Review by serados

"A lot better than I expected"

Final Fantasy VIII was released initially for the Playstation console in 1999, before being ported over to the PC. This review is for the PC version, so inaccuracies to the PS version might be present. Final Fantasy VIII is a console Role-Playing Game (RPG) that is the 8th installment of the long-running series of RPGs, Final Fantasy. Developed by Square Enix, it drew a lot of hype, especially since its direct predecessor was the hit game Final Fantasy VII, which is widely regarded as one of the best Final Fantasies ever.

Having a lot to live up to, Final Fantasy VIII did not meet many people's expectations, critiqued for being beautiful on the outside but rotten on the inside. This, naturally, is about Final Fantasy VIII being nicer graphically, but being weak in gameplay. This was the opinion I had of Final Fantasy VIII before I got it, and I can't believe how much better the game is than what I originally thought.

You are Squall, a student in Balamb Garden and a member of an elite mercenary squad called SeeD. You get acquainted with the battle system and other new features in Final Fantasy VIII from your classroom computer, then set out to tame the Guardian Force Ifrit. Soon, you get sent to Dollet for your SeeD Field Examination, where you find out that the Galbadian Empire is up to no good. You receive your first mission soon after, and get dispatched to a rebel force plotting to overthrow the Galbaldian government and free a region called Timber, but this rapidly progresses into something more sinister. You get some revelations and a few surprises as the story progresses, but overall, the plot does not match up to the deeper plots of other RPGs like Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Cross (though the latter was, admittedly, released a year after Final Fantasy VIII).

The story is pretty cliched and predictable, although the Laguna flashback parts do add some variation to the story (and they are some of the best moments Final Fantasy VIII has). The identity final enemy does leave you feeling a little confused, as it is revealed suddenly and it, in my opinion, is the baddie for no reason other than being pure evil.

Character development is quite superficial and it seems that Square has neglected other characters and focused on the love story between Squall and Rinoa a little bit too much.

This particular area of Final Fantasy VIII is the most widely lambasted of. Things like its unique magic system and its weapon upgrading system were criticised over and over. It's new, yes, but does it necessarily have to be bad?

First off, the new magic system: Final Fantasy VIII uses magic differently in the sense that it treats magic spells like items. You have to 'draw' them from enemies during battle, and of course you will get attacked by enemies when you are 'drawing' magic spells from them. But wait, you can also cast it immediately on anyone instead of keeping it in stock and waiting for your next turn to use it. This system is pretty much feasible, as you do not need to draw every single spell in the world and you do not need to keep your spells at 100 each to avoid a game over.

This system does not take up as much time as expected and as your magic stats get higher the average amount of spells you draw each time also increases. The major reason to stock these spells is for ‘junctioning' to your characters' stats, thereby giving them a boost in that particular stat or other effects like elemental and status resistances and adding elemental and status effects to your weapon. It should be noted that a higher amount of a particular magic spell will give you a greater effect, so you might want to spend some time drawing full quantities of spells, though it is unnecessary.

Unlike other console RPGs, Final Fantasy VIII utilizes a weapon upgrading system. To get bigger, better weapons, you have to find parts needed to remodel the weapon and pay a token fee to complete the upgrading. This reduces the amount of money spent and thus gives you more money to buy items and other essentials. Speaking about which, money is not gained by fighting monsters, but rather by periodic “paychecks” by SeeD. As your SeeD rank goes up, the amount of cash you receive goes up as well. This is not as drastic a change in usage, as money is required only for inn stays, items, weapon upgrades (the most expensive weapon costs only 2000 gil) and car rentals (yes, you can rent cars in this game!) – and all these cost only small sums of money (maybe except mass buying of items).

Another great point about the gameplay is the summoning system. In addition to being merely more powerful spells with longer casting times, summons in Final Fantasy VIII actually help out of battle . AP (Ability Points) that are gained together with EXP after battles are used to teach your summons (called Guardian Forces, or GFs, in Final Fantasy VIII) special skills that can help out of battle or increase a GF's efficiency in battle, such as Boost and Move-Find (Boost allows you to increase a GF's attack in battle while Move-Find allows you to see hidden items, draw points and save points). In addition to learning new abilities that help you, Guardian Forces also have passive abilities that help the character equipped with a particular GF in battle or the whole party in general, such as having no random enemy encounters. Also, GFs also level up, and their attack, health and other stats increase accordingly as well.

