Review by YSF

"Why do some people like it while some don't? Read on to find out why???"

Introduction

Final Fantasy has come a long way, and is undeniably the most revered specimen of the role playing genre in the history of video game, rivaling head-on against its competition, Enix's Dragon Quest series in Japan. While some might refer to Western RPG games like Ultima series, no other saga has yet able to captivate the attention of millions of gamers worldwide, other than Square's flatship, Final Fantasy. Without any doubt, Final Fantasy has paved the way for mainstream acceptance of a once niche genre.

Story

Taking off from a brand-new beginning point, Final Fantasy VIII has completely no connection to the events that transpired in the past Final Fantasies. The eighth ''Final'' puts you into the role of an academy member and soon-to-be graduate from the Garden as SeeD, Squall Leonhart. A Garden is a world-class school that trains people to become mercenaries.

Immediately, after your graduation, you are told to be the leader of the squad and are sent on your first ''professional'' task to assist a group of resistance against the President of Deling called ''Timber Owls.'' This task proves to be very vital to the plot as it sets up your second meeting with Rinoa Heartilly, a young and ravishing beauty that will turn Squall's life upside down.

Along your mission, you discover the evil plot of Sorceress Edea, whom has the intention of dominating the world. But first, she has to get rid of all her archenemies- the SeeDs at Garden. Now, Squall and his party must inform the people at Balamb Garden as soon as possible before the missiles hit the Garden and destroy everything.

What is the secret behind the practice of Sorcery? Who is this familiar woman, Edea? Who is this mysterious girl, Ellone, whom has the power to control a person's dream? Is Seifer being possessed? Can it account why he become a lackey for Edea? And, who are this mysterious men that appeared in my dream? [Squall's ''alter-ego'' is the star-struck Laguna Loire.]

Combat

As of traditional custom, each new Final Fantasy game implements a completely new combat system- Junction and Draw. The Junction system encompasses many aspects of function like relic, equipping armour, magic spell rosters and so on into one single unique system.

Junction and Draw work very closely together to make this new combat system a success. Junction allows you to customise your characters' attributes using magics while Draw removes away and replaces your traditional MP system by allowing you to suck magics.

Junction

To junction a spell, you need to junction a Guardian Force first. A Guardian Force is the elemental or mystical creature that you summon into the battle like Ifrit, Shiva etc. How to junction is very easy but to junction 'effectively' is another matter. First of all, magic is determined by quantity, that is by number. There are quite a number of different attributes like HP, Strength, Vitality, Speed and so on. Instead of equipping armour to increase defense against physical attacks, you junction a spell to vitality. How much your attributes will rise depend on the types and number of spells that you junction to them. Eg. 100x Ultimas will be better than 100x Meteors or 1x Ultimas. If 1x y magics increase an attribute by z, then 100x y magics will increase that attribute by 100z. Different magics work best against different attributes. Eg. Haste is a better magic to junction to Speed than Curaga but Curaga is a better magic to junction to strength, vitality etc than Haste.

Draw

The only way to make Junction work is to measure magics by quantity and that's the reason why draw is introduced. To draw magics, you need to equip the draw command first. There are three ways of drawing magics, either by drawing from enemies, from draw points or through refining. I have to admit that drawing from enemies can be a very tiring process as each time you draw, you get only about 1 to 9 spells at a time. Draw points are specially located points that have magics. Once drawn from there, you cannot draw again until after certain durations [and maybe steps too!] for the draw point to recover. Refining allows you to convert certain items into magics, as well as upgrading your existing magics to a higher level magics.

Guardian Forces

Unlike the past FFs, summoned creatures or known as Guardian Forces are more involved in the game now. G.Fs can learn experiences, levels and have HP. While summoning a G.F, the G.F's HP and ATB replaces yours, acting effectively as a temporary shield for you until when the GF's ATB is fully charged. How many times you can summon a GF is unlimited as there is no MP anymore unless your GF is exhausted. Only when the GF's ATB ends, the GF will then appear and create a havoc in the battlefield. How fast the G.F's ATB will charge, depends on the compatibility ratings. Furthurmore, certain G.Fs have the boost feature, which allows you to increase its power by tapping Square while holding Select button.

G.Fs have abilities too and to learn these abilities, you need to gain Ability Points or AP during battle. Abilities that you can learn include Revive, Encounter-None, Boost etc. To learn an ability, point the cursor at the ability that you want to learn. Eg. Boost will need 10AP. As each G.F can learn up to a max of 22 abilities, you may consider using Amnesia Greens to remove some unwanted abilities so that you can learn new ones. Perhaps, the greatest LOSS is that there is no MIME command.

