Review by matt91486

"Only Edea can rival Queen Amidala’s wardrobe"

The Final Fantasy series has long held the odd thought that it must reinvent itself every time an installment is released. Generally this includes a few changes in the battle system, graphical interface modifications, and an all-new, unrelated story line. Well, Square decided to overhaul everything that it had going for it. Super-realistic characters were put in a modern setting with a sappy, soap-opera caliber story line. Bold and the Beautiful, here we come.

“What the hell is up with this?”

“The only garden that I visit is Madison Square. And there’s no way I want to go to a private school, let alone one that disparages the name of the arena that my Miami Heat must painfully visit twice a year.”

“Is there a point to these Laguna dream sequences? Wait, you mean they could have left them out and made the game an entire disc shorter? They could have ended my misery sooner?”

These are only some of the phrases that I uttered during, and after, my playing of Final Fantasy VIII - the series black sheep to end all black sheep.

Oh, the humanity. SquareSoft rolled out of bed the morning after Final Fantasy VII was released to an adoring public and discussed how they were going to reinvent themselves again. Of course, not a soul decided to think about how they could still keep the greatest magic system in the history of video games (Final Fantasy VII’s ‘Materia System’). Time for something new, they thought. Well, that something new almost manages to ruin Final Fantasy VIII all by its lonesome.

Instead of using magic that your character has a predisposition to learn at certain levels (like classic Final Fantasies), using magic that goes along with your job class (Final Fantasy V or Final Fantasy Tactics), or sticking with the beloved Materia System, SquareSoft decided to bastardize what made the series great in the first place. Instead of your characters having magic, they could just ‘borrow’ some magic from any enemy they meet!

Hey, it sounds good in paper. But you would think that play testing would show them that it was executed horribly. I had to sit there, in battles with normal enemies, and keep ‘drawing’ magic from them, so that I would have enough spells to bee able to beat the upcoming boss. Each draw only supplies about five spells, so I had better draw five or so times with each character. Time for a new battle, to draw a new type of magic. All of that idiotic drawing added at least five hours to an excruciatingly long game already!

Here is the real kicker. You cannot even draw magic if you do not have a Guardian Force! (Guardian Force is the fancy-shmancy new term for a Summon Beast.) In fact, you really cannot do anything at all without one of those Guardian Forces around. So you have to be vigilant, constantly searching around for one of those stupid beasts, because all of your characters each have to possess at least one. And then, after a while, your Guardian Forces become obsolete, so you have to upgrade to new ones. Stop with the searching already! Just make me know Firaga dammit! I don’t want to draw anymore!

The Draw System has one tiny advantage - stupider people do not have to think as much. Instead of having to contemplate which spells to give which characters without affecting their status negatively in too many ways, all they have to do is click on a menu button to get the magic they need. Way to dumb it down! And, to make drawing even easier, SquareSoft decided to make the already common random battles appear even more often, so you can have more and more opportunities to draw!

Drawing magic from enemies doesn’t even look cool. They could have had the characters do some ritualistic dance, and have the screen flash psychedelic colors during drawing. Instead, a couple of white streaks fly out of the enemy towards you. Where’s the creativity in that? Could Square be getting sapped for ideas? Perhaps other companies “drew” them all away from Square, the boss of the RPG world and Square’s hanging on for dear life. (They are doing the unprecedented and making a sequel to Final Fantasy X. Isn’t that the least little bit suspicious?)

Luckily, everything but magic drawing looks fantastic. Here’s another plus - the characters actually have mouths this time around! (Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud was famously without one.) The models have been made even more realistic, and they are a far cry from the old Super Nintendo glory days of the series. There are no longer disproportionate heads to bodies, as they have all been mapped out with painstaking detail.

Helping to make Final Fantasy VIII’s characters distinctive are some fascinating hairstyles and wardrobe selections. Squall has a jacket with fur lining thing going, while Quistis prefers a demure business attire. As for the hair, Edea goes for the ‘Princess Leia’ look, while Selphie’s hair is as gravity defying as ever. In fact, Selphie’s hair may be the coolest thing in all of Final Fantasy VIII.

