Review by Avalokitesvara
"The game which ended Squaresoft's Golden Age"
Squaresoft had a real Golden Age during the last years of life of SNES and the beginning of the Playstation era: masterpieces like Chrono Trigger and Cross, Xenogears, Vargrant Story and Final Fantasy VI, VII and Tactics still are looked upon as some of the best games ever made. Then Final Fantasy VIII came, and everything started to fall apart. FFVIII was the first game by Square where looks and fashion took more importance than plot, characters and gameplay.
Playing this game after one of the previous masterpieces equals eating plastic good-looking fruit with having in mind the flavour of real fruits: it looks really good, but it's completely tasteless. Read on to understand what I mean.
As everybody could easily notice, Final Fantasy VIII has great graphics; like his predecessor, outside battle it mixes 2D backgrounds and 3D characters and objects.
However, unlike his predecessor, both backgrounds and 3D models are well detailed and real-looking, almost as far as the PSX hardware can handle.
Battle sequences too have been improved since Final Fantasy VII: summons and battle animations are a joy for the eyes, even if watching them again and again quickly gets boring. No, you can't skip them. The detail of the World map has been drastically improved, and FMVs look less static, too. Few games on PSX can equal or surpass the great graphics of FFVIII.
I've got just a complaint: all the character's faces looks like... The same face with some detail change and different hair.
FFVIII's sound track is neither good or bad. Just, forgettable. Most songs, like character dedicated tracks, are nice as background music, but hardly remarkable. On the other hand, some tracks, like the Ragnarok theme, will make your brain feel physical pain.
However, this game features two peculiar tracks: Eyes on me, sang by Faye Wong, is the first song featuring vocals in Squaresoft's saga. It's a great song, but sadly it will be the BGM of one of the most boring scenes ever. Liberi Fatali, the "Carmina Burana"-style song from the intro FMV is not bad, but it tastes like just a rip-off from one of FFVII most successful tracks, One Winged Angel.
Our good old Squaresoft decided to quit the usual "led the rebel group in their crusade against the evil emperor/demon/corporation" to try something new: the game starts in a school for mercenaries, called Garden. You're a SeeD, a wannabe mercenary who has got to study, to perform missions, to get to higher grades and so on.
At the very beginning, the plot looks somewhat fresh and good. Then Rinoa arrives and spoils everything; that rebel "thing" returns, since now you're fighting the evil Galbadia. If that wasn't enough, you have playable dreams of the past of some guy called Laguna who's fighting another "evil reign", Esthar, ruled by an evil Sorceress called Adel. Well, "she" totally looks like a man to me. Anyway, this isn't the worst part.
After you finish the first disk, Garden and Seeds almost disappear, and other "mysterious" Sorceresses begin to pop out. Now, the plot starts to sink into bottomless void; everything becomes just a mean to underline the love affair between the main characters, Squall and Rinoa. The plot focuses so much into their love that the game often gets over some events without even explaining them, creating a lot of holes into the narration. Sometimes there's some attempt in covering those holes, but most of the times the solution is very dumb and unsatisfactory. We'll see why later.
Well, at least one could hope FFVIII has got a great, deep love story; wrong. The love affair between the main characters has been badly drawn. Their feelings make little progress during the game, and then explode without any reason at the end of the game. Squall always acts like an emo boy who fears the world, while Rinoa literally lunges at him, hoping to break the stone that surrounds his heart. Be prepared to watch a lot of boring and badly scripted love scenes until the very end of the game.
Final Fantasy VIII wasn't the first game in the series where the main character has a love affair. Final Fantasy IV was. If you have already played that, you might happen to notice that lots of plot elements, like the rival that becomes an enemy and the "puppet villain" have been ripped off from that SNES game. Maybe there's the reason why aren't real villain in this game. But we'll talk about that later.
So, the plot's is not exactly a breathtaking masterpiece. Well, characters that make it are worse. First of all, none, except the two protagonists and few others, has a real characterization. Even most playable characters are just shallow cliches who almost have no importance at all, plot-wise; they hardly say or do something remarkable. They just fight in your party. Playable characters have almost got the same identical background: they came from some orphanage, and then they all became SeeDs or garden-related personalities, with the exception of Rinoa. Between the orphanage and the Garden there's void; don't worry, there's an explanation for that! Guardian Forces, as they call summons in this game, suck up the memories of people who use them! But not it's always like that; it happens only when the plot needs it. You'll see what I am talking about in a flashback from Selphie's memories. However, let's talk about the characters.
