Does Final Fantasy VIII stand up to the test of time? Despite it’s theme, the answer is a solid ‘no’.
Release Date: September 9th, 1999
TURNING BACK TIME
Final Fantasy VIII takes place on an unnamed world with modern as well as some futuristic elements. Squall, an elite SeeD mercenary from Balamb Garden, leads a team of other SeeD mercenaries on a journey that crosses space and time to defeat a sorceress intent on compressing time.
Delayed Reaction is all about looking at games with and without those wonderful nostalgia goggles everyone loves to wear. Everyone loves to say how Final Fantasy VII defined modern RPGs but did it really? Is its effect on the world of gaming still present and was it worthy of the ratings it got at the time? Final Fantasy VIII is the second of our Delayed Reactions, with many yet to come. That said, let’s jump in and get to it.
Compared to today’s standards, Final Fantasy VIII has some terrible graphics. To rate compare them in such a way would be unfair, and you might not be too bright if you are playing Final Fantasy VIII in 2017 for its visuals. When the game came out in 1999 the graphics were something to be marveled at. This day and age why anyone would rave about all the polygons on the screen is beyond me, but again we need to put ourselves into the mind frame of all the adolescent children that were probably playing this game at the time. Final Fantasy VIII that came before it may be the superior game, but one look at clouds hilariously bubbled muscles compared to Squall’s more flush frame was mind blowing. We thought we had seen the peak of graphical advancement. One thing I did find impressive was the amount of FMV’s, as well as the length of some of them. Prior to playing Final Fantasy VIII this past month, I also played and completed FFIX right before. Compared to FFIX it certainly had a jump on graphics – which is strange since one would assume FFIX would have been the better of the two.
The sound in Final Fantasy VIII was what you’d expect. I don’t recall ever thinking negatively in any way about it. As a sound guy, I can say that’s usually a good thing. If people aren’t commenting on it then it’s probably pretty…well…sound. The music…ugh, the music. This was not my favorite Final Fantasy in terms of music. I’ve read a lot of other reviews where people praised the music, but to me it just seemed so juvenile compared to previous titles. It’s not so much that the music was bad, it just wasn’t very good. My biggest gripe would be the victory music. Why did it seem like a bunch of clowns should be popping out of a tiny car dancing around every time I beat an enemy? What happened to the glorious scores that accompanied FFVI, or most of the other ones? It wasn’t all bad though, I will give it that, but I sit here writing this review and all I can remember is the victory clown music. That damnable clown music worthy of inducing nightmares of Squall acting like a snotty thirteen year old who feels like the world owes him, and at the same time want’s nothing to do with anyone. But more on that later.
Controls for Final Fantasy VIII were clunky at best. For a game that came out in 1999 that was pretty normal. I just started FF 10-2 (don’t make fun of me!) and even those don’t feel a whole lot better. When playing an older game things like crappy controls were just part of the experience. Not for all games sure, but in the start of open world 3D games it certainly was. Clown music wasn’t though.
I feel like these next three sections go hand-in-hand so I will try not to repeat myself too much. This ‘Gameplay’ section may derive some of its discussion from the previous ‘Controls’ section as well.
All around the gameplay was fine. Being such an old game at this point there isn’t much to expect, and not much is delivered. The open world is pretty massive for its time. You can choose to run everywhere, or spend your life savings on a rental car. That’s right. You can rent a car. And it’s expensive. I only ever drove in Final Fantasy VIII during the tutorial on driving and never sat behind the wheel again. There’s something to be said about running everywhere in an open world RPG. If I drove or rode a Chocobo everywhere I would have missed so much. No thanks on that car. Square-Enix’s newest installment in the franchise did this much better.
One of the only times Final Fantasy VIII shines is through it’s battle system. This was probably the only thing that kept me coming back to play more. It’s one of the most unique battle systems I’ve ever played. In any game. Period. For this and this alone does Final Fantasy VIII stand out among other RPG’s. Final Fantasy VIII does not employ your standard weapons/armor/accessory equipment that is the status quo in most RPG’s past or present. While you do have weapons and can get new ones, it is rare and the manner in which you get them is not traditional either. You have to find these ‘Weapons Monthly’ magazines throughout the world in order to learn how to ‘craft’ a weapon. Then you need the necessary parts. Once you have all that, you have to find a vendor that will craft the new weapon for you. Though this helps, it will not be your main focus of obtaining the highest DPS you can get.
In order to be a powerhouse you must obtain magic. This is done by the ‘draw’ command or finding draw points in the world. In battle, you can use the draw command to take magic from your enemies and is the main way to get any magic in the game. You can hold a max of 99 spells of each spell. You can then junction these spells to a stat. Lets back up here for a second though.
