Review: Final Fantasy VIII

Final Fantasy VIII

Initial Thoughts

My initial thoughts here will be longer than usual, as well as personal. The review itself will also contain spoilers, so be warned!

I can distinctly remember Final Fantasy VIII when it first came out, right down to the day: September 9, 1999. I remember the anticipation of playing it, knowing how much money Squaresoft had poured into the title, far more than the preceding Final Fantasy VII that I had loved so dearly. And the videos I saw were all amazing quality!

At the time this came out, I was a 18-year-old college student living in Orlando, FL. I had no car so, on release day, I hopped on my bike and rode several miles to the nearest WalMart. There, I proudly picked it up and headed home.

I honestly don’t remember much after that, but I will tell you one specific about the game I recall: I had played FFVII with a guide at my side and decided to play FFVIII without one. It was a horrible idea. I ended up, towards the end of the game, locked into an area against a particular boss. I could not leave the area I was in and go level up to become stronger elsewhere like how almost all RPGs work; the place I was in and had saved only left me moving towards fighting the boss ahead of me. And I simply could not beat it after repeated attempts. I finally looked online to find out what I was doing wrong and saw that the strategy for beating this boss encompassed all kinds of abilities and so forth that I did not even recognize as among my own arsenal. In fact, the suggested Hit Points to have against the boss was way more than I had; I was left wondering how I’d even gotten as far as I did so blindly. I ended up going out and buying the strategy guide… and starting the whole game over again.

Nostalgia aside, the lasting impression this game left with me was that, despite (or perhaps in spite of ) all the hype I had for it, I didn’t like it overall. Still, I was eager to play this title again, because I had not liked Final Fantasy V either when I first played it, to the point that I had actually just quit playing it altogether and never finished it. However, as mentioned in my review of Final Fantasy V, I ended up loving FFV so much that I even had a difficult time ranking it against its generational peers of Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI. So I hoped the same kind of thing would happen this time around as well. Let’s find out…

Review

NOTE: This review will contain spoilers. I tried to avoid them at first, but I just couldn’t explain my reactions to portions of this game by being vague. If you don’t want the game spoiled at all, I suggest skipping to my Final Thoughts instead.

FFVIII is the first game in the series that I had a really hard time getting into to play. Once I’d start, I’d be fine and enjoy myself, but making myself start playing the game to begin with was a pain. This may be because there were other games I wanted to play more, but it’s something worth pointing out. For me, I wasn’t really fully engrossed until close to the end of the second disc.

The way the gameplay works in this game is different from previous titles. You see, rather than buy or learn Magic spells, you actually “Draw” them out from enemies you face. This is a command during battle which will open a submenu where you can select which magic from the options currently held by the monster you face you want to draw out. In doing so, you will receive a message that you received between 1 and 9 of that spell.

You also will encounter Guardian Forces, which are basically this game’s version of Summons. However, you can “Junction” up to three of them to a character, which basically ties them to that character. What this does is, in your character stats menu, opens up options next to typical stats (like HP or Strength) where you can select a Magic spell you have drawn to enhance that stat. Certain magic enhances stats better than others (For example, Ultima is a great stat enhancer). However, actually using magic means you use up one of that spell, much like Potions or Phoenix Downs.

The problem with this system is that it basically forces long drawn-out battles simply for the sake of maximizing spell reserves. Then, once you have the maximum amount a spell and it’s been junctioned to improve your stats, well, then you don’t want to actually use that spell in battle, since your quantity of it is affecting your character’s stats.

But each title in the franchise often employs a new spin on gameplay to keep things fresh, so maybe I just didn’t like this one. In fact, my biggest gripe with this game is the story.

First, there’s the “Garden Panic” section – why did it happen? It never  was really explained (unless I somehow missed it).

Another “wtf?” plot moment was when Quistis (a teacher of students) makes a move that even her students think ludicrous: abandoning their post on a critical mission in order to go apologize to someone not even involved in the mission or on the team, something that could easily be done after a successful completion of the mission. Following that, Irvine flipping out like a little child over the one single duty he has on this mission (and why he was brought along) just made me so angry at his ineptitude.

