Review by Garbol Shora

"It is obvious that 'Final Fantasy VIII' is a much more mature and story-driven game than the rest..."

Synopsis
Square, probably the most renowned RPG company to date, has the Final Fantasy series to thank for its success and power. In Final Fantasy VII, Square created their first 3D Final Fantasy and successfully created a milestone to the series. Once more, Square challenges another leap, creating even better, even more realistic graphics than ever - and once again, success becomes the key.

Thus, the 8th of the Final Fantasy series and the 2nd of the graphic virtuosos is released, with stunning graphics revolved around two young adults, overcoming fear, finding love, and discovering that they are not alone. Impressive in many ways, 'Final Fantasy VIII' is a love story with many twists - maybe too many for some to handle, however.

Gameplay Elements:
Square again creates a gameplay that is finely integrated to the story, becoming an integral part of gameplay and story. In the 8th installment, Square has created a whole new system - The Junction System. Junction becomes a primary term in FF8, meaning to 'connect' or 'link'. In truth, Final Fantasy VIII chooses to involve the summon monsters much more than its counterpart 7, and titles them as 'Guardian Forces'. The aforementioned junction, becomes a link between a character and one or more of these guardian forces. Once these Guardian Forces (GF) are junctioned, one can input spells, magic and of the like to boost power, magic, defense, status resistance and elemental resistance. The more quantity of spells that a character inherits, the more potent the junction of that criteria becomes. As well, the better quality of the spell that a character inherits in their junction, the more potent the junction of that criteria will become. This is the junction system, and it truly becomes one of the more different systems in a game. Many things change in this game as well, as magic is a quantity, not an item, therefore, it will dissipate once used excessively.

To resolve this matter, one must draw continuously from a monster who inherits that magic, and take out several quantities of said magic into your own junction. This new technique, takes on the term 'draw'. Unfortunately, this becomes a tedious issue, as gamers will find boredom at this part of the game, drawing and drawing from monsters to achieve a decent supply of magic. The draw magic ultimately becomes a small nuisance more than a large accomplishment. However, it should be noted that Square deserves points for being innovative.

The biggest flaw and the one that ultimately made Final Fantasy VIII second to VII, is one word - tedious. Summon creatures (or GF) can be used to call these monsters, performing such powerful attacks and aiding the party members. Each summon takes approximately 1 or more minutes. Unfortunately, watching these 1 minute animations can only be exciting so many times. The animations eventually become a hassle and simply bore the entire battle system in general. While Guardian Forces are optional to summon, using them in the early game becomes somewhat essential as one is very weak in that stage. Unfortunately, this tedious issue cannot be overlooked, and seriously hampers the game. Square needed to do some fine-tuning with this system to better suit gamers to a less tedious game.

The most innovative of Final Fantasy VIII, is the way they have now inputted a 'Card Game'. This Card game is purely optional, but once again, is essential to unlock and discover the better and newer things FFVIII has to offer. Surprisingly, this card game is extremely fun, as you must collect cards, get rare ones, make them into powerful items, forge these rare items to rare magics and then junction them to create a much more easier and more efficient plan than drawing continuously from an attacking monster. This card game makes for so much time-wasting that it simply boosts gameplay and sidequests to a better extent. In this respect, Final Fantasy VIII has one of the most addictive card games yet. Pretty much, a card inherits certain numbers or letters, ranging from 1 'being low' to A 'being high', and are placed in a 3 by 3 square board. As cards are placed, the number/letter on that particular side must beat the card that it is next to, to own the card. Otherwise, you may simply just lose and lose the card as well. However, if the majority of cards are won over by you, you are the proud owner of the card(s) of your choice. Different rules throughout your travels make this a very pleasurable game.

Final Fantasy VIII keeps the World Map that is so famous in every RPG. Nothing new here, but the worlds seem to be much more larger than of Final Fantasy VII, and towns are larger. This results in... more exploration! This is great, considering RPGs are mainly exploring and discovering new things. Larger and bigger areas result in more sidequests and little extras, and Square does a very good job in making this noticeable. Limit Breaks once again return to Final Fantasy VIII, and they are just as fun and powerful as they were in Final Fantasy VII. Each character's Limit has an original something that makes it an important part of the game.

