Review by Myzery_Clown

"New ideas. Embrace them."

I’m sure that throughout your life you’ve tried many new things. Perhaps you attempted undertaking tennis as a hobby, or maybe you tried seafood one particular night in the many that you’ve experienced. You may have possibly even considered attempting to play a musical instrument at one time or another. This illustrates that trying something new isn’t by any means bad, as you’ve done it yourself, you perfect being you. Square had this in mind when they released Final Fantasy VIII. They knew they had a cult following as pertains to their almost godly Final Fantasy franchise, and so trying something new wasn’t a huge risk, right? Granted, there would be people who didn’t like it, people that wouldn’t be so hasty to embrace innovative ideas and unique concepts. And alas, it is these people that will be missing out on a great experience.

Final Fantasy VIII’s story, much like the rest of its many aspects and features, tried something new. It wasn’t new as in the light bulb in the 1800’s, or new as in CD players in the early 1990’s, but it was new. Squall, a cadet in training for SeeD, a military assistance group, is simply a lonely, coldhearted youth going about his business without a second thought. Life is routine to him, and his motives for joining SeeD are shrouded and cloudy. Upon being accepted to the military group, Squall plans to simply carry along with life as many SeeD members have before him for as long as his mind can recollect. This, however, does not happen. A brash move by the power hungry nation of Galbadia sends Squall into the midst of an underground assassination plan, which then throws Squall, along with five other members that play a role in Final Fantasy VIII’s cast, cascading into a tale of much, much larger proportions.

From that tidbit of information, it doesn’t look like an extremely innovative story, does it. The main difference is in the relationships between Squall and the lead female character, Rinoa. Rinoa, an active member in this underground assassination I’ve already made reference too, “warms up” to Squall rather quickly, and she devotes a good deal of her attention to making him come out of his shell of cold-heartedness and wishing to be alone, to embrace the rest of the world as she has done. Unlike most other games, Squall and Rinoa build a much stronger bond than you’d think. Whereas Final Fantasy IV has a shallow, undeveloped feeling of love between Cecil and Rosa, Final Fantasy VIII builds its romance over time. And yes, this time out, it is romance. As the game goes on, you will begin to notice changes in the characters’ attitude towards life, not just in Squall.

While the main focal point of Final fantasy VIII’s character development centers itself on Squall and Rinoa’s constantly enlargening relationship, four other characters will join you on your quest to save not just the world, but all of time as we know it. These range from a hyper, cheery lass named Selphie to an arrogant, immodest fella that goes by Irvine. Throw in a confident, outgoing character like Zell and a warm hearted, caring instructor of Squall’s, Quistis, and you’ve got yourself quite the cast to account for Squall’s usual silencing attitude. Unfortunately, this hinders the game more than helps it, as you’ll find yourself just being annoyed with Selphie’s constant optimism or Zell’s, “I can kick the world’s ass without breaking a sweat.” Outtake on things. These sort of personalities, while having the potential to blossom into well rounded, realistic characters, pretty much just flop. The constant references made to each’s specific attitude, particularly with Selphie and Zell, are just about enough to make you avoid all possible interaction with the other four characters.

Final Fantasy VIII’s characters that are not so friendly towards you are quite different really. The main villain remains unseen but not unheard of. In this case, where the prime villain’s existence is very mysterious and unknown, the fact that they’re not popping up every other corner to spew insults and threats at you is quite the assessment to the care with which Square developed Final Fantasy VIII’s plot. Some of the more vocal enemies though are also well developed in their own right. Seifer, an opponent from Squall’s class of training, makes his presence felt in many ways. He manages to be his own problem in itself, yet he doesn’t become an annoyance to you, like the Turks from Final Fantasy VII or the element fiends from Final Fantasy IV, who merely show up to provide an extra boss battle to trek through. Seifer finds himself thrown into he middle of the entire storyline at times, yet by the end, you know he was never the true opposition.