But the single biggest offender of this game’s narrative is the main twist, which I will refrain from spoiling outright. It just doesn’t make any sense and seems like a random element thrown in to try to make sense of things. It didn’t work for me. If you’re not afraid of spoilers, you can click below for more on the twist.

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

 

Irinve: At this point, we probably wouldn’t even comprehend it if we talked about it.

No kidding.

There ARE some great sequences, apart from the intro. The fight between the two Gardens has beautiful background graphics going on, for example. And it’s a high-intensity moment in the game. When these kinds of situations occur, the game shines. Unfortunately, they are so far apart that the stuff that goes on between just brings the game down.

Seeing Squall’s transformational moment from the douche he has been all game to someone worthy of Rinoa’s affection is great and enjoyable (although I don’t know why Rinoa dug him in the first place). The discovery of a magical grand city was great, too. Squall is on a mission to do whatever he can to help Rinoa get better. But, unless I missed some dialogue somewhere, he suddenly is walking onto a rocket heading into space with her. I don’t recall that being discussed prior to this sequence, so it left me feeling confused and wondering if I’d somehow missed out on dialogue.

The giant floating building (Lunatic Pandora) that appears above Esthar… what the hell is that about? It just comes out of nowhere, and it seems randoms as hell without anything relating to anything you’ve thus far encountered. Similar in notion is The Lunar Cry, which SE could’ve had been mentioned at the start in Quistis’ class (what better place than within the context of a school?). Instead, suddenly, again out of nowhere, monsters come from the moon? Why? Is it always like this? It’s just another example of random story-telling, throwing in yet another new element in the middle of the story that doesn’t relate to anything previously experienced.

The final mission debriefing by Odine is so convoluted that even the President of Esthar next to him while he explains it says to Squall, “I didn’t understand it, either.” The President can explain it again in bullet-point format, but it’s still a bit whimsical. Now, I suppose that’s part of the point of the fantasy part of this game, but it still had me trying to figure out exactly how some of the described objectives (specifically, heading to the future during compressed time — if everything is compressed, how is there even a future?) actually take place. At least I wasn’t alone in my lack of comprehension!

Later, on the Ragnarok, the President basically says the way to travel into the future is to believe in yourself and your friends’ existence… and I guess that, by doing that, that means they will exist in that future. Reminds me of Peter Pan and believing in fairies to ensure they exist.

All that being said, the ending sequence (as nonsensical as it is to a great degree) is one of my favorite moments of the FF franchise, partially for the accompanying song, but also for the celebratory party scenes. Irvine photo-bombing back in 1999 (before it was even a thing) is hilarious.

There’s also an interesting minigame here in the form of Triple Triad, a card game that seems complex at first but is really a lot of fun. The way it works is that you get a card with numbers on the top, bottom, left, and right, as well as each corner. Play it on a board against your NPC opponent and, if your card’s number is higher than the number adjacent card, it flips over to your side. Not only can you win rare cards (if you win, you get a card to add to your pack), but you can also use an ability to convert cards to items, and some of those are rare and only available through Triple Triad.  There’s also extra rules and variables thrown in, but it was a welcome deviation from the rest of the game for me. I probably spent just as much time playing this completely optional minigame as I did with the rest of the game.

 

Final Thoughts

As you can likely tell, I still did not like this game. I wanted to, and there were portions of it that stood out, but the pacing was so varied that there were long stretches of boredom, making it a struggle just to play through, punctuated by brief blips of shining moments.

This makes the current rankings of the Final Fantasy series remain as follows:

1) Final Fantasy VII
2) Final Fantasy VI
3) Final Fantasy V
4) Final Fantasy IV
5) Final Fantasy II
6) Final Fantasy III
7) Final Fantasy
8) Final Fantasy VIII

Yep, I’d rather replay any other FF title than this one again. Oh well – on to Final Fantasy IX!