Junction. That’s key to dealing the most damage and building up proper defenses. Now, you can pretty much junction almost any magic to any stat you like, but some are better placed than others on specific stats. That being said, how do you junction?
You remember those divine gods that Final Fantasy is so fond of using in their games? Usually known as espers or summons? Bahamut, Ifrit, Shiva…those things? Yeah, they are what allows you to junction. In Final Fantasy VIII they are known as Guardian Forces, or GF’s. As you obtain GF’s and junction them to a party member they level up along with you. As they level up, they learn new abilities. The party member they are junctioned to will also benefit from these abilities. They also open up new stats that allow you to junction magic to. Here’s where things get tricky. When you junction a GF to a party member you are tempted to think the more GF’s the stronger my character, right? Well not always. A lot of the stats they unlock are the same, so it would be pointless to junction a GF that opens physical defense, magic defense, health and stamina as well as another GF that opens the exact same ones. Try to mix the GF’s around so more stats open up per party member. Another thing to remember is certain GF’s have a better affiliation with certain party members. This means that if I summon a GF in battle they can be summoned rather quickly if the affiliation is high. If not, I my be waiting a long time for a GF to be summoned. During that wait time the enemy may kill that GF that is taking their sweet ass time being summoned.
As you collect GF’s, it’s always good to take a look at their skills and what they can learn. Change the skills you want them to learn so they are always learning relevant ones you will need. As the GF’s unlock junctionable stats, you want to then junction magic you have been drawing to those newly opened stats. Play around with it and see what works best. Depending on the enemies you are fighting it might not always be best to add the magic that would give you the most HP to HP. Maybe it does better on HIT against said enemy or boss. Same can be said for any other stat.
This junction system is nothing short of brilliant. To this day it stands out in its originality. If Square-Enix were to release a remake I do hope they keep this system. Update the battle system if needed, but don’t take away the junction system! Oh, and GF’s may seem powerful as fuck (and sometimes are) but you will learn pretty quickly that with the right magic junctioned to the right stats, normal attacks far outweigh the GF’s. This could also be due to the fact that it takes so fucking long to summon a GF. The Summon animation for the GF’s may be cool the first couple times, but after watching it probably hundreds of times it’s annoying. There’s a reason for this, and it’s called GF boosting, but I could have done without that.
All in all, the battle system was great and alone saves Final Fantasy VIII from being a complete failure.
The mechanics and physics in Final Fantasy VIII are about what you might expect in an older game. The game seemed to work best in dungeons or towns as opposed to the open world. In fact, I hated travelling in the open world in this game. The camera was terrible, for one. Most times I was running around with the camera facing down on top of my head and I didn’t know if I was running towards my destination or the opposite way. And don’t get me started on trying to manipulate the offending camera while running in a densely wooded area. I thought I’d never find my way out and Squall would die of hunger. Looking back, I probably would have preferred that outcome. Running also felt really unnatural. The fact that the two others in your party would follow behind you, mimicking every single step exactly did Final Fantasy VIII no favors. This was probably why they did away with that mechanic for the following two installments, not to be seen again until Final Fantasy VIII. I will say I did find some enjoyment with this while grinding. I would run in tight circles until all three characters overlapped and looked like one amorphous blob, or zig-zagging so fast I could run between the other two trailing behind me. Is it bad that that is one of my fondest memories of this game?
And now we get to the story.
Final Fantasy VIII was one of the better stories told in such an absolutely abhorrent, immature and laughably juvenile way. It was like they asked a thirteen-year-old to write it and Square decided not to even read it before implementing the dreck dialogue. The spelling and grammar were fine, mind you, but it was how they told the story. These characters that were supposed to be in their late teens all act like they are ten to thirteen years old. And don’t get me started on the instructor that is only ONE YEAR OLDER than the students in this story. Only one year? Really Square? One? Quistis is only eighteen years old and an instructor at what is akin to a military base? I’m supposed to believe this crap? And don’t get me started on overly bubbly Selphie. Yes. The name is said exactly like the act of taking a picture of oneself. I’m just glad she existed before selfies were a thing, otherwise, she would have been constantly taking selfies of herself and we would have terrible dialogue like ‘Selphie, stop taking a selfie of yourself.’ ‘No more selfies, Selphie.’ She’d have a blog called ‘Selphies Selfies’. And I would die a little for playing this game. I am thankful this game came out almost ten years before the smartphone did and selfies became a thing.
