Review by kimfrankz

"So Close Yet So Far"

Final Fantasy 8 was originally released in 1999 for the PlayStation. It's a JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) developed by Square. It came after the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy 7 also for the PlayStation. Just like its predecessors, FF8 has your basic RPG elements—turn-based battle, story, experience points for leveling up and the characters that brings life to the whole. This game received mixed reviews from critics, casual gamers and loyal fans to the series. Why is that? I'll give it a try and do the breakdown in this review:

GAMEPLAY: Battle System

Given that you have your basic RPG elements, FF8 moved away from most of that.
First, the Materia system from Final Fantasy 7 was no longer present. Actually the whole idea of MAGIC POINTS (MP) is not there anymore. They developed something called Guardian Forces—or simply your regular summons. Summons, in previous games in the series are these monsters you seek for help dealing single massive damage to your enemies. Now in FF8, they play a larger role since your characters' stat growth depends on them. By “junctioning” or setting Guardian Force[s] to anyone of the available characters, that certain one is now allowed to assign abilities such as, the Attack, Item, GF(the action to actually summon the GFs)Magic, Draw and other special abilities.

Also through assigning these GFs equipped to your characters, you may junction different magic abilities to your stats i.e. strength, vitality, evasion, magic etc. The function of these when junctioned to a certain stat, the effect may raise defense, increase Health Points (HP), improves evasion rate and even add elemental damages and status changes into the characters weapon. You can just imagine inflicting sleep, poison, berserk or any other of the status penalties each time you hit the enemy. And with that eliminates the need in buying equipment like armors, accessories and other protective gears for each character. Although each one still carries a unique weapon which can be upgraded to change its attack power, hit ratio, limit break and appearance.

Magic and Draw go hand-in-hand with this one since (especially in the beginning of the game) by using the ability “draw” to your enemies, the player takes a number of magic spells which then can be stocked to be used later or “cast” which the magic is immediately performed either for the character or towards the enemy. With a maximum magic that can be stocked to one character being 100, players will find themselves repeatedly drawing from their enemies. Although as you progress through the game, there are certain items and a certain ability which grants the player to produce magic spells.

LIMIT BREAKS

In previous games of the series, players can deliver a special and powerful attack called the limit break. It also has a bar gauge much like the Active Time Battle system (ATB) which fills up when the character gets hit or damaged. FF8 only gives players the ability to perform each character's unique limit break when their HP reached a certain low. Mainly when the HP of a character turns to yellow instead of white. The magic spell, Aura enables the character for his/her limit break to be more available disregarding the amount of HP. Simply put, the availability of the limit break in FF8 is when your characters is somewhat in their desperation wherein they're about to get KO'd so, the limit break is something to rely on. With that being said, I find the limit break your go-to attack or strategy against tough enemies. (Ehem especially Omega Weapon—which I still haven't beaten. Meh, 1,000,000+ HP I'll just play Triple Triad.) Especially Squall's limit break or should I say one of the most powerful attack in the game, you can deal almost consistent perfect hits (9999) repeatedly.

EXPERIENCE POINTS and LEVELING UP

This is another thing “unique” about FF8. If you have played an RPG before, I'm sure you've noticed the EXPERIENCE POINTS gained each time you defeat an enemy. You know that thing after a battle that says, “1000 EXP Points to Next Level Up” that kind of stuff. Example if you're on level 10, you need 2000 EXP points to go to level 11, and then you need 3000 EXP points to be level 12. The required exp points to level up your character increases each time you get stronger, that is for the well known system of leveling up in an RPG.

FF8 only requires each of your character 1000 exp points to proceed to the next level. No matter what level your character is, he/she only needs 1000 points. You're probably thinking, “Dude that'd be easy!” Not quite since, as your characters level up, so are your enemies. We are used that if we beat some monsters earlier in the game, when you return to that place, you'll be filled with easy kills and hunting. Almost all of the enemies in FF8 follow the average level of your active party. The more your characters level, the stronger the enemies in the game become.

Looking at another angle of this is: if you're that type of player who finds it tedious to fight enemies and so sick of random encounters, you can run from all of the battles since leveling up isn't that of a necessity in the game.

OPTIONAL STUFF- The Triple Triad

For those who are fans of the series, you've probably encountered and played a couple of mini-games in the Final Fantasy Series. Final Fantasy 9 has the Tetra Master, Final Fantasy 10-2 (X-2) with the Sphere Break, and Final Fantasy 10 has the ever so infamous/famous Blitzball. Well, FF8 offers the, “Triple Triad”. Basically, it's a popular card game and almost all of the NPC's in the game plays it. I wouldn't go further to the mechanics of Triple Triad since the actual game itself has the tutorial. What can I say is that it's relatively easy to play but challenging to master. You obtain cards from monster which then you use to challenge other players which if you win; you have the option to take some of their cards. Of course you can also lose yours.

