#407 Final Fantasy VIII

Posted: 4th March 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

35th game played so far

Genre: Role-Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Square-Exix
Publisher: Sony

Right. So previously we covered Final Fantasy VII, a game where a spiky-haired guy named ‘Cloud’ tried to save his world. Now we moved on to Final Fantasy VIII, which doesn’t share any plot but does share designers and some design elements.  In this installment of the famous series, you play mainly as Squall, a rather fetching young man who is studying in Garden to become a member of SeeD, which are extremely reasonable acronyms for groups and places I can’t remember.

You fight with a gunblade, have no spiky hair (although your companions can be accused of such a crime) and have to understand Guardian Forces and junctions to play the game as well as possible. Gameplay is mostly divided up based on missions, rather than quests that happen to point you in the One Right Direction, making for a more militaristic and modern setting.

Potentially an interesting and new setting, but does it work?

Our Playthrough

For those in the know: We wandered around following the quest as much as possible, until we reached a train shuffle and fought a zombie doppleganger standing in for a corrupt president. Which is about six hours worth, at least with the way we played it.

Our Thoughts

I think we could describe this as a bit of a trial. I think the fact that it took about 2 weeks to go from the first playing of it to the write-up would be evidence supporting this. Yes, dear readers, be glad we have worked ahead, or else we’d have gone quiet for some time. Other activities also took their toll but this is a complicated game. Big and at times hard to keep up with where 5 hours is probably not enough to properly cover everything.


However, we ended up playing an extra hour looking for a screenshot since the entire hour was basically one long cutscene where you needed to click after every sentence. I am all for a game with a rich storyline but this seriously took the biscuit. Yes, it was an hour long semi-interactive cutscene, with one battle in between that seems to have no bearing on the rest of the story other than a dream sequence. I suppose we might meet these characters later in the game, but here it seems like we’ve got an hour of useless nothingness here. That immediately reset all our battle statistics as well, making our party useless in the battle that started an hour later. The battle against a pretty demented looking zombie sub-boss would have been a lot easier if they had left all the menus intact. Yeah. Not something you remember doing after waiting an hour to get to the battle… although that could just be me.

The thing is, I don’t want to say here that this game is a bad game. It just requires a huge amount of investment, far more that most other games we cover, before it becomes fun. Unlike many others where you can pick it up and go, here after five hours you’ve barely finished the introduction – let alone gotten into any advanced features!

Also you tend to get a tad bit lost if you have returned to a saved game after a few days. Yeah, quest journals are not very known at this point in time. In other words, this is not a casual game, and it doesn’t allow you to just play an hour here and there when you feel like it. There’s two big reasons to this, other than the aforementioned where am I (where a piece of paper would already solve that issue had we thought of it). Those are the long cutscenes, as mentioned before, and the game and battle mechanics, which require a larger explanation.

You do have to admire the complex nature of the battle mechanics (even if they can get a little bit confusing). I love that spells can actually be drawn from enemies so there is not a separate MP stat which usually deters me from using magic in other RPGs. Yeah, by drawing your magic from your opponents, you can get unlimited uses of the limited group of spells each opponents know. By drawing them and immediately casting them on another enemy (which is all in the same turn), you basically cast the spells for free. If you want to use something special, you can stock the spells instead, giving you several castings to be stored, without doing any further damage or such to your enemy. This does make magic usually the smarter move than just plain attacking… but that could just be us and the actual character system.

Now, a bit of a gaming note… usual practice with what’s known as the ‘JRPGs’ is that you get relatively little customization. A character levels up, you can equip them with different items, and there is limited customization. In some cases they can change classes, which give them different abilities and stats, but is all fairly straightforward, and usually consists of making sure you cover several bases. Your stats will be at the proper level and it will be easy to see who’s good at what. If you can’t beat a boss, level up and try again.

Western RPGs are a bit different, by usually not defining your main characters, but allowing you to create them yourself, but while it offers more upfront functionality, and often more choice during level-ups, it’s fairly obvious what to do in between levels. Final Fantasy VIII, not so much. I think you got it a bit better, so do you think you can explain what junctions are and how GFs and magic impacts that?

The use of the word ‘junctioning’ in this game always struck me as a touch strange as it does not exactly make much sense. In a nutshell a GF (short for Guardian Force) is that can be summoned by one of your characters. During this they will perform one powerful attack and then retreat back into the world of beyond. They also look awesome. If you have played other Final Fantasy games some will look very familiar. The GFs Shiva and Ifrit, for example, appear as summonable aeons in Final Fantasy X.


Anyway, to equip a GF onto your character you need to ‘junction’ them on. This is the only way that you are then able to give your character other moves except for a physical attack. It’s slightly weird in this respect since other than the general attack there are three free slots for commands with four to choose from. This means you have to be tactical in who is able to summon GFs, use items, draw magic and use magic. If, for example, you are selective in who can use items you are pretty much screwed if they faint in a rather intense battle. It does allow for a bit more unusual strategy but I am glad this is a feature that was bred out of the franchise since it’s almost spiteful and counter-productive. And, as said, the junction seems to be getting reset too often to make this fully playable. There’s a stage where cleverness turns into obnoxiousness.

Now, the effects of these GFs on your stats are a bit unclear, and hard to compare, and aren’t explained well – in part because they aren’t that easy to explain. This makes it a guessing game of what to put where at first, and makes it feel like you need to study the game to know what the best way to set things up is. I am not one for games taking players by the hand and spoon feeding them with every detail of the game, since that would really encroach on another territory of obnoxiousness, but in cases such as the junctioning mechanics it would help if the explanations were a bit clearer and allowed the user to practice said skill and receiving some form of validation. Some games make good use of a tutorial (Okami being the first title to come to mind) but this could have been better. Agreed. Some help and pointers would be welcome, as well as some better feedback while you’re using it.

With that said, there are good things to say about the games as well. I was about to plead that we could now talk about the positive aspects of the game since it is all too easy to get bogged down in negatives.

First, the graphics. Yeah, they’re still not always scaling well, but they’re a massive improvement on Final Fantasy VII. Characters look a lot more realistic and move more fluidly, and they seem a lot more human. In particular, Squall, the main character, actually has the best model, rather than the worst in the game like Cloud had. It really does help that they changed the look of the characters as it makes it a whole lot easier to actually relate with them. Yeah, changing to a more realistic style of character, rather than the anime look, worked well for them. They are also more natural since they even work in breathing so that the characters move ever so slightly when they are asleep. They also still manage to make the characters look distinctive and weird while doing so – whether it’s Zell’s skater-like look or the Garden Caretaker’s weird helmets, you can tell this is not just real life.

I also have to admit that I also do love the setting for this one. It provides a fantastic contrast to the darker tones of it’s steampunky predecessor. Yeah, although it is one point where you know there’s more to it, but the time we played just doesn’t allow us to work out what that is.

So how do you think this compares to Final Fantasy VII overall? While the complicated character system takes more time to get into and requires a significant investment, and the lengthy cutscenes get boring, I feel this is rewarding enough should you actually get into the game – something we, to be honest, couldn’t do considering the number of games we have to cover. Other than that, however, the graphics are better, sound nicer, and everything here just seems to work better. It just feels better in every way.

Final Thoughts

This is a great Final Fantasy game. This is a great RPG, in fact. It’s just not suitable for us, being too big and complex to even really just get started on right now. If anything in Final Fantasy VII disappointed you, this game is probably about 75% likely to fix it, unless you hate RPGs or prefer more fantasy in them. It’s enchanting, at times charming, interesting, and making you want to play the game more. Just don’t expect to play it for half an hour, you need to lose yourself in this to play it properly.

The game looks good, plays well once you learn it, and fits together nicely. Worth a try… assuming you can spare a week or two to play it.

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