Review by Psycho Penguin

"Now introducing the runner up for most overrated RPG of all time.."

Square Soft has always been one of my favorite video game companies, mainly because of the outstanding video games they have created over the years. While they are known primarily for their role playing games, they have also delved into several other genres, like the side scrolling shooter and the action/adventure genres. As some of you may know, Square Soft really got put on the map with their NES game called Final Fantasy, and the Final Fantasy series has been their big cash cow ever since.

When Final Fantasy 7 came out, people were amazed by the quality of the game and how fun it was to play, and I was certainly in that group, as I thought Final Fantasy 7 was an amazing first attempt at a Playstation role playing game by Square Soft. Yes, it was a fantastic game, and no, I did not like it as much as Final Fantasy 6, but I still enjoyed it nevertheless.

So, when I read all the good things about Final Fantasy 8, I expected a great game, because all of the video game magazines and web sites were hyping this game as ''the next big thing'' to hit role playing gaming, and video gaming all together. However, right from the beginning I knew I was going to have problems with it. The junction system sounded rather unique, sure, but could it have possibly turned out to be as good as the classic materia system was? Then there is the draw system, which sounded a bit weird.

The game finally came out, and I made sure to purchase the game the first game it came out, like I was planning. I did not care if the game absolutely sucked, I just wanted a copy of it for my collection. I played it a lot the first few weeks and I enjoyed it a lot. It was a fun game. Then the 3rd CD came along, and the game just stopped being fun. The simple fact you have to customize your characters so deeply automatically makes this a complicated and not so much fun to play.

First off, the main thing in every good role playing game is the story line, so I knew Square Soft was going to deliver a quality story line in this game. I felt one of the flaws in Final Fantasy 7 was the story line, because it had some flaws and overall was very confusing to me. The characters in the game were never really developed too well, so I expected more character development in this game. I will say that I enjoyed the story line in Final Fantasy 8 a lot, and it was probably the best part of the game.

The basic story line goes something like this: You are a guy named Squall Lionheart. You are the commander of the See D troops and have been asked to search out and find a guy named Seifer. Cid from the floating city helps you on your mission a lot. That is pretty much the basic story line (include Squall trying to hook up with Rinoa at your leisure) but there are a lot of plot twists featured throughout that I do not care to discuss at this time, because those are spoilers, and haven forbid I put any form of spoilers in my review!

The character development in the game was pretty terrible, also. The main problem I had with the characters in the game is the fact that Squall is a direct copy of Cloud from Final Fantasy 7. Think about it. The headaches, the ''wanting to get back at a former friend'', it’s a direct copy of Cloud. I found that to be rather odd that Square Soft would go the route of copying characters from one game to another and changing their name, but to each their own. The character development is really not that good, as the characters don’t seem to change much from the time to meet them until the time you complete the game, well one character does change personality a little bit….

One of the most hyped things about Final Fantasy 8 was the amazing graphics featured in the game. This was really a hyped thing because Square decided not to use the pre rendered, ''deformed'' graphics found in Final Fantasy 7. Instead, they decided to go with more realistic and lifelike graphics, especially when it comes to the character model department.

If you remember Final Fantasy 7, the characters in the game had this rather deformed look to them that was cute but not necessarily the best idea. In Final Fantasy 8, Square Soft decided to replace these deformed character models with more realistic and life like character models. So, what was the result of this hard work? The character models in the game are much better than they were in Final Fantasy 7 (well, at least in my opinion they are), because they look much more realistic and lifelike. Just look at Squall, for instance. You can see everything from the gun blade he carries to the scar on his face. That is great detail.

The rest of the graphics in the game are just like the character models: lifelike and excellent. This has to be one of the best looking role playing games ever made, and I swear this game looks better than a lot of Nintendo 64 games out there. The backgrounds in the game are simply incredible and look very realistic, everything from the castles to the futuristic towns (just want until you get to Esthar). This is really one of the best looking role playing games of all time.