Final Fantasy VIII has initiates battles randomly. You can be walking on a peaceful plain and suddenly you are thrust into a battle. This system is ubiquitous in the world of Japanese RPGs, and Final Fantasy VIII does not change this. With the new magic system, MP (magic points, which traditionally depletes as your characters use spells and special skills) is no longer needed in Final Fantasy VIII and the entire battle interface is a lot more streamlined as a result. Gone is the boxed area at the bottom of the screen displaying the characters' ATB (Active Time Battle) meter, HP (hit points, the ‘life' of your character) and MP, and in its place is just text displaying your character's name and HP, as well as a small rectangular bar showing your character's ATB meter.

Battles are semi-turn-based. You are allowed to issue commands to your characters when the ATB meter fills up, and how fast it fills up depends on your character's speed stat. When it fills, a menu pops up showing the commands the character can execute (this can be customized in the GF section of the menu). Characters now have their insanely powerful special moves in the form of Desperation Moves, and the lower your HP level is, the higher the chances of this Desperation Move command coming out. When it does appear, a small arrow appears pointing to the right next to the Attack command, and you hold the right arrow and hit the Confirm button to execute the desperation move.

Desperation Moves' execution and learning are unique as well. Some special ones include Squall's, which has a meter that requires you to hit the Trigger button as the bar moves past the end point a la rhythm games in order to do more damage per hit, Zell's has you key in various button combinations to chain his moves into devastating combos, and Irvine's requires you to rapidly hit the Trigger button to fire off powerful shots using stocked ammunition.

To learn new Desperation Moves, each character has to do different things, and only Selphie's remains unchanged throughout the game (although she has two skills that are accessible only via her Desperation Move and does not consume any stocked magic). Squall has his initial Renzokuken move (the one where the meter pops out and you have to time the trigger button) randomly followed by the ‘true' Desperation Move which you can learn by upgrading his gunblade. Rinoa and Zell get new moves by reading “Pet Pals” and “Combat King” volumes respectively, Quistis consumes items to learn new Blue Magic and Irvine needs new ammunition in order to fire them off.

Another nice touch is pressing the ‘trigger' button to make Squall fire the gunblade after slashing the enemy, giving you an instant 1.5x damage boost. This may seem small but it's better than nothing. The feeling of looking at Squall do lots of damage is very satisfying and when you see another sword user, you can't help but want to specially allow Squall to duel one vs one with them.

The music is beautifully composed and is splendid Nobuo Uematsu fare. The tunes are memorable and snazzy, though the soundtrack is not as rough and metal-influenced in Final Fantasy VII. Love is the ultimate theme of the game, and Final Fantasy VIII's soundtrack reflect that, with mellow tunes making up the majority of the soundtrack. Notable tracks include Don't Be Afraid (the battle theme), The Man With the Machine Gun (the techno, rhythmic Laguna battle theme), Blue Fields (overworld theme), Ami and the beautiful love song Eyes on Me, sung by Faye Wong, a popular Asian singer. However, most of the songs have been converted to MIDI in the PC version which utilizes the instruments on your sound card and they do not possess the power they had on the Playstation.

Sound effects are generally well done. Quetzacoatl's loud cracks of thunder, Ifrit's raging flames, Squall's gunblade sinking into an opponent with an additional “boom” as you fire off the gun of the gunblade – they all fit, and this nice usage of sound effects is what Square does best. Sound and music has always been one of Square's fortes and Final Fantasy VIII does not disappoint in this aspect.

Another forte of Square is in the graphics department. Final Fantasy VIII's graphics are very nice and push the limits of the Playstation version of the game, though they are not the best graphics seen on the PC. Breaking away from the super-deformed style of characters in previous Final Fantasies, Final Fantasy VIII has human-like characters that are realistically proportioned. The battle graphic models are similar to the map graphics now, taking it one step forward from Final Fantasy VII. The magic and summon spell animations and the battle animations are very very nice, much better than in Final Fantasy VII. There is nothing much to complain in this section, but there are some glitches in the graphics in the PC version, the common clipping problem where body parts sometimes disappear into walls.

Final Fantasy VIII has average replayablity, not as much as Final Fantasy VII, mainly because of the weaker plot and also because the Junctioning system is not as fun or customizable as the Materia system of Final Fantasy VII. However, it is always fun to play it again and get things you missed on your first run, and understanding more of the plot as well. Also, using your new acquired customization skills you can make your run through the game easier with stronger characters.

- Beautiful graphics
- Story is nicely told
- Innovative gameplay systems
- Memorable music and characters

- Story is a little too confusing and focuses on the love story more than anything else
- MIDI tunes? Oh man…

Story: 7/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Sound/Music: 9/10
Graphics: 10/10
Overall: 9/10

A very nice addition to the Final Fantasy series, and this game quite lives up to its hype, though it falls short of surpassing Final Fantasy VII in greatness.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/14/04, Updated 01/23/06

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