GAME: Final Fantasy VIII
Release Date: 1999, ported to steam in 2013
Game Time: 44 Hours
Steam Achievements: Yes
Steam Cards: No
Final Fantasy VIII (FF8) is one of the classic RPGs and the eighth numbered edition of the Final Fantasy series. If you ask a group of 100 people their favorite final fantasy game there will be a small group that vehemently declare their love for this entry in particular. Those who are suckers for romance seem to gravitate towards this title due to the games focus on the love story between two main characters. While I'm not a huge fan of love stories I still gave FF8 a shot.
Final Fantasy VIII
The Final Fantasy series is one of the oldest still relevant RPGs of today. Fans of the games have their fair share of disappointments. But with these disappointments come with some of the highest highs these fans have experienced while gaming. Final Fantasy VIII is a title that I wasn't sure what to expect from it. When you hear about FF7 or FFX you hear nearly universal praise and the expectation of a great game and journey are present when you start up those games for the first time. But then there are games like FF13 and FF2 which have no lack of critics. FF8 is one of the strange final fantasies that does quite have the cult of followers that FF 6 and FF9 have, but still has a decent amount of fans that prefer it over any other title. I jumped right in not knowing whether or not I would like the game or not and met the protagonist Squall Leonhart.
Your Protagonist - Squall Leonhart
Kingdom Hearts fans might recognize Squall, an emotionally detached independent individual who works for an organization called SeeD. SeeD operatives are mercenaries that can be hired for military support or to help locals defeat monsters. Squall uses his mastery of his signature gunblade to set himself apart from the other SeeD candidates and earn his prominent position within the organization. You follow Squall on his journey to help lead SeeD, regain lost memories and to protect those who matter to him.
I found Squall to be a likable main protagonist. You gain insight to his actions with access to his inner thoughts. However the game does seem to give him the most influence in his organization simply because he is the main character. Squall is a very dismissive lone wolf and his role in the story doesn't add up with his character. A number of party members would have been more suited to take a leadership role, but for some unexplained reason every SeeD member seemed to look up to Squall. Quintus, his teacher and friend, even stated that she found Squall hard to work with but respected his skills.
The Supporting Cast
Final Fantasy VIII features a number of other memorable side characters. In fact the supporting cast is something that I consider to be a strong point. Your prominent allies go beyond just your standard party members and sometimes you are quite surprised by who hops into your party and assists you temporarily. Each side character seems to have their own complication and a depth. You are joined by fellow SeeD members, members of rebel groups, instructors, witches, soldiers and even a dog. However it seemed that the potential for character development was wasted. The only characters that were truly paid attention were the two love interests. Every other character seemed to be tossed aside. The game seems like the story of Squall Leonhart and his lackeys. It disappoints me greatly that there were no side quests to get to know the other characters better because they all seemed very likeable.
The story itself started off strong. I was hooked immediately and was waiting to see what game next. The first quarter of the game had a top tier story but as the game continued on the story lost me. It begins with a group of mercenaries conducting covert operations and learning of the grave threats to their world. The rivalry between Squall and Seipher excited me and the characters planted seeds of future development. But as I got further along I became further disappointed. The romantic plot-line began to take over the entirety of the game and all the other character interactions, rivalries, and development seemed to suffer. The beginners of an epic tale turned to any other love story. The other final fantasy games handled love interests much better. They were still a prominent part of the game, but they were not the focus and they did not detract from the rest of the game.
Final Fantasy VIII didn't have a horrible story, If you are in to romances you'll probably like it a lot. But Final Fantasy VIII did not have a phenomenal story, the cast was underused, the villains were underwhelming, and the plot became so predictable. Speaking of the villain, the main villain of this game seemed more like a tool to progress the Rinoa and Squall romance rather than to be a serious threat. If I had to describe the story in one word, that word would be "alright". But when I play a Final Fantasy game I expect it to be story driven, and when the story isn't phenomenal I get disappointed. And it is a shame, because they planted the seeds for a phenomenal story.
By far the most divisive part of FF8 is the junction system. Some hate it, some love it. I began hating it, but as I got used to it, the junction system became a part of the game I appreciated a lot.
You may be wondering, what is the junction system?
To put it simply the junction system is the skill and magic system used in FF8.
It isn't nearly as complicated as people try to make it seem. But it is a deviation from the traditional systems seen in JRPGs.
You don't have any mana. Your only resource bar is HP. Instead you have a limited amount of uses of each spell. You gain uses of spells from taking them from mobs or by drawing them from the environment.
You use magic not only for combat but you attach it to your stats which canonically give your characters their superhuman strength.
You can also bind Guardian Force's to each of your party members. Your Guardian Forces are your summons that give you the ability the summon and they further the amount of stats you can junction. You can gather more Guardian Forces by drawing (the steal function) from certain key enemies and by completing secret areas.
After getting used to it, I really like the junction system. When researching this game there were many forum posts declaring how complicated and convoluted of a system it is. Don't believe that, if you take 5 minutes to read and understand how it works the junction system is a very easy and intuitive process.
The World (Za Warudo!) / And Graphics
In the world of FF8 you travel to various locations on the world map either by foot, or by car. As you progress in the game more methods of transport become available to you. And as the methods open up, so does the world. Like in most Final Fantasy games there is no shortage of fun side areas to explore. You can grab some secret summons, kill a few extra bosses, or even grab a few chocobos. There is a nice variety in the towns you can travel to, the world is very cool to travel through. When it comes to that I have no complaints.
The graphics are something that many will have issue with. I myself don't mind the 1999 graphics. But the world is blocky, at times blurry and the camera angles make it hard to find your way around at times. But I think when you are playing a nearly 20 year old game you assume these things before you buy it. There are a handful of cut scenes in the game that surprised me in their quality. While they are horrible looking by today's standards for the time it was freakishly beautiful.
I mean... come on that's pretty good for 1999.
Summation of Thought:
Final Fantasy VIII was a pretty good game. It had a strong start and it fell off afterwards but it was still pretty good. I would never even imagine calling this my favorite Final Fantasy but I can't hate the game. There were many cheesy moments that made me want to gag but overall the likable cast won me over. The soundtrack was also pretty good but I like the soundtracks from the other Final Fantasy games much more. The combat and the junction system was a very strong point that allowed for the player to adapt and strategize against the enemies.
But when I think about Final Fantasy 8 the potential it had to be the best Final Fantasy title bothers me. The pieces were set for one of the coolest and most engaging stories that could rival its predecessor. But the game creators focused exclusively on a love story between two characters and ignored the rest of the amazing cast of supporting characters.
When I think Final Fantasy 8, I think of a good game that could have been a great game.