Now, I would like to point out a minor nit pick I have with the graphics in the game. This flaw is the fact that the guardian force animations take a while to complete during battle. Yes, you cannot skip them during battle, so you are forced to watch the same guardian force animation over and over again. This can get rather annoying after a while. Otherwise, the graphics in the game are awesome and look very realistic and lifelike.

Square Soft has always been known to produce quality music in their role playing games, so I expected the music in Final Fantasy 8 to live up to the standard. And for the most part, the music in Final Fantasy 8 is solid, although it is safe to say that this is not the best music in the series. Regardless, I still liked the music in enough to buy the music soundtrack for the game, because the music in the game is still pretty good.

The two themes I tend to focus on most in role playing games are the battle theme and the boss theme. And I am sorry to say that both of the themes in the game are just not that good. I enjoyed the Final Fantasy 8 battle music at first (when I first played the demo) but by the end of the game I was getting severely annoyed by it. And I always say that if you get annoyed by a battle theme, it is not good, because you will not want to end up getting into battles, and will be frustrated. There are two battle themes however, the ones that play with Laguna and company is better than the regular battle theme, in my opinion. The boss theme is average, I like the opening moments to it, and the victory music is classic as ever.

The rest of the music in the game is solid, as well. I really liked the variety of music in the game, from the music in the towns, to the over world themes, to the various character theme songs featured. Yes, just like the music in Final Fantasy 6, each of the characters in this game have their own theme, which is really cool. Sadly, I only like Squall’s theme, the rest of them are a little too annoying for my tastes. It is a shame too, because I really wanted to like all of the music in the game, but I just couldn’t enjoy some of it.

Sound effects in the game are pretty good, although I will tell you right now that, like in most role playing games, the majority of sound effects occur during battles. Most of them are rather simple, as there are really not much sound effects featured in the game. The one main one that occurs outside battle is the cash register sound that occurs when you gain gold, it’s a really cool idea, and it sounds great. Otherwise, there is not much to be excited over, I don’t know but maybe a little bit of voice acting would have been a nice touch.

Now, onto the major part of the game, the game play, and this is where Final Fantasy 8 really falls apart, in my opinion. I have five basic problems with the game: the experience system, the limit break system, the junction system, the draw system, and the weapon/guardian force system. I will now explain to you what I did not like about each one of the five main systems.

The experience system in Final Fantasy 8 is flat out the worst I have ever seen in a role playing game, bar none, no questions asked. Apparently, you are not supposed to level up a lot, and this is a good idea, because as you level up your enemies will level up also. But, this can also be a good thing, because at higher levels the enemies have better items to steal and better magic to draw. Now, you have to gain only 1000 experience points to level up, so that right there is telling you not to level up much, because it is rather easy to level up in this game.

The limit break system in Final Fantasy 7 was close to perfection for me, as I had no problem with the limit break system in Final Fantasy 7, so why did Square Soft feel the need to make radical changes to it? In Final Fantasy 7, you had a limit meter, and every time you got hit that meter went up. After a certain amount of damage, your meter would be filled and you could perform a limit break. You could also gain new limit breaks rather easily by completing certain goals. Sadly, this is not the case in this game. Limit breaks seem to appear out of nowhere, but you have a better chance of getting them if you are in critical status, which means you might die before pulling it off. And then you have the fact you need to get new weapons to do new limit breaks, it’s a rather innovative idea but I am not a fan of it at all.

Now I will discuss the junction system of the game. I know for a fact that I am not the only one to hate the junction system in the game, because a friend of mine really hates it too. It has to be one of the worst basic game play systems of all time, tying with Legend of Dragoon and its stupid addition system. The junction system in the game is fairly unique, as you can junction certain magic to certain statistics, the more you have of magic the higher the statistic increase, etc. This is a rather novel idea, its too bad I didn’t like it, because it made me want to save my more powerful magic, which is not a good thing. I really disliked the junction system, I found no trouble learning it but I am sure people out there will get confused by it, and that is not a good thing at all. No matter what you ''experts'' have to say about it.

