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Final Fantasy VIII

Traditional RPG
Final Fantasy
  • September 9, 1999
  • February 11, 1999
  • October 27, 1999
A- 241 total ratings
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Final Fantasy VIII

A Final Fantasy VIII review Author: Davon Alder Published: June 24, 2000
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Reviewing a game, particularly Final Fantasy VIII, ten months after its release is rather bizarre. By now, the debates over the quality of the 32-bit Final Fantasies that were stoked by Final Fantasy VIII's release have, at least as far as I can see, mainly died down, and Final Fantasy IX isn't quite ready to start a whole new batch of them. If it's possible to write a review of the game that both sides of the issue can at least tolerate, now would be the time to do it. Unfortunately, I am not the person to write that review, since I consider Final Fantasy VIII one of the best in the series.
By now, anyone reading this site likely knows the plot: Squall, our hero, is an anti-social but very skilled cadet in an institution known as Balamb Garden. The Gardens trains SeeDs, elite mercenaries who are often hired to settle international disputes. Squall's graduation coincides with the advent of a powerful new Sorceress, the first to appear since the last one caused a devastating war twenty years earlier. In good RPG fashion, Squall and the other characters who join your party end up fighting the Sorceress, as well as the requisite larger threat that lurks behind her. At the same time, the party experiences mysterious flashbacks of the life of a soldier from the past named Laguna, whose story is closely linked to Squall's own.
The main strength of the plot comes from its characters, who are among the most believable yet seen in an RPG to date. From Raijin and Fujin, who at first appear to be no more than comic relief, to your main party, each character has an unique and, for the most part, entirely different personality. What really sets the characters apart from those of previous Final Fantasies is the fact that in most cases, characters are developed without any use of melodrama--Irvine has as much personality as Cyan, but without having to see his entire family killed to show it. That's not to say that melodrama is a bad thing in an RPG, or that Final Fantasy VIII doesn't use melodrama, but it is nice to see that Square can make characters interesting without having to use some tragedy buried deep in their pasts to augment their personalities.
The plot does have its flaws, however. The romance between Squall and another character, Rinoa, which is the focus of much of the game, often gives more the impression of a crush than one of true love, and although most of the characters are well developed, the final villain's motivations are barely mentioned. These flaws have proved fatal to some players' enjoyment of the plot, and in some cases can disrupt one's suspension of disbelief. Others, like myself, barely noticed--a Kefka or a Sephiroth would be out of place in Final Fantasy VIII's plot, and though it sometimes seems a bit superficial, Squall and Rinoa's romance still offers plenty of touching moments. Strangely enough, the game also offers a much more believable romance in the form of Laguna's story, though it is far less a focus of the plot.
While most Final Fantasy games allow players to edit their character's statistics to a certain degree, none has ever taken the concept as far as Final Fantasy VIII has. Using the Junction system, players actually have more or less complete control over the character's abilities and strengths. By junctioning Guardian Forces (summoned monsters) to a character, the player gains access to the Guardian Force's abilities, the chance to summon it in battle, and the chance to junction magic to the character's statistics. Guardian Forces gain both experience points and ability points, the former allowing them to deal more damage when summoned, the latter giving the character they are equipped on more abilities and allowing magic to be junctioned to further statistics. The only downside to this is the fact that characters tend to lack individuality in battle, since players have more or less complete control over their fighting style. A good deal of individuality is, however, granted by the fact that each character's limit breaks are, unlike their earlier incarnation in Final Fantasy VII, actually quite unique and interesting. Little touches such as the fact that Squall's Gunblade weapon can be made to perform a critical hit if R1 is hit at the right moment during an attack and that Rinoa's dog, Angelo, will show up randomly during combat to perform a variety of tasks, keep the characters unique enough that they don't feel like complete blank slates.
Besides a complicated and satisfying ability system, Final Fantasy VIII also offers a range of small changes to the classic RPG formula. Instead of buying weapons in shops, players must find weapon designs in magazines, then gather parts from enemies and have them assembled in a shop. Instead of gaining money from fallen monsters, the player gets paid based on SeeD rank, which may be raised by taking tests or simply performing well during the game. Magic points are gone--magic is now obtained by either refining items using abilities learned by Guardian Forces, or by drawing (ie, stealing) it from an enemy. Characters may hold a maximum of 99 of each spell, and junction the spells they hold, as mentioned above, to their statistics. Each spell affects each statistic differently, and having a higher number of the junctioned spell stocked raises the statistic higher. Since Guardian Forces aren't spells and thus can't be stocked, their availability is limited by time and hit points: when a character summons a Guardian Force, its hit points take the place of the character's own and a active time bar begins counting down. The character is temporarily out of battle until the bar is completely depleted and the Guardian Force is summoned. During the beginning of the game, the protection offered by the GF makes simply casting them over and over again a viable strategy, but shortly into the second disc this ceases to be effective and becomes in some cases suicidal.
Musically, Final Fantasy VIII is as good as one has come to expect from Nobou Uematsu, with plenty of tracks which catch one's attention quickly. (Believe me, watching someone spontaneously start dancing to "The Man With the Machine Gun" is a somewhat bizarre experience. I dealt with it by joining in.) Fans of the classic Final Fantasies who are paying close attention also have a particular reason to love the final boss theme, "The Extreme," but I won't spoil it for those who, for some reason, haven't played the game yet. Most amazingly, "Eyes On Me," (in)famously sung by Hong Kong pop star Faye Wong, is not only a fairly decent tune but also figures into the plot well and in a way one wouldn't expect.
No review of this game would be complete without mentioning the most addicting mini-game on the planet: Triple Triad. Since an explanation of this little gem would make this review even more horribly long-winded, I'll just say this: my save file for my second play through the game has 60 hours logged on it. At least 20 of those hours were spent plying Triple Triad.
Editor's Grade
dotted line "Final Fantasy VIII will rank high on many RPG fans' lists of favorite games. Some key elements of the plot simply don't build up enough momentum, but I've yet to hear a solid reason to dislike the gameplay."
A- dotted line Average Reader Score (Based on 241 ratings) | Rate it Now
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