Initial Thoughts

My initial thoughts here will be longer than usual, as well as personal. The review itself will also contain spoilers, so be warned!

I can distinctly remember Final Fantasy VIII when it first came out, right down to the day: September 9, 1999. I remember the anticipation of playing it, knowing how much money Squaresoft had poured into the title, far more than the preceding Final Fantasy VII that I had loved so dearly. And the videos I saw were all amazing quality!

At the time this came out, I was a 18-year-old college student living in Orlando, FL. I had no car so, on release day, I hopped on my bike and rode several miles to the nearest WalMart. There, I proudly picked it up and headed home.

I honestly don’t remember much after that, but I will tell you one specific about the game I recall: I had played FFVII with a guide at my side and decided to play FFVIII without one. It was a horrible idea. I ended up, towards the end of the game, locked into an area against a particular boss. I could not leave the area I was in and go level up to become stronger elsewhere like how almost all RPGs work; the place I was in and had saved only left me moving towards fighting the boss ahead of me. And I simply could not beat it after repeated attempts. I finally looked online to find out what I was doing wrong and saw that the strategy for beating this boss encompassed all kinds of abilities and so forth that I did not even recognize as among my own arsenal. In fact, the suggested Hit Points to have against the boss was way more than I had; I was left wondering how I’d even gotten as far as I did so blindly. I ended up going out and buying the strategy guide… and starting the whole game over again.

Nostalgia aside, the lasting impression this game left with me was that, despite (or perhaps in spite of ) all the hype I had for it, I didn’t like it overall. Still, I was eager to play this title again, because I had not liked Final Fantasy V either when I first played it, to the point that I had actually just quit playing it altogether and never finished it. However, as mentioned in my review of Final Fantasy V, I ended up loving FFV so much that I even had a difficult time ranking it against its generational peers of Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI. So I hoped the same kind of thing would happen this time around as well. Let’s find out…

Review

NOTE: This review will contain spoilers. I tried to avoid them at first, but I just couldn’t explain my reactions to portions of this game by being vague. If you don’t want the game spoiled at all, I suggest skipping to my Final Thoughts instead.

FFVIII is the first game in the series that I had a really hard time getting into to play. Once I’d start, I’d be fine and enjoy myself, but making myself start playing the game to begin with was a pain. This may be because there were other games I wanted to play more, but it’s something worth pointing out. For me, I wasn’t really fully engrossed until close to the end of the second disc.

The way the gameplay works in this game is different from previous titles. You see, rather than buy or learn Magic spells, you actually “Draw” them out from enemies you face. This is a command during battle which will open a submenu where you can select which magic from the options currently held by the monster you face you want to draw out. In doing so, you will receive a message that you received between 1 and 9 of that spell.

You also will encounter Guardian Forces, which are basically this game’s version of Summons. However, you can “Junction” up to three of them to a character, which basically ties them to that character. What this does is, in your character stats menu, opens up options next to typical stats (like HP or Strength) where you can select a Magic spell you have drawn to enhance that stat. Certain magic enhances stats better than others (For example, Ultima is a great stat enhancer). However, actually using magic means you use up one of that spell, much like Potions or Phoenix Downs.

The problem with this system is that it basically forces long drawn-out battles simply for the sake of maximizing spell reserves. Then, once you have the maximum amount a spell and it’s been junctioned to improve your stats, well, then you don’t want to actually use that spell in battle, since your quantity of it is affecting your character’s stats.

But each title in the franchise often employs a new spin on gameplay to keep things fresh, so maybe I just didn’t like this one. In fact, my biggest gripe with this game is the story.

First, there’s the “Garden Panic” section – why did it happen? It never  was really explained (unless I somehow missed it).

Another “wtf?” plot moment was when Quistis (a teacher of students) makes a move that even her students think ludicrous: abandoning their post on a critical mission in order to go apologize to someone not even involved in the mission or on the team, something that could easily be done after a successful completion of the mission. Following that, Irvine flipping out like a little child over the one single duty he has on this mission (and why he was brought along) just made me so angry at his ineptitude.

