Reviews: Final Fantasy VIII
Step back and see.
Let's face it. VIII is almost as well-known as VII, and most of it's "bad rep" comes from nothing more than comparisons drawn. Not from the FF series and VIII, but between VII and VIII. Most of it also comes from the U.S, and this perception that "American opinion is fact" is what makes people actually believe this game was bad. I mean, americans also prefer the english dub in DBZ, that doesn't make the music better than the original. If you take the game at face value, if you come into it without knowing about VII and it's apparent end-all-be-all reputation, if you are new to FF or even RPG, this game is good. Scratch that, this game is great. And even if you have played others before (or after) the game holds up, as long as you are free of nostalgia goggles. I know that because that's how I met VIII, my first FF, my first RPG. You imagine now that I am biased toward it. That's not true. While I appreciate VIII, I can still love VII, and the rest of the FF series (yes, it actually IS possible to like them both). Why the hate? If any of the critics were to be honest, the problem with VIII is that it is not VII, or VI, or whatever your favorite installment is. That's it. In and of itself, it is a stand-up game. It's mechanics are not any more mind-boggling than other FF's or RPG's. People were simply missing the Materia system, or still in denial about FF's passing into the 3-D age, or even mad at a romance-driven plot. Difficulty? Critics cannot decide if they dislike the game for it's difficulty or lack thereof. Why? Well, because VIII was designed to be played in different ways, it has versatility. You can spam GF's all game long, if you don't handle the junction system well. You can progress at a "normal" pace and face the challenges ahead earnestly, or you can become the master of junction and become unstoppable early on. So what is it then, too easy or too hard/tedious? It's a game that satisfies alright when played "normally", and from then on continues to satisfy in proportion to the effort you put into it. The story is compelling, the characters are likeable, the art direction is breathtaking and the world created in VIII is wondrous, not to mention the music, which his vastly underrated. No game is perfect, but you'd do well to remember this game won "Game of the Year" several times in 1999 for a reason.
Can we all stop parroting Spoony now?
Without a doubt, this is one of the weakest entries in the main FF series. The battle mechanics are admittedly innovative, but ultimately unbalanced to the point where it takes special effort to handicap yourself and provide any challenge at all. The cast is comprised of largely static characters who are never really fleshed out beyond some broad strokes in order to make room for the copious amounts of exposition necessary to make the Kudzu Plot make a damn bit of sense. However, this game does have it's strong points. The most obvious and probably the greatest credit to the game is the amazing soundtrack. Uematsu rarely fails to deliver, and this is one of the best examples of his work. I can't recommend a game on its soundtrack alone, but this score makes me seriously consider doing so. The graphics are a gigantic leap forward from Final Fantasy VII, and the translation FINALLY adds to the atmosphere and story rather than detract from it. One thing that I always loved about this game is the very understated themes. There's the obvious moral of true love and friendship and yadda yadda, but reading the subtext reveals an entire social commentary about immaturity, destiny, responsibility, and death. The noteworthy part is that the more understated themes resonate much better than the series's usual attempts to bash you over the head with its morals, and are handled in a much more sophisticated and mature manner. Of course, at times the game can get a bit preachy, especially towards the end of the game where one gets the impression that a deadline was fast approaching, as everything becomes more disjointed. Honestly, I can't recommend this game to those who don't like JRPG's, as this is about as typical a JRPG as you get. But for fans of the rest of the series who may have been put off by initial impressions, or angry internet reviewers (cough), or those who have never tried the game at all, it's quite worth the ten dollars it's going for on the PSN.
This game's okay and you're okay for liking it
I consider Final Fantasy VIII a much better game than the haters usually think, but it's still the worst Final Fantasy game I've played (4-9, in case you're wondering). Not the worst game called by the name, though. There was that one with the title Final Fantasy XII, but it clearly wasn't a part of the series. But getting back to FF8, the fact that I like it less than the others doesn't mean I think it's bad, though. Quite the contrary. Once you get past collecting your initial magic stores, the gameplay's fun. The story may be weird and nonsensical at times, but it still left me satisfied. Triple Triad is the best minigame I've seen anywhere thus far. The locations are really beautifully designed and the soundtrack is scored by Nobuo Uematsu (in other words, perfect). It could use a lot of polish, though. Allowing players to buy some spells with gil and giving them a starting package to shorten the drawing period would be a start. The side characters could use a lot more depth and some of the concepts should be explained better. GF-summoning should have a limit. Casting magic should be more useful. A thousand problems, and yet none of them break the game for me. The big problem is the leveling system: I've never seen what the appeal that made Square pick it was, and it takes a lot out of the game. But nevertheless, it's a good game and I'll be damned if I ever think the other way. Four stars out of five. (Edit: In case there are any more doubts, I've played through this game and beat Omega Weapon. I know how to work the system and I know how to refine magic. I know what I'm talking about.)
