Review by Crocomire
"Squall's journey is another gaming masterpiece from Square"
The story of Final Fantasy VIII is huge and one of the greatest you'll ever have the honour of playing through in a video game. You really can't appreciate the story in words; you simply have to play it to get the most out of it. Here's the low-down anyway.
You take control of Squall Leonhart; a 17-year old student at Balamb Garden. Balamb Garden It isn't what you might think. All over the world there are many Gardens where children and teenagers of all ages can go to train to become members of SeeD. Think of a Garden as a school. SeeD is a special force which only graduated students at Garden can get in to. The students have to pass a series of exams, both mental and physical. This means that they have to learn about magic, weapons, and all the other complicated things involving fighting. But they must of course be able to actually fight for themselves too. Each student will fight with their favourite weapons and train all the time to master them in order to take on anyone. Some people who you'll come across in the game will use nunchaku; others will use their bare fists. Squall uses the awesome gunblade.
SeeD was created by the Headmaster of Balamb Garden, Cid, for a special purpose to defeat the Sorceress or any other forms of threat to the world. Only the best of the best will become a SeeD as only the best will be able to take on the power of the Sorceress. Sorceress powers are said to derive from fragments of the Great Hyne,
passed down from generation to generation. The Great Hyne was said to have created the world and all of mankind thousands of years ago. Sorceress' gain ultimate special magic powers and have amazing strength. In recent years, Sorceresses have become extremely dangerous for unknown reasons, and just a few years ago, a group of people sealed the Sorceress Adel into a chamber, froze her, and sent her into space where she would be no threat to the world.
However, there is still another Sorceress. Her name is Edea. It is only on random occasions that she suddenly turns evil. She has no control over her powers. It is as if someone else is controlling her. In time, you will find out the real meaning behind it all, and that is where the story starts to unfold.
And that is only the beginning of it all. This story will have you hooked, confused, sad, excited, and so much more from start to finish. There's so much more to this in the story than what I've spoken about here. The whole story alone would take up more than 10 pages, but I'm not going to spoil it for you at all because it would totally ruin the game completely. You really have to play the game to love this story so much more.
Hell, I could just end the review right there. The story in itself is enough alone to warrant a purchase from you! But I'm not going to because I love this game so much that I want to talk loads more about it.
Wow, where do I start!? Okay then, for the people completely new to the words Final Fantasy, let me tell you the following. Final Fantasy VIII, just like nearly all the other FF's, is a role playing game. You adventure around the world, to many different towns and cities, even to outer space and into underground buildings. The main emphasis is on talking. You must talk to practically all the people you meet to progress further in the game and to learn all sorts of information which will help you on your quest.
While out on your adventure you must battle monsters to train up your party members and make them stronger. You can fight monsters on the world map or at other certain locations. You do not have to fight them you could simply run away from the battle once it ensues. But in order to stand a chance against the enemies which you must defeat to progress in the game's story, you will need to make the most of your battles with monsters. That should clear things up for the newcomers.
Now then, people who may have played Final Fantasy VII will remember the Materia system; where you had to equip special balls of magic to your weapons to enable you to perform these magical abilities during battle. Square like to change things in FF games. As well as changing the story and characters, by changing the attack and magic equipping systems, it brings a whole new game to the player. So with FFVIII, it's no surprise to hear the magic system is different once again. This time, we have the Junction system. Let me explain.
When you go into the menu, you'll see the Junction option first on the list. This is basically the place where you can equip all your attack and magic abilities. It might seem quite confusing at first as there is a lot of text and options, but it will soon become a piece of cake after you mess around and see the effects in battle. First of all, the easiest and most basic of things you can do in the Junction menu is to assign what abilities you want in battle. During battle you get four options, with one always being Attack. The other things you use in battle could be things such as Item, GF, Recover, Revive, Draw, or Magic.
Item lets you select from a number of items you have bought or picked up during you quest. They include things like recovery potions or cures for status effects like poison. There are tons of status effects which you can have inflicted on you by enemies, like blind which causes your attack accuracy to drop dramatically. Likewise, you can inflict them upon enemies, if they aren't immune to the effect you're trying to inflict. You can remove status effects with items you can buy from shops.
GF stands for Guardian Force. Guardian Forces are huge powerful beings which you can summon in battle to cause a great deal of damage. Some GFs however, can help you in other ways such as GF Carbuncle who will cast reflect magic on your party to reflect magic attacks back onto the enemy; or GF Cerberus who will cast triple magic on your party which lets you cast three times the amount of magic in one move. You can obtain GFs in many different ways. Sometimes you'll have to draw (I'll talk more about this in a moment) them from enemies, other times you'll have to find them hidden deep inside secret and deserted locations. Equipping GFs to your party members will prove extremely useful. Each GF can learn a number of different abilities which can help both your character and Guardian Force. There are abilities such as SummonMagic+10%, which will increase your GF's damage points done to enemies by 10%; while there are others such as Recover which you can assign to your character to use from the options in battle. In this example, Recover heals a lot of hit points to one of your party members. You can even learn special abilities like Str+10 which increases your physical attack damage in battle.