The draw system in the game is Final Fantasy’s 8 magic system. It is one of the most innovative magic systems, tying Legend of Legaia (with its crazy ass ''catch the seru''). The magic system is rather unique, but I did not necessarily enjoy it one bit. I did not like drawing magic from enemies, as it soon became rather repetitive, and well, boring. Now, there are better ways to get magic, but I will assure you that these take a while too, especially if you want to get really good magic, like Meltdown or Ultima. The draw system is innovative, but like the rest of the innovative ideas in this game, it falls a bit short in my book.

The guardian force system in the game was actually a good point to the game play, as I liked how you could gain AP for each guardian force per battle, and how all of the equipped guardian forces could gain experience, they each divide the total experience points amongst themselves. The guardian forces may turn out to be an important part of the game for you, depending on whether you decide to keep them leveled up or not. I went ahead and leveled them all up for fun. You can learn all sorts of abilities from the guardian forces, as well. The guardian force system is actually pretty decent.

Geez, I just said a part of this game was good, I need something to rant about again. Ah, yes, here we go, the innovative weapon building system in the game. Yes, weapon building. No, you don’t actually buy weapons in this game. You have to make your own weapons. Rather, you need to find certain parts for your weapon so the shop keeper can actually make them. While I do admit this adds challenge to the game, as you have to earn your weapons instead of just buying them, it is not a good idea in my mind, because it takes a while to gain all the items needed, and its not like you have a clue of what to get anyways.

I will now nit pick about a few things in the game I noticed. Number one, the fact that your airship travels at extremely slow speeds is a bad thing. I did like the auto pilot feature, however, as it saved me some trouble of boringly steering the slow ass airship around. Now onto number two, the guardian force troubles. Now, I never really used my guardian forces, but take it from me, it can get rather annoying to sit for a few minutes and watch the same guardian force animation over and over again. Getting the ''boost'' ability helps this, however. Also, the ''gaining gold every once in a while'' is stupid and utterly pointless. Wow, you get gold pieces every once in a while, not after every battle, that is such a stupid idea. And last but certainly not least, the fact that the game gets rather complicated towards the end, and I know some players that have not tried to beaten the game because of the complexity factor.

As you can tell, I was not enamored with this game at all, and I know for a fact that Square Soft could have done a better job with this game. It is a decent game and all, but the fact of the matter is, they tried way too many new and innovative ideas, and it came back to haunt them, because this is one of the most overrated role playing games I have ever played, and I really did not enjoy playing it much at all after the first few hours (yes, I did enjoy it at firs until it really got complicated).

After hearing me rant and rave about the game for the last I don’t know how many lines, what do you think I am going to say about the replay value in the game? Now, I beat the game twice, just to get all the secrets, so you might consider playing it again after beating it, but I wouldn’t bet on it. There are a lot of secrets, but the fact of the matter is, that this is not a fun game at all, and it doesn’t matter how many secrets you can find, if it’s not a fun game you are not going to want to play it regardless of the secrets.

This is one of the most complex and challenging role playing games of all time, without a shadow of a doubt. The fact of the matter is, the junction system adds to the challenge of the game a lot, because it makes the game rather complex. Now, I am all for complex role playing games, but there has to be a learning curve, and I did not notice a learning curve in Final Fantasy 8, and I was rather disappointed to discover this. If the game does not have a learning curve, then beginners will not know how to play it, and they will soon give up. Now you ''experts'' can laugh this off, but come on, don’t beginners deserve a shot too?

Overall, I was really let down by the entire video game experience known as Final Fantasy 8. It was hyped and hailed as the next best thing in video gaming, but it turned out to be yet another disappointment in the growing list of games I expected a lot out of, and failed to deliver to my expectations. I did enjoy playing this game at first, until I got about halfway through the second CD, that is when it all changed, and I suddenly realized that this was not my kind of game, at all. I am not biased against this game at all, as I would have liked it had the basic game play concepts been better. The game had all of the small puzzle pieces connected, but it was missing the major one, and that’s why I have no choice but to give this game a score of only 3 out of 10.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 08/12/00, Updated 07/16/01

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