Limit Breaks

The widely successful limit breaks used in FFVII has been brought over to FFVIII but this time, each person has different ways of learning limit breaks. Eg. Quistis can use Blue Magics [instead of learning from enemies, you have to find blue magic items.] ; Zell has duel, which works by inputting buttons within a certain time limit; Squall needs to use the R1 feature to create extra damage when using Renzokuken etc. Unlike FFVII, there is no gauge bar to determine when you can use limit breaks. It depends on an internal parameter called ''crisis level.'' One way to increase your ''crisis level'' is to cast Aura spells or use Aura stones on your characters. This, however, makes the game more easier and less challenging. In the beginning, it seems that using a limit break is impossible without getting your character seriously injured but towards the end, when you have Aura spells, you start to rely more on limit breaks, rather than summoning Guardian Forces.

Other Innovations

FFVIII breaks out of the traditional elements. Just like Square's Romancing Saga series, it incorporates 'parallel level', meaning that the monsters are always at the average level of the entire party. Secondly, weapon shops are now known as junk shops and to remodel your weapons, you need to find certain items. Thirdly, instead of earning any gils from monsters, you will be paid after walking a certain amount of steps [Weird, right?] and how much you earn, depends on your SeeD ranking. The higher your SeeD ranking is, the higher your salary will be. One way to increase your SeeD ranking is to sit for the 30 tests. [Each test consists of 10 MCQ, and that will make up to 300 questions.] Beware that SeeD ranking can increase or drop too. Chocobos do return in FFVIII, but they can only be found in Chocobo Forests and there's a new way of catching chocobos, that is to use the help of chocobo sonar and radar.

Mini-games

While FFVII has mini-games aplenty, FFVIII has only two: Choco World and the Triple Craid card game. Choco World is only available if you have PocketStation. Don't be decieved by this simple card game as a waste of time! Whoever invents this Card game is a genius! How are you going to control trade rules, spread or demolish a rule? With complex rules like Plus, Elemental, Same etc, this isn't a three years old game. And then, there's the card queen, card club members etc. The only downside is that there isn't any reward once you complete the card collection.

Graphics

There's a big gap of improvements in graphics between FFVII and FFVIII. The previously favoured ''super deformed'' look has been abandoned for a more lifelike and realistic style- more proportionate. The standard on detail of prerendered backgrounds have been raised. The visually impressive top spell effects that climax with the powerful G.F attacks take FF series into a whole new realm. Furthermore, the big window menus used in FFVII are no longer there in FFVIII, allowing more intense details. While so, i have to admit that the G.F cinematics are way too long and after watching them for over 4 times, you probably wouldn't want to view again and wish that Square will include a feature which allows you to skip the cinematics. But, think about it! If the G.F cinematics aren't that long, do you think you have enough time to use the boost feature and tap Square to max up the G.F attacks?

FMV

Adorning the visual fanfare are the superby FMV scenes that segue seamlessly from the in-game proceedings with beautiful character models, that are usually reserved for the finest Hollywood productions. The cinematic feelings would have been better if Square added some voice-overs to the FMVs. It's a shame that the characters' lips were moving but there's no voices coming out. Of course, i don't mean those crappy voices. Anyway, it is understandable why Square did not add any voices to the game, judging from how successful voice-overs in animation cutscenes is, in Xenogears, as well as, time constraints and production cost.

Music

Following the success of Small Two of Pieces as an ending vocal song for Xenogears, it looks like many developers are beginning to take the same steps, and Final Fantasy VIII is ultimately not an exception. To bring out the love theme into a higher level, Faye Wong, Hong Kong's Heavenly Queen and pop singer was hired to sing the song entitled ''Eyes On Me.'' The song was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, including other tracks like ''fithos lusec, Liberi Fatali'' and so on.

The tunes do fit the atmosphere perfectly well. Eg. ''Fithos Lusec'' do create a sense of urgency that something ominous is about to happen. I have to admit that i do love some of the tunes but very few tunes were able to ''capture'' my mind, which the previous FFs were able to. Talk about tunes like ''Terra theme, Aria Di Mezzo Carattere, Aeris theme, Highwind theme, crystal'' etc or even tunes from Xenogears like ''Into the Sky, Distant Promise, Small Two of Pieces, Star of Tears'' etc. Even till today, i still hum these tunes in my mind. But, i couldn't get that feeling in FFVIII. Perhaps, i don't know how to appreciate it!

