This long-awaited sequel is one of the finest role-playing games ever created.
Final Fantasy VII was seen as a masterpiece among video games and was considered one of the most influential role-playing games ever created. The game shocked people when it was first released mainly for two things. Firstly, Square decided to leave Nintendo favoring the PlayStation console and its new format, the CD-ROM. Secondly, the seventh iteration of Final Fantasy introduced elements that guided RPG developers over a decade and brought RPGs into the mainstream. It must have been really difficult to plan and design Final Fantasy VIII considering what its predecessor meant for the industry, especially as the Japanese company had set the bar so high for a new game in the series. But fear not, as Final Fantasy VIII is one of the greatest games of the franchise.
The story is simply superb and is one of the game’s strongest points. Squall Leonhart is a student of Balamb Garden, a military academy that recruits Seeds, an elite mercenary force. He has classmates and friends that help him throughout the adventure: charismatic Zell Dincht, evil Seifer Almasy, childish Selphie Tilmitt, skilled Quistis Trepe and finally lovely Rinoa Heartilly. Squall, Zell and Selphie are hired as SeeDs on a special mission to stop a resistant faction from capturing the president of Galbadia. The students soon find out that a sorceress, called Edea, opposes to Galbadia and they commit to stop her wrongdoing. The complexity of the characters (especially Squall) is remarkable and as soon as you find out what their main motivations are you are likely to feel empathetic with at least one of them. The pacing of the game is well-structured and even though the adventure starts out slowly and you only have access to a few places, it soon begins to expand to the rest of the world and becomes one of the most epic journeys you’ve ever seen in a game. It doesn’t take a lot of time for Final Fantasy VIII to pick momentum as the events change constantly leaving you confused and shocked more than once.
The people who criticized the unattractive super deformed graphic design of Final Fantasy VII will be happy to know that its sequel took a more realistic approach. Now the characters, the Full Motion Videos, the environments and battle designs blend in seamlessly and don’t show any inconsistencies between them. Maybe this radical change has to do with the more mature plot proposed in this game as in Final Fantasy VII there was a more humorous touch to it and more cartoony looking characters were used. At the same time, everything not only looks more realistic and believable in VIII, but true emotions are almost palpable when the elements mentioned above come together. The graphic design is really coherent overall and everything you see just naturally fits. The graphics are simply mind-blowing and every background is really detailed. The textures present in the battle sequences are pleasant and attractive. The FMV’s are absolutely breathtaking and integrate with the gameplay perfectly without any violent “transitions”. It has to be taken into account that everything seen in the game has been obsessively motion-captured. The perfect example of this is the stunning dance sequence at the beginning of the game, the characters not only move but they act naturally and accordingly. There are times when you can notice the PlayStation’s hardware limitations but the details, models, textures graphics and sound are simply excellent.
The sound and music are incredible. For some people it may not match previous games but the unique soundtrack is awesome in every way. Nobuo Uematsu is in charge of this aspect once again and he demonstrates why he is venerated as a genius for so many people. The best thing about the musical score is that it varies according to the storyline creating an interest effect. It’s a shame that the game lacks voice acting though, as it would have been a perfect addition to it. Final Fantasy VIII feels weird sometimes as you can see the characters clearly uttering words even though there are no voices at all.
The Active Time Battle system is present once again, you and your opponents take turns to summon monsters, cast magic or launch deadly attacks. The Guardian Forces, the Draw system and the Junction system are introduced this time around. The Guardian Forces or GF’s represent the monsters you can summon to fight for you, but now they have a more important role. Each of them has its own statistics (HP, ability, level, strength and so on) and you can “equip” them to any character of your party. After a battle, not only your character will gain experience and points, but your GF will benefit from it too accordingly. You can always summon GF’s to fight for you but as they have their own HP, they’ll fight independently replacing your character. You’ll need specific items and potions for your GF’s and you’ll unlock special abilities as you progress with the story.