As if the story didn’t have enough oddities to already make some become skeptical about Final Fantasy VIII, the gameplay is what really piles on the feeling of foreboding when FFVIII is brought up. The obvious place to start would be the junction system. Summons, or in Final Fantasy VIII more commonly known as guardian forces (GF’s), play a much more important role than in any Final Fantasy before, and so far after, them. You will gain these GF’s just as you did in every other Final Fantasy for the most part, but this time they’re influence in how powerful your characters are is magnified to such a high level that its intimidating. You’ll gain magic spells as well, which you junction to your GF’s. Each GF has different stats that it will modify, such as strength, speed, and magic. You junction certain magic spells to certain parameters to raise that stat. For example, junctioning fifty aura spells to strength will raise your strength by a certain amount. The strategy comes in the fact that junctioning something like, for instance, blizzard to your strength may not raise it as much as junctioning aura would. Of course, stats will also raise depending on how many of the certain spells you have.
Wait, how many spells you have? What? Yes, in Final Fantasy VIII you “have” spells, not MP to cast spells that you have learned as has been the case in most RPG’s come before FFVIII. Introducing, the draw system, possibly one of the most detrimental and hazardous facets a video game could have. As you walk around your lovely world of Final Fantasy VIII, you will, of course, encounter enemies. These enemies can have magic drawn from them as if you were stealing an item from them. This magic then is added to your inventory to be junctioned to spells later. What exactly is this though? Drawing magic, as I’ve stated, is for junctioning. You’ll rarely find yourself using any of those spells you’ve just spent multiple minutes painstakingly drawing, as they will do you little. If you’re facing a fire based boss, you’re more successful junctioning 100 blizzards to your elemental attack to do blizzard damage in your normal attacks than to cast blizzard itself on the boss. Perhaps this was Square’s way for making the system a bit more compatible, as you don’t have to worry about redrawing spells too often, but it almost doesn’t make it seem worth drawing all those ultimas when you’ll rarely, if ever, use them.

The other dramatic innovation that Square made to the Final Fantasy name with FFVIII is the weapon remodeling system. As you fight and defeat, or steal from, enemies, you’ll obtain certain items such as steel pipes, screws, and other assorted artifacts. You then take these to a blacksmith to have him remodel your current weapon into a newer, more powerful weapon. No more purchasing weapons at every town, and no more selling them either. This at first seems like a nice idea, but in practice, it has one major flaw. You can not unassembled your weapons! Perhaps this is because the game is a “remodeling” game as opposed to a “making new weapons” game, and that’s why you can’t exactly use again items that you’ve already put into your weapon, but you’d think that you’d at least have the option of unassembling it for other reasons. These you can only imagine, but the option to do so is still quite necessary, in my view, and should’ve been implemented.

So, as you can see, Final Fantasy VIII did make a lot of changes. Junction system? Who’s heard of that? Drawing magic? What about the MP and gaining new spells at new levels? Nope, not here. This is why Final Fantasy VIII is so controversial to many. Was it too much of a change at once? Were the changes horrid anyway, regardless of the speed of which they are thrown at you? Do you just want your old level up system, buy and sell weapons, armor, and accessories back? You probably will, at first. However, I can say that aside from the draw system, the gameplay in FFVIII does tend to grow on you. I at first dismissed Final Fantasy VIII in favor of another game at one point, but on further playing and consideration, realized that Final Fantasy VIII wasn’t just playable, but it ended up being a rather joyful experience as well.

Of course, one thing that Square’ll never change is its level of excellence in the graphical department. Final Fantasy VIII, as you already know I’m sure, is no exception. The graphics are astounding, from the character designs, to the dazzling effects of your GF being summoned, to the awesome backgrounds that greet you in every new area or surrounding. But what can I say? Did you expect any less?

Perhaps the biggest notable difference is the character designs. This time, Square decided to attempt making the characters as real looking as they possibly could. All of the facial features are included, (no missing mouths or noses this time), and each character has a broad range of expressions that they can call up on a second’s notice. This makes for more real seeming interaction from character to character which is most definitely pleasant.

My personal favorite area of Final Fantasy VIII though is the spell animations. Every single effect has been carefully made to look accurate, from lightning streaking down to strike your opposition to the bright, ferocious fire that burns its victims to a crisp on your command. The GF’s, though, are the pinnacle of this excellence. Seeing the mighty dragon, Bahamut, rise up to unleash his wrath on your offenders is truly an awesome site, as is seeing Shiva’s ice attack glisten on your TV screen, as if flecks of gold could be concealed in the chips of ice. While the dramatic summon animations are monotonous by the conclusion of the game, you’ll dazzle at them more than once, as their brilliance simply insists on being watched again and again for much more reason than to inflict thousands of HP damage to a foe.

And what would Final Fantasy be without some stunning FMV videos to accompany the already fantastic graphics? Well, quite fine really, but they’re in here anyway, and in all their glory and splendor. As the box of the title proclaims, there’s over an hour of FMV movie, and while that may spark the instant reaction of, “Oh no. I’m watching the game rather than playing it.”, I am fairly sure that you will find yourself simply enjoying the FMV’s no matter how frequent their visit to your TV screen. Most of these scenes convey some powerful events, and they definitely are worth watching. After all, they, unlike those astonishing summon animations, only happen once a time through the game.

