Review by rxfang6

"A true cinematic masterpiece - my favorite game of this type of movie-like storytelling"

Introduction
When it comes to rpgs, some can get away with excelling in one department and faltering in another. The reason why is that often this department is atmosphere, story/characters, or gameplay. An rpg covers a lot of ground in what it does. It tells a story, develops characters, sets its unique mood and atmosphere, and lets you develop your character's skills through its battle system. There are many things that can go wrong in an rpg, which is something that I keep in mind whenever an rpg disappoints. But the three things that I mentioned above are the most delicate of all the aspects of an rpg, and when a game gets one of those aspects almost completely right it easily has the potential to be a masterpiece.
Alas, when an aspect is near perfect, other aspects just always seem to go wrong in some way - it's the way an rpg often develops out.
FFVIII is the victim of this, along with most other recommendable rpgs. FFVIII may have some of the most defining moments in rpg history, but is that enough?

Music and Sound
The first thing that you will hear when starting the game will be the unprecedented intro FMV. Thought the orchestrated final battle of FFVII was cool? Well, you'll be in for a delightful shock - the gorgeous FMV in this intro is complete with the help of an orchestra. After I saw it for the first time I wanted to go back just for the sights, but then I realized what was playing in the background - it was a fully orchestrated piece of music. It led me to catch on to the power that classical music, when used right, can lend to an rpg or anything in general. After this FMV I heard the orchestra in movies such as Lord of the Ring: Fellowship of the Rings and in other games such as FFIX.
So, it's cool, right? Very. It's quite possibly the best intro to any game ever, and it sounds almost as good as you think it could sound. It's got human chanting, crescendos, and very memorable instrumentals. It's awe-inspiring (and just might lead to many new game files being created).

The music beyond the intro is really what's in question, but hey - it's a Square developed Final Fantasy game! It's going to have excellent music!

Luckily, although at first the game's music may let you down, FFVIII has enough great tracks to make it one of the better rpg soundtracks. Including the intro, of course.

Some of the music is dismal, but it's almost to be expected. The stuff that works happens to work really well. Just like in the intro, there are tracks with very creepy, mood setting human chanting. Any kind of boss battle theme is done really well, from the end boss to the side-quest bosses.

The main boss battle theme is one of my favorites in the game; you wouldn't believe how much the music can help the excitement of the battle.

The game isn't really lessened that much when the music is bad, although you might get the repetitive feeling, as the music is reused quite a bit.

Sound effects are excellent. Guns, swords, even whips sound as good as they should; magic spells sound very cool, and the GF's (or summon magic) never sounded better.
Music and effects during FMV sound excellent as well.

Story and Characters
Of all the Final Fantasies, FFVIII just might have the most controversial story and characters in how they are presented, and what they represent.

The main character is Squall. He goes to school at a special forces training center, known as garden. He has deep, emotional scarring, is very quiet and shy, and can be very cold hearted. This is the biggest controversial thing that I was talking about - the main character, the hero, is cold hearted. It sounds like it would never work.

Seifer is Squall's arch nemesis. They constantly are in competition, and they go at it numerous times throughout the game once Seifer joins the wrong side of the war.

Rinoa is the daughter of a prestigious general, and thus, wants nothing to do with him and even goes against him by creating a rebel group. She hires Squall's team to help them out.

Edea is a sorceress that is as confusing as she is mysterious. Is she good, or is she bad?

Quistis is at first Squall's instructor, but then she gets moved down in rank and joins Squall's team. She has a deep connection to Squall, without knowing what it is. Could it be love?

Selphie is the token cheery team member.

Zell is the token cheery team member. Yes, there's two in this one.

Irvine is Garden's top sharpshooter, and joins Squall's team later.

Now I'll rate the characters for you.

As a whole, the group makes a Final Fantasy token - a group of people brought together to save the world that is at so much risk. It is a loveable group, surprisingly, for me at least.