In the Junction menu you can assign magic to different statistics of your characters. Stats include the likes of Hit Points, Strength, Speed, and Luck. Your GFs can learn abilities which let you junction (assign/equip) magic to certain stats. For example, if Squall's GF has learnt the HP-J ability, then you'll be able to junction magic to Squall's HP stat. Basically, junctioning magic to a stat will increase the stat, and in turn help you in battle. But certain magic and having more of that magic will help different stats more than others. If you had 50 Cure spells, then they would be better suited to the HP stat than 50 Fire spells. The Strength stat would more likely be better suited to having 50 Fire spells because Fire is a strong attacking magic, whereas Cure is a strong healing magic. Another example would be junctioning as many Haste spells as you could to the Speed stat. Haste is a magic which increases your speed in battle, so by junctioning a lot of Haste spells to Spd, the time it takes for your characters to perform another move in battle shifts up a few gears. By having more Haste spells, the faster your character's speed will become.
However, junctioning magic can have its drawbacks. Should you have Cure spells junctioned to your HP stat, and you end up using some Cure spells in battle, your total HP points will decrease as you are losing the magic junctioned to the HP stat. So it's then up to you what you do. Do you carry on the game using the magic you've junctioned, even if it decreases your stats? Do you junction magic that you aren't as likely to use in battle? Do you junction your best magic and try not to use it at all? Or do you just not bother junctioning any magic whatsoever? It's all up to you what you do, and you can do what you feel comfortable with.
You can eventually have your GFs learn abilities which let you junction magic to stop status effects from being inflicted on you in battle. For example, the more Bio you junction to StatusDefense, the higher the probability that you'll not be inflicted by poison should an enemy cast it on you. You can even junction magic which will let you inflict status effects when you physically attack an enemy too which can prove very helpful.
There are tons and tons of options and even if you do find it confusing, you can auto-junction where the game junctions what it thinks is best automatically. However, this doesn't always turn out to be the perfect setup and of course, junctioning magic by yourself means you get to use what you want to. For example, you may find that you need to junction Blizzard to your status attack as the enemies you are facing in the area you're in are weak against ice attacks. All sorts of things are better if you junction yourself.
Whoa, all I've talked about is the Junction system and look how much I've written! Honestly, the junctioning is a lot easier than it sounds, and like I said, after messing around with it, it becomes a doddle. It actually becomes a lot of fun assigning all the different magic to different stats sometimes. It's clearly a lot different to the Materia system of FFVII but I really like both. They are very innovative systems and both suit their respective games brilliantly. I can't favour one over the other each one is so different and they're both so equally good in their own rights.
There is a very unique feature in FFVIII called Draw. The magic system is different to previous FF games because there is no MP (magic points) feature. Instead, you have a certain amount of magic spells, the maximum amount you can hold being 100, which you must obtain from enemies and around the world. You can gain magic in a number of ways. The easiest and most common way you'll use is the Draw technique. In battle, if you have junctioned the Draw ability to one of your characters, you can use it on an enemy. You can abstract magic that your enemy is holding by using Draw and steal it for yourself. The enemy can even draw magic from you so you have to watch out. Another way to obtain magic is in the form of drawing magic from draw points which you'll find dotted all over the world. You'll spot draw points easily as they are floating balls of purple waves which spin around in a sphere formation. By examining them you can draw the magic contained within to add to your magic totals. You can even create magic using abilities your GFs can learn which let you create magic from your item stock.
Your main goal is to complete the missions set for you as a SeeD member. SeeD was created for the purpose of defeating the Sorceress and of course, that time soon arrives in the game. It is then your aim as Squall to lead your fellow team-mates on a daring mission to assassinate the Sorceress. You have to travel all over the world in search of the Sorceress and to figure out what her plot is. This is your main quest but you are free to explore the world and do whatever you like. You can even play cards with everyone. That's right, cards! Here's the low-down.
