Review by Shirow

"Square releases a more mature game at the expense of several factors"

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Ever since its release, Final Fantasy VIII, the second PSX title in the series, has been regarded as the
black sheep of the family by almost everybody while a few hardcore fans claimed that it beat its prequel in every way possible. The reason I'm mentioning this is because a lot of people have mistakenly criticized this game by comparing it to the masterpiece that was Square's first 3D game. And that is mainly what made FFVIII so hated by the gaming community.

The fact remains that this game should not be compared to any of its prequels. Yes, that's the logical thing to do when dealing with games like Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider -- okay, maybe that is not really necessary in the last case. Each Final Fantasy is supposed to be a whole new adventure and must stand on its own. Hence, the drastic changes in this eighth installment. Unfortunately, first impressions do count in this sick world and thus made most gamers bash a fine game.

Yes, Final Fantasy VIII has some serious flaws but I'm really puzzled to see people giving really low scores to it. I really don't think they gave the game enough time and gave up after the first disc to rush and write a review for the sake of bashing it because ''everybody was doing it''. And you want to know the most ironical part of the story ? I actually acted like them and hated the game the first time. However, I played it again and eventually found out that FFVIII is a great game in its own ways. So, welcome to the only unbiased and sane review of the most disputed RPG Square ever created.

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The story begins in Balamb Garden with the hero, Squall, introducing us to an overwhelming part of the game. Overwhelming because the story trails through this Balamb Garden during the first 2 discs. The plot behind FFVIII is actually quite good but the real developments and twists occur as from the third disc only. This leaves us with what ? 2 long discs with a minor plot which, as if that was not enough, gets rapidly boring with all those irritating SeeD tests. You could even consider those 2 discs to be mere filler.

Indeed, the plot behind FFVIII -well, the second half of it- is actually a decent one and certainly not as bad as most people claim but the fact that it starts only halfway through the game really hampers it. Moreover, some characters like Selphie, Irvine and Quistis have absolutely no depth. As a matter of fact, only the 2 main characters, Squall and Rinoa, are worth mentioning while some others like Laguna manage to stand on their own. Still, Squall can get pretty annoying with his stereotyped personality and his dialogues which are almost always devoid of maturity -- very strange considering Square wanted to make a more adult game.

There are still various surprises that await you as you near the ending of the game but some are very hard to believe. From a neutral point of view, the plot implies that the game is bad. This is because ever since RPGs have been created, people have been putting a lot of emphasis on the story behind the game. That's understandable but how can some say that just because a story is poor, the game isn't worth playing ? If this is really true, how come FFV was an instant success ?!

As everybody must know now -if you don't know, go back to where you belong-, the game system is what made FFVIII so controversial. FFVIII involves primarily Gardian Forces which serve a lot of purposes in the game. Obviously, they are the beasts that will make battles somewhat easier with their astounding, damaging attacks but here, their role has been expanded. These Gardian Forces (GF) will now make your characters learn abilities and power-ups throughout the game. Each GF has a given set of abilities and by assigning one to any character, the latter can benefit from these.

You can thus have a character become god-like in a certain aspect by getting him or her to master specific abilities. In addition, Gardian Forces can also be used to get items and for various other purposes. The system revolving around these summons is truly amazing and in this aspect, FFVIII simply shines. Battles can now be more strategic as the summons take some time before they perform their respective attacks and they can be hurt too such that you have to care about them instead of just releasing them whenever you want.

The magic system is seriously flawed though and really deserves to be bashed, even in a high-scoring review (yes, 7 is a high score for me). Magic in FFVIII is obtained by drawing them from monsters and bosses. After drawing any magic, you can either cast it back at the enemy or store it. ''Why store it ?'', I hear you ask. Because of the Junction System, one of the most frustrating features I have ever seen. Other than through experience points earned through battles, spells are also used to determine your characters' various stats.

Spells can be attached to your stats in the scary Junction Menu where you will certainly need to spend a lot of time. Upon storing a Fire or a Blizagga, you can use it to increase your stats. Eventually, by attaching the maximum number of a powerful magic to a character's strength, you can have an impressive attack. However, this thus makes magic in FFVIII redundant. As you rely a lot on magic to keep good stats, you will find yourself resorting solely to GFs and physical attacks since you don't want your stocks to decrease.

