Review by Fein

"Square's romantic dream."

The game that stole my soppy little heart.

I once said that Final Fantasy VII was the hardest review I've ever had to do because of the personal admiration and fondness I had of the game. But then Final Fantasy VIII entered my life, rummaged my game collection and scattered everything about. When I think of the game, I think of a collection of unforgettable people and a genuinely touching love story that I'll never ever forget. Squall and Rinoa. Rinoa and Squall. The sound of their names has me enticed all over again. When people ask me for my opinion of Final Fantasy VIII, I say it's nowhere near as great as Final Fantasy VII but I recall some of the greatest music ever featured in a game and let's not even mention the grandeur of the magnificence in the graphics. This game just lacks that special something - but it's heart gains another.

Final Fantasy VIII's hype was larger than it's predecessor and you can understand why; this time, everybody knew what they were expecting and what Square were capable of. For me, I am always worried when the media take a front seat and write away articles after articles promoting a game to be exceptional because when the game is released and it isn't, you've spent the so and so months reading a tripe of false promises. Final Fantasy VIII resides in the nexus where people still cannot decide whether the game has or hasn't lived up to it's potential. Exclude the revolutionary graphics and Nobuo Uematsu's finest work and focus on the gameplay; something is missing, but you still don't really know what it is. The macabre junction system or the non captivating battles? Me? I can't work out the reason why I find the game so stiff in combat - because I personally suck at it, or because it truly is bad.

Whatever the case, my fingers urge me from giving Final Fantasy VIII anything other than a ten. And each time I delve into the lives of the characters and become submerged into this game, I begin to understand a little bit more why. I rewrite the review I posted months ago because there was so much more embroiled in my mind that did not flow well the first time. This time my fingers did not just type this review, my fingers danced across the keyboard enthusiastically to express my love for this game. They danced, I danced, even Squall danced!

The opening movie sequence is indeed more exhiliarating and pulse rating than FFVII. We see two distinctive guys roughly fighting in a choreographed fight, with flickers of a field with the camera fastly moving in, with more changes to an attractive young woman staring into the sky with feathers swifting down into the field. There are prominent words displaying as the field is looked upon. Then we flicker back and forth to the fight scene, where the two guys struggle to get the upper hand, when the guy in the white long coat knocks the guy in the leather black jacket down, we see new images of a gothic chic looking woman. Then the blonde haired boy in the white slashes his opponent, blood sprays on the ground and the retro styled boy slowly builds up momentum and returns the favour in a diagonal slash. The credits end.

After that, with the Liberi Fatali music flowing dynamically in the background, it was hard not to be reeled in easily. I was, still am, and happy too.

The love story shines the most

Final Fantasy follows the story of a young isolated teenager by the name of Squall Lionheart. Anti social and secluded, but full of potential, he lives his life in a military institute of Balamb Garden and aspires to become an addition to the ranks of SeeD. He devotes his time to his studies and Garden and leaves his social and personal interests behind and he mostly converses through thoughts, rather than words. The irony is that for such a person who has an ignorant demeanor, he is full of charisma and people easily idolise him. But deep down he is suffering from the past, something that has griped at his soul for years. Then he meets Rinoa Heartilly. A girl with a "joie de vivre" attitude who easily speaks her mind and is keen on breaking through Squall's concrete barriers. Her courageous yet dependence on others slowly allures Squall..

But before that, Squall's life at Balamb Garden is taking off big time with the prospects he has worked for. After his bloody duel with Seifer, he is thrown into his field exam to qualify him for a SeeD placement. Squall sails through the field exam along with his comrades Zell Dincht and Selphie Tillmitt and begins a new overleaf at the Garden with a job to protect the world. After a turbulent mission, he is ordered to assassinate the sorceress recently arising to power with his friends. From there, the story escalates in love, fate and memories that troubles the teen and his friends and a dilemma must be solved. The twists and turns in the story are not tinged with tragedy as Final Fantasy VII were, but more nostalgic and heart warming which is a good versatile direction from Square. Frankly speaking, this game is more character based than Final Fantasy VII and although the characters do fall victim to the stereotyping of the previous characters from Final Fantasy games, they are excellently developed.

Most should feel a connection with the main protaginist Squall and his anti-social tendencies. Girls will love his heart throb looks while guys will admire his gunblade (well, it is big). Out of the cast who are only too keen to kill these damned sorceress, Squall seems to be reserved and the only one with his sanity intact. You ask why I say a possibly clinical depressed person would be the least sane? Squall seems to be the only one who realises the futile chance of defeating an evil sorceress who posesses powers to bring destruction to mankind and is reluctant to suddenly convert from being careless. He's not your natural born leader, or your typical hero and he's reserved and withdrawn role in the game only seems to make him more realistic than the whimsical whipper-snappers fledging to become great warriors. His flippant use of 'Whatever' when regarding crisis or comrade issues, his reluctancy of acting out on his hidden emotions and his masked feelings for Rinoa is frustrating to watch but at the same time you understand Squall completely. His doubts and thoughts are like our own during some point in our lives - and for that, Squall Lionheart will always be memorable. Cold exterior and cutting remarks and all.

