Review by Gbness

"The shattered lifespan was the downfall."

Balamb - a small continent on the ocean, with the shadow of the the mountains, and the sea sweeping up the coast of the town...

Balamb Garden - a military academy where military soldiers called SeeDs train to crush the Galbadian army...

Squall - a young man with a scar on his forehead who is thrust into a struggle to save the world from an evil sorceress and eternal time compression. A struggle by the name of Final Fantasy VIII.

A recently elected SeeD, and later to become leader of the SeeDs, Squall is a young man with little to no memory of his past. He is one of the rare masters of the Gunblade, getting into a conflict between the SeeDs and an evil sorceress who wishes to compress time, and make all SeeDs her slaves for eternity. He joins in with a cast of some of the worst characters yet in a Final Fantasy game, but characters nonetheless: Zell, a punk who is always mad and is a master of martial arts; Quistis, the youngest instructor of Balamb Garden, and one of the overall more emotional characters; Irvine, a marksman who spends all his days thinking of the lovely ladies across the world; Rinoa, the young woman who falls for Squall's good looks, and whom eventually, Squall starts to fall for; and Selphie, a spunky girl who really doesn't have that much meaning on the story, and just seems to follow Squall like his shadow.

The game also features three other characters who have a strange connection with Squall, somehow: Laguna, a Galbadian soldier who wishes to become a journalist, and is overall klutzy and pretty ridiculous throughout the entire story; Kiros, a man who fights along with Laguna but doesn't really have much to do with the story; and Ward, a very large man who loses his voice early in the game, but also doesn't have much effect on the story. Squall starts to dream about these three along with his friends, although despite the fact they are Galbadian soldiers, who oppose Balamb, they also try to fight against the sorceress. Yet despite the fact that Final Fantasy VIII starts off as a large battle between Balamb Garden's SeeDs and an evil sorceress named Edea (whom as a matter of fact, is not whom she appears, and reveals a large secret at the end of the second disk), it quickly turns into an epic love story after it gets past a bit of the fighting with the terrorists of Galbadia. Constantly, Squall and Rinoa have romantic scenes together, and Squall fights to save Rinoa constantly, especially in certain events in the later parts of the game. I wish not to reveal much more, however. The story is really nothing much more than average, as the story gets immature and annoying at times, usually because of the characters.

One may notice upon first sight of the game or its screenshots, that the graphics have greatly been improved upon those of Final Fantasy VII's, or even those of FF Tactics. Due to the sheer pixelation that was shown in Final Fantasy VII, the realism factor went a long way down. The graphics in Final Fantasy VIII are a large change. No longer are we looking at sprites or highly pixelized characters, we're seeing tall, realistic human beings. There is far more detail put into the characters; for example, you can even see the scar across Squall's face when you look at it. The backgrounds are awesome, as everything looks incredibly detailed. For example, when you tread through the vast forests of Final Fantasy VIII, you can see the leaves move behind you. The waves of the water are clearly seen sweeping across the sand of the beaches, and mountains have never looked quite so good. The FMV is also incredible. One very memorable one was the beginning, especially when Seifer draws his Gunblade and cuts through Squall's face, and the blood drips across the scar on his face. This game clearly marked the new beginning for the Final Fantasy graphics.

The music of Final Fantasy VIII was clearly a mixed bag. 'Twas a real pain when I first listened to the music that played inside Balamb Garden. It was extremely annoying and gave me a thorough urge to mute my TV so I wouldn't have to listen to it any longer. The battle theme and the world map theme were also fairly disappointing, having listened to those that were featured in Final Fantasy VII. The battle theme was incredibly annoying after having to listen to it hundreds of times, since Final Fantasy VIII had an incredible random encounter rate. That's enough for the bad stuff, though. Some of the music in Final Fantasy VIII is truly remarkable, for example: when Squall and Rinoa are together, and after Squall has saved Rinoa or the like, a very romantic theme plays, which matches Rinoa's typical dialogue quite well. Selphie, who is typically extremely cheerful, has a very happy and cheery song. The sound itself is the typical Final Fantasy sound, although it has improved a little over that of Final Fantasy VII. Gunblade (made to look just like swords) sound like swords, when Zell attacks with his fist, it sounds just like a punch, etc. If you can get past annoying music, you'll find FF8's quite enjoyable, and it's very easy to enjoy the sound. There are little to no problems with it.