The definitive Final Fantasy experience
Sometimes, I'll find that I haven't played Final Fantasy VIII for a few years, and it's fading into the mist of my better memories. Turning a critical eye on my own experience (as the guy destined to be "that FFVIII fan" among other enthusiasts), I'll convince myself that I only liked this game to be contrarian, or that FFVI is my real favourite because it's the sacred cow of old-school curmudgeons. Then I replay it and remember that it really is the best time I've ever had with Final Fantasy. I can't deny that it's a controversial choice. People don't have moderate opinions about VIII. You either have full-scale devotion to Junctioning, the mind-bending plot and Squall and Rinoa's romance, or you have virulent hatred. The closest to a middle road is the fan who loves specific elements and hates others - everything about this game inspires an intense reaction. This characters of Final Fantasy VIII lend the game its narrative strength. The time travel plot is more entertaining than realistic, but I've long held that Final Fantasy plots rarely ascend above middlebrow sci-fi/fantasy (in itself a step up from a lot of console RPG plots). Rather, Final Fantasy is at its best when the events of the story are primarily symbolic - proxies for character development. VIII is the finest example of this, weaving multiple character narratives across generations together to develop Squall and Rinoa's parallel journeys into maturity and love with each other. Almost without exception, the characters are engaging, sympathetic and three-dimensional (yes, even Zell!). Junctioning is criticised for allowing large stat jumps, but the fluctuating difficulty level and intricate magic system should keep new players on their toes. Be warned that Drawing magic for hours on end (a favourite pastime of the game's critics) is completely pointless. It's laughable that people find fault with Drawing because they decided to forego having fun with this game in favour of Drawing 100 Scan spells for everyone. PROTIP: If you're spending hours Drawing magic, you're doing it wrong. For my part, the experience of Junctioning 100 newly refined Quake spells to my HP and watching it fly through the roof gives me a rush like few games do. (...yes, "Eyes On Me" is totally my video game weepy moment.)
A Different Look at the Junction System
Junctioning. Some love it, others hate it. But in the end, this system is no different from that of other enteries of the series. People accuse it of being 'tedious' and 'time consuming'. They say "It's annoying go from battle to battle, working to draw the mahics to make your party stronger." But the truth of the matter is that this system isn't any more 'tedious' or 'time consuming' as lets say; leveling up materia, gaining AP for skills, or Sphere Grids. How do you work junctiong? You go into battles and draw magic from enemies... or drawpoints.... or refine. How do you level up materia? You go into battles, and rack up experience for the materia. and you keep going into battles. and hours later, you will finally level up that piece of materia. How is this considered better than the junctioning system. Thing is, in VIII, you ccan spend an hour sidequesting, and then 5 minutes refining and obtain just about every piece of magic you need for the rest of the game. There, you barely need to worry about it anymore. But with Materia, it ALWAYS takes a long time to level up. Wanna know what junctioing and drawing is called? Grinding. Almost every RPG has this, it's very common in RP Gs, and it is not neccessary to drive into the grind if you are not that kind of gamer. So next time you decide to try and bash the Junctioning system, just think about how much longer it takes to level up materia, or gain points to obtain a new skill or license or whatever. And if this hasn't gotten through the thicker heads of the ignorants who have a hard time thinking on their own, let me put it to you this way; The things you find wrong with junctioning and drawing, final fantasy vii with it's materia is guilty of as well, ten-fold. (Authors Note: You may find exclusive comparison to FFVII, and consider it bashing that especially and such. I only took that as the main comparison example because it's the easiest to use, and makes the strongest point. I do love FFVII too, and do not think it has wronged anyone with the Materia system either)
It's Not That Bad
Final Fantasy VIII is one of the most, if not the most, polarizing game in the Final Fantasy series. You either love it dearly or utterly despise it. I've seen endless debate on the matter, so here's my two cents: The Good: This game has a very interesting world, what with it's Gardens, modern technology clashing with ancient magic, general atmosphere, etc. The graphics, even today, are very good, particularly in the FMV sequences. And the music....come on, it's Nobuo Uematsu, people, you can't go wrong with him. The best part of the game to me though is it's cast of heroes. Detractors of the game call them "unlikable" or "annoying", but to me, their personality flaws help make them more human and interesting. Squall is often brushed off as an emo jerk, but he has more to him than that and