Review: Final Fantasy VIII

Review: Final Fantasy VIII

Alas, poor Final Fantasy VIII. Often overlooked in favour of its predecessor, VII, Final Fantasy VIII was a superb game that took the Final Fantasy franchise in a more ‘human’ direction, offering a deep, customizable battle system, a brilliant storyline and a superbly whiny main character who blossomed into a true hero. While many consider FFVII to be the series’ peak, I for one am one of the few who would say that Final Fantasy VIII deserves a spot up there as well as one of the top Final Fantasy games in history.

Final Fantasy VIII

How about some mood music before we begin?

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Final Fantasy VIII puts you in the sulky shoes of Squall, a brilliant gunblade specialist from the bizarre hybrid school/soldier training centre that is Balamb Garden. We soon discover that Squall is training to be a SeeD, an elite military force that is contracted around the world for missions that keep the peace and banish bad guys everywhere. Of course the story itself is a hell of a lot deeper than that, but that’s the basics. Along the way Squall will deal with the themes of friendship, love, leadership, and will ultimately end up becoming the hero in the spotlight that he so isn’t at the game’s beginning. He’s a loner – always has been, and is socially awkward, often saying stuff such as ‘whatever’ and thinking thoughts to himself rather than voicing them to his companions.

As such, our Squall is often considered by many Final Fantasy fans as being the loser character, or accused of being ’emo’. Thing is, this isn’t true – Squall’s demenour is justified through the storyline, and sticking with the tale will reveal Squall coming out of his shell more and more, until he gets to a point where he’s no longer just a whiny guy, instead he blossoms into something more, and that is why this tale is a good one. It’s about triumph over your past, becoming something greater than you have been, and learning to trust your friends through companionship and – dare I say it and be all soppy – love.

Final Fantasy VIII

That is why the tale succeeds in my humble opinion – it may be a tale about saving the world, but it is the interactions between the characters that give the title its true vibrance. Each has their own unique personality and character traits, beautifully rendered (at the time) on the PS1. It really is quite amazing what Squaresoft (as they were known at the time) did with the technology available to them – Final Fantasy VIII looks decent even to this day, and the character models were lightyears ahead of their time. Seriously, look at the jump from 7 to 8. It’s completely massive. Even the game world looks incredible – Final Fantasy VIII’s Esthar still remains my all-time favourite Final Fantasy city ever. What’s not to love about a massive, sci-fi esque city cloaked by a huge shroud of invisibilty? Nothing, that’s what.

Enough about the story though, let’s talk gameplay. Final Fantasy VIII plays like any RPG, you wander around towns, you talk to people, you trigger storyline events, and you wander into random battles/boss fights. Fighting enemies is key, as ever, to building up your characters stats, but Final Fantasy VIII does things just a little bit differently. You can upgrade your stats naturally if you wish, but the game actually uses a new type of magic system that is hated by some, and loved by some. Yes, it’s the draw system.

Drawing a Blank?

Magic in Final Fantasy VIII works differently. For one thing, there’s no MP! Now MP and Final Fantasy have gone hand in hand for years, so one has to wonder, why did Square decide to get rid of it altogether? Well, it turns out they did it because Final Fantasy VIII’s draw system is, in my opinion, a creation of genius. It’s completely versatile and allows extensive character customization, buffing up your characters to extreme points if you’re willing enough to invest the time and effort into doing so.

There I go again, off on a ramble. I haven’t even told you what it’s all about yet, have I? Well never fear, as here I am, getting back on track. Right now. Drawing in Final Fantasy VIII essentially means stealing magic from an enemy. For example, Squall may be wanting some fire spells, so what he would do is draw some Fire from a fire monster, which he would then be able to ‘stock’. You can have up to 100 of the same type of spells, which can be either utilized in battle or – and here’s the clever bit – used to boost your stats.

Final Fantasy VIII

The magic you accumulate can then be assigned to your various stats, for example junctioning Flare to your strength stat will make you uber powerful, while junctioning Protect to vitality will up your defense.  In order to achieve these different junction opportunities, you must upgrade various ‘GF’s (short for Guardian Force) which are basically the summons of Final Fantasy VIII. You have to junction GF’s to characters in order to use different moves, and as you progress the GF’s will learn new abilities that range from upping their summoning strength to giving you the ability to refine cards down into useful items. Speaking of which, Final Fantasy VIII’s card game is awesome, just putting that out there.

The system isn’t to everyone’s taste, I’ve seen a few moanings on the interwebs that it’s annoying. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth; instead the junctioning system works in a very interesting way that enhances the experience. It is actually possible to play most of the game without it, should you be that way inclined. Fun fact – Dan Curtis the child had no idea what all the junctioning stuff meant, and managed to play through the entire game without using it once. When I found out, my mind was blown, I can tell you.

Getting back to our GF friends, there’s a huge amount to find and utilize in this title. Each one has different effects, although my personal favourite is Doomtrain, who runs down enemies and inflicts them with tons of handy-dandy status effects. There’s also a GF that, for the first time in a Final Fantasy game, breaks the damage limit! Again, it’s your choice whether you want to use them or not – they can be extremely handy, but sometimes its better just to rely on your own strength if you can’t be bothered to sit through the entire summoning animation every single time you want to use one.

Of course, one can’t possibly talk about Final Fantasy VIII without mentioning the soundtrack. It’s absolutely stellar. If you didn’t click it already, go back up the top of this review and play yourself the Balamb Garden theme. Relaxing, beautiful, and at the same time dynamic and epic, the entirety of Final Fantasy VIII’s soundtrack is a work of genius. Look up the themes ‘The Landing’, ‘Ami’, ‘The Man With the Machine Gun’, and ‘Ragnarok’ if you want an example of just how superb they are. In the meantime, since Balamb Garden has probably finished since you clicked it above, why not listen to the absolutely epic tune that is Liberai Fatali (you may recognise it from the game’s opening credits).

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The Verdict

A true slice of stellar gaming history, ignore all the hate Final Fantasy VIII receives. This is a masterpiece of gaming, and if you don’t like it, I can only deduce there’s something very wrong with you. If you haven’t experienced it before, now is the time, as its downloadable from the PSN.

Score: 9.8

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