In terms of gameplay, gone are the days in which a character was assigned an ability, and then started learning it inside of battle. Replacing that idea is the GF system. GFs are the summons of Final Fantasy VIII. GFs are mainly used inside battle, and after a very lengthy animation, the GF unleashes a powerful attack, although after you've used the GF about ten times it is unlikely for them to use it again for fear of sleeping too much the following night, since the GFs take ages to finish their attack. When a GF is equipped on a character, they start learning abilities, and when they're finished, whenever the character has that GF equipped, they can use the ability. Some of them are related to the Junction system (see below), some are Command abilities, and some are support abilities for the GFs.

The Junction system was a new system that FF8 implemented, unsuccessfully in many peoples' views, at that. In the junction system, you have to equip a GF on a character (called junctioning), and then you can use three command abilities that the GF has learned (for example, Magic, GF, Draw, and Item are learned on every GF and are the main commands, but you can only use three of them, and with or without a GF, you can regularly Attack). When the GFs have learned other abilities, you can use different commands like Absorb and Darkside, and some of them give the characters boosts in HP. The junction system is the reason that a majority of people disliked the game. However, the bad parts only begin once I reach the magic system.

To get magic, you have to use a command called ''Draw''. That's the only way to get them, besides going around the world map and certain locations, and finding purple sparks called Draw Points, in which you can draw magic from if the character has a GF and the Draw commands equipped. ''Drawing'' magic (put your crayons, markers, colored pencils, etc. aside), is like this: when a character has the Draw command, they can use it on an enemy and get a menu of magic that you can draw from the enemy. After you select, the character takes 1-9 of that spell from the enemy, depending on its level. Magic, depending on if a GF has learned certain abilities, can be junctioned onto certain stats and then they will be raised. However, the drawback is that if you use that magic, the stat will slowly but surely decrease, so you really can't use that spell much anymore. Add to that the fact that the only really strong magic in the game is the only magic that is usually worth junctioning. This system, in conjunction with the the main Junction system, is the reason FF8 didn't win the love that Final Fantasy VII. Both systems are incredibly confusing at first, and many are not fond of the drawing system, since getting a lot of magic can take hours. If you don't like these systems, FF8 may not appeal to you at all.

On the good side though, Final Fantasy VIII introduced a card game called Triple Triad, played on a 3x3 board and with each player starting at 5 cards of their choice. In Triple Triad, one random player puts down a card first, then another places a card down, and they alternate until they're out of cards. Each card has four numbers on each side, and when one player places a card down next to the opponent's, then the comparison is the two adjacent numbers. For example, if at the upper-right, a card has a ''5'' on the right, and a card is placed to its right with a ''7'' on its left, then the first card (with the 5) would be flipped over, and then would be the opponent's. At the end, the player who has the most cards wins, and you can take a card, otherwise known as playing for keeps. There are other rules where the cards are picked at random and where complex math is involved, although they take far too long to explain. Triple Triad is quite fun, although it eventually gets tedious after playing hundreds of games.

Final Fantasy VIII is far from what an experienced gamer would call a challenging RPG, since I found it incredibly easy my first way through, and that was when I was a newbie to the RPG genre. It is possible to get several extremely powerful spells and then junction them to your stats, making your characters unstoppable. But what really hurts Final Fantasy VIII like a blow right to the face is the fact it has very little replay value. When you play it once or twice, it's highly unlikely that you will want to play it again, because lots of drawing is needed at the beginning of the game, effectively boring you to death. That's also not to mention that the exciting parts of the story take place a lot later, leaving you going through a lot of tedious dialouge and several locations to go through. Still, the first way through it should provide a good bit of entertainment, although not exactly a lot of challenge.

All in all, FF8 is far from the quality that Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy IX delivered. The characters can really bore you at times, and storyline can be extremely annoying at times. The graphics and music are very good though, but what really hurts is that almost all of the first disc is extremely tedious on the second way through, and sometimes even the first time. Add to that the fact the Junction system can be confusing and annoying at times, and the magic system is one of the worst ever seen to a Final Fantasy title, and you get a pretty average RPG. Still, Final Fantasy VIII has some great mini-games, and underneath the drawing system and more irksome parts, you can find a bit of a solid game, thus getting the 6/10 score. It's a love it or hate it game, no matter how you look at it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/01/04

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