Final Fantasy VIII - Review

By Hunter Wilcox, RPGamer Writer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System9.0
   Replay Value8.0
   Time to Complete~35-40+ hours 

   Arriving with less fanfare than the 7th installment, Final Fantasy VIII makes even more changes to the series. Some debatable, some negligible, but most of them are for the better.

   Square said early on that FF8 would be more of a love story. This announcement had me concerned. While Square's RPGs have always ended up entertaining me, their translations sometimes seem rushed and leave much to be desired. I kept getting the feeling that quite a bit was left out of recent releases, lost in the language shift. With a focus on love, an emotion english writers have a hard time putting into words, I was concerned it wouldn't translate very well at all. My fears were misplaced.

   As often as not, actions carry the feelings now. Square wisely chose to ditch the oddly formed polygonial characters of FF7 in favor of more realisticly porportioned ones. Coupled with wonderful movement animation, this gave Square a whole new field of expression to work with: Body language. Pacing, fidgeting, primping, hesitant half-steps towards another; they speak as loud as words. Some animations are overused and some characters could have used a bit more variety but the overall effect is still wonderful. After a certain point it becomes very possible to identify characters simply by how they act and move as each is distinctive.

Squall's instructor, Quistis  

   If eye candy is your thing, then you're in for a treat. FF8 fetures easily some of the most jaw-dropping CG animation ever seen. It's also interwoven very well. Remember the intro to 7 when the train pulled up to stop and the crew jumped out? Many, if not most, of the scenes in 8 are the same way. They blend in nicely giving more of a feel of ambience and inclusion rather than seeming out of place.

   Although the music can't hold a candle to the visuals it is still decent. A few songs stand out among other Final Fantasy soundtracks like Overture, Maybe I'm a Lion and the oft talked about Eyes on Me. The latter is a vocal track sung by Faye Wong which shows up a couple times in the game. Personally, I'm indifferent to it, but some didn't like the inclusion of the love song. It seemed fitting to me but served more as background noise instead of a vocal highlight. While the music in FF8 is far from awful, it's just not very original or ground breaking.

   Now, onto the changes. This is the part where everybody gets to jump up out of their chair and exclaim, "They did what?!" As always, some will love them and some will hate them with varying degrees inbetween. The big ones are the removal of treasure boxes, money from battles and equipment along with the removal of MP. Experience and leveling has been changed so it is now a static system instead of a steadily increasing one.

   Yes, that's right. They got rid of equipment and treasure boxes. Each character has one piece of equipment: Their weapon. Weapons can be upgraded at junk shops scattered throughout the world with spare parts you acquire through battles. Armor and charms are 'replaced' by the new junction system. Junctioning is a somewhat intimidating process of linking magical spells to statistics and abilities. Junction thunder to a weapon and get thunder damage. Junction esuna to status defense and gain some protection against status changes. The more appropriate a spell is for a particular stat (fire to strength, etc) the higher the boost.

   Magic points have been replaced by the draw system. Instead of characters actually learning and posessing spells in and of themselves, they 'draw' the energy out of enemies and can either store it for a few casts of a spell, or cast it immedeatly. You can store up to 100 casts of any given spell, per character. This also affects junctioning in a sense because the bonus of junctioning a spell to a particular attribute gets larger if you have more of it in stock.

   If all of this sounds a little complicated, it's because it is. Theres a fairly steep learning curve to start with, but it becomes second nature after a bit of playing around with the system. Bear with me though, there's just a little more.

More realistic characters
More realistic characters  

   The summons of FF8 (Guardian Forces, or GF) play a huge role this time around. Without them, your characters would be nearly helpless. GFs make the junction system happen. Before you can junction a spell to an attribute or even use basic battle commands, you must first junction a GF to your character. Doing this allows you to choose your other 3 battle commands (Item, Magic, Draw, GF, etc) in addition to Attack, which is standard for everybody. GFs will also level up and learn abilities through combat with Ability Points. What stats you can junction magic to as well as what extra character abilities you have access to is determined by the GFs you junction to characters.

   What all of this creates is the capability to fine tune each character as you see fit. I enjoy the system a great deal, and got a kick out of the extra complexity and strategy involved in setting up the junctions. It's a good break from the normal system of picking up the best equipment for everybody each time you reach a new town. These new systems do have flaws though. None terribly frusterating or unworkable, but annoying none the less.

   The menu system for junctioning is clumsy at times. Swapping magic and GFs back and forth between characters isn't often a smooth process. There's no way to tell if a character has a GF equipped, or even which one, without digging into their status screen a ways. Then you have to back out and make the appropriate trades. While far from awful it seemed like it could have been more streamlined. It's simply one of those things you grow used to and learn to work with it as the game goes on.

   Another drawback to the junction system is that it almost renders weapon upgrading nearly pointless. Each weapon has its own model and adds a few more attack points. The problem is that the attack power increase is so trivial compared to what junctioning can do. This could have been fixed by giving each weapon upgrade a special ability (ala Secret of Mana) or having them interact more with limits like Squall's does.

   The last major addition is that of Triple Triad, a card game somewhat similar to dominoes that Square created for FF8. You can challenge people all over the world and play for their cards. The local rules from region to region change as you pass through, spreading around new variations of the game. Enemies can be changed into cards and cards can be turned into items using the abilities a GF grants you. While it's not required to ever play the game to do well (I rarely did, myself) it's a great distraction.

   Combat is standard Final Fantasy. Each member has a timer bar (ATB) and can attack, cast spells and do other actions when full. Summoning works a bit different this time around. Each GF has its own health and during the summoning time it takes damage and can possibly perish. GF health is restored through resting and special items.

The ballroom
The amazing ballroom scene  

   The counterweight for the rough edges is the cast. The characters this time around are what make it memorable. The story itself is semi-standard save the world fare with a bit of a selfish twist. Most of the cast works for a mercenary group for the entire game. At times, towards the end, the story loses a bit of cohesion and seemed to be rushed to get it to fit. Character development was blessedly kept at the same pace. While the story picked up nearly all of the characters actions were very true to themselves and if they were out of the ordinary, they were given due explanation.

   Final Fantasy VIII provides a compelling story with engrossing visuals to portray it. It's a very good balance between content and eye candy. The characters are extremely easy to care about. What carried me from point to point was wanting to see how the cast would change. What actions they'd take and how they'd deal with situations. This feeling of closeness limits the game somewhat, giving it a more linear feel than some previous ones. The sacrifice of freedom for a deeper story was taken advantage of and I'm very glad Square choose to go that route. I enjoyed the game tremendously from beginning to end and it now proudly rests on the pedestal it stole from FF4 as my favorite in the series.

© 1998-2017 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy