Review by Draco1214

"All style, no substance."

Squaresoft has always been a revolutionary company when it came to RPGs. After the massive success of Final Fantasy VII, people were expecting an amazing sequel. It's no surprise that the gaming public was very excited when Square announced a sequel. The next game had very big shoes to fill. Final Fantasy VII helped bring RPGs to the forefront of gaming, when it had once been a very niche genre. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VIII did not live up to the hype. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Final Fantasy VIII is, without a doubt, one of the most convoluted pieces of garbage to come out for the PSX. From one of the most one-dimensional casts to disgrace RPGs to one of broken and easily abusable battle systems ever made, Final Fantasy VIII fails in virtually every aspect of what makes an RPG good.

The game starts off wonderfully at first. The player is treated with one of the most visually and musically appealing cut-scenes in gaming. After the camera pans around a field of flowers with strong, operatic music in the background, the scene cuts to Squall Leonhart (the main character) in a training session with Seifer Almasy (his rival). After sparring for a couple of minutes, Seifer deals a blow with his gunblade that causes a scar on Squall's face. Squall retaliates by giving Seifer an identical scar on his face. The scene ends and the game begins with Squall waking up in a hospital bed. Enjoy this cut-scene as much as possible, because the game begins it's downward spiral in quality shortly thereafter.

As mentioned earlier, Squall Leonhart (a cheesy play on words, isn't it) is the main character of Final Fantasy VIII. He is part of a group of students in Balamb Garden training to be a SeeD (another very cheesy play on words, by the way), which is basically and elite mercenary force. He starts off as a cold, unfeeling person, who pushes away those around him. Then, Squall is caught up in a war that he doesn't want to fight. Throughout the game, the player can see what Squall is thinking and feeling. Eventually, the player finds out why Squall is this way, and becomes emotionally attached to him. Watching Squall's character develop is a great thing to see, and definitely the high point of this game.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is completely worthless. Most of the other character are little more than cliches and have little character development beyond their stereotypical personalities. Let's take Selphie for example. The only thing the player knows about Selphie for the great majority of the game is that she transferred from Trabia Garden and that she likes trains. That's it. Never mind the fact the she is extremely annoying and childish. She gets almost no character development. Her personality remains static throughout the game.

Irvine is yet another one-dimensional character. He is a flirt, and spends most of his time chasing after Selphie. His personality barely develops from that. Rinoa spends her time whining about how Squall is so cold and uncaring. She acts like a spoiled brat throughout the entire game. Quistis spends the beginning of the game as Squall's mentor. After the first test, she barely says anything. Beyond the first disc, it is almost as though she never existed. Zell is the annoying "bold and brash" guy. It is virtually impossible to get attached to any of these characters, and watching them interact is painful.

But the shortcomings of this game don't stop there. The story is almost as painful as the cast of characters. The story starts off well enough. Squall goes through his training and various missions. The events that happen catch the player's attention. You want to find out why things are happening. You anticipate the story's resolution. Unfortunately, events in the story are explained in the most absurd ways. Eventually, the story reveals two of the dumbest plot twists in gaming (seriously, they rival Star Ocean 3's plot twist when it comes to stupidity). The game then turns into a rushed, forced, and contrived love story. It is truly amazing to witness how fast the story falls apart.

And then there's the battle system. Good Lord, where to begin...

The main feature of Final Fantasy VIII's battle system is its junctioning system. Throughout the game, the player acquires powerful summons called Guardian Forces (GF, for short) which can be used in battle. In order to become more powerful, the player must junction GFs to the characters. This allows the player to junction magic to each character's individual stats, and thus, they become more powerful.

This brings up another aspect of Final Fantasy VIII's battle system - the drawing system. Unlike the previous Final Fantasy installments, there is no MP. In order to obtain magic to cast, the player must draw magic from enemies. For example, if you draw 23 Fires, you can cast the Fire spell 23 times. Instead of casting magic, spells can be junctioned to each character's stats. The Limit Break system has been revamped as well. Instead of having a Limit Break bar to fill up, Limit Breaks can only be casted when the characters are in critical condition (when their HP is in yellow). It is very complicated at first, but easy to get used to. Sounds like a good battle system, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the battle system's execution turns it into one of the most broken battle systems ever.

One problem is the over-dependence on GF summoning in battle. Normal weapons do little damage and the only way to do decent damage it to summon GFs. Most of the battles are summoning GFs and being forced to sit through the massive battle animations while repeatedly mashing the square button to power up their attacks. Casting magic is nearly worthless, since spells are junctioned to the character's stats. Therefore, casting magic is a detriment because the character's stats lower. Another problem is the leveling up system. In this game, the enemies level up with you. Therefore, leveling up is actually bad, and thus, battles in this game are worthless. In theory, with proper junctioning, it is possible to finish the game at starting levels without breaking a sweat (the bosses don't give experience). Limit Breaks are very risky to use since the characters must be at critical HP to use. In battle, the only thing that make each character stand out is their Limit Breaks.

Another aspect of the gameplay is the way to obtain new weapons. In order to get new weapons, the player must find different weapons magazines (yes, magazines) that give a list of the items necessary to make the weapon. From there, the player must go to a shop in which the items are given for a weapon. The problem is the amount of time it takes to find these items. It can take a player up to several hours to find the combinations needed. This only serves to make the game more tedious than it already is. Money is not gained from fighting enemies. Money is earned through a timed salary. In order to get more money at each interval, the player must take SeeD tests to raise their rank. The questions have to do with the game's battle mechanics. Unfortunately, this too is flawed. It is possible to cheat the test and max out the SeeD rank near the beginning of the game. Then, at each interval, money will be given at unusually high amounts.

The music is another one of the few aspects of this game that is actually good. The soundtrack is superb. It is easy to tell that Squaresoft put in a lot of effort into Final Fantasy VIII's soundtrack. Each of the songs run the gamut in emotion - from slow and heartwarming, to vibrant and heart-pounding. The music goes along perfectly with whatever the feeling of the setting is. This is definitely some of Square's best work when it comes to music.

The graphics are also breathtaking. Realistic, pre-rendered backgrounds fill the screen with vibrant colors and well-defined textures. The character models are very well-designed and realistic. The FMV graphics are simply breathtaking and rival some of today's graphics. Of course, graphics of this quality are always expected by Square, and they don't disappoint in that department.

In short, Final Fantasy VIII is a game that tries too hard to be "innovative" and "different" and ends up failing miserably. This game looks great on paper, but is executed poorly. While it does have great music and graphics, it is sub-par in almost every other category (namely the important ones, like gameplay, story, and characters). Final Fantasy VIII is definitely one of the low points in the Final Fantasy series.

Story - 3/10
Characters - 2/10
Gameplay - 1/10
Music/Sound - 10/10
Graphics - 9/10

Rent or buy: This game is by far the most polarizing game in the Final Fantasy series. Some love this game and think it is the best in the series, while others hate it and think it is the worst in the series. While isn't the worst in the series (that dishonor goes to FFX-2), the game is truly terrible. I would suggest renting it, though, to see if it appeals to you.

Overall score (not an average) - 3/10

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 08/23/05

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