Final Fantasy VIII
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • PlayStation
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 02/11/1999
    • US 09/07/1999
    • UK 10/27/1999
Score: 75%

This review was published on 07/06/2013.

Final Fantasy VIII is a role-playing game developed by Square and released for the Sony PlayStation in 1999. It's the eighth game in the main Final Fantasy series and the second one on the PlayStation. Final Fantasy VII released to critical acclaim and was a colossal success, quickly becoming the best selling Final Fantasy game of all time. It introduced Full Motion Video, or FMV, into the series and upped the scale of the story. Thanks to the success of Final Fantasy VII, Japanese RPGs became more popular in North America. Final Fantasy VIII continues in that trend by also becoming an immediate success that was well received by critics at the time. However, unlike VII, Final Fantasy VIII was derided many years later by fans for having too many plot holes and game play problems. Today, Final Fantasy VIII is considered the worst of the three Final Fantasy games released on the PlayStation. While the negatives of Final Fantasy VIII are a little exaggerated, it wasn't anywhere near as good as VII.

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The world of Final Fantasy VIII has themes similar to the last two games with respect to technology and magic, but the technology is far more advanced here. Final Fantasy VI had a steampunk theme, VII had an industrial theme, and VIII goes full blown sci-fi. Final Fantasy VIII takes place in a futuristic world where technology is very advanced and people wear contemporary clothing. You'll find plenty of fashionable clothing, such as black leather jackets and trench coats. Some of the clothing is less conventional and looks like the sort of thing people of the future would wear. The game also retains fantasy elements like the use of magic and swords. Yes, for whatever reason, people still use swords in the far flung future. The sword underwent a fundamental evolution, though; in the future, swords will be combined with guns to form gunblades. It's quite possibly the stupidest idea ever, but it's also the most awesome thing ever. Awesome things don't always have to adhere to the rules of logic, you know. Most of the military personal in the game straight up use guns, but the cooler characters use the wicked gunblades. This is one of the only games in the series that goes all the way with the sci-fi theme, which is pretty exciting. I would very much like to see Square revisit this concept in a newer game, but at least we have this one to fall back on. If you're more of a traditionalist and prefer a strict fantasy theme, then this game isn't for you. However, seeing as how this is a unique theme for the series, I applaud Square for taking this approach.

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Squall Leonhart is the protagonist of this tale, and he's a member of Balamb Garden, a military academy that trains its members in the arts of magical warfare and gunblades. Squall begins the game as a trainee, but he quickly moves up in the ranks and joins SeeD, Balamb Garden's elite mercenary force. The game follows Squall and his comrades as he completes combat missions for Balamb Garden. A lot of the game revolves around the Balamb Garden trying to halt military advances of the Galbadia Army, but as usual, things are not as simple as they seem. Something mysterious is secretly happening somewhere, and many discoveries are made as you progress through the game. Final Fantasy VIII has kind of an unusual premise, but it's an interesting one. The problem is that the plot sort of falls apart later on, with tons of plot holes and convoluted nonsense that makes no sense whatsoever. I can't go into explicit details without spoiling anything, but this game has major problems in the story department. It won't seem like that at first, as the story does a good job of holding things together for the early portions of the game. Unfortunately, that doesn't last long. Many questions get brought up, yet few of them get answered. The whole game sort of builds up to something, but that something is ultimately really disappointing. It's a shame, because Final Fantasy VIII's plot has a lot of potential, and the FMV shown in the intro makes it seem like this game will have the best plot of all time. It doesn't.

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Combat works almost identically to the way it functioned in Final Fantasy VII. Battles are encountered randomly in the world map or in dangerous areas, which sucks, though there is something you can do later to alleviate that. Fights use the tried and true Active Time Battle system first devised in Final Fantasy IV, or ATB for short. All enemies and allies on the field of battle have bars that fill over time, and a fully filled bar allows them to take action. You've got basic commands to perform physical attacks, cast magical spells, use items, and anything else your characters are capable of. Squall has a unique ability to perform stronger strikes if you press one of the triggers on the controller at the right time, which is a little strange. The Limit Break system from Final Fantasy VII makes a return, albeit in an altered form. Instead of bars that gradually fill up as damage is taken, characters have a random chance of activating their Limit Breaks when low on health. Every character learns new Limit Break moves in different ways, like some of them learn new moves by finding magazines hidden in the environment. Also, there is usually an action command that needs to be performed for most Limit Breaks. Action commands typically consist of timing button presses to the cue of on screen prompts. Successfully pulling these off will increase the amount of damage done by a given Limit Break. Final Fantasy VIII's battles don't rely on Limit Breaks as much as the previous game, but they're still a part of the combat. What really gets me about the combat in this game is that leveling up serves no purpose. Enemies level up as you level up, but they gain stats at a much higher rate than you do, so they'll always be more powerful. That means it benefits the enemies more than it benefits you to level up, making the act of leveling up totally useless. In other words, you'll do the opposite of what you're normally supposed to do in RPGs by avoiding battles like the plague. Punishing players for leveling up hardly seems like a good idea to me.

