Review by 2Deux2
"Beautiful, if flawed, masterpiece"
"Beautiful, if flawed, masterpiece"
Released hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed FF7, FF8 had a lot to live up to. Renowned for its graphical brilliance which has faded over time, the core of the gameplay and story are still original and engaging, despite several flaws, making it a worthwhile addition to any RPG fan's shelf.
The story is Square's attempt to cash in on the American teenage market. The love story, the world's elite mercenary force being comprised of 16-18 year olds, the fact 5 out of the 6 main characters speak with an American accent even in text boxes, etc. Heck, they've even got a man in a cowboy hat! But such a move is excusable as the core of the story is well thought out, albeit with one poorly thought out plot twist, and a few instances of deus ex machina.
You start off in a mercenary training facility known as Balamb Garden which resembles a university/ college/ school (delete as applicable). The first few hours of the game are spent becoming a SeeD a member of the world's most elite mercenary force on a mission against Galbadia. After this somewhat dull start, you are then assigned to your first mission, to assist a resistance group, but several plot twists later and you find yourself facing mysterious dreams, the Galbadian army, a sorceress hellbent on destroying the world and even more terrible problem of teenage relationships.
Yes, a large part of the plot (if the box art didn't give it away) is on the relationship between Squall and Rinoa. Squall is the stereotypical cynical teenager while Rinoa is an idealist and freedom fighter. Watching Squall's personality change across the 4 discs is one of the things that makes this game worthwhile and he is probably more developed than any of Square's characters before or since. But because of the romantic focus, a common criticism is that some of the other characters seem underdeveloped. While this is true, there are plenty of themes explored through the medium of the other characters such as the horrors of war and lack of confidence which transcend the teenage audience and make this game a classic.
Most of the story takes place in the game's expansive world which is somewhat reminiscent of our own both in terms of politics and technology. Much of the previous era had been dominated by the sorceress war. Galbadia to the west is similar to the US in that it occupied countries to prevent them being taken over by Esthar, the other great power. As you can tell, there is a lot of backstory and history to discover from the NPCs, which although ancilliary to the plot can be fascinating.
Perhaps the only downside of the characterization are the villains. They lack the campy brilliance of Kuja, the insanity of Kefka or the sheer awesomeness of Sephiroth. Aside from Seifer, there is never really a motive for their actions and they come off as rushed.
To liven up the relatively serious main plot, there is the Laguna subplot . This has some downright hillarious scenes involving leg cramp while on a date a fantasy movie gone wrong as well as the most awesome battle music ever. Given that FFVIII has only 6 playable characters, the 3 characters you control in the Laguna scenarios as well as the two guests help to add more depth to the story.
While the love story may be somewhat cliche, the gameplay is relatively avante garde. Unfortunately, for every brilliant idea that was brilliantly executed, there have been those which though brilliant were poorly executed and FF8's gameplay falls into the later category.
Regarding the battle system, MP has been ditched in favour of a complicated system involving GFs and drawing. GFs, or Guardian Forces are huge monsters that you can summon and which you are required to junction (equip) to learn/ use abilities, similar to Espers in FF6. However, you then draw magic from enemies using the GF (basically stealing) and equip it to boost your stats. This seems a reasonable idea until you realize just how easy it is to boost strength to obscene levels, rendering summoning GFs/ using magic virtually obsolete. Given that your strongest magic is usually equipped to boost your stats, you will rarely ever use it once you have figured out how to exploit the flaws in the system.
The loopholes with which to exploit the limit break system now only requires that you be on low health to execute the most devastating attacks in the game. It is therefore extremely easy to keep one character i.e. Squall on low health and spam Renzokuken (his limit) destroying virtually everything with ease. One Lion Heart finisher will take out any enemy (bar one) in the whole game.
The ability to abuse limits when coupled with a high strength stat makes this game very easy for anyone who's figured out the junction system. For those who haven't, relying on GF summons is a time consuming and repetitive process as the animations get progressively longer to allow more "boost" time and the game becomes a drag.
But wait. There are yet more flaws. The idea that enemies level up as you do was a brilliant way of preventing overleveling so common in rpgs, however, by making the concept of levelling irrelevant, it may be even easier to complete the game at level 7 than level 100. The only real reason to level up is to get new items/ magic from the higher levelled enemies.
In short, the battle mechanics, if used properly, render this game one of the easiest in the series. But for radical departures from the conventional level up system and true originality, FF8 is one of the great innovators in the series.
Outside of the battles, the game offers a few relatively uninteresting sidequests sans the brilliant Triple Triad card game. The Chocobo game in paticular stands out as a poor effort when compared with 7's Chocobo racing, or 9's Hot and Cold, involving an obnoxious "Chocoboy" (what's next, Moogleman?) and finding Chicobos. When compared to the lucrative rewards from Triple Triad, the fact a single 5 minute card game can get you a greater reward than the 2 hour Obel Lake sidequest makes them only worth doing for perfectionists, save perhaps for the quests that allow you obtain GFs. Moreover, some of the quests, such as the Doomtrain and the UFO quest are very unlikely to be solved without a guide, which can make this game infuriating.
Upon watching the opening FMV, it is obvious that Squaresoft put an incredible amount of effort into the graphics in this game. From the majestic sword fight between Squall and Seifer that opens the game to the ballroom dancing scene used as a PS2 demo, the FMVs never fail to amaze and hold up well even against current gen graphics.
The ingame graphics are, however, another story. While eschewing FF7's lego brick style characters, Rinoa's knees look sharp enough to cut her chin and Squall's face seems to wear a perpetual scowl. The deficiencies become painfully obvious when contrasted with the beautiful prerendered backgrounds, a staple of all of Square's Playstation Final Fantasies. In certain chase scenes, on cannot help realizing the moving background is almost lifelike, transcending the limits of 32 bit technology while the characters are unfortunately trapped within its limits.
Uematsu. The first and last word on video game soundtracks. And boy does he deliver on this one. From the bombastic strains of Liberali Fatali to the brilliant Man with a Machine Gun, the music is perfectly suited to the atmosphere and renders the need for voice acting obsolete. The theme song of the game, Eyes on Me, while catchy is repeated at various points in instrumental versions which surpass the original. Uematsu excels across many styles from soft rock to ballads and the score alone makes this game worth buying, it's one of the best scores on the Playstation.
There's no new game + feature, but some of the villain's lines make more sense the second time round and there's always some new information/ items to discover. There are also several GFs you are likely to miss first time round (yes I'm looking at you, Doomtrain). Given that it takes around 40-50hrs minimum to complete, it's a relatively long experience, but definitely one worth repeating, especially if you like RPGs.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/08/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy VIII (Platinum) (EU, 09/29/00)
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