Apart from Final Fantasy II, this is the most different game of the Final Fantasy series. Squaresoft should be commended for trying something new, as it has been persecuted in the past for not changing the series enough. However, no. I strongly dislike Final Fantasy VIII. The things that most people criticize about the series are accented in this game. To start: the story is stupid. It's not complicated or confusing, just stupid. Anime and the like have never been known to have the most sensical (is that a word?) stories, but the majority is a lot better than this. Some fans may argue that you're not supposed to think about that too much, kind of like the psychological aspect of Fight Club; just accept it and continue on. But it's not even good enough for that. At points I found myself sitting there saying to myself, "Why am I here, playing this game?" And, as seasoned console rpg gamers know, that's where the experience ends (weak pun unintentional).

Next, the characters are totally boring. A good Final Fantasy game (or any rpg for that matter) should be like a novel; your main characters start off one way, change substantially by the middle of the story, and are different people by the end of the novel. They need to evolve somewhat. Now let's take a look at Final Fantasy VIII, starting with the quasi-villain, Seifer Almasy; this archetype is usually the most interesting, like Kain Highwind in Final Fantasy IV. Seifer starts as a bully. He doesn't really like Squall, our hero, but he respects him a little. This is the extent of his character. From beginning to end, regardless of his rise in position, he doesn't change. Okay, how about Squall Leonhart. In the beginning he's a conveniently taciturn loner, and by the end he's a conveniently taciturn leader. Oh, and he gets the girl. I'm not even going to mention Zell "brash and insecure" Dincht and Selphie "I'm a girl" Tilmett, the two most insipid characters I've ever seen. Actually, I just mentioned them. I hate them.

The script isn't that bad. It's hard to make uninteresting people say interesting things, so I'm not going bother with that too much. This is the first game to have real swear words in the dialogue. A-OK with me. The message exchange on the Balamb Garden bulletin board is parodical of a real chat room, and is actually quite well done, because it is lame. The card game is pretty neat... for about five minutes. The Laguna-Squall time relationship is reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, but is admittedly cooler. The coolest part of Final Fantasy VIII, probably, besides the Guardian Force animations. Oh yes, the guardian forces. The junctioning system frightens and confuses me.

One of the long line of Final Fantasy games from squaresoft. This one made alot of changes to the game system that make it a real departure from the other Final Fantasy games. All in all a very refreshing change.

As a starter, there is no concept of MP or magic points. A character will draw magic from an enemy. The magic is treated much like items, it can be exchanged between characters and used. Part of the challenge of the game is to stock enough magic, and to not have too many, as magic can only be disposed of by casting it, and there is a limit on how many different magics a character may carry.

There is no concept of equipping weapons and armor. Each character starts out with an initial weapon, and that weapon may be upgraded at a junk shop with the proper combination of special items and money. To add to the difficulty, before a weapon can be upgraded you must find the Weapons Monthly magazine issue which describes the new weapon, and gives its item requirements.

The concept of limit breaks has been carried over from previous Final Fantasy VII however, now a character can only perform their limit break if their HP is very low.

This Final Fantasy introduces the GF or Guardian Force. A GF is some sort of spirit which agrees to fight with you. They are acquired either by defeating them in battle, or drawing them from a boss. Characters get powers from the GF by junctioning with the GF. GFs can be called to do something for the party, much like summon spells in previous games. The difference being that a GF can take damage and even be killed in the time between the summon and it coming. They can also be called every turn.

As a default, a character can only attack. They can't even use the item command! Once a character junctions with a GF, they are able to add up to 3 more commands. These include things like item, magic, draw, and special abilities (like Mad Rush) that vary from GF to GF.

Junctioning with a GF (or several GFs) allows a character to also junction magics to stats. Each GF will learn how to junction to certain stats, then the character can junction magic to those things that the GF has learned to junction to. GFs learn new abilities as the game progresses.

Monsters in the game level up as you do, and somewhat more generously. This means that the overall game actually gets somewhat harder as you get stronger! (however, you can still turn things much more into your own advantage)

Money is not won in battle, but rather you are paid a salary. As your SeeD rank goes up, your salary goes up. Pretty much, the only other way to make money is to sell items at shops.

