearing it... a lot. The sound effects are also well done with everything from a sword slash to a gunshot (gunblade, anyone?) to a monster screech as the battle begins, the sound always fits the effect.
The most important part of any game, without it you have a movie not a game. While the battle system itself is basically your typical ATB with normal commands, your characters are extremely customizable due to the way FFVIII handles stat increasing. When you level up, like any RPG, your stats increase, but only by small amounts. On top of this, enemies level with you, so those bite bugs (bad example) you fought way back when are still pretty strong even now that your characters are level 50. So if leveling has minimal stat increasing, what's a better way to strengthen your characters? Junctioning.
In FFVIII, magic is drawn from enemies rather than being learned (or gained from materia). When you draw you gain 'stock' (think of stock as casts) of a that kind of magic, with the max amount at once being 9. So as an example let's say our hero Squall draws 5 fires from a bite bug, he could then cast 5 fires should he have the magic command equipped. Wait a minute, you have to 'equip' your commands?
That's right, every command besides 'Attack' has to be equipped in order to be used. So of course the next question would be how we equip it. Easy, by using a Guardian Force (GF) which are basically the summons/aeons/espers/ect of FFVIII. This is basically what happens - Squall junctions the GF Shiva to himself, which grants access 4 new commands (which would be listed in Shiva's status), Draw, Magic, GF, and Item. You then can pick 3 of the abilities you'd like to bring into battle (along with attack).
Now that Squall can draw and cast magic, it leads us back to improving our stats. The GFs also learn abilities which allow you to junction your magic to your stats. Depending on which ability(ies) you have, your magic to the stats you want. Stats effect magic differently as well (curing magic can add large bonus' to HP/Vitality but very little to Strength) allowing for plenty of combinations. As you draw more and more magic (up to 100), the stat increase is more and more. Stats aren't the only thing you can junction magic to, either. You can add elements to your weapon or elemental defense to your character as well as the same for status effects. To top everything off, GFs can learn other commands and various unique abilities that can range from increasing a GF's damage to turning items into magic. This is combining the materia of FFVII (though not as flexible) with the customizing of FFX with new aspects like junctioning in FFVIII to create a very fun game that can be played any way YOU want to.
Using magic to strengthen your stats does have its disadvantages, which is part of where points come out. First off it can obviously be very tedious to sit and draw magic from the same monster over and over until you have 100 (which you can and probably will do right from the start). Having less than 100 magic of a certain kind will by no means kill you and it's not necessary to sit for hours drawing magic, but it's very hard for perfectionists (like myself) to finish stocking a magic only to encounter a new enemy with an entirely new magic. Another problem comes overpowering. It's fairly easy once you get more of the advanced things down to gain high level magic very early in the game which as you might expect can add huge amounts to your stats. This can take away from the overall fun of the game to just dismantle the low level bosses (because they level with you, and you won't need to level to increase your stats) but for the most part new players won't have grasp of the system well enough to abuse this as much and veterans can simply choose not to. The last problem us that when a magic is junctioned, you can still cast it (it's marked so you know before you cast it) but because most of your magic will be junctioned, it takes away from casting spells because you won't want to hurt your stats or be forced to restock the magic. That about covers magic and junctioning, next we have the short part: weapons and limits.
Weapons in FFVIII are different from most RPGs in that rather than getting new, better weapons, you simply remodel them at the affectionately named "Junk Shop". In order to remodel a weapon, you usually need random monster drops which have no real use other than to sell or use for remodeling (or use in some of your refining abilities). You'll also need a small amount of Gil and presto, a new weapon. The recipes for the weapons can be found in magazines scattered throughout the game, but they are not needed to make the weapon (if you have the ingredients you may make the weapon regardless). You can for whatever reason downgrade your weapons as well (remodel them to a weaker version). The only real problem I have with remodeling is that there aren't very many weapons which really does nothing other than take away from the "oooo~ shiny new sword!" factor.
The last part of gameplay I'd like to include are limits. Still as awesome as ever, limits have been changed from the FFVII style of 'build up the gauge' to a 'usable when in critical or close to it HP range'. What happens is, when your HP is in critical, there's a chance your limit may come up (you'll hear a special sound and an arrow will appear on 'attack') then you simply press your D-pad right while attack is highlighted and confirm it. In other words, when a person is in critical you may spam the triangle button (switch between characters' turns) until your limit comes up. The limits vary from character to character and they have very spiffy-looking effects that'll make you want to use them that much more.
Replayability / Extras 9/10
As far as replayability goes I would give it roughly a 5/10. You can use different characters, abilites, junctions. A lot will probably end up feeling the same, but it is more replay value than alot of RPGs offer. The other part, Extras, gets a 10/10 easily for one reason: Triple Triad. It's a card game, a very simple one at that, but it is so well done you may find yourself playing it for hours on end. The basic concept is that you each choose 5 cards from your own deck; each card has a number on all 4 sides. You take turns placing cards in a 3x3 grid until it's filled. The numbers determine the outcome, if a card with a 3 on it's right side is laid, and the other player lays a card next to it with a higher number (ex opntscard3 5yourcard) in this case, a 5 then you would take the other card because your 5 wins over the 3. There are also various rules that each different town may use, and they can spread as you play. Along with Triple Triad, there are a few other extras including 'secret' areas, optional bosses and extra GFs and together it can easily push playtimes to 60+ hours.
This is going buy what gamefaqs considers an 8 (Great - Fun to play, some minor but no major flaws). I would have given it a 9 only because of the confusing story, the rest is based on how you play. You can't complain it's too easy because you have complete control over how strong you and your enemies are. Quickly to wrap up the pros and cons of the game..
Pros: Great graphics, sound, and story. Gameplay while remaining familiar also adds a touch of creativity and strategy. Great and plentiful extras
Cons: Story is at times confusing, Easy to be overpowered, Drawing magic can be tedious but there are other ways, Not very many shiny new weapons.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/01/08
Game Release: Final Fantasy VIII (US, 09/07/99)
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