Final Fantasy VIII

November 29th, 2007 by J. Spiffyman

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While I may not be an avid connoisseur of the Final Fantasy series of games, I enjoy a good RPG as much as anyone else, and I would certainly classify Final Fantasy VIII as “good.” It has solid gameplay, an innovative battle & magic system, plenty of sidequests, and a story that, while not exactly gripping, is certainly intriguing.

FFVIII starts is set in a more modernized world of cars and machines, rather than the medieval settings of most of the other games. The story centers around Squall Lionheart (or you can choose his name yourself), a mercenary-in-training for the organization called “SeeD.” Unlike many games I’ve played, it takes a good amount of time before the plot switches to your run of the mill “save the world” idea, and the development of this transition is refreshing. But, in classic Final Fantasy fashion, you can bet some evil person or persons will soon aspire to rule/destroy/enslave the world, and who else will there be to stop them but you and your party of slightly dynamic comrades? There are some pretty unexpected twists in the plot which complicate matters, twists I personally found shallow, unnecessary, and confusing. If you’ve ever played FFVII, I’d say that this the story is both more confusing and lesser in quality that the one in the previous game. But it is by no means bad, and as far as video games plots go, it’s a cut above average.

The battle system in VIII returns to the real-time engine seen in FFVII, and it is still an enjoyable alternative to the rather boring turn-based battles found in other RPGs. Square decides to change the magic system again, and rather than being better or worse, it’s just different. Instead of depending on MP to cast spells, you instead “draw” magic charges from your enemies, and then cast the spells at your leisure. Different enemies contain different magic to draw, so you’ll always have to be on your toes looking for new magic to harvest. Personally, I enjoy this system, because it cuts out all the dependence on MP and lets me focus on battle strategy rather than worrisome magic conservation. However, it’s also extremely exploitable, because you can simply farm the magic you want to get a full stock right from the start, and thus be extremely overpowered.

Summons also make a return to the game, but now they’re called “Guardian Forces”, or just GFs. When a GF is equipped to a character, it gives you the ability to increase that character’s stats by “junctioning” your drawn magic to a stat. GFs can also give your characters a plethora of abilities which you can mix and match to suit your playing style. It is an innovative and highly customizable system, but suffers from the same exploitable flaw as the magic system. Certain easy-to-obtain magic will give huge boosts to your stats, and with the right junctions you’ll easily steamroll through even the toughest bosses.

But what would an RPG be without open-endedness? FFVIII gives you plenty of freedom and side quests to cool off from the often mundane main plot. The amount of secrets in the game is pretty staggering, though I must say some side-quests were so obscure I never would have come anywhere near them without a friend telling me what to do. The sidequests are still fun and rewarding, often winning you powerful items and secret GFs.

Is saving the world not your style? Well then try a game within a game, Triple Triad. This collectible card game is basically a very small but very complex version of Reversi, in which you must capture your opponent’s cards based on each unique card’s strength. Probably one in every four people in the game will play cards with you, and each region of the world uses different rules and different cards, making each match a surprise. Winning games will net you more cards, and if you’re not careful you might find yourself foregoing the plot entirely in order to “catch ’em all.” I found it an enjoyable time-waster in between story segments, and while you could beat the game without playing Triple Triad once, it just gives FFVIII that little something extra over other games.

As you can expect, if it’s Final Fantasy, the music will be gold. FFVIII returns with an all-new musical score, and you can tell the quality has improved from the last game. Each song is well-made and well-placed, and really goes with the scenes. Listen close and you’ll hear some familiar melodies, too. Plus, the opening and ending symphonic songs are absolutely beautiful.

Graphics are moderately improved from FFVII, using more textured surfaces and better 3D modeling. One annoying thing I noticed is that up close the textures are extremely pixellated, and you’ll really see it up close during battles. Still, the few cut scenes which are pre-rendered look great even by today’s standards, and overall FFVIII is pretty impressive for a Playstation 1 game.

The game will probably take 30-40 hours to complete depending upon how sidetracked you get, and I guarantee you won’t find everything the first time through. Replay value is highly dependent upon your personal preference, but if you’re someone who wants to go for 100% completion, FFVIII will not disappoint when it comes to game time.

It’s true that the Final Fantasy series is often super-hyped and marred by its rather intense gaggle of fanboys and fangirls. However, if you can get past all the popularity and press, you can find that they are very solid RPGs who quite often live up to their fame, and Final Fantasy VIII fits the bill quite nicely. If you’ve played FFVII and want something along the same lines, or if you’re just looking for a RPG with a different style, why not take this game for a spin?

Pros:

  • Original story
  • Innovative battle system
  • Lots of customization
  • Lots of side-quests
  • Great music
  • Good graphics for it’s time
  • Good game length

Cons:

  • Confusing plot
  • Exploitable magic system makes fighting too easy
  • Some secrets are absurdly obscure
  • Textures become very pixellated close-up
  • Game tends to drag on towards the end

****

Screenshots* (click the thumbnails for a larger version) :

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