On a personal level, it's really up to you if you like these characters or not.
I personally liked the Squall character a lot, even though not many people share my view. The reason why is that when you connect the game's battles to the game's story and characters, it truly works. Squall is a very talented soldier, and thus he's the most powerful character with the most incredible, strong limit break in the game (more on that later). Likewise, he is a dark, quiet character outside of battles, and that there can be relatable to in some ways.
Squall reminds me of Cecil, from FFIV, in many ways. Cecil was a dark lead character too, and they both share a common confusion about the mysterious events happening to them and to the world.

The rest of the characters, for me, went downhill from there. My next favorites would be secondary characters such as Edea, Cid the Garden headmaster, followed by Quistis and the rest of Squall's team.
The characters that I didn't like were thus Zell and Selphie. For some reason, I can't stand cheery Final Fantasy characters. I've only liked Yukie and Cait Sith as the non-depressed Final Fantasy role, and I don't know why.

An rpg wouldn't be an rpg without a story, now would it?
FFVIII is definitely a mixed bag. On one hand it steals and copies a lot from other rpgs (such as flashbacks and perilous situations) but on the other, it's very fresh and interesting.
The fresh and interesting stuff are that this team of people are special force agents. They aren't an independent group of heroes off to save the world; they are a specially trained group that goes on missions, given or by their own choice.
Thus, some rpg tokens are given a change. Weapons and armor are almost non-existent, which could be a good thing. Since this is their job, they earn money sporadically instead of earning it by winning against bosses and random encounters. Travel is done primarily by cars, flying trainee academies, or technological aircrafts.

The reused rpg elements can be rather dry in FFVIII. Squall and his team experience strange flashbacks about a separate group of heroes from the past, and this phenomenon will take a while to figure out. When you do figure out why it was happening, you'll probably be as baffled as I was. The flashbacks themselves are too drawn-out for being literally pointless events, and you’ll be turned off by the game because of these on numerous occasions. I think that they should have used less, or at least given them more meaning to the rest of the story. I’m really confused.

Incorporated into FFVIII, deep into the game, is the concept of time. It's nothing like the Chrono series, but its use is actually very good. You'll love seeing the FMV version of time warps and the desolation of time hinted at in Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, realized fully in CG form. I don't like giving stuff away about rpg stories, but to rouse some interest the main villain has a lot to do with time and manipulating it to her extent.

The pacing of FFVIII's story isn't really exceptional. There are some slow spots, there isn't story motivation to go on in some of the places, and some scenes are way too drawn out. But all this is eclipsed by the tensions, the suspense, emotion, and the mystery that the plot of FFVIII throws at you. There are many high-risk situations where a team member is in grave danger, there is a haunting Fantasy aura surrounding the villains and characters, and intense battles pop up at unexpected moments throughout the story. You even get to witness a war between two Garden training buildings - what an event that was. FFVIII even tackles the issue of love, and I think that it did it surprisingly well, considering the subject.

Any confusion and possibly bad plot/character development gets thrown out of the bag by the end of the 3rd disc. FFVIII really hits its stride; both in gameplay and story terms, and you'll be in awe all the way to the ending.

And then you get to the ending. If you own FFVIII and haven't seen the ending, do all that you must - cheat if you have to - to witness this amazing finale. This is, by far, my all-time favorite game ending. It harkens on a technical level to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within production - it's long and it's in gorgeous, gorgeous FMV. At an emotional level, it ranks up there with the absolute best movies. I'm not going to say anything about how much or how little I cried, but I will tell you that most people that have talked about the ending have admitted to crying. In all honesty, I teared up almost to the limit - turned down the volume of the amazing ending song - and retained emotional sanity throughout the whole affair, but others haven't fared well.
As you can see, the ending to FFVIII is truly remarkable. It offers closure on a plot level, along with on a character level. It's worth buying the game for, and you'll be in shock that something like this could be done at all in 1999 - especially on the PSone.

