Final Fantasy VIII - Retroview

A Misunderstood Game
By: Robust Stu

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 7
   Music & Sound 6
   Originality 6
   Story & Plot 9
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Moderate
   Completion Time 40-50 Hours  

Nice view
Nice view
Final Fantasy VIII

   Ah, Final Fantasy 8. Newer RPGamers might not know this, but when this game came out it's like the entire RPG playing world was divided down the middle. One side thought that the more realistic graphics, new magic system and more mature storyline were great and innovative. The other side said they hated the new direction of the series, played this game once just to say they beat it, and never touched it again. It is because of the second group that we got Final Fantasy 9, but right now we're talking about Final Fantasy 8, so I suppose I should stay on topic.

   The story starts strong, with a CG video of the hero, Squall, doing battle with his arch-rival Seifer. It then continues at the Garden, a sort of freelance military school, as Squall and his friends become members of SeeD, an elite group within the Garden, and begin going on the missions assigned to them. Interspersed between the adventures of Squall and company, we see scenes with a man named Laguna and his companions Ward and Kiros. The two are seemingly unrelated, and we are left wondering, who is Laguna? What is his connection to Squall and friends? And who is the mysterious witch who keeps appearing at key points in the story?

   The main point where the two opposing schools of thought on this game disagree is the battle system. Physical combat works the same as always, and the Active Time Battle system returns, but the magic system is completely different. Rather than learning or buying spells as in most normal RPGs, you draw them from your enemies, and can then use their own spells against them. However, a better way to use your drawn magic is by junctioning it to Guardian Forces (FF8's name for summoned monsters). By junctioning magic to GFs, you can raise your stats a lot further than they otherwise would be raised. Basically, this means that you're going to use magic minimally throughout the game, and rather use spells to boost your stats. I personally would have preferred an MP system, but that's just me. As far as the GFs themselves go, you're going to rely on them to get you through most of your battles early on, and the more a character uses a GF, the more accustomed they become to that particular GF, meaning they can summon it faster. This system was unique if nothing else.

   The graphics were a bit different than what people were used to, in that they were less deformed and cartoony, and more proportionate and normal looking. The background were very detailed and even animated in a lot of places, and the characters, while still looking like video game characters, were a lot more realistic than the blocky characters we got in FF7. Enemies were very well animated, a lot better than in the previous game, and were well drawn. Other than that, I felt that with the exception of a few brighter, sunnier looking places, everything looked too metallic and drab, but really that's a matter of taste.

Is Edea your true enemy?
Is Edea your true enemy?

   Unfortunately, this is the only Final Fantasy game where I can say I really didn't enjoy the soundtrack. I don't know if Uematsu had other stuff on his mind or what, but other than Laguna's battle music, I thought everything sounded kind of generic, electric, and uninspired. The sound effects were a step up, however, which will bring the aural score up a little bit.

   This game was translated a lot better than FF7. Where the last game had a lot of weird dialogue that didn't sound quite right to a normal English speaking person, this game worked out all the kinks in that regard. There was really nothing you were left scratching your head at, and that's not a bad thing, it's...A GOOD THING.

   The replay value is probably harder to define for this game than any other game I can think of off the top of my head. Because there are two widely divided groups that either love or hate this game, it really depends on if you're into doing something new, or expect more of the same out of a Final Fantasy game. The storyline was a little hard to follow, but not actually bad, and there's enough in the way of side quests that if you blew through the game the first time, you can stop and smell the roses the second time through, but a lot of people hated it, so once again I have to say it's a matter of taste.

   If you're looking for originality, this is definitely the most original game in the Final Fantasy series. As a series, this was the first game to go in the direction of more realistic appearance with a futuristic twist to it, and in the wider scope of the RPG universe, the Junction system, drawing magic, and GFs are all very fresh ideas, or were at the time, and I personally feel it's a shame that nothing like it has been done since.

   This game can take a short while, or a really long time, depending on how much leveling up and spell sucking you decide to do. See, this is the only FF game in which the monsters level up along with you, so doing a lot of leveling up isn't really in your best interest for most of the game. On the other hand, you're going to spend an inordinate amount of time drawing spells to junction, so that pretty much evens things out. Taking side quests into account, you're probably looking at about a 50 hour game here.

   Well, as I said before, you're either going to love this game or hate it, and it's really a matter of personal taste. If you're into trying new things, this might be the game for you. On the other hand, Final Fantasy traditionalists should avoid this game like the plague. Me personally, I thought it was great that Square decided to try something totally different and innovative, and thought it amounted to a good little game here. If you want to play the same game over and over, play the Dragon Warrior series, because god knows every one of those games is exactly the same with a new story slapped on.


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