Review by ShapeQuest

"A game to own in your collection"

Sometimes Final Fantasy VIII receives a bad rap, I believe. The PS1 game sandwiched between FFVII and FFIX, many people became so dazzled by VII that it was impossible for FFVIII to live up to the hype. However, the poorly designed battle system certainly wouldn't help the case, either. As far as the PS1 games went, I played VIII, then IX, and then VII. I don't remember why. Maybe I wasn't willing to make myself adjust to VII's graphical downgrade quite yet (having played X as the very first FF). Was this game worth my purchase? We'll find out:

The story begins in a rather interesting way. The protagonist (Squall) is seen fighting against a school time rival. The camera flashes intermittently between that and several other things, including a girl dressed mostly in blue (the game does this a lot, you'll find—random movie clips mashed together, I mean). Anyway, you'll then end up on a bed in the Nurse's office with a new scar on your head. No time to think about it though, because you're off to study (read: in-game tutorial time) and pass the physical test.

So then this is where the game's battle mechanics are introduced. I believe the game sheds some review points here, in my opinion. Basically, you can assign different battle moves to a person, with a maximum number of slots available. This includes Attack, Item, Magic, and other things…including a new ability known as Draw.

What is Draw? Well…I should mention here that there is NO MP in this game; instead, you “collect” magic spells by “drawing” them from enemies who have it. So if you wanna use magic, you better like drawing. You can collect a maximum of 100 spells of a certain type of spell at a time. Wanna use Cure? You better have drawn it from an enemy previously. Can't find an enemy around the immediate area that has the ability you want? Too bad.

This system, combined with what I am about to mention in the paragraph below, generally discourages you from using magic—something I don't view too favorably in RPGs, where you're supposed to, ya know, use magic! And it's not like the drawing process is quick (if you want all 100 of a certain spell). Sometimes you'll draw 9 spells. Sometimes 1. It's random (mostly). And then you'll have to stay busy keeping the enemy alive, so you better hope that it doesn't have any self-destructive abilities, or if one of your characters has a counter attack move (this can actually lead you to HEAL the enemy!). And then this process is repeated with the next spell set. This led me to use summons much more often than magic (you'll find lots of summons throughout the game). But the Draw system gets even better…

There's something else to consider. The spells you draw can become attached to your characters' stats—in other words, if you collect lots and lots of powerful spells, you can then “equip” that with a certain stat, making this stat increase. Sounds good, right?

Wrong—in the sense that this is even MORE discouragement to not use magic, because if you do, and the spell is equipped to a certain stat, you run the risk of eventually decreasing that stat (as it increases when you collect more spells, so the opposite then happens if you use those spells). ARGH! Again, this poor system caused me to hardly use magic, except for possibly at the very end of the game when it didn't matter much. And because it is so tedious to draw all 100 of any spell, this was even more discouragement.

Anyway, enough of that. There are other battle elements that attempt to even out this wrinkle (in terms of making the game fun, at any rate). Squall's weapon of choice is a gunblade. This means he can both cut and shot with it. During battle, if you press R1 at precisely the right time you can land a critical hit, just like that.

Limit Breaks make their presence again (not called Limit Breaks though) and do NOT have a bar to fill up. Instead, a character's HP must reach critical, or you may use the Aura spell (a rare spell to find) to automatically cause this occurrence to happen.

In addition to drawing magic spells, you may actually draw entire summons from a very small set of enemies (namely, bosses). I cannot overstate how many summons there are in this game to find. And not all of them are drawn—some, you simply happen upon in a dungeon, or some such place. Each character can equip different summons—and these creatures can give you stat boosts and new abilities, free of charge! So it is to your advantage to seek out all of the summons in this game. Not to mention they'll fight by your side during battle, whether through attacking or by supportive magic.

That leads me to my next topic—side quests. Finding summons is just one of the many side quests you can undertake in FFVIII. First of all, as with tradition, each character has a final weapon that you must create by finding enemy items throughout the world and then putting them together to create the weapon. We've got a blue mage in this game, so you can find her abilities.

There is also a card game, which is quite popular in some circles (there are even real tournaments hosted on the internet based on it). You can collect a lot of these cards (though I personally avoided this quest because I didn't see much of value to be earned from it, though the card game is ideal for completionists). There is even an entire quest to take back the airship (see below).

So here's another thing I don't like about this game—I understand why Square did this, but it annoys me nonetheless: towards the end of the game, you will reach a point of no return waaay before the ending. You'll lose access to the towns. You'll be able to find the airship eventually (optional) and roam the lands…but things won't be the same before you reached that point. So you need to make EXTRA sure you've done everything you need to do before crossing that barrier.

The plot is kind of a mixed bag. Some of it is pretty weird, if you ask me. Some of the…coincidences. This game is mostly surrounded by the love story, so if that isn't your cup of tea, I'd stay away.

The graphics are a step up from FFVII. I wasn't too annoyed by any of the jaggedness. The sounds and music are both great—again, like FFVII, Nobuo really shined here. He produced some great classics that are still well known today (in the RPG community). Lastly, the replay value of FFVIII is probably high—whether you missed something previously, or it's just been awhile and you'd like to replay it again.

So that's my review. Overall, I enjoyed FFVIII. If you happen to see it in a gaming store, do be sure to pick it up. Just because this is an old game doesn't mean it has become worse with age (and the same can be said with the other PS1 games).

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/15/09, Updated 07/15/09

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

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