The Gameplay Elements in Final Fantasy VIII make hefty attempts to be as charming and easy, yet complex as its predecessor, but Square forgot that the tedious mechanism of both the GF animation and the draw system makes for some annoying chores. All work and no play makes the Gamer a dull boy. But other than that, card games, sidequests and the overall complexity of the Junction System usually compensate for the horrible draw system and the tedious animation sequences. 7/10

Visual Presentation:
Square does it once again! They pushed the power of the PS far for FFVII, and such a work of animated beauty came out of it. Now, they challenge to do it again, and my the result is the most beautiful CGs that have ever hit the Playstation. It is perfect for the capability of the system, and makes for one of the finest masterpieces of art for the Final Fantasy series. Everything has improved from Final Fantasy VII. Hands are now visible in the fields, characters are life-like and taller, and animations have never been better. The beautiful visuals in every part of the game makes the presentation so fine and so revealing, that next to nothing in Final Fantasy VIII can be criticized for this criteria. The characters are now reflected as 'young adults' and take on the look through their clothes and styles. Backgrounds are beautiful, detailed and dazzling, and makes for wonderful eye-candy.

Character models have taken a whole new level. No more miniatures for this game, as everybody is life-size, and detailed. Faces are very much visible, as eyes, nose and mouth can all be made out, and bodies are well-proportioned, creating the most realistic character models of its release date. The outfits are all very original and nicely done for the character models, and ultimately make for better and greater visuals. Symbolism has taken a more significant role for the characters, however. Little bits, such as Squall's necklace, Rinoa's angel wing all take on importance to the story, and have been well put into the visual presentation. Square is known to make these things noticeable, and they show it off with even more detailed picture than the ones before it.

What is probably the most beautiful animation becomes the most tedious. Once again, the GF special attack animation take on a role in this criteria as well, but in this case, a good one. The creators at Square have made the most outlandish animations ever, from summons performing rock, paper, scissors, to pointless world destruction animations. These animations, while seeming to take up to 5 minutes, are nevertheless beautiful. These little animated graphics make extremely good eye-candy for the first time around, but fall short after the next 12 times of tedious viewing. It it, however, to be noted that these animations are very beautiful and dazzle better than its predecessor(s). Speaking in terms of animation, more attention to the environment has been added in FFVIII. In this respect, more standby non-playable characters (NPC), walking NPC and shopping NPC can be visible in cities, and much less are shown in towns. Many of these little detailed animations to the environment create a truly amazing fantasy world, and makes the atmosphere take on new meaning.

Now, for the main bulk of graphic eye stimulation, CGs have been detailed to the core! Characters are life-like and the cartoony anime style animations of FFVII are gone. Things have never been more realistic than this when Final Fantasy VIII was released. From Rinoa's swaying hair to Zell's famous backflips, the animators have done amazing work in this department. Probably the one thing that the animators tried best to show, is the ending. The ending is arguably the best in Final Fantasy VIII, as animation is long and breathtaking, awesome and very fulfilling. Things in the Final Fantasy VIII world was never better in this criteria, and almost no flaws can be indicated in this department.

Square always seems to top their predecessor in whatever criteria they can manage, and they do such a good job in this department, as Final Fantasy VIII creates a showpiece, more than only a game. The CG, animation and all make Final Fantasy VIII a very pleasurable visual experience, and for those who enjoy eye-candy, should not miss out on the artistic masterpiece that Final Fantasy VIII is! If not, simply watching the introduction and ending is enough to impress anybody and everybody!10/10

Audio Presentation:
It seems very unnecessary to talk about whether the audio presentation is successful, as Nobuo Uematsu is composing it once again. Yes, it is more orchestrated than ever, and nice rock sounds are inputted in it as well. Nobuo Uematsu seems to take its depressing end-of-the-world theme of FFVII away from this one, and creates a more serene and amusing background music, that is fully orchestrated once again. While creating different themes for different titles, it is almost obvious that Nobuo Uematsu intends to depict one main thing - epic.