But the single biggest offender of this game’s narrative is the main twist, which I will refrain from spoiling outright. It just doesn’t make any sense and seems like a random element thrown in to try to make sense of things. It didn’t work for me. If you’re not afraid of spoilers, you can click below for more on the twist.

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

 

Irinve: At this point, we probably wouldn’t even comprehend it if we talked about it.

No kidding.

There ARE some great sequences, apart from the intro. The fight between the two Gardens has beautiful background graphics going on, for example. And it’s a high-intensity moment in the game. When these kinds of situations occur, the game shines. Unfortunately, they are so far apart that the stuff that goes on between just brings the game down.

Seeing Squall’s transformational moment from the douche he has been all game to someone worthy of Rinoa’s affection is great and enjoyable (although I don’t know why Rinoa dug him in the first place). The discovery of a magical grand city was great, too. Squall is on a mission to do whatever he can to help Rinoa get better. But, unless I missed some dialogue somewhere, he suddenly is walking onto a rocket heading into space with her. I don’t recall that being discussed prior to this sequence, so it left me feeling confused and wondering if I’d somehow missed out on dialogue.

The giant floating building (Lunatic Pandora) that appears above Esthar… what the hell is that about? It just comes out of nowhere, and it seems randoms as hell without anything relating to anything you’ve thus far encountered. Similar in notion is The Lunar Cry, which SE could’ve had been mentioned at the start in Quistis’ class (what better place than within the context of a school?). Instead, suddenly, again out of nowhere, monsters come from the moon? Why? Is it always like this? It’s just another example of random story-telling, throwing in yet another new element in the middle of the story that doesn’t relate to anything previously experienced.

The final mission debriefing by Odine is so convoluted that even the President of Esthar next to him while he explains it says to Squall, “I didn’t understand it, either.” The President can explain it again in bullet-point format, but it’s still a bit whimsical. Now, I suppose that’s part of the point of the fantasy part of this game, but it still had me trying to figure out exactly how some of the described objectives (specifically, heading to the future during compressed time — if everything is compressed, how is there even a future?) actually take place. At least I wasn’t alone in my lack of comprehension!

Later, on the Ragnarok, the President basically says the way to travel into the future is to believe in yourself and your friends’ existence… and I guess that, by doing that, that means they will exist in that future. Reminds me of Peter Pan and believing in fairies to ensure they exist.

All that being said, the ending sequence (as nonsensical as it is to a great degree) is one of my favorite moments of the FF franchise, partially for the accompanying song, but also for the celebratory party scenes. Irvine photo-bombing back in 1999 (before it was even a thing) is hilarious.

There’s also an interesting minigame here in the form of Triple Triad, a card game that seems complex at first but is really a lot of fun. The way it works is that you get a card with numbers on the top, bottom, left, and right, as well as each corner. Play it on a board against your NPC opponent and, if your card’s number is higher than the number adjacent card, it flips over to your side. Not only can you win rare cards (if you win, you get a card to add to your pack), but you can also use an ability to convert cards to items, and some of those are rare and only available through Triple Triad.  There’s also extra rules and variables thrown in, but it was a welcome deviation from the rest of the game for me. I probably spent just as much time playing this completely optional minigame as I did with the rest of the game.

 

Final Thoughts

As you can likely tell, I still did not like this game. I wanted to, and there were portions of it that stood out, but the pacing was so varied that there were long stretches of boredom, making it a struggle just to play through, punctuated by brief blips of shining moments.

This makes the current rankings of the Final Fantasy series remain as follows:

1) Final Fantasy VII
2) Final Fantasy VI
3) Final Fantasy V
4) Final Fantasy IV
5) Final Fantasy II
6) Final Fantasy III
7) Final Fantasy
8) Final Fantasy VIII

Yep, I’d rather replay any other FF title than this one again. Oh well – on to Final Fantasy IX!


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Jason L. Hubsch

Jason L. Hubsch

I love music, video games, comic books, pro wrestling, politics, and God -- and not necessarily in that order! If you like any of these, chances are we'll get along.

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