That is all the major stuff. The main characters in the game which are player controlled are Squall, Quistis, Zell, Selphie, Rinoa, and Irvine. Squall is the main character, as usual, somewhat distant from the crowd and a loner. However eventually comes to feel for his comrads.

They do a fair job of keeping the plot from getting too silly until around the end. Much better than previous Final Fantasy games.

thecarp, I must respectfully disagree with your assessment of FF VIII. As far as I'm concerned, it is the worst game in the Final Fantasy saga. You have done an excellent job outlining the major changes from previous FF games. To summarize:

So it all sounds pretty neat, right? Unfortunately, no. The problem with FF is that there are no limits to your power. There are no default abilities, so you can put any ability on any character. You can distribute your power in any way, through GF junctioning. Your casting isn't even limited by mana. And because monsters level up with you, powerful monsters don't limit your ability to progress in the game. In fact, the ‘easiest’ way to progress through the game is to run from every battle! Similarly, because of the new equipment/cash system, your old gear is not a hindrance and you don't need to fight battles to get new gear.

Picture this. You're a little ways into the game. You have several GF. So, you put them all on one character and use their abilities to boost his/her hitpoints to multiple thousands. Then you get them damaged down to 1/4 their health, and leave them there. By killing off your other characters and repeatedly skipping that character until their limit break comes up, you can attack with the limit break EVERY ROUND. Limit breaks are really, really, really powerful. Because the monsters are leveling up at the same time as you, you are now capable of dispatching ANY enemy in the game in a few rounds, with no real threat to yourself.

Ok, so for some reason this hasn’t occurred to you, and you’re fighting your way through the game normally. One of your most powerful attacks is summoning Guardian Forces. To make them do more damage, you’re supposed to press a button repeatedly while their summon animation is playing. Permit some cynicism here, but pressing a button doesn't take a lot of skill or strategy. In fact, it’s pointless and stupid that there’s even the possibility you could win or lose a fight based on how many hundreds of times you can press the button. Even if you can’t figure out how to press the button, the fact that monsters level with you safely keeps you from ever having to fight a difficult battle.

This is stupid. What you're left with is game that poses no challenge, and has a lot of pointless, skilless combat between the story line elements. Most of the other aspects of the game are excellent, but Square totally screwed up as far as combat is concerned, and the game's story and characters aren't enthralling enough to stand alone without solid combat to back them up. Without combat, it isn’t an RPG. It’s an interactive movie.

On the other hand, the card game is neat. I think it is the single improvement over earlier installments of the FF series.

Final Fantasy VIII was released in 1999 on the Sony Playstation (and in 2000 for the Windows PC) by Square Enix to throngs of expectant gamers, many of whom had been introduced to the series by Final Fantasy VII and were thus not of the typical old-school power gamer crowd. It is one of the most strongly loved and strongly hated games in the series, depending on (in many cases) the player’s affinity for the characters, battle, and character ability setup system.

As in Final Fantasy VII, the world of this game is more technologically advanced and seems chronologically later than many other games in the series — it feels like it's in the near future. What this basically means is that instead of placing the player in a medieval world of swords, shields, and small hamlets, it is a world of high technology. Cities are modern cities; the villain at the beginning of the game is not an evil wizard or grand vizier, but the president of a neighboring country; the vehicles presented to the player range from jeeps to spaceships.

The hero is Squall Leonhart, a student at an elite military academy. The game begins near to your graduation, with only two tests left — a journey into a nearby cavern to obtain a Guardian Force (more on this later) and actually participating in a mission with other prospective graduates. The idea of these academies, called Gardens, is that their highly trained graduates, called SeeDs, will become mercenaries, helping out those who need them (for a fair price of course — you're actually salaried throughout the game). Of course, in the unlikely case that another Sorceress arises and the world is once more plunged into turmoil, the SeeDs’ duty will be to stand against her. SeeDs each specialize in a weapon of their choosing, ranging from Squall’s gunblade (essentially a revolver with an attached sword) to Selphie’s nunchukas to Zell’s fistfighting (which, oddly enough, can be improved with better gloves). Weapons are not bought and sold as in previous games, they are reforged into newer and better models that you discover through reading a Guns and Ammo analogue, issues of which are scattered around the world.