Rinoa Heartilly is also a refreshing heroine that many have come to adore since she burst onto our screens with her positive nature and striking appearance. Her beauty comes from deep within, where she passionately feels the sincere duty to fight for what she believes in. Kind and with the ability to touch the hearts of all she meets, not to fall in love with this lady is like dragging wild horses through a marsh. She's gentle but straight forward, headstrong but deeply sensitive and strong determined but inadvertantly reckless. Open up the RPG cliche book and Rinoa will not be found, she truly is unique.

Seifer Almacy is also excellent as the main rival for Squall. They have a heated and mutual compulsion to best each other yet there is a slight respect or more emotional background to their past. You wonder if they would ever make better companions or enemies. And although Seifer's destiny is obvious, you still wonder if the climax will end in gaul. I liked his character because he actually enveloped the word character. He embelishes in being cool, insensitive, impulsive and arrogant at the same time yet he generates a certain likeness from the gamer towards him. He's never as charismatic as Squall, but his demeaning wit and reckless behaviour always catapults him into the frame where he will stand up.

If it wasn't for this story of love, life and memories then I would not have loved the game so. The beautiful characters who had so much influence and sprite made the story an epic adventure never to be forgotten. This really is one love story that touches some chords within and doesn't manage to be corny or stomach churning.

One great card game, one big mess of a battle system

The gameplay is the reason why the game baffled me. On one hand, the gameplay is rather fresh from the last two games that have stuck mainly to conventional RPG battles and this game throws in some unique twists in the Junction system. On the other hand, there is so much responsibility and complexity to the Junction system that it doesn't flesh out the battles like it should and leaves you flippant about taking it seriously. The decision to give the Guardian Forces a HP count makes them superior to use the characters themselves and in turn, makes combat repetitive. I also didn't like how using magic was implemented in a way from 'drawing' them from random places - the MP system was sorely missed for me.

The junction system basically overules levelling up from battles. I found this extremely difficult to learn. Okay, you junction magic to each attribute such as strength, attack, defense, speed etc. For instance, if you were fighting say, Shiva. Junctioning fire to your attack will give you a fire attack therefore giving you a higher one. If you were fighting an earth enemy, junctioning earth magic to your defense will give you a higher defense rate. Depending on the amount of magic you have, it's done in percentages, the more magic you junction, the more damage is reduced or increased. What is more important is that magic can be junctioned to boost your HP. Using higher refined magic such as Ultima and Flare will improve it even more. This is practically essential for bosses.

This adds to the extreme challenge of the game, which some will consider an improvement for Final Fantasy VIII. Another aspect is the GF expanding importance in this game. GF's (Guardian Force) are your summons in the game which all have their own abilities in order to assist your characters offside battle. They level up just as much as your characters, except even faster to acquire abilities they can learn. They need AP to do this. And they can learn abilities by setting them to do so on the GF screen in the menu. Such abilities occur from learning to refine magic out of items to having battle options such as making it available to even further boost HP, MP, the damage they can cause or even turning your enemies into cards. It's varied and useful, but very different. This is one of the particular thing I felt awkward about.

As for battles, your party of three can fight in the same way the previous game did. You can attack, use magic, use items or use GF's. There will be rare times when you can use commands such as "Kamikaze" when you learn the ability for instance. Acquiring magic comes from either draw points (where you can sap magic into a character's inventory) or drawing them from enemies. GF's are acquired this way also. It saves a lot of bother in times, but also get's frustrating that you might not have the right magic you could have if you had normal MP. The bad thing about the battles is that you'll most likely use the GF's constantly because they have their own HP meaning you can use them more than once. It makes the battles a lot easier, and more repetitive.

Weapons can be levelled up by buying weapon magazines to find out the model type then gaining the items to refine them. The items usually come from defeated monsters. I found this annoying and very hard to come by some of the items, and virtually without them, attacking damage is pathetic and futile. This means that some battles can become so repetitive that you can be rendered to using GF's constantly and boringly, it brings the appeal down.

Another apsect I didn't like was the fact that to achieve a limit break, you either had to use an aura spell or be near to death. And then the limit break could turn out to be ineffective and weak. However, the concept of some of the limit breaks for some of the characters were uniquely designed. Rinoa has the most useful as her dog can intervene in fights and selflessly attack the enemy. While Selphie has the most powerful in "The End", where she can eliminate some bosses in one hit with it.

What I did absolutely love was the card game! It was a game in itself! You collect cards based on the characters, GF's, enemies and bosses and play. You can even play in a tournament! There are various rules which will keep you occupied beyond the game plot. Each region of area has their different rules which can be spread and abolished, variating the difficulty of it all. I love the card game! It's the best thing about the gameplay, really!

