Final Fantasy VIII (PlayStation) Review

By Leo Epema 21.12.2017 1

Review for Final Fantasy VIII on PlayStation

Final Fantasy VIII starts with mysterious text about a character waiting for somebody somewhere, foreshadowing future events. It shows an ominously smiling Seifer, one of the antagonists, interspersed with images of an enigmatic witch, spiralling feathers possibly symbolizing her and/or a friendly-looking girl dressed in blue. Seifer duels Squall Leonhart, the protagonist, and both scar each other's faces. A flurry of images leads up to the girl in blue falling into Squall's arms… Cue the title screen. It's a great intro with a bombastic backing track that hits all the right notes and gets the blood flowing. It sets the tone well. The game revolves around a group of teen members of the mercenary group SeeD, led by Squall, whose purpose is to defeat a belligerent sorceress. Over time, new members join and they find out about their pasts and how to shape their future.

Starting off with the story and themes, even the intro with Squall being cared for in the infirmary hints at what's to come with a sly "So you want to be cool, huh? Try not to get hurt in the process." This alludes to Squall's need to assert his emotional strength, foreshadowing that Squall might hurt himself in the future or will try to avoid it. Squall lies back, disgusted with himself for necessitating somebody's care of him. He doesn't vocalize that he hates making somebody worry, though, which makes these scenes all the more powerful once Squall's reasons for being the way he is are explained. He isn't just some edgy emo.

After another short scene, a nice exchange with Squall's instructor ensues, showing Squall's aloofness. It's not long before a tutorial starts about how to "junction" (equip spells to stats), and the SeeD graduation test starts. The pacing is excellent and characters are introduced in rather natural ways, while leaving the player with questions about them that will be answered later. When they are answered, they are not answered through exposition, but through the characters' thoughts and simple dialogues and actions. It's appreciated that Squall actually retreats into his own mind to think, since it shows Squall's personality fully when many games would rather keep their characters confined to actions and soundbites.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy VIII on PlayStation

The junction system is nice when considering how much depth it adds to how characters function. Magic is junctioned to various stats, such as HP, strength, the speed at which a character gains a turn, and so on. That said, it's also easily exploitable; spells are extracted from enemies in battle and from respawning "draw points" in the game world, making them a tad too easy to come by. As long as the world is explored and enough enemies are encountered to draw magic from, getting 99 of the same strong spell takes little effort, just grinding. The stat is then raised quite high, and the enemies don't have any way to offset that advantage. After all, the enemies are only scaled to the party's level - they don't gain skills or boons when the party's stats increase.

It's mandatory to get at least a number of spells to junction to stats in order to make characters the best that they can be. Most gamers won't like being pushed into a corner like that. It comes across as the game doling out punishment for not exploring the game world to find magic-drawing points or draw magic in battle. In contradiction, the use of newly-drawn spells is discouraged because it detracts from the amount of spells junctioned to optimize characters. Consequently, this forces more drawing of magic in order to be able to use magic and have good stats at the same time. It's very limiting. Some of the Guardian Forces (GFs) mitigate this issue with abilities they provide the characters, such as "strength + 40%," but those are scarce. The junction system is conflicted, limiting, and irritating.

The combat is rendered a bit tedious by the "draw" command since characters lose an entire turn in the ATB combat system. The draw ability is in service of simply gaining magic for raising stats, and the magic itself is mostly extraneous anyway since spells aren't all that powerful. The removal of magic points (MP) to make characters more versatile was good, as being forced to use either GFs or melee attacks with a certain character could be aggravating, certainly when there's a lack of unique melee skills.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy VIII on PlayStation

Adding to the tedium of combat is that summonable creatures' magic attacks become useless once powerful magic has been junctioned to the characters' strength and elemental attack stats. The only GFs that remain useful are status effect-inflicting ones. It is very nice that there is such a large roster of summons to choose from, all with their own abilities. Becoming overpowered is easy enough, but it's also possible to upgrade weapons, which confers a bland melee damage increase. The only other reason to upgrade is to give the respective party member a new "limit break," a powerful cinematic attack for use in dire situations. They are fun to do since they're mini-games in and of themselves. They also feel pointless considering each party member can use healing spells to get out of bad situations, and they're almost equally good at healing. FFVIII gives the party too much freedom instead of presenting tough choices with a job system or rigid character roles.