FFVIII has its very own card game called Triple Triad. You gain a few basic cards at the start of the game and by beating other people you can gain more and better cards. You simply walk over to someone who you'd like to play cards with and tap the square button. This causes the person to ask you for a game. If you accept their offer then the screen will switch to the card game table. You play on a 3x3 grid where each player takes it in turns to place a card over one of the tiles. Every card has 4 numbers in the sides of the cards and the aim of the game is to take over as many cards as you can. The person who takes over the most cards wins the game. The game score starts out at 5-5. To take over a card from your opponent, you must place a card with a higher number to the adjacent side of the card you're trying to take over. For example, your opponent puts a card down in the middle of the grid and the card's left side has a number 4 on it. If you put down a card on the tile left of your opponent's card and the right side of your card is higher than 4, you'll take over the card. This will change the game score to 6-4 to you. As you take over a card, your score goes up by one, and your opponent's goes down by one. After the grid has been filled, the game is over, and the winner is the person who has taken over the most cards.
It may sound a bit hard to understand in text, but it becomes so easy to play after a few games, and it actually turns into one of the finest parts of the game! Triple Triad is so much fun that you'll be playing the game just for this. After you win a game, you can choose one of your opponent's cards that they used in the match to keep forever and add to your collection. You can then use this card in future matches. Likewise, if you lose a game, your opponent will take one of your cards. You have to be very careful as there are lots of rare cards in FFVIII which feature the faces of the main characters, Guardian Forces, and boss monsters in the game. The basic cards which there are tons of usually have monsters on them. Only certain people in the game have the rare cards and you'll have to search high and low all over the world and find out who owns these rare cards. The rarer the card, the better they are. You must obtain these rare cards if you are to complete the whole collection.
There are even regional rules that come in to play too. Each town or city has their own card rules which can change what happens during the game. There is the Same rule, where if someone places a card and the two sides that connect have the same number, the cards that were involved in the Same reaction will both be taken over by the person who caused Same. There are even rules which allow players to take more than one card after you win, or rules where the cards that were taken over are kept at the end of the game by the person who took them over. One of the worst rules is Random, where the game chooses random cards for you from your collection. Can prove fatal when playing against tough opponents and you're trying to get that rare card.
But Triple Triad really is a fantastic part of FFVIII. You will spend hours and hours playing this card game alone. A great distraction from the main quest and you'll be hooked.
The way the game is played is that you travel over the land on the world map. On the world map are the villages, towns, cities and all the other areas on the planet. You travel between them using different methods on foot which is the slowest form of travel, in car, by train, or eventually by using a spaceship, as well as other vehicles. In vehicles, you cannot by approached by monsters. If you wander on foot then you will be randomly attacked by them. Should this happen, the screen will flash and switch the battle map. At this point, your party and the monsters take it in turns to attack. You can actually set the battle speed faster so that the enemies can attack even while you are selecting your commands. I prefer this option as I like the added challenge, and I actually started playing FF games with this feature so am I used to it. So all characters and monsters have a certain number of HP (hit points). The aim in battle fights is to deplete the enemy's entire HP and after they are defeated, you win the battle and collect the goods at the end. Your main form of attack is physically hitting the enemy with your weapons. Squall's weapon is the gunblade of course and naturally does a good deal of damage. Your other party members include the likes of Selphie who uses her nunchaku and Zell who uses his martial arts skills. You can use any means of attack though, such as your junctioned Guardian Forces, or magical spells. And should you wish not to fight, you can run away from the monsters and not gain rewards at the end.
By defeating enemies, your characters will gain EXP (experience points) and the GFs will gain AP (ability points). After you gain a certain amount of EXP, your characters will move up a level. As you gain more levels, your stats will increase which will then help you become stronger in battles. AP are awarded to the GFs to help them learn their abilities. Each ability requires a certain amount of AP to learn them but you have to make sure you have junctioned your GFs as un-junctioned GFs will not gain AP. It is important that you defeat enemies though, as not only do you gain EXP, but your GFs do too. Just as your stats increase when you level up, your GF's gain better stats when they level up too. So you should make the most of your battles.
One thing you'll have trouble coming to terms with in FFVIII is the sheer size of the world. The world map itself is gigantic and you'll be amazed at how many different places there are to visit. You'll come across all kinds of people and find tons of items in these places. Sometimes, you'll like the city you're in so much that you won't want to leave! There are a hefty amount of side quests and missions you can take part in too. These are some of the extraordinary things about FFVIII. Not only do you have one hell of an awesome storyline and main quest going on, but there are just loads of side areas to visit and things to do that aren't related to the main adventure. You don't have to do any of them but the very fact that there is so much to do makes the game feel that much bigger; it makes the world feel bigger. There is a huge sense of freedom, especially when you gain the ability to explore the world freely in the spaceship. You can take the game at your own pace. If someone tells you to go to Trabia Garden, then you can just go to Dollet and play some cards and come back to Trabia in your own time! The freedom really immerses you into the game and creates a bond with you you really feel like you are Squall Leonhart.
