Review by LordShibas
Square Enix Does It Again
The ten year anniversary of Final Fantasy VIII is upon us, and to celebrate, I decided to replay this masterpiece and see how well the game has aged. I played Final Fantasy VIII back when it was originally released, and I remember thoroughly enjoying the game. Fast forward ten years, and my taste in games may have changed a bit, but Im still able to recognize a gem when I play one, no matter how old it may be.
Square Enix really had their work cut out for them with Final Fantasy VIII. It was the follow up to the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy VII that fans adored, including myself. Instead of building off of the already successful Final Fantasy VII formula, Square Enix decided to go back to the drawing board and recreate a new experience from the ground up. Final Fantasy VIII does retain some staples from the past Final Fantasy games, but a lot has changed, and Square Enix has outdone themselves yet again. In order to accentuate the new features in Final Fantasy VIII, Square Enix gave the gameplay a complete overhaul.
The most prominent new feature is no doubt the Junction System. The Junction System replaces all equipment pickups, and its intricate design allows for more customization than any other Final Fantasy game to date. Ill do a brief description of the Junction System, but I cant explain everything about it since its so deep. Seriously, I could talk about the Junction System for this entire review and still have things to talk about.
The Junction System begins with the Guardian Forces, which is a fancy name for a Summon. You will equip Guardian Forces that will allow you to bind magic to certain stats. Depending on which magic you have chosen to bind, and how many of it you have, the stat will go up accordingly. Each stat has certain magics that are better for Junctioning, and its your job to figure out the best setup for your characters.
The Junctioning System also governs the options you have available to you on your battle screen. You can unlock new battle commands from your Guardian Forces by leveling them up, and you can also increase the powers of your Guardian Forces the same way.
So how do you go about getting magic for the Junction System? In order to get magic, you must draw it from your enemies. Final Fantasy VIIIs magic system has been revamped as well, and you will no longer be equipping Materia or gaining spells as you go up levels. You have a Draw command on your battle menu that allows you to extract the magical essence from your foes. Depending on your magic stat, you can stock a certain number of spells for later use, or you can Draw the magic and cast it right away if you so desire. There are also draw points randomly strewn about the gameplay environments that you can draw from. They slowly restock, so you can go back to them and re-draw from them without having to fight. Once you have accumulated some spells, then you can begin the Junctioning process.
Drawing magic from enemies can be very addictive. I remember when I first played this game years ago, I would go out and just draw magic for hours and hours. Some people are not too fond of drawing magic in Final Fantasy VIII, but I always found it to be entertaining.
The Junction and Drawing systems complement each other very well, and they form a contextualized scenario that can either make or break you in some of the more difficult battles in the game.
As you progress further into the game, you will be able to Junction elemental magics to your attack and defense. This is how the elements come into play. Junctioning fire magics to your defense when fighting a fire enemy will render its attacks all but useless. If you Junction the opposing element on your weapon, you will deal extra damage to the enemy. There are also status ailment Junctions that allow you to have immunities to certain status ailments, and other Junctions that allow you to dish out status ailments.
The Junction System may be a bit overbearing for someone new to the game, but the inception of the game provides some tutorials to get you started, and some of the more advanced Junction tactics are explained along the way.
I have barely scratched the surface of what the Junction System is, but if you want to know more about it, I suggest you do some research. Believe me when I say that there are no arbitrary decisions with the Junction System, you NEED to understand it to get the most out of playing Final Fantasy VIII.
The Junction System really steals the show when it comes to Final Fantasy VIII, but there are some other new things that I would like to mention as well. There are now two main characters during the course of the game (sort of). Squall Leonhart is the main character of the game. He is a SeeD from Balamb Garden. A SeeD is a military specialist that trains at one of the various Gardens that are scattered across the world map. The Gardens house potential SeeD candidates and train them for battle.
Squall and a few of his classmates become SeeDs early on in the game, and at the stilted celebration party, he is graced with the presence of a fleeting girl who asks him for a dance and then runs off. Squall ends up running into the girl later on in the game, and finds out that her name is Rinoa, and she is from a resistance group in a town called Timber. Rinoas resistance group is trying to liberate the town from Galbadia, an evil military empire, much like Shinra from Final Fantasy VII. Rinoa and the SeeDs partner up, and so begins the epic story that Final Fantasy VIII tells.
I did mention that Squall is not the only main character, and now Ill tell you about the other guy. Laguna Loire is the other main character. Squall and his teammates have random periods when they all go unconscious and share dreams. This is when Laguna takes center stage and basically replaces Squall. Laguna has a pair of buddies he pals around with named Kiros and Ward. They are basically pallet swaps of your existing characters.
Part of the mystery in Final Fantasy VIII is trying to figure out how Squall and Laguna are tied together, and what is causing the blackouts that your party endures.
Final Fantasy VIII is such an expansive game. I have not even talked about the Triple Triad card system, the Limit Breaks, or the malevolent sorceresses that saturate the game, and Ive already spewed two pages of text. Oh well, Ill get on with my review.
Square Enix is known for pushing the graphical limits when it comes to the Final Fantasy games, and Final Fantasy VIII is no exception. Everyone that played Final Fantasy VII was blown away by the visuals, and Final Fantasy VIII ups the ante yet again.
Final Fantasy VIII does away with the chibi style characters found in Final Fantasy VII and uses full sized character models. This gives the game a more mature feel and rectifies the anime look that pervaded Final Fantasy VII. Dont get me wrong, I love how Final Fantasy VII looks, but the full sized character models just feel right in Final Fantasy VIII.