STORY:

The main protagonist, Squall a student at Balamb Garden then later, member of the mercenary group called, SeeDs. Together with him in this school are: the Mike Tyson look alike, Zell. He wields the classic job monk, around the same age as Squall, and often regarded as a “chicken wuss” Despite that, he provides courageous actions but never close to reckless; moves in caution but never cowardly. Selphie, the transfer student who's bubbly, funny and honest. And the beautiful instructor, Quistis—somewhat trying to understand the hard-headed Squall, tries to keep up with him, has some affection towards Squall as well.

Next are: Rinoa, introduced in the game as a client to the Seeds and lastly Irvine; the self proclaimed ladies' man, cool and generally talented as a marksman. And the side party which composes of Laguna, Kiros and Ward.

The story begins with Squall training at Balamb Garden to become a member of an elite mercenary group called, SeeD. After graduating and becoming a SeeD, Squall together with Zell and Selphie was tasked to help Rinoa's battle against Galbadia trying to conquer their beloved town Timber. After battling their way, they discovered that a sorceress named, Edea was the one who lead the attack on Timber.

Squall and the others received back orders from Balamb Garden that they need to assassinate Sorceress Edea. And so they all head out including Quistis, Rinoa and Irvine to fulfill this mission. As SeeDs they've devised a plan in the City of Deling to kill Edea and restore peace through the land but Edea effortlessly foiled their plan.
Realizing this wasn't just a contract from a client-to-mercenary; the whole party seeks out the truth behind Edea's plan and soon finds out they are not just fixing and killing off a problem, but engaging into an all out war against a very deviant force in the form of this sorceress.

Friendship, courage and the power of new found love is put the test.

SOUND AND VISUAL:

To be honest, the musical score didn't really leave a great impression to me. I just played the entire game and the only memorable theme is when Squall and Rinoa were lost together in space. The main battle theme always makes me remember of the evening news. It was fast and sort of aggressive. I won't say it's really bad, it just doesn't stick, you know? Pleasing to the ears but not good enough to make you sing it unconsciously—but I guess this part is obviously subjective.

Presentation is another one. For a PlayStation game, released more than a decade ago, it aged quite well. You can jump right into it and won't feel a bit depraved of visuals even after you played a current gen game. I mean finally, the characters are in their 3D model throughout the game. Not unlike its predecessor which only displayed 3D model during battles. However the playable characters look all the same. I mean Squall looks like Laguna with short hair.

The environment is consistently pleasing to the eyes. It's detailed nicely but some of the town could use a bit of color. And of course I can't forget each time you summon a GF. I never find the need to skip them.

The FMV cut scenes were very awesome. I just wished they were voice actors in it also. But it captures the moment well especially the last one before the credits roll.

THE VERDICT

It seems this one is a solid game, right? But people, including me didn't fully enjoy it. Starting with the characters, for me they weren't really likeable or interesting at all. A very shallow background to each, no real development that follows their inner conflicts and I kind of feel that the supporting ones are created just to fill the party. Squall seems interesting at first but it wasn't consistent. He was this emo kid who refuses any relationships that would bring him to socialize emotionally and then suddenly Rinoa came and realizes, “Oh I think I'm in love with her.” (I'm exaggerating, of course.) All I meant it is there wasn't enough build up or development for that character to face that inner self of his that actually existed.

The story is…okay? There weren't engaging sub-plots, and you'll find that the main one has already escalated quickly and you'll find yourself playing through the last boss fight already. Again it's really not that bad, just wasn't executed well to let all those pieces fall together.

The humor was there for a while but it faded, too. I felt the need of the game to take it seriously because of its story but for me it just didn't work.

The expectation to this game is huge because it belongs to the Final Fantasy series. Some fans say: this game should have been great if it wasn't called, “Final Fantasy”. But I wouldn't go that far. It's so much of a Final Fantasy game than X-2 that's for sure. It's not that bad not to deserve its place to the Final Fantasy series.

This game is really not that bad but not good either. It's a good RPG game but not a good Final Fantasy game. Still some elements deserve recognition like: its junction system and the Triple Triad. It was good try to separate from the predictability of an RPG game to be just a turn-based battle system and take away the entire typical kingdom versus kingdom medieval setting. And as a first, I really enjoyed a mini game and that is the Triple Triad.

GAMEPLAY:
Nice to keep away from the norm but strategy especially in latter parts of the game is needless. I will rate it 6 emo Squall out of 10.

STORY:
It wasn't executed properly, characters weren't interesting and likable but the main plot and conclusion played out well though not a lot of strong sub-plots lead to that. I will rate it 6 Zell's face tattoo out of 10.

SOUND AND VISUALS:
For a game released a decade ago, it looks great. The FMV cut scenes look solid and well made. The music isn't that memorable but you won't hate it either. I rate these 8 muscular sorceresses out of 10.

REPLAY VALUE:
This is a tough one since if you're just planning in unfolding the story you could really do a speed run on this game and finish it under 30 hours. There's not much to do in the game other than the Triple Triad so I won't suggest a second play through unless you're going for completion. I will rate this 7 dead Shumi out of 10.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 12/20/12

Game Release: Final Fantasy VIII (US, 09/07/99)


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