"Final Fantasy VIII is a game you'll love and hate. Where you may love the sci-fi premise, you may baulk at the love story. Where you may hate drawing magic from your enemies, you'll love the customisation of the Junction system. Where you may love the realistic character designs, you may not like the hero, Squall. Where you may love the abilities you can teach your Guardian Forces, you may not like summoning them. Where you may love Final Fantasy VIII, you may hate it. "
Final Fantasy VIII is a game you'll love and hate. Where you may love the sci-fi premise, you may baulk at the love story. Where you may hate drawing magic from your enemies, you'll love the customisation of the Junction system. Where you may love the realistic character designs, you may not like the hero, Squall. Where you may love the abilities you can teach your Guardian Forces, you may not like summoning them. Where you may love Final Fantasy VIII, you may hate it.
Final Fantasy VIII boasts a small party of characters, only six in the end. Squall is the main character, and unlikable from the start. You're not supposed to like him. He is an introvert, and can be rather cold to his comrades. The reason for this is thoroughly explained in the story, as he changes to become a more likeable character. My theory as to why this character is both loved and hated by gamers is because his loner personality is very similar to the traits exhibited by many gamers. They hate him because they take it as an insult or a personal attack, yet they love him because he is a fairly realistic character to some extent.
Continuing the reality of the characters is Seifer. Everyone has their nemesis, and Squall's nemesis is a bully of sorts. Seifer is like the kid at school who would always do things to hurt you, but never going too far. He's the sort of kid who seems to be just as smart, a little stronger, and a little older. Seifer is the sort of person you just dream to get even with someday.
The menagerie of realistic characters continues with Quistis, the 'older sister' of the group. Zell is the energetic know it all, Selphie is the happy go lucky chick who is always jumping around, Irvine is the ladies man, who enjoys long guns. The fact that he overdoes the chatting up of girls leads me to believe he's compensating for something.
Then there is Rinoa, the open and honest girl of the group, who by the rules of cliché is destined to fall in love with the hero. This is true, but Squall manages to resist her several advances. This is where reality stops, as many gamers will know you actually have to get the girl, she won't just fall in your lap ala FF8.
You'll either love these characters or you'll hate them, and even if you hate them at first, by the end of the game, you will actually care about them... except for Irvine.
At times, your party will enter the dream world where you can play as Laguna. His is a very sad tale, of lost loves and misfortune. These make up the most interesting scenes of the game, and the battle theme for these sequences is amazing.
This band of young heroes will accept missions for various clients, and will eventually uncover an insidious plot lead by the Galbadian army and a Sorceress. The music that plays during the epic fights with the Sorceress is breathtaking. Fighting evil and saving the world is a sub plot to the real plot, which is Squall opening up and accepting and relying on his friends. The importance of teamwork is brought up a lot, as is the love story between Squall and Rinoa. Many lone gamers will enjoy the way the story unfolds, and how Squall develops as a character, while others may find it as an insult, or patronising, and walk away with disgust.
Moving on to what is probably the most infamous aspect of Final Fantasy VIII -- the draw system. Magic points and learning magic abilities are gone. Magic needs to be drawn from cracks in the ground, or from enemies. Drawing during battle will usually give you a stock of around 7. Sometimes you get as low as 1, sometimes you may get 9. The fact is, you'll have to draw quite a bit during battle to hit the max of 100 for each magic spell you want. Later in the game, you can refine more powerful magic from what you currently have (for example, five fires will become one fira). You will also be able to refine magic from items that monsters drop.
The process of drawing magic can be tedious and boring, but some people try to make it fun by making the characters have a race to see who can reach 100 magic first. I did, anyway.
All this magic probably won't get much use in battle, either, as it is better to junction it to a particular stat. For example, you can junction magic to increase your maximum HP, strength, and everything down to speed. You can junction elemental magic to your attack for more damage against particular enemies, and you can junction status magic to your attack. This means just attacking an enemy will usually put it to sleep, blind it or whatever you wish to do to it.
There is a lot of fun to be had customising each of your party members. If you hate the sound of that, then you may like the fact that you can automatically junction to maximise attack, magic or defence. This aspect rocks.
To be able to junction magic to your stats, you will need Guardian Forces. These creatures can be summoned in battle, but seriously, you can grow dependant on them. As you defeat enemies, you are awarded with AP, which goes to teaching your GF ablities. Some abilities include certain stats to let you junction magic too, or you can increase your party members stats by certain percentages, and there's even abilities such as Mug, or the ability to turn monsters into Cards.
On the many missions you will undertake, you'll get to visit many towns and cities, forests and caves. Every location looks stunning, even for the outdated PlayStation. You'll talk to people to gather information, solve puzzles, and fight enemies. Once a battle begins, each of your party members can perform an ability, such as a physical attack, using magic or summoning GF, items or drawing magic (as well as some extra abilities you will learn down the track). Your speed stat will determine how long you will have to wait before the ATB gauge fills up, letting you perform an ability.
The Battle screen is a lot less cluttered than previous installments in the Final Fantasy series, as apart from the background, the party and the enemies, all you'll see is the ATP gauge, the characters names and HP, as well as the command box when it pops up. There isn't much to like or hate here, it's all pretty standard, except the battle theme, which isn't very good.
When you're traveling from one place to another, you will get to explore the world map. While there isn't anything technically wrong with it, you may never really learn the layout of this world like you would the world map of Final Fantasy VII. It just seems a lot more intimidating, and you never really have to explore a real lot of it on foot, as you'll get to travel by train, boat or rental car a lot. It won't be until you get your airship that you'll feel like really exploring. Plus, the world map music is fairly bland.
Perhaps the biggest complaint in Final Fantasy VIII is that your enemies level up with you. This is both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because when you return to old areas, the monsters will still provide you with a small challenge, but a curse in that leveling up to beat certain enemies is useless. This means you will have to employ more tact in battles, and the way you teach your GF abilities.
Another complaint is the SeeD level. As you progress through the story, your SeeD rank will increase, indicating how much money you receive at regular intervals. That's right, you don't get money from monsters (why would they have money anyway?). The downside to this is that it also goes down. It will go down with a lot of needless wandering around, almost eliminating the desire to explore, and basically forcing you to complete the story.
There are plenty of side quests though, you can try and find items to upgrade your weapons, you can search out the hidden GF, or you can go to one of the many towns and see if there's some small quest for you to undertake. Of all the side quests, Triple Triad is the most enjoyable. You can challenge people to a game of cards, much like dominoes on a 3x3 grid. Each card has different values on each side, and it's up to you to place the card on the grid where it can overpower the number on your opponent’s card. Winning games will give you more cards, and cards can be used to refine some cool items.
Despite its flaws, Final Fantasy VIII is still a playable game. Drawing Magic is only really necessary for the first half of the game; the GF abuse can be avoided if you don't use them. I completed the whole game without ever summoning one, and I beat the game without too much hassle. The awesome soundtrack, and excellent graphics will draw you in, but the epic story will keep you hooked until the end. Final Fantasy VIII is a game that was picked apart, every little flaw blown out of proportion. Sure, there are a few problems, but the good does outweigh the bad. Do yourself a favour and play it.
Community review by jerec (December 17, 2003)
On very rare occasions, Jerec finds a game that inspires him to write stuff about. The rest of the time he just hangs around being sarcastic.
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