The game starts out with an impressive CG intro that shows Squall battling one of his rivals named Seifer. As they aggressively fight with their Gunblades (a sword fused with a gun that has a trigger), random words come across the screen and it may not make sense when you first watch it, but if you watch the intro again after you finish the game, it will make sense. The intro really is impressive, and its accompanied by the recurring song Lusec Wecos Vinosec that you will hear many times during the game. The intro to Final Fantasy VIII is still my favorite gaming intro of all time.
There are many other impressive cut scenes throughout the game, and they look fantastic. The ballroom dancing cut scene with Squall and Rinoa will steal your heart, and put a big smile on your face.
The Guardian Forces are impressive as well. If you were impressed by the summons in Final Fantasy VII, then the Guardian Forces will blow you away. Some of them are a little drawn out, but I enjoyed them every time. Some old summons return, like Shiva and Leviathan, but there are a slew of new summons that will demand your attention. Doom Train in particular is just too awesome for words. Saying that Doom Train is my favorite summon of all time is quite the understatement.
Final Fantasy VIII has some incredible pre-rendered backgrounds that never seem to repeat, and going to new areas is always entertaining just to look at the backgrounds.
The only downside to the graphics is the slightly grainy 3D on the Playstation, but Final Fantasy VIII still impresses, and back in the day, this was quite possibly the finest looking game of its time on the Playstation.
Sounds and Music 10/10
If you look at the reviews I have on gamefaqs, you will see that I have played quite a few Final Fantasy games in my life. Ive played console Final Fantasy games, portable Final Fantasy games, and many Final Fantasy spin offs as well. With that being said, I can honestly say that Final Fantasy VIII has my favorite soundtrack of any Final Fantasy game I have ever played.
I own the four disk soundtrack, and I still listen to it every now and then. Final Fantasy VIII just seems to have the perfect music for every setting. Whether it be a dismal scene or an upbeat scene, the music is superb. Im going to have the music from Final Fantasy VIII stuck in my head for weeks, if not months.
My favorite tracks are the music in Lunatic Pandora, the music in Ultimecias Castle, and Lagunas battle theme (yes its different than Squalls). Even though these tracks are my favorites, the entire soundtrack is top notch, and as Ive mentioned before in my reviews, I tend to not notice music in games unless its very well done, like it is in Final Fantasy VIII.
I have no complaints about the sound effects. They are sounded great.
The story in Final Fantasy VIII is great for the most part, but it does slow down a bit later on in the game. However, the end game really picks up the pace and makes you forget about the downtime in the story.
Things start out pretty simple for Squall. Hes a taciturn fellow that is just trying to get by. He doesnt like to have friends, and tries not to rely on others since it usually ends up in disappointment for him. He has spent his entire life distancing himself from others, and the events in the game will call his line of thinking into question, and he will begin to look at the bigger picture. If you are looking for a game with some quality character development (in Squall at least) then you will appreciate the story in Final Fantasy VIII. Some of the supporting characters are rather one dimensional, but when they are all together, they form quite a cohesive unit.
One of the main aspects of the story is the relationship between Rinoa and Squall. Rinoa falls for Squall early on, but Squall ends up being one tough tree to uproot. The relationship that blossoms between them is one of the most touching stories that gaming has ever told, and Squall and Rinoas love story will go down in history as one of the finest love stories ever to grace a video game.
On the opposing side of Squall and his teammates is the Galbadian Army, who are led by the grievous Sorceress Edea. They occupy many towns on the world map and seek to increase their power exponentially.
There are so many incredible parts of the story that Id like to talk about, but I dont want to ruin them for anyone reading this.
Final Fantasy VIII is a standard turn based RPG, but the nuances of the Junction System really makes the game seem fresh and different. Ive played plenty of games in my life that have deep gameplay systems that end up being inconsequential, but the Junction System can pay off big time if you take the time to learn the ins and outs of it. With that being said, there are some skeptics of Final Fantasy VIII that feel the Junction System makes you too powerful, but I just see it as a reward based system that allows you to benefit from your knowledge of the Junction System and your knowledge of your enemies.
Ive played Final Fantasy VIII before, so I had a pretty good understanding of the Junction System this time, but there may be a little bit of a learning curve for newcomers.
There are a lot of RPGs out there that focus on constant battles and leveling up, but Final Fantasy VIII is not one of them. You will have periods when you will be fighting a lot, but there will also be times when you wont pick up your weapons for a few hours. These are the times when you will be getting in depth story information, or going through a story sequence that requires more than just selecting commands from a menu, like hijacking a train, or making your way through a beautifully designed assassination.
The gameplay is one of my favorite parts of Final Fantasy VIII, but its not without a few problems. The fact that you can only take 4 battle commands into battle with you makes many of your obtained commands worthless, and fiddling with the Junction menus can take some time.
Longevity and Re-Playability 9/10
On my second play through of Final Fantasy VIII I was able to finish the game in 48 hours, but I skipped a lot of side quests that could easily take another 20-30 hours. Theres just a lot of game here. I seriously cant imagine how long it would take to get everything in this game.
The actual end game is very impressive, and takes a long time to get through. The final castle took me four and a half hours to get through by itself, and finishing off the end boss in all of her forms took me over an hour on top of that. So just be ready to set aside a lot of time for the end game.
The side quests range from finding additional Guardian Forces, to playing games of Triple Triad, which is a card game that yields cards. The cards can be transformed into in-game items.
Final Fantasy VIII is a must play game for any RPG fan. Some people seem to lament the changes that Square Enix made with Final Fantasy VIII, but I chose to fully embrace them and Final Fantasy VIII has become one of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time.
If you have never played this game, then go get yourself a copy as soon as possible. It can be found new, online for $15. Theres really no reason to pass on this game at that price.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy VIII (Greatest Hits) (US, 12/31/00)
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