Squall is probably the worst main character I've ever seen in a game. Or movie, book, TV Show or anime, to tell the truth. He's a carbon copy of the Cloud from the very beginning of FFVII; cloudy, silent, boring. However, Cloud had some good reasons to be like this and gets better as the game progresses. Squall doesn't. He's just a teen filled with anger, which fears the whole world outside him because he feels abandoned. He constantly tries to be cool, with his continuous "whatever", always ending up looking comical and answering like a woman in the wrong period of the month would do. He dresses like a model for D&G or Versace, but he really acts like an emo with big problems about relationships with other human beings. The presence of Rinoa changes him a little, but not that much. But, when the game ends, he instantly becomes a whole different person withouth any reason whatsoever. Well, duh.
Rinoa isn't better at all. She lacks everything a female character with a love affair needs: charisma, sweetness, passion. She has a beautiful face, right, but she's like some robot with only one aim in her head: Squall. She's an airhead an can be really irritating at times, you'd gladly let her die when you have che chance during the game.
Seifer, Squall's main rival, is just a rip-off of Kain from Final Fantasy IV; he isn't part of a love triangle, however, since he always sides with the Sorceress and never tries to take Rinoa from you. It looks like he suffers of some sort of Oedipus complex. Anyway, he's more a bully than a real rival or villain.
Zell is the comical relief character; you could guess that just by looking at his face. He eats like a bulimic and it seems like he's not able to stand still for even a second. He's a poor, flat character, whose only purpose in the game is making the player laugh.
Selphie is a girl who really, really likes trains. And yellow. And Laguna. She always acts like an obsessive-compulsive girl who can't see farther from her small group of passions. She's always happy, even when there's no reason at all. And that's it. There's nothing else about her.
Quistis, Squall's sweet teacher, loses all her importance as a character into the story after Squall ends his training. Well, she's better than Irvine, the cowboy-like guy, who has no personality at all. He's in your party just to add a member and make it even.
Here comes the true pain.
After Final Fantasy VI and VII, Squaresoft had the feeling they should create a new gameplay system, something totally different from the both classic RPG one and FFVII's Materias. They gave birth to Junction System, which without any doubt manages to be different. In FFVIII there is no MP or equipment, and you won't be able to learn any kind of magic by classical means.
To use magic you have to collect and store it. There are many ways to get it, the main one being the "draw" command; by using it during any battle you can draw spells from monsters and bosses and use it against them or just store it to use it later. You can also get some magic from drawing points you can find everywhere, or by transforming objects into it. And you can upgrade a group of lesser spells into a stronger one. Sadly, the main method remains drawing it during battles; I said "sadly" because it's really, really boring. All you have to do is just pressing a button repeatedly, stopping once in a while to heal your characters. Playing this game means spending many hours into drawing, drawing and drawing.
You can't help but draw and stock spells because stored magic role does not limit to the usual magic casting. In this game you can Junction your Playable Characters to your Summons, the Guardian Forces, or GF, who gain experience as you do and permit you to learn abilities. Since in FFVIII there's no equipment, Guardian Forces make you able to raise your stats by Junctioning your characters to... Spells. You will be able to "equip" spells to every stat.
As you get more spells of the same kind, up to a maximum of 100, your junction gets stronger and stronger. It could look like a new way to create your totally custom characters, but it totally fails; the only thing the Junction System really does is pumping your stats and makes you way too strong without too much effort. You don't need to plan them like you had to do with FFVII materias or FFV jobs: just select "optimize" and have the CPU set the spell junction for you. As long as you keep drawing every time you bump into a new spell, it's really easy to have a party of uber-powerful warriors able to annihilate every monster with just normal attacks.
Well, there's magic, there are some class-like special attacks and commands, but they are completely outclassed by simple attacks. No strategy, no customization is really needed, just sheer power. This brings out the first great problem: magic is way too weak compared to brutal strength. Yes, you could try and create some strong magic-based character, but it will be lot more tedious and time-consuming than making a whole party of invincible warriors, since normal attacks easily are stronger and practical than magic. Every time you use a magic you junctioned to, your junction and thus your stat will get weaker.
Combat isn't limited to attacking and casting magic; you can also summon your Guardian Forces. Since there's no MP, summoning works differently in FFVIII. When you chose to call forth your G.F. power, he will become the active character; his HP will take the place of yours while his attacking gauge gets filled. If his/her/its HP doesn't get annihilated, after some time he/she/it will attack; during the battle animations, you can repeatedly press a button to increase the damage. I'd rather have a button to skip the animation since after a while they'll become boring. You'll eventually stop summoning your G.F. because they'll become too time consuming and weak, while attacks and Limit breaks will get stronger and stronger.