Will you like FFVIII's story and characters? It depends on you. If you were to ask me, I'd definitely praise it. The biggest reasons why I liked FFVIII's plot and characters were firstly that I liked Squall so much as a lead character, and secondly that I'm a sucker for mysterious magic, time, and sorceresses. The FMV moved me, the dialogue moved me, the intro and ending moved me, and I felt in touch with the lead character. I don't think games get any more moving than this, although FFVIII stumbles with some plot lags, some bland characters, and some other problems.

Battle System
This is one of the most universally hated aspects of FFVIII. First, I'll go over how it works as a whole.

Each character has a set of stats. There are stats for magic, magic defense, health points, power, defense, evasion, and other token Final Fantasy character stats. By drawing magic from your enemies, you can junction this magic to a character's stats and raise them depending on spell power and spell quantity. You can make your character a mage powerhouse, or a highly defensive character with lots of HP, and a slew of other options. You can also junction this magic to stats such as magical resistance and weapon attributes. You can boost a character's strength, give him a fire-innate attack, and easily slice through ice-innate bad guys.

This won't come easy though.

Remember, you have to draw the spells from your enemies. This takes a bit of time, and they probably won't have the spell that you're looking for. Also, you'll have to wait later in the game for the really powerful spells (unless you can make the most out of GF abilities).

Customization doesn't fit your idea of a smooth battle system? Don't worry, you can let the game manage your spells and where they are junctioned by the press of a few buttons.

Other aspects of the battle system include the necessary Guardian Forces (shortened rather nicely to “GF“). You won't even be able to junction magic without the help of these guys. They allow a character to use magic or other skills in combat, and as they grow in abilities they'll allow you to junction magic to stats. You'll also be able to use them in battles too, just like the Espers of FFVI and the Summons of FFVII.

So, what do people hate so much? Even though customization is generally a good thing, the actual battles in FFVIII may leave a lot to be desired. Although I found most of the boss battles and the such to be very entertaining, random battles may have never been so bothersome.

A large problem is the summoning animation. You are pretty much forced to use GF's a lot, since magic and attacks usually don't cut it unless you can utilize the magic-stat junctioning to the fullest. It took me a long time to figure it out, so I'm betting that others have had problems with it too.
Back to the GFs, the summoning animation takes a long time to finish. I timed some of them, and the average is roughly 35 seconds. That means that you be waiting in battle for that time, watching the same summon over and over again, until the random encounter or boss is dead. Sometimes the time spent in battle is outrageous - some optional bosses (like Cacutar) take 30-40 minutes to complete, and random battles take an average of maybe 3 to 5 minutes a piece.

As you can tell, this can become frustrating, and many people have bashed FFVIII to no end because of this. Couldn't they just allowed you shorten it? It baffles me too.
It isn't without no purpose. If you can teach a GF the boost ability, you can spend that 35 seconds repeatedly pressing the “boost” button to increase the amount of damage the GF does. So for me, even though I started hating the miserably long Shiva and Quetzacotl summons to the point of stopping the game, I did boost every time after and now I can stand it pretty well (while developing some nasty thumb pains). Also, I have now utilized magic-stat junctioning pretty well, so I use my GFs sparingly now. What a relief.

Really, if you have patience for it, you won't have that much of a problem. But it you are like one of the many FFVIII GF haters, all the power to you - I agreed with you at one point.

More problems involve the amount of time it takes preparing for battles. Customization doesn't take just seconds, and equipping/trading magic supplies between active and non-active characters takes a lot time. If you have a lot of patience, you can handle it. I was able to handle it after a while, though I was a bit discontent.

Time for the good stuff.
First off, I'll repeat again that customization is generally a good thing. Want a character to be able to make bad guys fall asleep by just attacking? Draw enough sleeps and you can.

