Final Fantasy VIII – PlayStation
Publisher: Square EA
Release Date (NA): September 9, 1999
Nerd Rating: 5/10
Reviewed by Paladin
I hate this game. There, I said it. You all know where I stand. It’s done and out in the open for everyone to see! Phew…ok, I got all of my personal bias out of the way early. I’ll be objective(ish) now.
In my defense, I’m not alone. Final Fantasy VIII seems to be that one entry in the series that people either love or hate. Before playing for the first time, the only real negative thing I had ever heard was that it was too centered around the love story. Naturally, I adjusted my expectations and, to be honest, that was the least of my issues. This game’s problems go much deeper.
Based on the opening movie, no one is going to agree with me, and rightfully so. This cutscene is awesome on so many levels. It features the hero, Squall, battling his rival, Seifer, at night on a beach with the haunting latin lyrics of Nobuo Uematsu’s “Liberi Fatali” playing in the background. The graphics are great, the sound is great, the action is great…how can the rest be so bad?
Let’s dive right in. The game begins with Squall waking up in the nurse’s office of Balamb Garden, his battle school/college/training facility/it’s never really explained/place. At first, things seem ok; the visuals are much improved from FFVII, with the sprites actually looking like the people they’re meant to represent, as opposed to squat, popeye-armed polygons. The player navigates Squall around the school, we learn the basic controls, meet a few fun characters, Squall’s teacher has the hots for him……….Um, awkward. This wouldn’t be so bad, except it never comes up again.
His teacher, Quistis, takes Squall to a secret place within the school (again, awkward), confesses her affection for him and he leaves in a bad mood (one of MANY). It never gets addressed after that, save for one moment when she just kind of gets over him, nor does it lead to any character development. It was the perfect setup for a love triangle or some other drama, but oh well. We have more important things to get to, like the country/dukedom/it’s never really explained/place of Dollet recruiting Balamb Garden students to help them fend off an invasion from Galbadia. Yep. College kids are used to fight off an entire invasion in this world. I could understand if they were at least recent graduates, but this battle is used for the final exam! Kind of an extreme way to simply test students.
So, how exactly do they fight? Presenting the most hotly debated issue in the game: the Junction System. A complete explanation of this battle system would take a Master’s in Engineering and more room than I have here, so I’ll condense it. Rather than learning or buying spells, FFVIII gives you the ability to draw magic out of monsters and save it for later use. An interesting idea even if it does use up a turn. Once in your possession you can link different spells to your weapons and armor, thus increasing the elemental effect (i.e. linking your weapon with Fire lets you deal fire damage and linking Fire with your armor reduces damage from fire magic).
These effects increase as you find monsters with upgraded magic. Sounds, simple right? On the surface perhaps, but there are a lot more steps with sub-menu after sub-menu, pairing magic with a certain trait within your weapon, and when you throw in having to level up the summons, called GFs (Guardian Forces), and pairing them with characters, it becomes overly complicated. True, there is a lengthy and wordy tutorial that pops up right before the first dungeon but it’s overwhelming that early in the game. Had they broken it up and given it to you piece by piece as in Final Fantasy XIII it would have given people time to learn and adjust. I found myself not caring after a short while and simply ending battles quickly with the GFs.
Every FF game has flaws, but they all have memorable and dynamic characters as well right? Sure…if you don’t count this one. Some may disagree, but I found the characters in Final Fantasy VIII to be two dimensional, whiny, and boring. Upon meeting them we discover their one personality trait; Zell likes hot dogs, Selphie is perky, Irvine is a (supposed) ladies man, and Quistis likes Squall. That’s about all there is to them. After joining your party, they simply spout exposition and complain endlessly to Squall about what to do next. Squall and Rhinoa are a little different because their lone personality traits last for the entire game; Squall is mopey (and not a cool, Cloud Strife mopey either) and Rhinoa likes Squall. A lot.
This poor girl spends the entire game fawning after him while he treats her like a complete jerk. He rejects her time after time, usually in a rude manner, and the worst part is we have no idea why she likes him so much. They have a fraction of the chemistry that Cloud and Aerith shared, yet we’re supposed to buy that they’re in love. Oh wait, we do get one reason: Squall was the cutest guy at a party that they both attended. Hope that clears things up.
But surely this game wouldn’t screw up the villain? Not after the game changer that was Sephiroth! I’ll answer that with one example; villain introductions.
FF VII (Sephiroth): Story after incredible story is spread of his time in SOLDIER. Word of his amazing deeds reaches every ear, which makes word of his psychotic breakdown all the more frightening. Flash forward to Cloud waking up in a cell. All of the guards are gone and an ominous trail of blood runs along the floor, leading our hero into the office of President Shinra, who sits slumped over his desk with a 9-foot long katana sticking out of his back. Later we get to play as him briefly in a flashback where he deals the kind of damage that players can only dream of at that point. The flashback ends with Sephiroth burning Cloud’s hometown to the ground and killing everyone. We revisit said town. Enter Sephiroth. We all crap our pants.
FF VIII (Ultimecia): After going through half of the game thinking Edea was our villain, she snaps out of it and says “Oh, by the way, I was possessed by a witch from the future named Ultimecia who wants to destroy the world/compress time/it’s never really explained/evil stuff.” Without meeting her once, we get all the way to the very end of the game. Ultimecia stands up.
I’m not exaggerating. Ultimecia and her nonsensical plan are almost not in the game at all. For that matter, I could do with more Laguna as well. In one of the game’s more admirable endeavors, Squall and company fall into periodic comas and bear witness to the life of Laguna, a hero from the past. I’ll admit it was intriguing to wake up as the upbeat, machine gun wielding jokester and eventually witness how his story ties into the main one. It was a unique touch, even culminating in a space station and…*sigh*…, one of the coolest parts in any Final Fantasy game.
I’m not kidding. I love this entire segment. Each room in the station features a different, extreme camera angle to simulate the weightlessness of space and its effect on not only the body, but the mind. The airlock has you floating around and getting used to zero gravity until you find the door. Throw in some crazy, but effective, plot turns and a nail biting rescue of Rhinoa in space and you have a creative, well though-out sequence that ends too quickly in my opinion.
This is a game people truly need to experience before forming their own thoughts. Take what you will from this article and, for a second opinion, check out Nerd Bacon‘s other review of Final Fantasy VIII. There are worse RPGs out there, but this is in my top least favorite FFs (after XI and XIV of course.) True, I’d be lying if I said it had no good qualities; the in-game and cutscene graphics are incredible for the time and the music is as visionary as everything else Nobuo Uematsu has composed. However, the bad qualities are inexcusably numerous.
This game was shamelessly trying to emulate the success of FFVII with a downcast protagonist, advanced technology, and tortured lovers trying to come together, amongst other things, but the result was a hodgepodge of hurried plot devices, bland characters, and boring story that doesn’t do the franchise justice. I’d be fine never playing it again.
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