he does develop and change. Rinoa starts off flighty and immature, but she also changes through experience and becomes a stronger, smarter person. Some say their romance doesn't make sense, but it works perfectly well, in my opinion. And while the other four main heroes save Irvine don't change that much, they're still well characterized and enjoyable. The Bad: However, the game also suffers some flawed gameplay. The junction system isn't bad, but it's frusturating. The card game was more fun than the main gameplay system. And enemies can level up along with you? Come now, that's not fair. Speaking of enemies, the villains of this game are very weak, with little established about them and generally lacking presence. None save Edea really stand out in memory, and Edea isn't even the real main villain! Lastly, the story of the game in of itself is quite good, but for some reason it was written very poorly. It gets bogged down in Mind Screw and symbolism, trying to out-complex Final Fantasy VII but just ending up with too many loose ends or poorly foreshadowed revelations, the Orphanage Scene being the most infamous. The finale is great though, with a superb final dungeon, Ultimecia (who may not be a good villain but is one hell of a final boss), and a heartwarming happy ending. In the end, Final Fantasy VIII isn't the best RPG, but it's still one of the better ones out there, and I personally recommend it.
Worst of the main series, hands down.
A truly godawful entry to the series. Extremely broken gameplay mechanics. There are at least a half-dozen ways to break the game (see: Gamebreaker on the main page). But not only is the gameplay broken, it is boring. The Draw System is a true marvel at test a player's patience as they do nothing but draw magic from enemies for several minutes at a time. Magic is truly worthless as it's almost always linked to either your stats or your equipment. The Summoning System also is a massive test of patience. Overlong with button mashing sequences to boost its effectiveness, overpowered, and completely spammable. You can get through most foes just be spamming the Summoning system alone. It also stars a cast of genuinely unlikeable characters. Squall is a Wangsty emo boy who'll probably get on your last nerve by the end of the first disc. Rinoa is a skank Damsel Scrappy who quickly jumped from her current boyfriend (whom she was told had just died) to Squall almost without missing a beat. The rest? To call them one-dimensional would be a massive overstatement. It doesn't matter much as the game all but forgets about them after the first disc. And the plot? What plot?!? Was there a plot to FF8? The story kept changing at every scene. The story is so disjointed and muddled I could shuffle the pages to any of the Harry Potter novels and it still be more coherent than this. One moment, your a part of La Resistance. The next, you're saving the school from somebody, and after that, you're In Space. Almost every story segment and Contrived Coincidence end up having little to no relevance to one another. The only thing redeemable to FF8 was the minigame. Other than that, the game was pure, unadulterated garbage. This began the trend of Squaresoft being more concerned with style over substance which culminated with the movie, which nearly sank the company. If this didn't have the Final Fantasy name on it, it would've been sent to the bargain bin within a week after its initial release, never to be heard from again.
A fair and balanced review!
Final Fantasy VIII holds the dubious honor of being the first game that made me question Squaresoft's perfection as a company. It's not a terrible game. It certainly isn't a good one. It's not the weakest of the series, but it's far from the golden standard set by IV and VI. The principal cast is largely unlikeable - a standoffish Emo Teen loner (yes, it's been said before, but there really is no denying it), a Shallow Love Interest, a Rival Turned Evil, a hitman who can't bring himself to carry out a contract on a woman, which one might have taken into consideration before giving him the job, a bloodthirsty Genki Girl - they begin to grate on one's nerves as soon as they're introduced, with the notable exceptions of Zell and Quistis. The plot wraps itself up in the most contrived and abrupt fashion possible, regardless of how one interprets it. Still, the game has its good points. The gameplay itself really isn't bad. Junctions and summons are a decent change of pace. Triple Triad is an addicting minigame - at least until you begin to acquire new rules that stack the odds severely in favor of the house and are incredibly difficult to ditch. The integration of gameplay and CGI is perhaps the best I've ever seen. Laguna, Kiros and Ward are weird and likable characters who end up in some utterly bizarre situations, and my opinion of the game would be much, much higher if it were about them instead of Squall and Co. But it isn't. It's about flying colleges fighting each other with motorcycle squads. Still, it's not a bad game, if you ignore the plot and half the cast and take its gameplay mechanics on their own merits, and it could have been worse. It could have been about extreme underwater soccer.