The exploration is quite good too, it's lengthy and there are numbers of areas you can fight, variating in difficulty. Using the Garden and the Ragnorok to explore is quite good also, consider it as two airships although the Garden is specifically an area in itself really. It's another great aspect that lives up to Final Fantasy VII. But overall as a majority, trying to understand the key elements of the gameplay is too boring and I don't know whether it's to do with the fact that teaching this new system to us comes from the fact that the characters are from 'school' but it's fair to say that most people didn't appreciate it. That said, if you do master the system, or if you don't, Final Fantasy VIII is a formidable challenge.

The graphics that changed the face of video games

The graphics are stunningly beautiful and they surpass Final Fantasy VII technically, but I prefer FFVII. The character designs are the best designs I have seen in a game ever. The 3D environment blends in with the characters beautifully, perfectly in the way that Chrono Trigger failed. The FMV would easily put Hollywood to shame, the emotional detail in the faces - every detail is illuminated in dazzlement and beauty. I love the graphics. The face panel in the menu evaluate how they look and aren't dramatised facially - which is something I hated in other RPG games. I don't think any other RPG will ever be so ambitious. The PSone looked as if it would have had a heart attack trying to hold this together but Squaresoft do this amazingly.

What is most remarkable is that with the estimated budget of fifteen million for Final Fantasy VII, the producers at Squaresoft decided to tone down the anime manga look that was more in effect in the last game. Their decision to westernise the characters styles has made their games more irresistable and gave them that extra tad of authenticity. No one else can claim that now. Squall Lionheart and Seifer Almacy both capture very sleek styles while Rinoa Heartilly's angelic stance perfects serenity and sophistication, the quirky image of Edea Kramer's exuberating gothic look, Zell Dincht's post skater kid look, Selphie Tillmitt's cute girl next door look, Quistis Trepe's elegant chic and Irvine Kinneas' pretty boy model looks. Basically, each character has their own separate and distinctive visual looks.

No other game in the history of the Playstation's reign has a conviction upon the splendor of the graphics Square has splashed out on. Immense detail show that Final Fantasy VII was pushing further ahead of it's years and every scenario, every cutscene is breath taking and there is no other way to describe the solid presence of the graphics other than special.

Some consider this the pinnacle of Nobuo Uematsu's reign

Final Fantasy VII delivered a breathy soundtrack that attracted thousands alone to go out and buy the CD's that were released post the game's success. With a more confident and loyal fanbase for this genre of music alone, Final Fantasy VIII definetly capitalises on previous fame and this soundtrack is much more stronger. Starting with the anthemic "Eyes On Me" the lead single with sweet vocals and a streaming orchestra backing, Nobuo Uematsu proves to be the Andrew Lloyd Webber of video games. The battle track is a racing flurry of nerve rack euphoria while the acoustic and piano versions of "Eyes On Me" play in the background from time time with a serene feeling floating in the air. Personal favourites would be the dreamy "Tell Me", the orchestra/opera laiden "Liberi Fatali" and the funky boogie theme tune "Shuffle Or Boogie" to the sublime card game.

At a time when video games were scratching into the mainstream halls in terms of audience, full blown music was becoming an essential part to video games. Clearing the air was Final Fantasy VIII's "Eyes On Me" that launched the career of Faye Wong into a popular phenomenom and impressed millions worldwide as the song played through one of the memorable scenes in the game. Nobuo Uematsu himself considers this his greatest piece of work during his stint as music composer with Square.

Messy but captiviating all the same

RPG's are renowned for having the odd slushy love story - and we all watched with bated breath of how emotionally involving it could be with Final Fantasy VII - and Final Fantasy VIII is completely different: it's far superior to anything that has become tired over the years. While having an ultimate goal, Squall Lionheart and Rinoa Heartilly's relationship takes centre stage throughout and it's never boring but enthralling. Both characters aren't stereotyped but modernised and the message is realistic and powerful. Seifer Almacy once chants "I'm gonna tell ya my romantic dream!" and it's very much true. If you love indepth insights on characters, then you'll love this. If you want a suicidal challenge, then you'll be banging your head off the walls near the end and if you love a great romance (and happen to be an emotional bombat) then you'll be teary at some of the events here - thing is, you really will need to be patient or even disregard the gameplay's few learning curves.

The game has taken flak for many things, and it's ironic that it is subjected to being shot in the wing as the backsleeve of it's predeccessor when that treatment is usually reserved for other RPG's contending to take it's crown. While Final Fantasy VII was for everyone before it became so controversial, Final Fantasy VIII is just controversial because of the gameplay structure. Other than that, the game's charm is just mesmerising and the story itself is a reason to play it alone. It is easy to dislike the game for it's bad points, but it's also hard to hide from it's outstanding ones.

"One day I'm gonna tell ya about my romantic dream!"

And thank you, it was quite an interesting one.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 06/14/04, Updated 11/27/04

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