Control

I can't believe that the default controller configuration for the US version is different from the Japanese version. X was changed to confirmation button instead of Circle, plus other lots more changes. Naturally, i was not able to get used to the new configuration so i changed it back and used back the Japanese configuration. Also, one of the complaints that i have is that the vehicles, particularly the mobile Balamb Garden and Ragnarok, moved too slowly. [Luckily, there's an auto-pilot feature for Ragnarok.] [Did you notice any similarities in the configuration between the vehicles in FFVIII and Xenogears?]

Conclusion

Having played both Japanese and US versions, i have to say that the translation is near perfect for the US version. Even names like Renzokuken and Zantetsuken remain. Presentation has been touched up and the US version has a whole new icons for abilities, as well as a new feature to arrange your magics automatically. Furthermore, if you have missed drawing any G.F [for the US version only], you can draw all your missing GFs in Ultimecia Castle in disc four.

Centred around the universal love theme, Final Fantasy VIII also ushers in a new level of maturity to the usually fanciful settings. Through the setting and the way the game is presented, you can tell that FFVIII aims at more mature audiences. Judging from its popularity, FFVIII could be the crown of the RPG genre for the rest of 1999.

My Personal Thought:

Of all the reviews i have written so far, Final Fantasy VIII is the hardest to write. Why? There are many things to talk about FFVIII. Square and FFs seems to be the centre of attraction. Critics, compliments,... just go to either PlayStation or RPG message board. Almost more than 60% of the topics have to do with Square and FFs in a way or another.

Many people said that FFVIII has less things to offer than FFVII but i happen to disagree. There are lots more concepts in FFVIII than FFVII like boost, compatibility, refining, SeeD ranking and so on. Think the rational behind it? Why must Square remove this and add that? After playing the FFVIII demo, i had a strong feeling that the draw system would either make or break FFVIII- i was right! But think about it! If MP system is used, and magic is not determined by quantity, will Junction work? Which game don't use armour, don't earn money from fighting monsters? Perhaps, only FFVIII!

And, one of the reasons why many people didn't enjoy FFVIII to the fullest is because that they didn't play the card game. Maybe, it's because there's no reward. But, i have to admit that the card game is where i derived most of my fun. There's no reward but it's challenging. It's far better than most of the lame mini-games in FFVII. Chocobo breeding... anyone can breed a gold chocobo with the right formula. But, the card game is something different and unique- something which requires thinking.

After reading Perdurabo's FFVIII review, [which i really like it and by far it's the only one FFVIII review that really convinced me], i decided to rewrite this review in an unbiased way as i got feedbacks that my review compares FFVIII with other FFs too much.

Through gestures, expressions etc, the characters' feelings, emotions are portrayed out, thus bringing out characterisations. I have to admit that i do like the part in Edea's house, when they found out that their childhood life, who's their matron, as well as how Squall handled his relationship with Rinoa. It's right to say that the main emphasises on each individual Final Fantasy is different, whether it is story, characterisation, graphics, combat, gameplay etc and it's hard to determine which is the best! Still, i can't deny that the Final Fantasy series has changed too much!

Some Cool Stuff: [Spoiler!!!]

Rinoa has a dog called Angelo. Shadow from FFVI also has a dog called Interceptor.

Zell has a Duel limit break, which you need to input buttons to create combos within certain time limit. Most of his moves are a reminiscent to Tifa's limit breaks. [Not to mention names!] [Did anyone mention Sabin's Blitz from FFVI?]

In order to use Irvine's Shot limit break, you need to collect ammos. [Did anyone mention Billy from Xenogears?]

There's a G.F called Doomtrain. [Did anyone mention Phantom Train from FFVI?] That includes the Cactrot, Tonberry [Or Master Pug!] etc as well.

Ragnarok is now the red airship in FFVIII. [Ragnarok was an esper or a sword in FFVI. It was also a sword in other FFs like FFVII.]

Familiar characters like Cid, Biggs, Wedge, Chocobos etc are back too. Cid is now the headmaster of Balamb Garden.

Gilgamesh from FFV has also returned as one of the Guardian Forces. Omega weapon from FFV has also returned too. Both Ultima and Omega weapon will be the game's greatest challenge.

Story : 9.0/10.0
Graphics : 9.0/10.0
Concept : 9.0/10.0
Control : 7.5/10.0
Music : 7.0/10.0
Sound : 9.0/10.0
Gameplay : 8.0/10.0
Replay : 7.5/10.0
Challenge : 7.5/10.0
Presentation : 9.5/10.0
Overall : 9.0/10.0


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/23/00, Updated 12/16/02


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