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One of the most important game play elements of the game is the Guardian Forces, or as the game likes to abbreviate them, GFs. These are mythical beasts with immeasurable magical power that can be called at any time during battle to cause great trouble for your foes. Previous Final Fantasy games had the same sorts of beasts, but they went by different names and worked differently. In Final Fantasy VIII, GFs can be equipped to any character that you please, and a single character can have multiple GFs. Any equipped GFs can then be summoned in battle to execute powerful magical attacks. Because all your characters are really weak physically and magically, your main form of damage will come from GFs for a good chunk of the game. GFs will get stronger the more you use them in battle, as they level up just like your characters do, and they will usually learn new support abilities. These support abilities aren't used by the GFs; rather, they're used by your characters. Support abilities can do things like increase a character's strength, defense, maximum health, and even give them new commands in battle. The extra commands can be stuff like the ability to steal from enemies. Your characters are basically useless without GFs, so these beasts are extremely important. There are big problems with this system, though. The biggest one is that you must watch ridiculously long attack animations every time you use a GF in battle, and you're going to be using these things a lot. Normal enemies will fall quickly to GFs, but bosses can take a lot of punishment, so be prepared to watch the same animations play out a million times in a row. As far as I know, there is no option to skip these animations. No matter how you look at it, this is poor design. If the designers wanted you to use GFs so often, then they should have toned down the animations, or provide an option to skip them. Battles go at an excruciatingly slow pace due to this, rendering combat almost unbearable.

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Magic works really strangely in Final Fantasy VIII. There are no Magicites or Materia in this game, and characters don't learn spells, either. Instead, magic works much in the same way as items do. That is, you have a limited quantity of a particular spell, and it runs out as you use it. So if you have three fire spells equipped, you can use fire three times until you run out. In order to get more magic, you'll have to find "Draw Points" and draw some spells from them. Draw Points replenish over time, and there are many of them scattered all throughout the game. It's also possible to "draw" spells from enemies in battle. That basically means you're stealing magic from an enemy, so that you can use it on your own. Because magic is expendable, you'll have to constantly seek out Draw Points or draw spells from enemies to keep your magic fully stocked. On the one hand, this is a really risky and interesting system, but on the other hand, it sucks. It's just not a very practical system in the long run, as it's so hard to maintain all of your spells. If the proper Draw Points aren't around and you ran out of magic, then you're out of luck. Drawing magic from enemies is kind of cool, but a lot of the spells enemies carry are useless. That's another thing about magic in this game; it's not very useful. It doesn't do a whole lot of damage, especially when compared to the kind of damage your GFs can dish out. This is one of those ideas that sounds great on the drawing board, but doesn't work well when executed. It's just not fun. Final Fantasy VIII's magic is a step back from the way spells worked in the older games.

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Junctioning is the main form of character customization in Final Fantasy VIII. This is probably one of the weirdest mechanics out of any Final Fantasy game out there, so please bear with me as I try to explain it. The Junction system involves equipping certain GFs that enable you to equip magic to a character's stats. For example, some GFs will allow magic to be junctioned to your strength stat, allowing you to increase your strength. Characters don't really get much stronger from leveling up, and there is no armor or accessories, so junctioning is the main way of strengthening your characters. Spells can be equipped on any stat, provided you have an appropriate GF that allows it. Different spells will increase stats at different rates, like weak spells will provide small increases, while powerful spells provide much bigger stat increases. The spells can also stack, so assigning 10 fire spells to your strength will increase it more than 5 fire spells. I have honestly never seen a system more confusing than this. It doesn't make any sense at all. There are a bunch of flaws to it, too. The major flaw is that this system totally eliminates any incentive you may have had to cast magic inside of a battle, because casting magic reduces your quantity of it, and if the magic is junctioned to a particular stat, it will make that stat weaker. For instance, if you have 10 fire spells junctioned to your strength and you decide to cast fire in battle, it'll go down to 9 and your strength goes down with it, resulting in your characters getting weaker. So the moral of the story is to never, under any circumstances, use magic in battle. You'll want to amass an enormous stockpile of spells purely for the purposes of junctioning. This just seems like faulty design here. It's unnecessarily convoluted and not at all intuitive. The game provides a huge tutorial on junctioning early on, but chances are good that most people won't get it. It wouldn't be their fault, either. I commend Square for trying something new, but for all intents and purposes, the Junction system is a failure.

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Final Fantasy VIII introduces a horrific new side quest to waste endless hours of your time. I'm talking about the "Triple Triad" card game. This is the biggest side quest in RPG history, as it starts at nearly the beginning of the game and continues on until the very end. Considering Final Fantasy VIII is a 50 or 60 hour game, that's a big side quest. Your first set of cards is given to you by a random passerby who, for some reason, is willing to explain the rules. It's possible to challenge almost any NPC in the game to a game of cards. Whoever wins will get a free card from the loser. There's an ability that allows you to transform monsters into cards during a battle, but the rarest cards in the game are acquired by beating people in card matches. As for how the card matches work, that's the tricky part. Each card will have four numbers, one number per side, ranging from 1 to A. The A stands for 10. You'll take turns with your opponent placing cards down onto the playing field in a grid like fashion. If the sides of two cards touch, then the side with the bigger number will "take" the opposing card. Whoever takes the most cards wins. There is a lot more to it than that, like cards having elemental affinities, but that's the gist of it. Things get extremely complicated once you encounter rules of different regions. I'm not going to bother explaining all of them, partly because I don't understand most of them, but playing the card game in different regions of the game's world will often change the rules radically. The card game is already complex enough as it is, so constantly changing the rules on you like this only adds to the unforgiving complexity and resulting confusion. I'd say it's not worth bothering with this one, as it's too involving and not worth it. Final Fantasy VIII is supposed to be an RPG, not a card battle simulator.

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Final Fantasy VIII improves on the graphics of Final Fantasy VII, but that's about all it improves, really. The story is filled with tons of plot holes and is too convoluted for its own good, and the game play mechanics are a mess of impractical, contradictory ideas. Final Fantasy VIII does have a lot of positives, though. The music, while not as good as previous games, is still incredibly good, and the game's world is an interesting one. I also have to give Square credit for being really experimental with the game's mechanics, even if that ended up being the game's undoing. Final Fantasy VIII is still a perfectly good RPG, but it makes too many mistakes to stand up to the greats that are VI and VII.

Word Count: 2,578

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