Review by JPtheGreat

"A Game that has Inspired Cult-like Fanaticism in Some and Hatred in Others -- Here's Why"

Let's get something out of the way: I'm incredibly biased. I absolutely love this game. Final Fantasy VIII is my favourite video game of all-time. It truly is a gem, but I am not so blinded by fanboyism that I overlook or ignore the game's faults, which are many. So this review has a twin-aim: to expose FFVIII's shortcomings, and to show how a person like me can still love this game despite all that.

If you ever want to treat yourself, put Disc 1 into your Playstation and select New Game. You will be greeted with possibly the greatest FMV sequence of videogame history, Liberi Fatali. The graphics are crisp, sharp and beautiful, and the musical score shows the sheer genius that is Nobou Uematsu. It is a most epic start to an epic game.

The graphics never let up, either. Despite being nearly a decade old, the graphics remain good. Unlike another Final Fantasy game I could mention, you won't poke your eyes out over the graphics. The character models are realistic and well formed, a true realization of the Playstation's now-outdated power. Squaresoft uses this to great effect, giving the characters various ‘nervous ticks' or ‘physical habits' and even some visual humour. Whenever Squall is going to think to himself, it is preceded by a head movement, looking up and away. When he's troubled, he hangs his shoulders and holds his head. When he's angry, he swats violently at the air. True, graphics don't make or break a game, but little graphical nuances can greatly aid the overall production. That is the case here.

The FMVs, of course, are perfect. Amazing. Wonderful. I find them even better than the series' next instalment, FFIX. Graphically, people don't trounce on this game.

Another area FFVIII excels at is music. Again, I haven't heard many complaints about the music. For one, this game includes two remarkable and revolutionary tracks: Liberi Fatali and Eyes On Me. They are both romantic, but in two completely different ways. Liberi Fatali is in the style of Romantic Classical music, characterized by surges of emotion and incredibly variations of loud and soft. Using real instruments and real musicians, it sets the bar for videogame music.

And then there's Eyes On Me.

To the best of my knowledge, Eyes On Me is the first videogame track to have original vocal material. Even if that is not the case, Final Fantasy still broke new ground with Eyes On Me, this game's wonderful ballad, an expression of love between the two main characters. A pretty song, easy on the ears and wonderfully incorporated into the game itself [side note: each new instalment of FF has tried to include an original vocal number, but have suffered from either a) being of low musical quality; or b) being poorly woven into the game. Eyes On Me did it first and it did it best].

Eyes On Me is more than just a theme song; it is the very musical idea running through FFVIII. The basic melody of Eyes On Me is central to a number of the game's tracks, each with a different variation on the theme. As a result, the music always seems to complement itself, to link different places and events together. That is all that you can ask from a videogame composer. And it helps that most are catchy in a good way.

In quick summary, the graphics are superb and the music explores new and unchartered territory with great success. These two elements, Graphics and Sound, are the game's unquestioned strong points. It is what comes next that is the subject of contention.

The battle system is virtually the same as past entries, though I have seen people bash it nonetheless. I don't understand why people have this sudden aversion to random encounters. Anyway, I find this to be the perfection of the ATB. You know the drill: a little bar fills up and then you enter an action. This incarnation of it just does it best. There is no delay, no hesitation, no lag. Battles are swift and invariable fast-paced. With the exception of a certain Low-Level challenge, battles never seem boring or tedious. Easy, but not tedious.

The first quote, unquote ‘bad' point of FFVIII is the magic system: namely, there are no MP. Does this mean you can spam summons like Bahamut a thousand times in one battle? Yes, nothing is stopping you, except for the sheer and uncompromising boredom of such a strategy. Some FAQs recommend nothing but using summons in boss battles. Of course this is dead boring and of course this doesn't work against the last bosses, but that's not the point. If you hear that battles are boring, it's because people are using summons mindlessly. If you don't do that, battles are fast and fun.

The other side of the No MP System, though, is annoying. In this game, you ‘stock' a certain number of spells, up to 100, and cast them in battle. Instead of Cure costing 5MP, it costs 1, though your max number of Cure magic goes down. This is annoying because, in order to get a significant number of spells so you won't run out, it involves a lot of tedium. The most common way (read: drearily mind-numbing) is to ‘draw out' magic from monsters. This takes forever and a day and is another reason battles can be boring. There are other ways to gain magic, but drawing is the most common, and the other methods require a certain amount of manipulation by the player.

If you listen to enough people talk about the battle system, you may think they are all bipolar: it's fun, it's boring, it's great, it's tedious, it's easy, it's hard. Well, which is it? Amazingly, it has the potential to be all of the above. I've covered everything except difficulty, and the game certainly has potential to be difficult. For one, monsters level up as you do. This means if you level up to lv100 at game start, every single enemy you face will be lv100. This is a touch of brilliance, effectively making power-levelling obsolete. If you don't know what you're doing, you can easily over-level to the point where the monster are kicking your(!) butt. Alternatively, you can beat the game without levelling up at all(!). How is this possible, especially considering the insane amount of HP bosses have in the end? The answer: Junctioning, the second ‘bad' part of FFVIII

The Junction system is unique if nothing else, and it is the perfect complement to the drawing system. Essentially, you can ‘junction' the magic you draw to your base stats, pumping them up. So the reason to draw magic isn't just to cast it, but to make you more powerful in general. This had the potential to be brilliant, and in the end, it was about average. Junctioning is far and away more important than levelling, and this is its greatest strength and greatest flaw. It's good because it is a new way to improve the characters in a meaningful way without entering 50 random battles to level up. Yeah for Junctioning! It's bad because the improvements are so incredibly massive that it is possible to obtain near-maximum stats without fighting a single battle. Boo for Junctioning!