FFVIII features a love story, and it's done very well. Squall's love interest serves as a great foil as she calls out his behaviour and naturally brings out the worst and best in him. It's through this that he becomes more aware of himself and his deficiencies. The theme of friendship's ability to overcome all is expressed in flashbacks to a certain character, while Squall himself deals mostly with love and what it means to be courageous. The other protagonists go through their own development tied to Squall's - all characters are trying to find their place in the world and make up for some deficiency by acting a certain way. It makes for a powerful story, but a sense of camaraderie is missing sometimes. It always comes down to Squall having an issue he becomes aware of because of his friends. It feels like a drama play with a spotlight on each individual - the characters never bond all that much. The tear-jerking stuff is reserved for Squall and Rinoa's relationship, which forms very gradually and naturally.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy VIII on PlayStation

Unfortunately, the main antagonist Ultimecia's motives are obscure at first and aren't substantiated much. She's just insane and wants to destroy the world, though the basic reason for her insanity is clarified, and it makes her more human as a result. It's exactly what was needed to link her to the protagonists and their plight. Seifer is a jarringly flat character in that he only serves as the sorceress' henchman. Hints of his similarities to Squall and his reasons for his actions do come through, but too many things remain unclear. It leads one to wonder about the sorceress' powers (can she control minds?) and, as compelling as the story may be, why the story even took off in the first place. His disappearance from much of the game doesn't help.

Thematically and stylistically, everything fits together well. The gunblades Squall and Seifer wield, for example, perfectly suit the universe, which sometimes blends ages-old imagery with modern times. However, it would've been nice to see the theme of being a sorceress' knight connected more clearly to the overall world. Instead, the game's locations primarily represent the modern real world. The upside is that the locales and cutscenes are a spectacle and look very natural and lived in. Even characters' movements in cutscenes and their expressions are realistic and don't fail to impress even today. Do keep in mind that the overworld looks jagged and pixelated, so the in-between of the game world looks very dated.

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Balamb Garden (a high school-military academy) is a soothing, orderly place for the squad. Wood textures and other classic furnishings intertwine with technology to produce something homely. The environments feel like they could be real; they exude warmth, and, when necessary, a starkly contrasting eeriness. It goes great with the themes of love, friendship and despair that are at play. Even something as simple as showing all the characters walking around instead of representing the party as one character adds atmosphere.

The soundtrack plays into the themes and environments powerfully and is amazingly varied. It's the least "generic" fantasy of all the FF soundtracks. It may be Uematsu's magnum opus. It's fitting, considering FFVIII's world reminds more of the modern world and its various aspects. At the same time, FFVIII marries some traditional fantasy with modern themes and architecture. That fits the time travel and time compression themes very well.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy VIII on PlayStation

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Final Fantasy VIII has many flaws. It did away with a functional magic system for weaker spells whose main purpose is to serve as stat boosters. The "draw" command and journeying across the world just to get the best magic is not for everyone and exploitable. Needing to choose between using magic and optimizing characters (otherwise being forced to collect magic) is ludicrous. On the bright side, the story is consistent, expertly paced, and the characters are likable and relatable due to their problems. That said, they could've been fleshed out more. The presentation is excellent, every moment punctuated with great emotion. There are fun things to do, and it has such great variety; it's so all-encompassing concerning themes and the journey to adulthood that it's an experience that shouldn't be missed. It's a strange beast; a master of nothing, but a powerful lion of an experience.

Developer

Squaresoft

Publisher

Squaresoft

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

My thanks to everyone who showed interest in this review. Thanks to you, this review was featured on n4g.com as a 'hot' article. I never expected that. Maybe people are interested in Final Fantasy VIII now because it was created by some of the people who made XV (IIRC).

All I can say is, you're going to have a blast with this game. It's my favorite Final Fantasy, despite the Junction system not working that well because of the fact that you need to grind for magic. And the magic also being used for magic attacks kind of clashes with that. The Junction system is also exploitable, sure, but if you play this game seriously and don't actively try to break the game, it's absolutely fine!

VIII has gotten a lot of undeserved criticism. And remember, a 7/10 is a good score! A 5/10 is an average game, 7/10 is just shy from 'great'. So by all means, try this game out.

( Edited 25.12.2017 22:15 by Leo Epema )

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