But the hair certainly is not the most breathtaking aspect of the graphical engine in Final Fantasy VIII. That award would go to the breathtaking cinema scenes. The animation in these FMVs is better than that of Toy Story 2, a point made more impressive by the fact that these FMVs managed to get packed onto PlayStation CDs. The confusing, soap-opera caliber plot is fleshed out through these movies, so that you have at least a vague clue of what’s going on. However, the game could have easily been reworked to not include them, thereby cutting down on load times and needed discs. Square wanted to include them so that they could show off their graphical muscle.

RPGs tend to concentrate a larger percentage of their budget on musically-related forays than a typical action game, Final Fantasy VIII not being the exception to prove the rule. Using big-budget, high-profile Japanese talent not only provides atmospheric background music, but it gives obstinate fanboys reason enough to stand in line for an extra hour to make sure they get their copy.

The musical themes stick with the overall look and feel of the stages: Kind of weird, kind of funky. Final Fantasy VIII is certainly the closest the series has ever been to being able to be called “edgy.” Square tried their darndest to modernize the series all around; thus, the music is a bit less traditional than usual. However, do not think it’s too outrageous. The music is still completely orchestral based and clearly from a big budget RPG. But you can clearly pick it out from a collection of Final Fantasy music.

Final Fantasy games have never been ones devoted to great sound effects. Number VIII sticks with this pattern. The effects certainly don’t stick out in your mind. One big problem seems to be the lack of them in some places. This makes Final Fantasy VIII seem a bit unpolished; something you do not normally say about Square RPGs.

Perhaps Square felt that they redeemed themselves by attempting to polish the story to a daytime television caliber luster. Everything in Final Fantasy VIII is as soap-operatic as humanly possible. I was waiting for Susan Lucci to pop-in in a guest role. I’ve never seen such crappy, overwrought dialogue off of General Hospital.

You need to play some serious Triple Triad to break up the story line. Triple Triad is almost impossible to explain, but it is the most fun that I had playing Final Fantasy VIII. Triple Triad is a complicated card game. The board is set with groups of cards. Each card has different values on each side. Place your cards with a higher value than another to take control of cards. Games are generally quick and you can get some great prizes from the other players. Many people in the game can be challenged by walking up to them and pressing Square. This is a great way to add to your card total, since you get to select one of your opponent’s prized possessions. Enemies also frequently drop cards, especially bosses. If you find yourself needing some good cards, simply progress through the game a bit. This will supply your deck with some of the rarest cards.

If you could follow the seemingly unending story line -- which really isn’t that long, it only disinterested me that much -- then you shouldn’t have any problems beating Final Fantasy VIII. None of the bosses presented a serious challenge to my parties. And when no boss presents a challenge over four-discs (an inflated total, because the last disc is pretty much just the final boss), something is seriously wrong.

Even though Final Fantasy VIII was a fairly easy game, there was no way in hell I was going to play through that miserable, sixty hour affair again. There really was no incentive. I had already played Triple Triad enough to that point to sustain me for the rest of my life. However, if Square decides to release a GameBoy Advance version of Triple Triad, I’ll be first in line. The fact remains that once you have beaten a lifeless, four-disc game, you are not really going to ever want to touch it again. Especially with some of those load times. You’d think you were in a line at Disney World or something. To play through a role-playing game again,it has to have some spectacular side quests, catches in the story you missed the first time around, or secret additions. But, most of all, the combat engine has to be good, so you can withstand playing through so many battles. Final Fantasy VIII has none of these things. So I’m not playing it again.

As Madonna learned, reinventing yourself constantly is bound to lead to at least one idea that does not work. Let’s just hope that SquareSoft learned from this mistake, and we never have to draw magic, visit crappy private schools called gardens, or give a damn just who loves Squall again. Because I sure didn’t care then, and I don’t plan on starting caring any time soon.

PROS
*Great looking graphics.
*Hair styles to make Fabio jealous.
*Some of the best music to hit the PlayStation in its entire life span.

CONS
*Drawing magic? This isn’t third-grade-art class. I don’t want to draw anything.
*L . . . . o . . . . a . . . . d . . . . . . . T . . . . . i . . . . . m . . . . . . e . . . . . s
*Not only will you never want to play it again, but the case is so big that you can’t even fit it into a CD rack!

SCORE SUMMARY

GAMEPLAY--2
GRAPHICS--9
MUSIC--10
SOUND--6
CONTROL--7
FUN--4
CHALLENGE--LOW TO MEDIUM
REPLAY VALUE--LOW

OVERALL--4


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 12/07/02, Updated 12/07/02


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