Final Fantasy VIII - Retroview

Sleepy, Hollow

By: Kevin Harper

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 4
   Originality 6
   Plot 6
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

40-50 hours


Title Screen

   I can't think of another game that has such diverse opinions from so many people as Final Fantasy VIII. It is the topic of endless debate, the catalyst for a number f sites devoted to its demise, and perhaps the turning point (for good or for bad?) for Squaresoft. Coming fast upon the heels of Square's milestone Final Fantasy VII, the game had the most to live up to since Episode One was but a rumor.

   After playing this game I noticed there was a nagging thought which I couldn't place. The game was supposed to seem real, but it ended up feeling as dull and lifeless as a door. Why? I realized after some thought that it was not what we see that makes a game more or less "real", but rather what we FEEL. I quote Hamlet:
"Seems, Madam! Nay, it IS; I know not 'seems'."

   Naturally, the first thing we experience in a game is the graphics. Final Fantasy VIII hyped stunning 3D graphics with life-like characters and movements. While the graphics are a "step up" from previous Final Fantasy games, the characters look anything but real. The aim was to make the game as real as possible, using like-sized characters and seamlessly weaving gameplay and movies so that movies seemed like a part of the game instead of a separate entity. While this has the potential to be something new and exciting, it falls noticeably short due to the limited abilities of the Playstation. Unfortunately, the characters looked pixilated, blurry, and stiff. Had the game been released on the PC with the requirement for a 3D accelerator, the game might have achieved its overall goal in terms of graphics. Having played the game on an emulator as well, the game was a pearl to watch. Each character had smooth polygons, each movement was fluid. It was a wonder it was even the same game.

Their love is not what it could be.
Their love is not what it could be. 

   Aside from the graphics, the physical movements of the characters seemed superfluous and unnecessary. While bodily movements in Final Fantasy VII were much simpler and more limited in scope, they were able to communicate the way certain characters felt, displaying anger, surprise or humor. I fondly remember Barrett shaking his fist in rage, or Cloud's disinterested shrug. Unfortunately, none of these qualities were retained in Final Fantasy VIII. Rather, movements are limited only to simple hand gestures or postures. And what good are these if the characters hardly even have a face? While I appreciate the effort on Squaresoft's part to bring as much "realism" as possible to the game, it turned to be one of the game's largest downfalls.

   The setting of the game, as advertised, is around the theme of Love. Love is the most personal of our emotions, and often people only become more and more confused the more they try to define what love is or isn't. Many of us probably carry fond or sad memories of love. Indeed, much of our life is centered on love. Love for our family, a friend, a girlfriend. It is what touches us most deeply, and consequently can hurt us the most too. And to base a came on Love rather than to INCLUDE love in the game is treading into very dangerous territory. Often, Love cannot be put into words. It can only be felt. And as much as I enjoy Video Games, I would hardly call it the proper medium to portray love. Poets have a hard enough time with it already!

   Ok, so itís based on Love. I'm game. The only problem is, there really isn't much love going on in the game. If you want to call infatuation love, or if you find that people who quarrel all the time are in love, then I suggest you reexamine your idea of Love. Not once did Squall and Rinoa have a long, deep, and personal conversation. Never once did they stay up to look at the stars, or to enjoy each other's company on a quiet walk, or share a tender kiss. It only sets up the idea that Love is something easy and shallow rather than something that takes years to truly develop. They only seem to let their passions run away with themselves, something which is a precursor to love, not Love itself. Love is what comes after, something enduring and strong, based more on what is inside, and which is built on the foundation created by the early memories of passion. They had neither of these, and it shows in the story. Their personal interaction was limited to "You're so difficult! Why can't you understand?" To which Squall would reply "whatever..."

   I can hear it now. "But who wants long, personal, philosophical conversations in RPGs? Games are supposed to be 'fun'! If you want a deep conversation, go talk to your girlfriend. If you want philosophy then read Nietzsche or Aristotle." And that is a perfectly good argument. I actually completely agree with that. Video Games are not the proper medium for philosophical ideas. Their dependency on visual images and limited dialogue do not provide an adequate means.

A worthy ATTEMPT at realistic graphics.
A worthy ATTEMPT at realistic graphics. 

   As for examples of Love in a video game, is not the love between Cloud and Aeris more potent and moving than that of Squall and Rinoa? Cloud and Aeris (or Tifa for that matter) have much more personal interaction and caring for each other than Squall or Rinoa ever had for each other. In FFVIII, love is treated as obsession and infatuation, two things that are fundamentally contrary to Love. If you want to really know about love, read Stendahl. DON'T play video games.

   The story itself, as I stated earlier, begins with the potential to be wonderful, but quickly it becomes apparent that Sakaguchi just couldn't figure out where to go with it and how to wrap it up. Instead, random plot holes and even more random plot fillers prevail and the story ends up a jumbled mess. We are left combating a villain we know nothing about, and consequently, feel no hate or enmity for. It was as if she was simply thrown in to try to give the love story some meaning, not because the v illain is vital to the development of the main character, as was the case in Final Fantasy VII. I can remember feeling such hate for Sephiroth. His development throughout the game is so well done that he seems to be real, and that the only way to breathe easy and get on with life is to defeat him. To tell you the truth, I quit playing Final Fantasy VIII when I got to Ultimecia's Castle. I felt no need to finish the game, at least in terms of the plot. It was only after I beat Final Fantasy IX that I went back and beat FFVIII, if only so I could figure out just what happens in the end, and for my own satisfaction.

   I felt that all of the characters in the party, save Squall and Rinoa, were put there simply to fill up the places in battle. Sure Quistis was squall's teacher (and she has a crush on him - spoiler!), but why does she keep tagging along? She has no involvement in Squall's affairs. Or how about Selphie? She sure is cute, but other than that, why is she there? Her role in the game is limited to her "accidentally" joining the party. Only later do they throw in a "past" to make her have some other reason for being there. It just seemed like a horrible attempt on the part of Square to include something the teeny-boppers can relate to, as well as fill in some space.

Why can't I be the leader of the pack?
Why can't I be the leader of the pack? 

   Perhaps, at least for games of lesser-quality, Squall, Rinoa, and the gang may be well suited, and even likable. But since it bears the name Final Fantasy a certain level of depth and quality are mandatory. After a long line of wonderful characters (Cecil, Cloud, Tifa, Sephiroth, Kefka, Aeris), the result is only that much noticeable, and consequently more insulting.

   So what did I like?
Not much.
I admired Square's attempt to add something new to the dying ATB system. With the Draw system, players have control over who was stronger, who was quicker, and who was luckier in battle. The large pitfall is that most players will simply max out every character as much as possible, thus making each character different only in appearance. The difficulty of the last boss requires each character have a maximum of 9999 HP and strong against EVERYTHING, so all that customization you spent 40 hours working on really won't do you any good in the end.

   All in all, I found Final Fantasy VIII merited at least one play-through, if only to see it for yourself and form your own opinion. After all, everyone is talking about it...

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