Review by Haz4rd

"10th Anniversary Review"

Exactly ten years ago, the eighth installment of the Final Fantasy series was released. When we think of Final Fantasy, we may think of strong plots, deep character development, turn-based combat, spikey hair, or gigantic swords. Heck, we might even think of horrifying monsters or women who know how to kick ass. Whatever the case may be, we've all heard of the series, and we all know how popular it is and how it set the standard for RPGs since the old NES days. Its needless to say the series has had both its shining stars (Final Fantasy VII) and rejects (Final Fantasy X-2), but the series as a whole stands strong. When the first Final Fantasy game was released, it was supposed to be Square's final game, hence the word "Final" in the title, due to the failure of previous games. They worked their butts off making it, and they had a huge payoff. The massive success of Final Fantasy spawned a second, which spawned a third, and so on. Now we're waiting for the release of the thirteenth. Why not celebrate the series with a tenth anniversary review of one of its better (and slightly controversial) games? I say controversial because some reviewers back in the day said FF8 was good, but hardly a step up from its predecessor, and gamers would say it's too much like a soap opera. Despite these criticisms, it doesn't lose it's unique Final Fantasy mix of story and characters that gamers indulge in.

To start off, the gameplay is turn-based, obviously. Turn-based combat has been the main gameplay feature since the beginning and hasn't changed until recently with the release of Final Fantasy XII. In battle, characters can do a variety of things, including casting magic, summoning monsters (or in this case, Guardian Forces, or GFs), draw magic from enemies, use items, or do a standard physical attack. There's also Limit Breaks. They're very strong special techniques each character uses when their health is low or when the spell "Aura" is in effect. Another battle feature allows enemies to level up when you do. This way, enemies in some areas of the world map will always be a challenge. And, like in most RPGs today, your character becomes stronger by earning experience points. You gain experience points by defeating monsters, of course, but your previously mentioned Guardian Forces receive their own points, called Ability Points. With Ability Points, your GFs can learn new abilities you can apply using the Junction feature of the game. With Junction, you can attach a certain GF to fit a certain character. Mix and match to make the ultimate team!

Next up is plot. This is a Final Fantasy game, and unless you've been living under a rock, you'd know all Final Fantasy games (well, maybe with the exception of XI) have strong plots. The game takes place on an unnamed planet comprised of four major continents: Galbadia, Trabia, Balamb, and Esthar. Galbadia is where you'll spend a majority of the story, Trabia is the game's arctic region, Balamb is where the story starts, and Esthar is the largest continent and home to the largest city in the game world. There are deserts, forests, and lush green pastures to explore with hundreds of monsters to fight. Don't let your guard down when traveling!

There are six main playable characters in FF8. There's Squall Leonheart, your main character; Rinoa Heartilly, the care-free love interest; Quistis Trepe, Squall's serious, but not-much-older instructor; Zell Dincht, the boneheaded martial artist; Selphie Tilmitt, another free-spirited female character; and Irvine Kinneas, the self-proclaimed ladies' man. There are a couple of other characters you can play, but I won't get ahead of myself. These six are the ones you have throughout most, if not the entire, game.

Story-wise, it all begins with Squall fighting his arch-nemesis, Seifer Almasy. Seifer roughs Squall up, and he wakes up in his school's Infirmary. This is where you finally get to move around on your own. After returning to class, Quistis lectures everyone and Squall is given an assignment. Throughout the first hour or so of playing the game, you'll be bombarded with tutorials and how-to's, especially when Quistis is around. Squall completes his assignment and is to take part in the SeeD test, which, if he passes, allows him to be part of his academy's elite fighting squad. What happens next is all up to you. You'll unlock secrets and twists as you continue playing, but I won't spoil anything. Let's just say it is a typical high school romance story with its own Final Fantasy traits.

If you're a huge Final Fantasy fan, you'll have heard the name Nobuo Uematsu. He's been composing the music for Final Fantasy since the beginning, and he's really outdone himself with FF8's "Liberi Fatali" which is a powerful orchestral score complete with a choir singing in Latin. I'd say the greatness of this piece is comparable to the seemingly untouchable "One-Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII. There's even a slow romance J-Pop song serving as the game's romance theme, called "Eyes on Me" sung by Faye Wong. The game's soundtrack is great overall and if you're willing, I'd recommend buying "Liberi Fatali" from iTunes.

Deep story (which is, albeit, soap opera-ish), strong character development (especially for Squall and Rinoa), satisfying turn-based combat, dazzling musical score, huge game world full of monsters to be fought and treasures to be found, ideal team customization, and an overall fun experience. However, despite its upsides, it still isn't much of an upgrade from the much better-received FF7.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/27/09

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

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