Review by Shirow

"Square's attempt to please a more mature crowd did not work out as expected"

After Final Fantasy VII which revolutionized the genre and which many considered as the best RPG ever, Square again grants us with a sequel. Final Fantasy VIII was then released with Square claiming that this new title was fairly different from the rest and that it was more for a mature audience. In any case, the game soon was released for PSX and it was no secret that it would be ported to the PC too for those that don’t have a PSX. The eagerly-awaited sequel to one of the geatest RPGs is finally here.

FFVIII differs from FFVII in many ways. The first thing is that Square tried to turn FF into a more mature game and dished out a proper storyline in order to do so. They also abandoned the materia system of FFVII and instead, worked out a completely new system where you drew magic from your enemies and your summons, or Guardian Forces as they are now called, have their own life and abilities too a bit like in FFVI. The weapons system was also changed where instead of buying new ones and discarding the rest, you needed to find items likes bolts and a number of others to upgrade the existing ones. So, was it a complete failure or did Square succeed in its high risk gamble? Read on to find out !

FFVIII has great graphics, no doubt about that. Square has abandoned the SD system of FFVII and now, your characters don't ''enter'' in the main character anymore. You see all of them running about as you control them except on the world map where you see only Squall in this case. Moreover, they are now more realistic and indeed look like real people, unlike the colorful characters from FFVII. They are also very detailed and it seems that Square has vastly improved over FFVIII in terms of graphics. And all the characters without exception are now mostly ''normal'', thus giving pointers that the game is more adult-oriented and their age also tends to make people seem so.

The backgrounds are very well drawn with a lot of small details and superb light effects in some cases. The intro is also one of the best I’ve seen. Watching Squall fight Seifer while Rinoa is in the fields is, by far, one of the best-done intros I’ve done. Not only is the music overwhelming and the animation clear and detailed but the characters are more like those from a movie and will set you thinking. The FMVs are just so better with their expressions becoming as realistic as can be and you can easily tell whether they’re happy, angry or something else is bothering them.

The graphics is, without any doubt, the best point in this new Final Fantasy. I guess nobody will argue with me here but it’s really no use comparing VIII to VII because they are really the same genre when it comes to graphics. The Guardian Forces, the ennemies, well everything in fact, is wonderful and shows how much effort Square put in while designing this game.

As far as music is concerned, this new edition doesn't harm Square and is also packed with a lot of nice tunes. ''Eyes on Me'', interpreted by Faye Wong was a success in Japan and everywhere else. Nobuo Uematsu is a true music composer and, yet again, come up with original themes that make the title more enjoyable like the ever popular battle theme and even a new one when you control Laguna and his friends. The intro music is also superb and as usual, the music is highly entertaining. But the sound effects are lame though (like in all FF) but it's not that much of a problem ! And yes, still no voice-acting which is a pity because they would have added so much to the characters !

The most disappointing part of FFVIII and which preventing it from being a super hit like FFVII is the storyline. FFVIII lacks a proper storyline and as everybody knows, that's the most important part in a RPG. You'll properly be annoyed by it and wonder which one came first, FFVII or FFVIII. Moreover, the plot takes a lot of time to evolve and is as interesting as your dad reading his newspaper. The games stands on 4 CD but you must wait till the end of the second end to get a grasp of the storyline. Even FFV which is known to have a very linear storyline is more interesting than FFVIII. Final Fantasy has always known to have great villains in each game (Kefka, Gilgamesh, Sephiroth) but FFVIII is the exception. I won't spoil the fun but those who've played any other FF before will notice this too.

Most of the first CD is spent going on missions to earn money and to raise your SeeD rank while most people just want to get on with the story. The SeeD feature is yet another annoying thing in this game and you have to do it since it’s the only way to earn money. And besides, the plot takes too much time to be revealed and while previous Final Fantasies had twists and surprises, this one has nothing of the sort. Instead, it’s just about fighting and Squall himself doesn’t know what the hell is going on around him and just goes on like a zombie. And where’s the depth in the characters which made them so charming and loveable before ? Irvine, Selphie, Zell and all the others just don’t stand up to Square’s reputation. They don’t even convey the gamers any feelings. At least you were amused by Barret and Cid even though they were always fighting and you would soon develop a liking for one of those characters but I never felt the same about any character from FFVII.

Another thing, and a very annoying one indeed, concerns the magic. You cannot buy magic in this game. The way to earn this is by drawing them from enemies. You may then directly cast them ot stock them for future use. It is not only tedious but makes battles unnecessarily long as you need to get a lot of magical spells like I’m about to explain now. Your stats in the game is affected by the number of magics you possess. You need to junction these to a stat or an ability and this will increase as the number of that spell increases. Of course, in order to do this, you need to search for the appropriate enemy and to keep drawing until you have 100 of that. It’s quite rewarding since you may raise your HP to 9999 or your Strength to 255 as soon as the beginning of the second CD.

However, this is also a major drawback because, once you’ve junctioned your 100 magic to an attribute, you won’t use it because that attribute will go down with each use of that magic. Hence, you’ll only keep drawing magic and will rely on your Guardian Forces and physical attacks and abilities to take care of your ennemies. The summon system is also different where they also have HP and you need to place them on a compatible character so that they come up fairly quickly. They also make you discover new abilities through AP and you need to know which one to learn first like Boost which makes them stronger.

Truthfully, the game gets annoying and boring after a while. Like I mentioned earlier, the game is way too slow for a Square RPG and the junction system will get on your nerves rather quickly. Another fact is the difficulty system of the game. The enemies also get stronger as you level up which means that it’s not that necessary to do so since they’ll always be as tough to defeat. Where’s the point then ? The difficulty level is yet another problem in the game, as you have just seen.

However, Square still managed to get something out of FFVIII with a lot of innovations. Firstly, the Triple Triad card game which is a card game and which is really fun. And trying to get all the cards in the game will take a lot of time, trust me here! This also adds to the gameplay as you try to get all the cards and this is tough, believe me! I really liked Triple Triad although there’s no reward for it. It’s highly challenging and well, it’s the only thing I enjoyed in the game. This bonus game really kicks ass and I definitely recommend you to give it some time because it really is fun and all the rules are very interesting too.

The other side-quests and secrets are pretty interesting too with the search for all the Guardian Forces very tough and you’ll need to defeat new bosses just to find several of those. And my favorite part of the game is when Gilgamesh makes an incredible comeback when Odin is defeated by Seifer. Ha, what will you do now Seifer ? This is Gilgamesh, the one with the 4 Swords !

But even with all the side-quests, the game suffers a lot because they require too much time and at the same time, you need to do them because they affect what will happen in the final battle. As an example, you need to fight a lot and find all the parts to upgrade all your characters’ weapons just to enable their best Limit Breaks. Talk about some time lost ! It really seems Square has overdone it this time.

And the game has practically no replay value because I don’t see any normal being playing this again just for the pleasure of gaming. The secrets aren’t plentiful and besides, the game is too tough to give it any replay value. I even forced myself to play just to see the ending during disc 3. This is to show you how the game gets interesting as you near the end…

Thankfully, there remains some features to keep it playable like Triple Triad and some of the secrets which are pretty interesting. And, of course, those superb graphics but just too bad, they belong to a pretty average them. Well, who knows, you may like it or you may not like it. But just remember that this is unlike what you’ve ever seen before. ''A vouloir trop bien faire, on se casse la gueule !''And we can at least congratulate SquareSoft for doing so in style…

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 04/13/01, Updated 11/09/02

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