Final Fantasy VIII - Review

We Can All swim in Shallow Water, but Will we Like it?

By: MrChupon

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 8
   Plot 7
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Easy - Medium
   Time to Complete

40 - 50


Title Screen

    The masses were rushing. "Oh, oh, Final Fantasy 8 is out!" Of course every store I went to had shelves lined with the product. Being an FFFanatic myself, I had to get it. How could I not? It was necessary. And, I was hoping that this would be an improvement over the "Not bad but could be better" Final Fantasy VII. And then whilst playing through the game, I fell flat on my face: Ugh. What made Final Fantasy VII a bit flawed made Final Fantasy VIII very, very ugly. It seems as if the Gooch and Square were catering to superficial customers, as the game was not much more than a visual masterpiece with some dumb recorded vocals on its soundtrack.

   First off, the fighting was not that great. You were given your standard fare of FF commands -- Fight, Item, Magic, yadda yadda. You could run, of course. Your given commands are determined in the menu screen -- you can assign a character four commands at the outset, so you could mix up combinations of battle commands. You could very well go into battle with no "Item" or "Magic" command if you so pleased. However, at the start, being limited to four out of the five available commands was quite annoying and an unnecessary "feature."

Also unnecessary and completely irritating was the fact that the battles were quite unbalanced. In the beginning of the game, you can sit there and use Guardian Forces to your heart's content. Guardian Forces? What're those, you ask? They're essentially the same concept as summon spells you cast in the previous Final Fantasies, except they act as your little "pet." Their HPs grow just like yours, and when you call them, during the time between the summoning and the actual spell effect your Guardian Force is the one "on the battle field." For example, if someone attacks you, your GF gets hurt rather than you. And of course, GFs have quite a bit more HP than do your characters, So they can take a load of punishment before being wiped off. In other words, it's quite hard to die. And, there are NO MP in this game. That's right, unlimited GFs for all! You can call a Guardian Force with a minute-long attack, displayed with heavy graphical effects, doing loads of damage, sit there and get a drink while you wait for the graphical display to end, and then do it again.

Some people may say, "Alright, then I'll give myself a challenge and use my weapons." I'll tell you this, that's quite a challenge there -- the weapons are not very efficient in the beginning. For a long while, probably past the second disc, you'll be doing puny damage with your weapons. In fact the only cool thing about the weapons are the limit breaks you can perform when you're at 1/4 health, and the fact that Squall can do extra damage by pulling the R trigger on the control pad at the correct time. But the most efficient way to off your foes will be to use GFs.

So where else can you turn? Why, Magic of course! And guess what -- the Magic system is subpar too! Instead of learning your spells and using an innate source of energy to cast them (MPs), you "draw" the suckers out of your enemies. You can either cast it back out, or stock them. You might find yourself walking around with 27 Fires, 18 Blizzard, and 34 Cures. If you wanted to, you could swap spells with another party member. Sounds like an item system, no? Quite. Rather than being a learned skill with usage limitations, Magic is something you steal and stock up on, trade around like common stock, and chuck at your enemy like a rock. And as long as you sit there and draw from the right enemy, you'll be hard pressed to find a situation in which you're suffering from a magic shortage and you'll have to devise a strategy in using your spells. Spells do have different uses, as played out by the Junction System. You can "junction" spells to certain attributes and weapons/armor to increase certain statistics or create certain effects in battle. However, it was ALSO quite confusing and annoying -- thank heavens for the Auto-Junction command.

   I have nothing bad to say about the interface, however; it's your standard FF fare, again. The menus are clean, easy to understand, and load quickly. Each tutorial that explains all facets of the game are right there in the menu for your access, a nice and quite helpful feature. On the map screens, your characters control quite comfortably using the analog stick. You can also draw magic from "Draw Points" stationed throughout the maps. You also get your assortment of vehicles -- from cars to boats, to a huge @$$ totally unexpected something-or-other -- so as not to spoil it, I'll let you find out what it is. You also win no gold from battling -- all gold is "paid" out in intervals and certain set amounts according to your rank as a SeeD officer -- which can be promoted by taking a "test" accessible in the menu screen (more SeeD later). You also find no weapons -- instead, you get parts, and you use them to upgrade your current weapons. While this takes away the fun of browsing through new weapons in a Weapons shop, it's an innovative idea that could have been used more throughout the entire game, as you'll remember the first many hours were (unfortunately) Guardian Force dominated. Then there's the big side-game -- Triple Triad. There have been many contrasting opinions about this card game. I personally don't think it's that great of a side-game, however it's very addictive. (Hey, cigarettes are addictive but they aren't necessarily good, right? ;D) It's basically a "My Number's Higher than Yours" type of game. Each card has a number on each side. When you place a card, you try to do so in such a way that the number on the side adjacent to the number on the side of your opponent's card is larger. In other words, if you have a card with a 9 on the top and a 1 on the bottom, and you place it under your opponent's card which has a 2 on the bottom, you beat out his card -- but you're vulnerable from the bottom. Simple once you get into it, quite addictive when you start collecting cards, but mediocre in hindsight.