That's the one word I can use to really summarize the whole game up. Everything about this game is just counterintuitive. Let's begin with magic: one of the most important parts of any Final Fantasy game. Like most Final Fantasy games, it has the standard spells- ice, lightning, fire, cure... all the way up to Ultima. The difference is you'll never actually use them in this game. Having rare, powerful magic raises your stats the most - and using it would lower your stats the most. Great, a Final Fantasy game where using magic is detrimental. Experience and levelling up: It's a neat system where the monsters level up with you, so every single level is always 1000exp instead of the exponential growth curve. This auto-adjusting difficulty is a good idea if it weren't for the junctioning system. Keeping your level as low as possible is actually the easiest way to get through this game. Great, a Final Fantasy game where running away keeps you strong, and fighting makes you (proportionally) weaker. Characters: The main character is unlikeable, while the rest of the cast is just static with little to no development. Squall's uncaring mostly, which means the plot is moved not by his decisions but what he's been ordered to do. He officially doesn't care about anything, with a signature Whatever™. The few times he actually makes a decision himself, it doesn't matter anyways - either everyone else already decided to do it before he tells anyone, or everyone tells him to do the opposite and he just goes with it. The rest of the cast is flat and one-dimensional. Zell is the hothead, Selphie's energetic, Quistis is trying to be the mature one, Irvine's got an ego, Rinoa is a Damsel in Distress. As for backstory, for 4 of the 6 main characters it's simultaneous Laser-Guided Amnesia, and one is just pretending to have Laser-Guided Amnesia. Great, a Final Fantasy where I can't find anyone to actually care about. Story/Plot: As usual, the entire world is in danger and you are the ones to save it. The main characters, however, just go with the flow. The final boss is only introduced early in Disc 3, and gets no development - she just wants to destroy the world, just because, you know... that's just what evil villains do. Almost every plot point just happens because it's next on the list - nothing feels like it was ever a result of earlier decisions. No action and consequence. One thing happens out of your control, then another unrelated thing happens, etc. This is especially apparent with the "love" theme - the main characters fall in love just because I guess it's the next point on the checklist. Nothing really links together organically, nothing flows properly. Big twists contradict earlier actions with only a flimsy excuse of "Oh, I always knew, I was just playing along" several times in the story. The writing is atrociously lazy. Overall: Poor. The music is good though.
Final Fantasy VIII could have easily aped everything about it's wildly successful predecessor and simply been Final Fantasy VII-2. Instead, Square decided to get ballsy. Instead of loading the game with Mind Screw after Mind Screw, they told a story about characters. Instead of recycling the same character building mechanics from the previous seven entries, they replaced it with Junctions and Drawing. And after the extremely villain-centric plots of the previous two games, featuring a scene-stealing Mad Clown in one and a pretty boy with a god complex, they introduced a villain that worked with subtlety behind the scenes. Whether all of this works or not really depends on how open you are to a very different type of game. It's not a return to the SNES era of yore, and it's not a direct copy of Final Fantasy VII. This is a game that expects the player to think more about its plot instead of telling you what to think. It's central romance, despite being a Foregone Conclusion, is developed slowly over time and hence feels more realistic than other games in its genre. Even the battle system asks you to put a little thought into it. While you could spam summons over and over for random fights, they lose effectiveness the further you get into the game and you fail to gain any of the benefits from actually using abilities and Junctioning magic to stats. Actually utilizing the game's mechanics gives you unprecedented control over your characters growths, though this does come at the cost of character specialization - characters quickly become defined only by their limit breaks and nothing else. The main character, instead of being the traditional happy-go-lucky adventurer, is someone who questions everything. Unlike your average Emo Teen, he legitimately attempts to understand the world around him and define and accomplish his goals. As a character study, Squall is extremely compelling, and as a reflection of the impulsive and less introspective Rinoa (who has an unfortunate habit of being imperiled at an alarming rate). The supporting cast has an intriguing and entertaining chemistry, though the lush subplots of some of the other games are sadly absent. It's a game that every Final Fantasy fan should play with an open mind. You might just love it the way a lot of other folks do. And if not, there's always The Spoony Experiment.