Well, I’m sure you’re already dazzled with the descriptions of the graphics I’ve provided thus far, but I must make mention of the backgrounds. These backgrounds are like no other seen on the Playstation at the time of FFVIII’s release. They are prerendered, of course, and they are, simply enough, beautiful. They seem to have a more realistic feel to them again, and while the world isn’t in shambles as was portrayed in Final Fantasy VII, the surroundings aren’t as lush or colorful as your little brother’s cartoons or those lovely Mario games that you are still playing after a decade of use on the old Nintendo. However, that adds to the atmosphere. What would saving the very existence of life mean if you had bright, sunny days and bright orange buildings all around with cute designs of clowns with big red noses painted onto their exteriors? That’s what I thought.

From an audio standpoint, Final fantasy VIII is almost as magnificent as its graphical side. Final Fantasy has garnered the reputation of having very pleasing musical scores, from the War of the Magi theme from FFVI, to Aeris’ Theme from FFVII, to the all too crazy Moon Song from Final Fantasy IV. Final fantasy VIII does maintain this reputation, but it is in a much different format. The opening track of the game, Liberi Fatali, sets a tone of battle and action that gets your adrenalin pumping, only to throw you into the more peaceful notes of Balamb Garden when the opening FMV is finished. The battle theme, a key component to any musical score, is quite good, and it won’t begin to grate your nerves quickly. Considering the numerous battles you’ll be faced with throughout FFVIII’s rather long journey, this is definitely a card in FFVIII’s favor. The rest of the musical score is composed of relatively nice pieces, with the rare area such as Ultimecia’s Castle or Cid’s Mission Briefs standing out as well done. Of course, the game’s “radio hit” if you will, Eyes On Me, is quite the cornerstone for the game’s musical stone, and the many renditions and remixes of it you’ll find throughout the course of the game are quite inventive and pleasant to hear in most scenarios.

It is in the sound effects category that Final Fantasy VIII makes the biggest leap audio wise from its elder brethren. Much more detail has been put into the audio effects for FFVIII, from the spell effects to environmental sounds. All of the spell effects seem to have a sense of correctness around them, even with the ones that would be untested if you wanted to, such as holy and ultima. Hearing Squall’s gunblade slam into enemy flesh is truly delicious, and you’ll cringe at the sound of Quistis’s whip swishing through air before layin’ the smack down on some helpless opposer. Petty monsters. The most noticeable change though is the environmental sounds, namely the addition of footsteps. Each surface you’ll across seems to have a sound made just for it, and differences in steps can be heard from Rinoa’s dainty shoes to Squall’s boots. It’s little touches like that holding Final Fantasy VIII in such high regard from a detail freak’s standpoint.

Difficulty wise, learning the systems of Final Fantasy VIII is the main challenge you’ll find along your way. Once you get over the draw system and master the junction system, FFVIII’s battles will be second nature. The Ultimate and Omega weapons have been added into the game for the more courageous of you, but these two beasts don’t pose as much of a challenge as the Emerald and Ruby weapons from their predecessor, FFVII. One challenging thing, though, is the card game. This, another of Square’s more unimpactful ideas, provides the minigames for the majority of Final Fantasy VIII. Again, for the patient only. The card game has many rule modifications and different specifications that, unless understood, can make for quite a frustrating and deposing experience. It simply provided me personally with a route to getting some powerful items that helped me later, but it didn’t provide any of the fun of the chocobo breeding from Final Fantasy VII or any other such endeavors.

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for an edition of “Good Idea, Bad Idea”, brought to you by the animaniacs. Today’s topic? Final Fantasy VIII.

GOOD IDEA
Plot is rather interesting.
Good relationship between the two lead characters.
Junction system is quite fun once mastered.
Visuals are the best to date.
Quite pleasing musical score.
Lots of detail in audio effects.

BAD IDEA
Drawing system.
Drawing system.
Drawing system.
Card game isn’t as entertaining as previous minigames.
The game isn’t very challenging after you learn the junction system.
Backup characters should’ve not been so forced.
Oh yeah, did I mention that I didn’t like the drawing system?

THE RUNDOWN
STORY: 8.7/10
GAMEPLAY: 8.3/10
GRAPHICS: 9.7/10
SOUND: 9.2/10
DIFFICULTY: Moderate
LASTING APPEAL: Average
FINAL SCORE: 8.8/10

As you can see, trying new things and change can be good. Although not all of Final Fantasy VIII’s ideas were ground breaking, revolutionary, and eye opening, they were very well executed. And while not all of them were welcomed with open arms by even myself, they were at least attempted in a manner that one has to appreciate. And while I can’t guarantee that you’ll love Final Fantasy VIII, I can testify to my own enjoying of its thrill ride across its worlds. If nothing else, I suggest playing Final Fantasy VIII out of appreciation for someone trying something new, much like you did. So, please, save my ears the agony of you playing that musical instrument. Put that cookbook on shrimp cocktail down. Hang up the tennis racket for a while. Sit down, power on your PSX, and be ready for a whole new experience.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/09/02, Updated 07/09/02


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