Silly Little Comment on Screen
Let's walk thru a typical battle, shall we? First you Draw a coupla hundred times...  

   But what I wasn't expecting mediocrity from was Nobuo Uematsu, composer of many a Final Fantasy score. And I didn't hear a mediocre soundtrack... I heard a bad one. The overworld map theme, usually one of the series' definite musical highlights (FF4, 6, and 7 had excellent overworld music), was uninspired, dinky sounding, and downright boring. The sound quality was even bad -- it sounded scratchy and metallic, and as if it were coming out of a MIDI synthesizer. The battle music was dynamic-sounding, but it didn't pack the same punch as previous tunes. The music for the opening credits was nothing more than a bland army-march to my ears. And before I hear cries of, "Oh yeah? What about Faye Wong?", it should be noted that a vocalized, recorded soundtrack by a famous singer doesn't make an overall poor soundtrack a great one. Nobuo's work comes as a disappointment in this game, and it's a good thing that the soundtrack's poorness comes out of mostly blandness than downright and utter awfulness. At the very least, the crisp sound effects aren't so bad. Pulling Squall's Gundblade trigger emits a nice juicy *BANG*, and the footsteps -- although annoying after awhile -- sound cool for the most part. Nothing new here, though.

   Of course, there's a lot of other new stuff in the game. The drawing and junctioning, while I abhor it, gets points for originality. They were ideas that weren't done before, and they worked well. They just weren't *good* ideas, and maybe that's simply a matter of taste. The inclusion of a constant side-game (Triple Triad) that was there mostly for fun but could contribute to the gameplay (Hmm, what happens when you get that Seifer card?) was new and innovative. Pretty much the game was very original except for the fact that, of course, it was based on the tried-and-true, kid-tested and mother-approved Final Fantasy system.

   The plot was quite original as well, and while not terribly satisfying, was about all that kept me awake through this bore-fest of a game. It was quite cheesy sometimes (all that loving), and I really didn't appreciate the bland character designs. But the little twists here and there, and integration of both Squall and Laguna's eras, gave the story some credibility. Starting off by training Squall to becoming a soldier in SeeD (and therefore get that juicy salary) was a good way to introduce the story and start the game.

   The story wasn't maimed by a horrible translation either. The rocarization was well done -- every character had his own speech tendencies (Selphie was a ditz and Squall was a, something else that starts with a "d"). No "The truck have started to move!" here, and all in all a good translation job done (although, by then end, you'll be wishing that the "k" kraze died out with Mortal Kombat).

Cutesy or Realistic Name
...then you draw a few more thousand times...  

   The question is, however, whether or not one would want to go through the story again. I offer a defiant NO. This game was easily the most boring in the series, and it's questionable as to whether you'd want to sit through the game and watch those Guardian Forces eat up hours of your life rather than having actual gameplay eat up hours of your life.

In fact, the only reason to play this game in the first place is to watch. And watch. And watch. Because the visuals are easily the best part of this game, and some of the most astounding you'll find on the Playstation. Square's CG team is one of the best in the industry, and it really shows when you see the FMVs, the Guardian Forces (for the first time around), and the nicely detailed rendered backdrops. The characters have shed their old super-deformed look to look like actual humans, and while some didn't like this aspect, it was done quite well. It made me wonder what Terra and Sabin would look like standing fully upright and with a proportionally sized head. The characters were animated well, and the magic spell effects were dazzling.

It's a shame the rest of the game wasn't. And it also didn't help that many parts of the game were a breeze -- thank the Guardian Force gods for that one. Some bosses and a few sections were a tad difficult, and trying to use your weapons throughout the game will present a healthy challenge. But the GF system made much of the game way too easy to classify it as any type of "challenge."

You know the deal-title it.
...then you Summon. Rinse and repeat. Oh joy. Wasn't that fun.  

Yet, it will still take you a good 40-50 hours to beat. Why? Well, when lots of Guardian Force animations are racking up your playing time, followed by mechanical Draw- and Stock-ing and the endless flood of FMVs they hurl at you refuse to stop, it's quite easy to accumulate those hours.

It's quite obvious that I do not think highly of this "game" at all. If you're looking for one of those visual masterpieces that don't require much brainpower or an interest in deep gameplay, then FF8 is for you. However, if you're one of those "If I want to watch, I'll see a movie or buy an anime thank you" people, who seem to be unfortunately rare these days, then avoid this shallow game at all costs. It will only make you disappointed in Square, and make your FFIX wait more painful.

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