Review by BBigwig

"A few noticeable flaws, but overall a worthy successor"

Any game from the Final Fantasy series is sure to endure more scrutiny from fans and reviewers alike than any other video game on the market. Not that that is any sort of "excuse" for Final Fantasy VIII, which has been receiving a mixture of positive and negative reviews. Honestly, I don't think a game of it's caliber needs excuses. It is clearly one of the greatest role-playing games ever, and while it has a few flaws that can't be ignored, it certainly lives up to the Final Fantasy tradition.

As with the other FFs, VIII is nothing without its story, and also like its predecessors, it has a story that is better than most movies. Each Final Fantasy has focused on a different theme, and for VIII, the creators chose to write a love story. The result is a plot that is vastly different from Final Fantasy VII, and an atmosphere that is very distinctive and new.

In the bigger scheme of the series, Final Fantasy VIII fits right in. The games, especially since the SNES years, have explored so many human emotions that it was only a matter of time before a romance would be the central focus of a game. And it's romance done the FF way-- daring rescues, stunning plot revelations, vast journeys across bizarre lands, and a long exploration of insteresting characters through 50 hours of gameplay.

It's far more than a movie could ever accomplish with only 2 hours, and a far more believable story. The main characters, Squall and Rinoa, grow close over time, not in a quick, passionate moment. As they find themselves paired together time and again, Rinoa slowly chips away at Squall's icy exterior until he starts to feel emotions he never knew he had. The result is a very moving story in the great FF tradition.

The music for the game, while not as compelling as many tracks from FFVII, properly establishes the mood for the story. There are a few exceptional songs, as well as the first song with actual lyrics in an FF game, but overall it fails to reach the level of VII.

On the other hand, the visuals are at an all-time high. The game begins with the most impressive full-motion video sequence you've ever seen for a video game. FFVIII also takes a completely new approach to the visual style and feel of the series. Gone is the medieval influence in previous games, replaced by futuristic cities, modern-art looking buldings, and fabulously designed vehicles. This can be good or bad depending on your tastes, but I feel it was a great choice for this particular game. The final dungeon in FFVIII is one of the coolest dungeons in the entire series, due both to the gothic decor and the haunting music.

The biggest disappointment in the game comes from many of the new game systems. While the new battle system, Junction, is indeed innovative and has many appealing qualities, it is more unbalanced, and as a result seems less well-conceived, than previous FF systems. FFVIII does away with many traditional RPG systems such as Magic Points, armor, and even the ability to earn money by fighting monsters. All of this was done in an effort to give the game a fresh feel, and to increase the realism, but some things would have been better left untouched.

In the new money system, for example, Squall is given periodic "paychecks" as a SeeD agent, which can increse or decrease in amount based on the player's actions. The problem is that there can be times when you are desperate for cash but, rather than being able to go out and smash some monsters to earn some quick dough, you have to wait around for your next paycheck to come. On the other hand, there are other times when you have so much money it feels like there is no challenge in earning it to be able to buy things.

The Guardian Forces system starts with some good ideas, but is still flawed. Basically, as Squall progresses through the game he will have opportunities to acquire new Guardian Force monsters through various means. Each comes with some beginning abilities and some that can be learned by gaining AP in battle. The player can Junction any Guardian Force to any character in Squall's party, and the GF will lend the abilities it has learned to that character.

All that is fine and dandy. However, the game takes the idea of Junctioning too far by having magic, attack and defense stats, and even basic commands like "Item" all be part of the Junction system. In addition, when the GFs are used as traditional Summon spells like in previous FF games, their attacks are so much more powerful than anything else available to the characters that you end up using them almost constantly, especially since you can summon them as many times as you want.

All this creates for a magic system that is more complicated than it needs to be, and battles that are largely unbalanced. Players were thrilled by the summon spell animations in FFVII, but in FFVIII you'll be wishing you didn't have to watch them by the end of the game.

For a role-playing game, these are no small concerns. However, they still do not overshadow the fact that FFVIII is a LOT of fun to play. The story revelations, the exploration element, and the side quests are all there, and all fun and rewarding. There are more side quests in this game than any previous FF, and if you take the time to do them you can get a lot of great stuff.

I think the majority of criticism leveled at FFVIII should be leveled at the Junction system. Otherwise, you have a great game. And let's not forget that FF has had its share of ups and downs in every department. FFIV had a horrible magic system, and FFV had a pretty weak plot. Obviously, FFVII was going to be a hard game to top, but I think that Square managed to accomplish that task save a few areas.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/01/99, Updated 04/07/02


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