I make it sound cut and dry, but it really isn't so, at least for new gamers. Junctioning is vitally important, but that fact is easy to overlook. Essentially, if you don't junction, or junction properly, you lose. This is the chief reason this game is difficult, and if you don't use a guide, you are apt to find yourself facing the gameover screen a few times. Conversely, if you know what you're doing, nothing can stand in your way.

Well, almost nothing…

Final Fantasy VIII does feature a very difficult optional boss. It is a shame, actually, that these optional bosses are always far more difficult than anything the story throws at you. Anyway, Omega Weapon is generally considered among the hardest bosses of Final Fantasy history. Case in point: most people ‘cheat' by using Invincibility potions over and over again, or else they die. Thus it is impossible to really say how challenging this game is, since the difficulty level is tied to so many different factors. It's harder than Final Fantasy IX, but then, what isn't?

Time for the story, and the next ‘bad' part about FFVIII. This game had the unfortunate fact of being the next instalment of FF after the monumental Final Fantasy VII. That this game isn't FF7: The Sequel is a big reason for its hate. And the fact that it doesn't have Cloud. Or Sephiroth. I wish I was kidding, but alas, truth is stranger than fiction.

Additionally, this game is not filled with castles or medieval life, which seems to be another reason to hate this game. This game is set in a pseudo-modern world. Earthbound did it and was loved; FFVIII does it and is trashed; it is claimed that this is science-fiction, not fantasy. This, of course, is ridiculous. SE has created a parallel world to our own, but one with magic and monsters and mercenaries and a story that weaves the very threads of time together. It is epic and at times breathtaking. To accuse this game of ‘not being medieval' is akin to hating the Mona Lisa because it doesn't have sound.

There are two good criticisms of FFVIII's story. One is of the romance involved. Two of the main characters are romantically involved, and this is in many ways the driving force of the story, at least after the first disc. For this reason, some people see this game as a soap opera. I find this to be harsh, but it may be valid. Because this game focuses heavily on character interaction and development, it perhaps can be seen as melodramatic. I disagree completely, but this is a complaint many people have made. Nonetheless, I can assure you that the romantic element is handled incredibly well, one of the best I've seen from a videogame. There is a scene at the end of Disc 3 that is expertly conducted and could have been part of a movie -- if they could talk.

The other criticism, and this one is big, regards a certain plot twist. This plot twist has been called every name in the book and is generally condemned. For my part, I agree. The plot twist was too much at the wrong time, and the player is not prepared in the slightest. People call it unnecessary, though, and I must jump in here. While it does seem extravagant, it was a good idea, it just needed more foreshadowing. Maybe a dream sequence in the early game, and more clues from NPCs and possibly a cutscene or two. If the plot twist was prepared better, it would not be the target of such hate.

Again, I'm trying to point out the flaws of this game. It is far from perfect, but yet it is an incredibly experience. The game is complete in itself (you won't see any horrible shooting game spinoffs, if you get what I mean). The story comes together beautifully in the end; this game has the best ending in FF history objectively. The loose ends are tied up and everything finished in fanfare. This game is loved and hated in the extreme, and I'm trying to show you why.

The last issue of contention would be the characters. The main character, Squall, is often pounced upon as being unsympathetic, cold, unforgiving, only ‘cool' because he carries around a big sword and is designed to appeal to ‘emo teenagers.' Oddly, these very same people praise Cloud to high heaven … Ahem. If you're worried, worry not. Few games can match the character development of Squall.

But before I let you go, there is one element of FFVIII that I have only seen bashed a handful of times (and it was “‘I'm going to bash this for the sake of bashing this game, because bashing this game is roxxor!!!1!”). This would be Laguna. Laguna is, arguable, the most important character in this game, even though he only appears a few times. At first glance, he appears to be the most bumbling moron ever created, and that may be true. But Laguna has charisma, and he ends up being one of the most likeable characters in Final Fantasy history (he also has one of the better themes musically speaking). He is the direct antithesis to Squall, and that contrast shines brightly into the players mind. He is always full of fun, smiling, honest, charismatic in his own uncouth way. Someone could call him a good rolemodel and I wouldn't bat an eye. The world could really use more Lagunas.

In summary, this game has two real issues: a junction system that is confusing and tedious, and one plot twist that can make or break this game. Just about everything else is gold. It truly is gaming experience like no other. I've outlined the flaws here. If you think you can live with them, then grab this game and start playing! If not, that's okay, I've done my job. But you will be missing a good, solid game, a game that has many prizes and treasures to those who have a nose to find it. I've pointed out the rough spots; it is your job to find the pot of gold.

You won't be disappointed when you do.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/09/07

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