Aaaah, Limit Breaks. They return after becoming a staple in the former chapter of this saga. Well, in FFVIII they're totally broken. They're overpowered like they were in FFVII, but now they're way too easy to abuse; you don't have to charge up some limit gauge, you just have to be in a critical state and a limit break might show up. Well, you can force it out anyways; if the "attack" command doesn't become "limit" on your first try, you can just keep press the character-switch button; you'll eventually get your uber-powerful limit command. If this wasn't broken enough, there's Aura, a magic that puts you in a state that lets you spam tons of limit breaks even when you're at full health. No enemy stands a chance against a party who can use aura and abuse limit break based attacks.
The good ol' equipment system vanished, too. However, you can still upgrade your weapon; you need to find a magazine that tells you the correct items to perform the upgrade, then find those items and do that. Anyway, finding them requires a lot of luck (or a FAQ) since you have no hint at all about how to get them. Don't worry; the attack bonus you'll get is so small that you'll hardly have to trouble yourself with upgrading. The only character whose weapon absolutely has to be upgraded is Squall, since he learns new and stronger Limit Breaks with new weapons.
One of the few interesting ideas in this game is that normal monsters, not bosses, level up as you do; this should keep the challenge high even when fighting random battles. Well, it should, but it doesn't. If you have good Junctions, you won't need to level up. So, unless you want to raise your level for some unknown reasons, you'll always be thrashing normal enemies.
If Junction overpowering or Limit Breaks doesn't make this game easy enough, you can always use one of those items who make you fully invulnerable for some turns, like Hero or Holy War; even the most difficult boss will become as easy as pie if you can't be damaged, isn't it?
In FFVIII getting money works differently, too: you won't get much from fights. You'll have to rely on your "salary" instead. You're a mercenary after all; after fixed amounts of time, you'll get paid for your hard work. How much money you'll get it will be decided from your Rank; fight lots of enemies, perform well on missions, pass SeeD exams which you can take from your menu and your Rank, and thus, your Salary will rise. However, if you don't kill at least 10 enemies between payments or mess up your missions, your rank will drop, and you will get less money from your salary. If you're a runner or you like to play low level games, you'll hate this Salary system. Definitely.
Let's take a break from these endless lists of defects. This game has even good sides, so, let's take a look to the best feature of FFVIII: the Triple Triad. The main mini-game is a card game, which you play by using cards representing Playable Characters, Guardian Forces or various monsters. It starts off easy, but as the main game progresses, new rules will be added, making it always more challenging and fun. You can play this game with most characters, just by pressing the assigned button; if the guy/girl's a player, you will start a match instead of a conversation. Getting all the cards will take lots of time.
Sadly, the Triple Triad is the only way that this game offers to break the monotony of random battles and drawing; while the previous games of the saga offered lots of minigames or at least lots of optional dungeons and sidequests, in FFVIII there are almost none. There is just a pair of real quests, the others are just a bunch of "go here, click there, go there, click here". Even Chocobos became totally useless into this game.
Overall: 1/10 (Not an Average)
A great game needs a great gameplay. A great jRPG needs charismatic characters and a deep, complex plot. FFVIII has none of this. It just has got good looking graphics, tons of FMV and lots of cheap teenage-like love and friendship moments. Well, graphics and FMV can't make a game. The only real hidden gem of this japanese RPG is the Triple Triad, maybe the best minigame I have ever seen.
Final Fantasy VIII totally fails as a jRPG: its broken gameplay, its dumb junctioning system, its boring drawing system, its plot full of holes, its flat characters and its badly drawn love affair make it one of the worst japanese RPGs ever made, if not THE worst. Unless you're a cheesy teenager who loves dumb TV shows like Dawson's Creek and has never played an RPG, stay away from this game. This world is full of great RPGs, way better than this one, do yourself a favor and don't waste your time with the game that started Squaresoft's and Final Fantasy's ruin.
You want to try a really good game heavily based on a love story? And you want it to be a Japanese RPG and nothing else? Try "Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals" for the SNES. You'll thank me.
Reviewer's Rating: 0.5 - Unplayable
Originally Posted: 06/26/07, Updated 09/13/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy VIII (Platinum) (EU, 09/29/00)
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