In terms of length and difficulty, FFVIII has the whole package. Spanning a phenomenal four discs, FFVIII really gives you what you want one hell of a huge adventure. Attempting to assassinate the Sorceress is just the very beginning of your quest. You will literally spend weeks trying to beat this game. This is what games should be about. When we buy a game, we want our money's worth, and blimey, we get more than that with FFVIII. The main quest is so big that it will take you weeks in itself to beat, and with all the side quests and optional missions to complete, you'll be hooked on the game for an extremely long time if you're going to find everything. And believe me; you will not gain everything on your first play through. But because of the quality of the game, by the time you've beaten it you will definitely be starting a few new files to experience this masterpiece again.
The difficulty levels of FFVIII have been well developed. Put it this way; you should really make the most of the random monster encounters as you travel over the world as you'll need well-levelled characters to defeat the tough enemies and bosses you face throughout the game. The bosses are where the extreme challenges lie and for these fights, you'll need to ensure you're ready for anything beforehand. It can prove fatal if you have got characters who haven't junctioned anything. Of course, you don't have to fight all the monsters you come across but you may soon realize that not levelling up can put you in disadvantageous positions in important battles. As you progress in the game, you will come across bigger, faster, and stronger enemies which will need high level characters in order to defeat them. You will be seeing that Game Over screen many times, let me tell you!
FFVIII's controls have been mapped to the PlayStation's controller very well. The control stick and d-pad moves your character on the field, and selects commands from the main menu and battle menu. To examine things or speak to people, you use X which also confirms selections from menus. Circle cancels any selections, and Triangle opens the main menu. Square asks if you want to play cards with someone. The shoulder buttons L1 and R1 let you escape from battle.
It's all perfectly assigned, but even if you aren't happy with the layout, you are free to customise what buttons do what to your own liking. There are some small improvements to this game from FFVII's controls. This time around, you can use the control stick to move the characters about the field, which will obviously suit some players to the d-pad. And now, you don't have to hold the cancel button to run which is a relief on your thumb. You can actually set the option to make your character walk or run when you push the d-pad so it's entirely up to you.
These improvements over FFVII and the already perfectly mapped controls make FFVIII a very accessible game for almost everybody. It's the perfect RPG control setup so experienced RPGers will be right at home with the controls. People new to RPG's will take a little while getting used to it all, as will younger players. But as far as RPG controls go, FFVIII is the perfect match.
Graphics - 10/10
FFVIII's graphics are stunning. Once again, the pre-rendered backdrops are gorgeous and really do look life-like. Everything is such an improvement over FFVII. Especially the character models. If you've played FFVII you'll know how ugly the character models looked on the field. This time around, the characters in FFVIII look so much more realistic and you don't have any blocky arms or legs to put you off. Plus, everyone has detailed faces, unlike in FFVII where we could only see their eyes on the field map.
The characters have been designed to make the game really look and feel realistic and mature. The models are taller than the ones in FFVII, with much more detail and realism. It gives it that more mature and seriousness feel and look. Believe me, if you play through FFVII and then play FFVIII, you'll completely understand what I mean.
In that sense then, FFVII and FFVIII are quite different games. The more mature and realistic feel to FFVIII doesn't make the game inferior to FFVII but you do notice how different in style it is to the previous game. Some people will end up disliking it because of this, but it's only a graphical style after all. I mean, tons of people have hated FFVII because of the poor character models but that doesn't change the fact it is one of the best games of all time. And that is the same for FFVIII.
In short, FFVIII's graphics are amazing, and a big improvement over FFVII.
Regular FF players will know what to expect quality music. Squaresoft have always delivered some of the finest pieces of music in video games and FFVIII doesn't let us down once again. Old classics return from the previous FF games, as well as tons of all-new masterpieces which you won't be able to stop humming to. You won't ever forget the songs in this game they really stick in your mind.
The whole collection is there and they have all been designed with the game situation in mind. Whether you are escaping from a prison or playing a game of cards, the music suits every given situation perfectly. And this is the first FF to feature a vocal song. The tune is played a number of times in the game but the point in the story where the vocal version kicks in is sheer class. Squaresoft know how to create a good game, that's for sure.
If you've read the review up to this point, then you'll have already gone and purchased the game I hope! What can I say Final Fantasy VIII is a work of art. Games don't usually get as good as this. Squaresoft have proven to be one of the world's greatest game developers, and will forever continue to do so. They've created something extremely special with FFVIII.
I urge every gamer to play this game. RPGers shouldn't hesitate this game should be in your collection no matter what. Another masterpiece from the geniuses at Square.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/01/05
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