Limit Breaks are back, and although each character has only one type of limit break, there are many variations to it. Quistis, for example, can use all sorts of enemy skills with her limit break Blue Magic. Zell, a fighter, can perform specific fighting moves ala blitzes from FFVI. Squall does a less powerful, but cooler looking version of Cloud's Omnislash called ''Renzockuven.'' Yes, I spelled that wrong.
My favorite one of them all is definitely Squall's. You see, besides performing numerous slashes with his sword, if you perform certain button timings correctly Squall will perform another Limit Break. This extra limit break changes upon which weapon you have, which I thought was a great idea. And wow, do these look great (I'll go into more detail later). Also, if you have Squall's best weapon, Lionheart, and you reach the other Limit Break..... Wow, you'll be in for treat. Who can survive that? (sadly, the final boss!)

Besides watching lots of summoning animations, random battle encounters provide a small bit of entertainment. Squall, a Gun-Blade user, can double the power of his attack if you push the trigger of the gun-blade just as he hits the enemy. This adds actual gameplay to the battles. I thought that the drawing system was a fine idea; it eliminates MP and allows you to even use the spell on the spot. That big boss has the spell Life? Use it on a fallen ally and you won't lose any of your Life stash. I thought that GF junctioning worked well, too. GFs also learn other kinds of stat boosts for your characters, such as HP + 20% or the attack boost Darkside.

Battles have some strategy to them too, as most FF battle systems do. Having trouble getting in turns during a boss fight? Use the magic spell ''triple'' on a team member which allows you to use any spell three times in a turn, and have that team member use Haste three times on the party. GF also add some strategic advantages to the mix. Carbuncle gives each ally the spell Reflect, Cerebus gives each ally the spell triple, and Diablo's attack does damage according to the power of the victim.

Since I prefer being able to customize your characters to the preset ability battle system of rpgs like FFIX and FFIV, I rather enjoyed FFVIII's battle system. I like the preset ability system too, but FFVIII works really well by allowing you to change anything you want about a character. You won't get full customization until much, much later in that game and you have to earn it, but the later parts of the game are the best part of FFVIII so you'll be in rpg heaven.

World Design and Dungeons
Square really disappointed me with this one in FFVIII.

The towns of Final Fantasy games are usual bright and lively places, or at least they’ll keep your interest. But the towns of FFVIII are pretty much depressing.
In FFVIII: people say the same exact thing throughout the course of the game, you’ll get lost in the pre rending most of the time, and some towns have absolutely no point at all.

The overworld can be kind of downer as well. It looks pretty good and there’s quite a bit of stuff to do beyond the actual game, but I got lost a lot. Finding the town that you have to go to can take some time, as you’ll probably visit the wrong one on numerous occasions. The random battle count is rather high, although if you win Diablo early in the game the problem is solved - he lets you use the abilities low-encounter and no-encounter.

There are quite a few dungeons in FFVIII, even during the sometimes painful flashback segments. They are designed pretty badly, that’s for sure. It just seems..... wrong! They are uninspired and chock full of random battles, and it shows how easily someone can become frustrated with the GF summonings.

*rxfang6’s “Best Ever” pick
Graphics
Whenever a Final Fantasy comes around, it generally turns heads. FFVIII is no exception, but I was truly shocked at how marvelous this game looks. It may have a run-down pre rendering style, disfigured backgrounds and some lame textures, but that’s where the negative list ends. Everything else is completely, utterly gorgeous - it’s again reason enough to own this masterpiece.

The world that Squall and his team explore is mainly in pre rendering form - just like FFVII, and for good measure Chrono Cross, FFIX, and some parts of FFX. Although it’s style might turn some people off, I liked it quite a bit. It has a good amount of color in some areas and a darker tint in others. The characters move around and manipulate objects on screen almost perfectly. The characters themselves are in real time, and they are very highly detailed and animated.