I hate spoilers so I won’t give any. Anyone reading my review hoping for an in-depth discussion on the key plot points and how they affect the characters or don’t, should look elsewhere. There’s plenty of other reviews online that already do that. Heck, check Wikipedia. So since these detailed articles already grace the net I will keep my review about how the story affected me and my thoughts about it in general. By this point of my review I know you’ve made the assumption that I think it was not good. You’d be mostly right. I thought the premise was actually quite good and the direction of the story was well planned out. My problem lies purely with the execution of this otherwise good story. Notice I use the adjective ‘good’ instead of ‘great’.
You play as the 17 year old Squall that looks like he could pass for 25 and acts no older than 13. The story seems to just go on without any real meaning for a while. Too many times I felt like Squall had little to no motivation to do the things he did, or act the way he acted. Some of these reasons come to light much later in the game but still fail to make me believe he would act in such ways. Again, I won’t give details. Play the game if you really want to know what I mean, or just try to remember what it was like to be 13 and scared of whomever it was that you had a crush on (or just the members of that sex in general). Squall has so much pent up rage and sadness, carrying about such low self-esteem at times that he had enough for my entire high school freshmen class. Let’s not forget that Squall, though not the most privileged person, was by no means very underprivileged either. In fact, most of the cast was in his shoes one way or another that Squall’s inner demons felt small and insignificant most of the time. I usually forgot he was a little bitch until he started spouting his crap again and I remembered what a poor hero he makes. I’ve read other reviews where people said Squall’s nemesis Seifer should have been the main character. Now that I have completed the game I am inclined to agree.
Squall isn’t the only offender here either. Every character acted out in some way with little to no motivation. Even Seifer doesn’t escape the bad attitude of a pre-adolescent teenager at times. It may seem he is less a whiner due to the fact that he isn’t in the game much anyway. When he was I had to ask myself why he was doing the things he did. The story wasn’t lost on me, I just felt the characters needed more motivation. Go play the first chapter in FFXV, or the opening in FFXII and you will get my meaning. These were a cast of characters with true motivation.
The story jumps around a bit and if you aren’t paying attention or are taking long breaks in between then you are likely to get confused. A lot of the plot get’s tied up near the end but it would have been nice to get some of the resolution intermittently throughout the game. If I had to choose between a tighter plot and character dialogue that fit their age, though, I would go with the more adult dialogue without a second thought.
I get it. Some of you reading this had the best time of their tween years playing it and want to hit me right now. That’s okay. As I said, I get it. I am 31 playing Final Fantasy VIII. If I played it when I was thirteen I might have felt different about this game – almost certainly would have felt different about this game. As it goes, I played it late and boy was that a mistake. Time did Final Fantasy VIII no favors. It’s rather unfortunate, too, as just about any other Final Fantasy still plays well today.
By the end of the game I was so done with Final Fantasy VIII I didn’t want to finish it. I was over it and ready to move on to other better games. You can purchase Final Fantasy VIII on the Playstation store for $10.00. That’s a worthy price, I’d say. If it was a dollar more I’d advise passing. I advise that anyway, but if you’re desperate to play every Final Fantasy then the $10.00 price tag is just right.
One of the few decent things about Final Fantasy VIII was the interface though it’s not without its problems. The menus are what you’d expect from a Final Fantasy at this point. The familiar sound the cursor makes when you navigate the menu chirps from your speakers giving a lovely tinge of nostalgia. The menu was easy to navigate. My only issue was while junctioning a guardian force you had to remember that there was more than one page of stats to apply desired magic to. To get to these extra pages you have to employ the left directional button to see them. Same for when you wanted to select abilities for your characters. It was a little too clustered and would have liked either separate menus for these or have it all on one page.
The interface while traversing the open world was fine. Everything you needed was there, which is basically the world map. Hitting select will change the view of the map. You can go sans map, or make it look like a globe. I’m not sure why anyone would ever want to do that because it looks horrible. I stuck with the normal square view myself, occasionally opening up the entire map to decide where to go next.
Since Final Fantasy VIII came out in 1999 it means primarily two things. 1: It didn’t fucking release broken and in need of a day-one patch. Because of this there were no major glitches. And 2: It’s a smaller game by today’s standards so there wasn’t much opportunity for horrendous glitches.
As for unresolved issues: The script is one huge unresolved issue. If SE ever decides to remake this game they better overhaul the script, otherwise I won’t be playing it.
Final verdict: Pass. Especially today. There are so many better games out there today this one should not be on your list. If you are wanting to play it just because it’s a Final Fantasy, then the $10.00 price tag on the Playstation store is worth it. I would spend no more than that myself.
It would be unfair to judge a game this old on graphics and re-playability, so I wont. The story was decent, execution was poor and the battle system was great. Save your 60+ hours on another game if you can. Maybe pick Ni No Kuni back up and beat that before 2 comes out, ’cause let’s face it, you probably didn’t finish it.