Review by bover_87

"A game that breaks the normal mold, yet still is impressive"

Pretty much anyone who's played an RPG knows the formula to winning: find the best weapons and armor you can, learn the best spells, steal treasure from people's houses (and pray they weren't saving it for later), and blast the final boss into oblivion. Time and time again, in RPGs, we do that, we win. Final Fantasy VIII, however, changes this a bit. No longer does simply getting all the best stuff make you a winner. However, it is still clearly an RPG, with many of the usual things we expect in RPGs. Final Fantasy VIII is a game that, while difficult to learn, is definitely worth playing.

The gameplay is, to say the least, interesting. For one thing, many items cannot be purchased, stolen, or won in any way, shape, or form. Instead, these items must be refined from other items. While this may sound easy, it isn't. Before anything else, you need the GFs (Guardian Forces, these are this game's summon monsters) that have the ability you need. Then, your GFs must learn the proper refinement ability. Then there's the matter of finding the items you need for refining. While many of these are very easy to get, some (Power Generators, anyone?) are incredibly difficult (Power Generators, for example, are only available for stealing by one enemy that is fairly difficult to find and only has them as a very rare steal). Then, in some cases, you may need to do further refinements to get some intermediate items to be the final product you desire (some things may have to be refined 3 or 4 times to obtain a useful item).

In this game, the only actual equipment upgrades that exist are improvements to characters' weapons. Upgrading a weapon give a slight bonus to the character's attacking power and hit rate. Doing this requires acquiring a set of items, which often are difficult to find and/or need to be refined. This is much like any other RPG.

What is most different about Final Fantasy VIII is the junction system. In this system, first GFs are "junctioned" (equipped) to a character, and the abilities of the GFs junctioned determine what a character can do. These abilities range from actions in battle (casting spells and using items, for instance) to auto-abilities to spell junctioning. Junctioning spells allows characters to raise stats, and also attack with and defend against various status and elemental attacks. The more of the spell that character has stocked, the more powerful the effect. While this may seem very simple, in reality it's not. Different spells raise different stats by different amounts, and often the best combinations can only be found through trial and error. Because of this, the game has a rather steep learning curve. On my first playthough, on Disc 3, my characters' physical attacks were doing roughly 200 damage per hit against enemies with HPs in the thousands. But on later playthroughs, my attack damage has often been around 1500 at that same time. Depending on how good you are with the junction system, the game is either extremely easy or very hard; the junction system is easily exploited by experienced players. Another serious problem with the system is that it becomes very unwise to cast junctioned spells, as it reduces your stats (by decreasing the number of spells junctioned). This has the effect of making the game almost entirely one-dimensional (the only attacks other than summons that are of any value are basic physicals).

The other major change is in the magic system. Instead of have spellcasting be based on MPs, in Final Fantasy VIII spells are treated like items. To build up your supply of spells, you must draw them from enemies (you can also cast the spells here instead of stocking them) and draw points. This can make finding spells very difficult, as you need to find an enemy with the spell you want. While this is necessary to make the junction system work, the system is completely broken. Against many otherwise difficult bosses, for example, one can easily survive by simply draw-casing curative spells. This makes battles far easier than they should be.

Also, this game has parts that use the failed PocketStation. It's impossible to get a full item list without one, since some things, like Ribbons, can't be obtained any other way. Even so, this can provide some additional options to those who have a PocketStation and greatly enjoy mini-games. A PocketStation isn't needed in any way to complete or enjoy the game, though, so it's no big deal if you don't have one.

Another new feature in Final Fantasy VIII is the card game, "Triple Triad." In this game, you can win cards by playing various opponents. While cards are not used as items, the point of this is that it lets you get rare items by refining, or "Modding," cards. Several items can only be gotten this way, and the game is fun to play as well, making it a welcome addition to the game.

The story is nicely written in general, although there are times where plot twists seem like cheap ways to avoid revealing crucial facts earlier (rather than actually seeming likely). The story revolves around Squall, a SeeD candidate at Balamb Garden about to take his field test, and several others around him. The story follows not only their journey, but also that of three mysterious young men some time ago. The part that I felt was most rewarding about the story is the development of Squall and Rinoa. Also, the ending is an excellent way to finish off the game; not only are the graphics there spectacular, but it also give a good sense of closure to the game. Some of the events during the game are a little iffy, but, nevertheless, the story is rewarding to play through.

The graphics in the game are pretty average. The areas throughout the game are prerendered, but one of the most notable points is that the characters' appearances are a big step up from those in Final Fantasy VII. Probably the most spectacular graphics in the game are the GF summon animations, which are definitely worth seeing (even if they get really repetitive after summoning one for the hundredth time).

Final Fantasy VIII is excellent in terms of music. Once again, Nobuo Uematsu has pulled out all the stops in delivering an auditory treat with the game. In each area, the music is well-matched to the intended mood. For instance, in an area that was just attacked by missiles, the music is downbeat and sad to reflect this. On the other hand, when Squall and his companions are making a landing on an occupied city, the music is very fast and anxious. The wide range of music really helps make this game what it is.

The game give a great deal of play time and replyability. In terms of game time it can take between 30-60 hours to complete the main story, moving at a relaxed pace. The replay value of Final Fantasy VIII goes well beyond this; especially with how difficult it is to get certain items, you could easily spend 100-150 hours just getting one of every item. While there are relatively few sidequests, filling as much of the item list as possible is an end unto itself.

Despite some flaws, Final Fantasy VIII is still an impressive game. Even though the game abandons much of the old formula in favor of new setups, the game still provides many hours of enjoyable play to its players.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/02/08, Updated 12/08/08

Game Release: Final Fantasy VIII (US, 09/07/99)

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