The battles are in excellent, highly detailed real time - with plenty of lighting and particle effects to boot. The characters look great during the battles, and they animate even better.
Magic attacks are marvels too see. They are near-perfect length, they generally light-up the screen accordingly, and you’ll want to see them again and again.
The Limit Breaks, as I mentioned earlier, are wondrous sights to see. Squall’s Renzockuven is an amazing event to witness, especially the secondary limit break that follows the normal one.
One secondary limit break that I liked in particular truly shocked me when I saw it. It was when I was playing through the game for my second time, and I was in the middle of a tough boss fight. My two other teammates had fallen, and it was up to Squall to finish the battle. He hit limit break damage level, and I proceeded to use Renzockuven. After performing all the required button presses, the camera moved back to Squall on the ground and he stepped up away from where he was originally standing. He then proceeded to thrust his sword in the air, and he sent a serge of energy through his gun blade and into the ceiling. Next, the camera panned out to space in an extraordinary view of Earth, and Squall’s sword blast escaped the atmosphere and into space. Then, Squall swings his god-like blade at the enemy, and massive damage ensues to the surrounding room.
Sadly, Squall got killed by the boss right after, so it was all in vain.

This was the point in my time with FFVIII where I threw all the wrongful biased anger I’ve read up on toward the game out of my mind, and I decided that it doesn’t matter if the gameplay might be seriously flawed - if a game can look this good and put the player into a Zen-like shocked state, then it just happens to be a masterpiece.

Other Zen-like graphical presentations occur during GF summonings. Although you will be forced to unjustly view and re-view these, you’ll surely be astonished by them at one point. They contain such amazing graphical flair that some might not mind having to watch them 100 times a piece throughout the course of the game. Some summonings even incorporate beautiful FMV into the mass-destruction, making the player go into disbelief. Monster sized-beings and things blowing up never looked so good!

The FMV in FFVIII was (and maybe is) unprecedented. Besides having astonishing quality, they are artistic and direction marvels. Why didn’t the people that did this FMV work directly on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? I say without doubt that some of the FMV in FFVIII outlook even the multi-million dollar Final Fantasy movie. You get to interact with some of the FMV even - your real-time characters run about the full-motion environments, sometimes on a stealth trip to escape the guards.

Conclusion
As I’ve mentioned a few times in the review, there is a general hate for FFVIII amongst Final Fantasy fans. The same can be said for FFVII, which I think is completely unjustified for an excellent game such as that. In FFVIII’s case, I tend to side with them in some terms - too many times did the certain plot devises, characters, and pointless dungeons turn me off from the game. But I give FFVIII much more credit than they give it. FFVIII was not done by the same Square team that handled the SNES Final Fantasies and FFVII, but the team that did FFVIII is just as talented as them in my mind, even if their strengths lie somewhere else. The truth is, when you give a talented group that much money, amazing things are bound to happen. And thus, it is my humble opinion that FFVIII is a cinematic masterpiece and deserves a place in the history books as one of the best looking games ever created. With the help of an orchestra, in-depth characters, and an intricate battle system, FFVIII unleashes an rpg dream-worthy experience that looks more beautiful than you’d think. Out of all the multimillion dollar blockbuster games ever created (I’m talking about FFVII, FFX, and anything else with hordes of FMV), FFVIII has used the best of that money to create one of the greatest awe-inspiring experiences ever unleashed into a videogame format. And if you like the characters and the battle system, like I have, then you are lucky enough to enjoy yet another Square developed Final Fantasy gem.

Positive:
+Intricate battle system for those who understand how to make it work in their favor
+Astonishing graphics
+Cinematic Flair
+Excellent FMV
+The Limit Breaks!
+Stunning, orchestrated intro
+Tear-inducing Finale

Negative:
-Lame dungeon crawling
-Over-lengthy and over-emphasized summoning
-Some characters and repetitive plot devises will make you cringe

Music and Sound: 8.75
Characters and Story: 8
Battle System: it really depends on you - if you like intricate stuff like this, then I’d say a 9...... if you don’t, then a 6.75
World Structure and Dungeons: 5.5
Graphics: 9.75
Time spend in awe: Priceless

rxfang6’s game grade: A


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/02/02, Updated 08/02/02


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