As if that wasn't enough, the Junction System also results in boring hunts for the strongest spells. You'll eventually realize that even if you do not like it, you'll find yourself obligated to spend a lot of time stocking on all the magic you can find. This is terribly frustrating during the first part of the game although it eases off afterwards mainly because you'll be strong enough to bypass this aspect of FFVIII. Still, it takes a lot to put up with this flaw and trying to ignore it results in instant death, so to speak. I understand Square stretched for something innovative but it's a completely failure this time.

Thankfully, FFVIII does have solid features which save it in the long run. The new weapon upgrading system is fun and is really well-thought. Instead of simply buying weapons upon reaching new towns, you need to search for items and parts to upgrade your current weapons. But first of all, you need to find the books which state what you need and luckily, these are quite easy to find. The parts can be gathered almost anywhere while the rare ones are obtained by beating difficult and impossible-to-find enemies.

Some may complain here but they just need to open their eyes and consider what all this results into. Instead of just spending money to buy weapons which you'll very likely sell after barely half an hour, you actually have to put in proper time to get the best weapons in the game. Other than increasing the lifespan of the game, it also makes weapon-upgrading a real feature as you are rewarded for your efforts. When you'll finally wield Squall's most powerful sword, you will recall how you earned that weapon and will thus enjoy it even more.

The side-quests are equally interesting with even Guardian Forces requiring some good searching and a lot of various other stuff to do to get better items or to discover new stuff. The world of Final Fantasy VIII is huge too and your vehicles are utterly surprising this time and give the game a unique dimension. FFVIII is also packed with a lot of mini-games to increase its lifespan even more as if that was ever needed. The transition from a team to another in different areas adds more depth to the game and the interaction is without doubt amazing.

Triple Triad, the card game, is the best addition and it also plays an important role in almost every aspect. Although it is just meant for fun and to increase the gameplay, Square had the good idea to make it more rewarding by allowing the player to earn rare items from cards. By walking up to someone and pressing the appropriate button, you challenge him to a card game and if you win, you can take any of his card. However, don't just go right ahead and assume Triple Triad is a normal and boring game.

Square actually came up with excellent rules for Triple Triad to make it as interesting as possible. Did they succeed ? Yes ! Yes, with a big Y ! The first matches are easy and the rules during these are simple but as you get more cards and move to new regions of the world, these get complicated and make the game really strategic. I even found myself caring only about cards at one point and went from place to place, challenging everybody. And trying to get all the cards is bound to take you a lot of time.

Since this is a PlayStation game, people would expect good graphics. As a matter of fact, this is certainly the only thing upon which everybody agrees : FFVIII is a visual masterpiece. Just a look at the intro where Squall fights against Seifer is enough to convince anybody that the graphics here are extraordinary. The characters are realistic and the animation is simply superb. Everything is now more realistic from the crisp backgrounds to the Full Motion Videos which will have you staring at your TV screen.

The nice thing in this game is that the other characters don't seem to vanish so you control only one character and they reappear magically from time to time. Instead, they will all follow the lead around and these are just good occasions to wonder at the succinct animation. The Guardian Forces appearing are yet another marvellous moment in this visual feast. Towns and villages are well-detailed with distinctive people everywhere and some scenes are simply wonderful.

The music is excellent too but would you really expect something else with Nobuo Uematsu controlling everything ? The opening theme is a clear example of the fine music that awaits you in this long adventure and the sound effects make the soundtrack even better. There are some places where the music falls short and gets a bit irritating but most of the time, you will enjoy it and it suits to the action very well indeed. I even know some people who didn't like the game but still bought the soundtrack.

As for gameplay, just put up with the flaws and what remains is an interesting adventure over a huge world. The innovations are well-thought and the side-quests give it a solid gameplay. The presence of a couple of overly-powerful optional bosses makes the game even longer when you thought you had covered everything and if you think that isn't enough, get yourself a PocketStation and have fun with the cute chocobos.

Overall, Final Fantasy VIII is a good game which is well worth your time. It has a couple of flaws but this does not automatically mean it isn't fun. All you need to do is give it some time and as you get used to the weary Junction System, you will be absorbed by its huge gameplay. You will probably even forget about the weak plot, and the excellent visuals and audio will just urge you to spend all your time on the game. Moreover, gaming is just an entertainment and is meant to have you forget about the usual routine of everyday life and FFVIII is as good as any other game in these aspects -- something which a lot of people seem to forget !

- Orochi Score : 7 -


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 03/02/02, Updated 11/09/02


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