The Draw system lets you “draw” magic from enemies and you can cast it right away or you can store it for later use. Some enemies have special magic or even GF’s that can be drawn out from them. There are “Draw points” which can be found in different parts of cities and buildings, these points let you draw a limited amount of spells and sometimes the points regenerate, so if you came back after some minutes you can replenish your spells once again. This system can be confusing at first, but eventually is a great way of balancing the use of magic. When you have fewer powerful spells you’ll think twice before casting it, as those can be pretty hard to find.
The Junction system is closely related to the use of GF’s, as each Guardian Force provides different statistics and abilities that can be equipped. First, when you junction one of them to one of your characters he/she can use certain commands previously unavailable like mug, items, GF and even draw. The true strategy resides in the possibility of unlocking new impressive abilities as some of them can be used by your whole party. Second, you can junction spells to different attributes too as this alters your stats. For example if you junction regen or curaga to your HP it’ll raise accordingly and not only that, as the amount of spells that you junction directly influence the values. The more spells you junction and stock, the greater their effect. What’s most surprising about this demanding system is that there are thousands of possibilities for customization.
When you first start the game the use of GF’s can seem unbalanced as they are really powerful, but as you progress the different systems force you to look for different strategies to move on. Soon enough, the junction system will be more important and decisive that any new GF you may have. The Junction system has been criticized as the same magic and spells can be drawn from enemies over and over again, but these methods are boring and there are different ways to approach bosses and enemies. One of the most shocking elements missing in Final Fantasy VIII is money, armor and weapons. Now instead of receiving money you have a salary. The amount of money that you receive depends on Squall’s SeeD raking that varies according to how well you play the game or how much you know about it. You can try different tests (located in the Tutorial part) and by answering different quizzes you can level up your rank. Weapons didn’t disappear completely but this time around you can upgrade them at junk shops if you have the necessary items.
There are a couple of minigames to keep you entertained while you play. But maybe minigame is not the most accurate word to refer to Triple Triad, an engaging Card Battle Game. You can collect a couple of hundreds cards and every city has a unique set of rules to follow, so each fight is unique. Most cards are won to opponents, but you can use the “Card” command and take them from various enemies. All cards can be converted to items and the most difficult to find will have rare items attached to them affecting the main core of the game.
The localization of this Final Fantasy seems accurate enough, as there aren’t any incoherent sentences or anything like that. Attention has been put to the translation so you won’t find any awkward and complex structures that don’t fit in. But unfortunately, Final Fantasy VIII is not perfect and it has flaws. Every time you summon a GF you have to see a long-running animation that can’t be skipped. It has its charm at first but after hundreds of hours you’ll think twice before summoning one of your beasts.
Lengthwise the game is enormous and it should take 50+ hours to finish your first playthrough. If you choose to undertake any sidequests or if you want to find every GF and card it’ll take you much longer. As in previous entries, you are often allowed and encouraged to explore cities and the world itself, this creates a broad and sprawling adventure that is usually expected in a Final Fantasy game. Even when you don’t have lots of options the game does a great job of creating a convincing illusion. Naturally, you can visit a diversity of places to accept side quests that regularly distract you from your epic journey. Voice usually carries feelings and messages and this game unfortunately doesn’t have any. A pretty game indeed it is, but a silent one.
A lot has happened ever since VIII was released, but even by today’s standards the graphics look quite well, there seem to be some rough animations here and there though, but if we consider that this first appeared during the PlayStation era it can’t be criticized. Random encounters seem to be a thing from the past, so if you’ve played Final Fantasy XII or XIII it maybe a really harsh transition to play this one, but to fully appreciate its value you should forget any preconceived ideas and you should keep an open mind. It may be quite difficult to play a game that includes the antiquated Active Time Battle system also, but if you’re patient enough it’ll pay off as you’ll discover one of the most engaging stories ever.
Final Fantasy VIII is a different game from the start, as it provides a really attractive story, appealing new mechanics and gameplay, gorgeous graphics and a magnificent soundtrack. Everything about the game is epic, it represents a stupendous journey that will take you dozens (if not hundreds) of hours to finish. The storyline changes continuously and the best thing about it’s that once you think you know all the answers, the game changes the questions.