Other than music, sound effects are put into the mix as well. Mixed, dissonant sounds can be heard when a character slashes in to the monster, and does a good job of depicting a slashing sword. Other sound effects such as magic surging out of a character are all created to make the battle much more engaging and involving. Without the sound effects, nothing really would represent the actual battle, and the sound effects are just as important as the music, although not as memorable.

The audio presentation in Final Fantasy VIII are all the more memorable, and take in one of the most breathtaking CG scenes when mixed with the operatic melodies, or serene and epic tunes. In short, Final Fantasy VIII's audio presentation is much more sophisticated in terms of quality to Final Fantasy VII (breathtaking audio as well), and in simply saying that, the audio presentation speaks volumes. 10/10

Story and Composition:
The complexity of Final Fantasy VIII's story is fit for a good novel. The theme is much different from its predecessor, and takes on the story of a heartless, anti-social young adult named Squall. His story is a tale of loss and anger, bitterness and loneliness. This ultimately destroys Squall's overall positive character, and he becomes a negative, depressed and tempered character. Enter Rinoa, the charming, charismatic and oh-so beautiful female protagonist of the game. Her story is a bit different, as she represents a vibrant heart and a decision of freedom. While not without her own story of negativity, she decides to put that behind her and tries to break the barrier that Squall puts up. The love story is touched up with friends and responsibility... and yet, another lost love issue. Characters are much more personalized and original than usual, and have such a background and story to them, that it is hard not to like each and every one of them.

As all Square Final Fantasy games have, twists are inevitable, and always seem to pop up when one least expects it (very well depicted in Final Fantasy VII), and this becomes another story twist for Final Fantasy VIII. Many sudden twists and turns take the main story into a haywire chaotic world of world domination (yet again), and once more, it is up to Squall to stop the antagonist. However, his own secluded world makes him bitter to the entire picture, and requires the help of his friends. Unfortunately, some areas of the story is unanswered until the very last moment, where it has no relevance, or it could've been mentioned much earlier. The antagonist is much less despised and becomes just another thing to kill, and in truth, eliminates the harsh and evil symbol that most antagonists take on.

Interestingly enough, Final Fantasy VIII has a very elegant plot, filled with many themes that revolve around this lonely person and the friends that encourage him. In truth, despite some sudden cameos of antagonists and sudden story change, it is actually extremely intelligent, and very well thought out. This story should not be missed, and it is a welcoming idea that Square has put in an intelligent love theme to the whole world domination fiasco. 9/10

Replayability and Extras:
Final Fantasy VIII, while not having much replay value, puts in very much. So many sidequests, and much more than its predecessors have been offered. The card game alone is very time-consuming and very exciting. Other small things such as fighting evil entities have also been put into the mix, and they're just as hard as ever. Chocobos take on a more shallow role, however, but it can be overlooked due to so many sidequests, secrets and things for you to desire. Items can now be forged into magic, cards can be forged into items, and they are simply waiting for you to find out all these little bits and pieces of secrets to uncover... and it is well worth your time!

Replayability is usually an unavailable value, as RPGs are long and time-consuming. But in terms of Extras, Final Fantasy VIII gives you more of the hefty sidequests that everyone so desires, and it delivers every little bit of goods that were already in Final Fantasy VII. 9/10

Conclusion
Square again tops many things that Final Fantasy VII was successful in, to the exception of gameplay, however. While many people target this little gem as a failure, it needs to be said that this game presents much more presentation, and while this can be both a good and bad thing, it attempts to re-enact the charm of Final Fantasy in this one as well. The world of Final Fantasy VIII is vast and large, and gives many things. Again, Square integrates the gameplay, music and visuals into the story, and for this one, entirely focuses on character development. The characters, now more deep and with much more history, create much interaction and involvement for the gamer. This is a showpiece that plays with a very interesting story plot, and while many may dislike the new approach that Square has made, it is obvious that this one is a much more mature and story-driven game than the rest.

How it all adds up!
(average is determined through the importance of the criteria)
Gameplay Elements: 7/10
Visual Presentation: 10/10
Audio Presentation: 10/10
Story and Composition: 9/10
Replayability and Extras: 9/10
Final Score: 9


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/26/02, Updated 02/09/03


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