I will not delve heavily into the plot, as it would (in my opinion) ruin the game for my reader. The plot covers 40 years of game time, and is intricately woven, involving about 20 important characters and a huge mess of locations and events. It is, in the end, a tragedy and a romance. The plot is the real draw of this game, and is possibly the strongest in the series. Many players object to the plot, however, finding it trite and boring. What these players have missed is that the part of the story about war, political intrigue, sorceresses, and time travel is merely the vehicle for the important part of the game: the characters.

Almost every character is highly developed, with a past that you piece together as you proceed through the game. The hero is not a typical Final Fantasy hero — he’s a nobody who, although he does well as a student, does not believe in himself, spends much of his time in self-criticism and unhappy introspection, and does not have a great deal of charisma. As the game progresses, he develops into a fighter, a leader, and a considerate human being. Yes, he does get the girl (Rinoa Heartilly) in the end — but not without becoming a better person. The true villain is not the Sorceress by any stretch, but your misguided and unhappy rival, Seifer Almasy. The other characters also undergo transformation and self-discovery, although not as severe.

Another aspect of the game which is a thorn in the sides of many players is the so-called Junctioning system. Essentially, characters fight side-by-side with powerful spirits, called Guardian Forces. As a result of this interaction, they learn skills, become stronger, and can (of course) summon the Forces into battle to fight. Guardian Forces (or GFs) can be equipped (or Junctioned) as the player sees fit, with as many or as few on any characters as he pleases. There are a fair number of Guardian Forces, many of which are only found after difficult (usually optional) battles or at the end of prolonged sidequests. Also different is the magic system. Magic spells are essentially stolen from enemies during battle, and can be either cast then, saved and cast later, or Junctioned to various aspects of the character, including HP, physical and magical strength, or as a preventative against various types of magic or status changes. With each stat, some spell are better than others; some are just plain useless. Balancing them and acquiring more is an important part of the game. Because of the burden placed on the player, it’s possible to be completely screwed for much of the game (as I was the first time I played) or an elite team of juggernauts. Also of note is that the enemies become stronger as you do — it's very much worth it either to avoid battles (which is difficult to do) or to have your characters develop and level up until past the cap for enemy levelbuilding — around level 60 or 70, depending on the foe. This serves to make those players who depend on forced levelbuilding to beat games to think and plan instead of just using brute force.

Also tucked into the game is a highly developed card game, called Triple Triad. It’s essentially an extremely complex, evolving form of one-sided Othello. The rules are highly permeable, and change as you move from location to location in the game, as different places have different variations in gameplay. You can adopt rules that you like, and use them as you play with different people. New cards can be won either by the winner of a match or under special circumstances, depending on the rules being used. Extremely powerful cards are usually won by playing against important characters in the story. As a side quest, Triple Triad can take up many hours of gameplay, and is quite fun. As an added bonus, some cards can be transformed into items using the right abilities from GFs, meaning that an expert card player can turn her hobby into a practical way of getting characters stronger.

The game’s soundtrack is simply amazing. It represents some of Nobuo Uematsu’s best work in his entire career, and it is well worth it to obtain copies of the piano collections (and sheet music) as well as the orchestrated album, Fithos Lusec. This album is just plain beautiful, and stands strongly alongside just about any other classical music one could find. Go forth and find it.

There are dozens and dozens of other ways in which this game breaks the mold set by previous Final Fantasy games, but it’s not worth your time for me to explore them all here. Trust me when I say that if you go into this game with an open mind, learn how to use the junctioning system well, and pay attention to the characters instead of the inconsequential part of the plot, you will find one of the greatest video games ever made. I can promise that.

Opinions on Final Fantasy VIII vary greatly. I've heard it described as everything from complete drek, to the ne plus ultra of Final Fantasy. In my opinion, it lies somewhere between those extremes. Other noders have reviewed the game effectively above, and covered most of the salient differences from other games in the series. What's missing, though is a quick summary, which is what I'm attempting to provide here

  • Gameplay: 4/10. The GF system is interesting and original, but unbalanced and frankly broken. It's fun to play with, but once you know the tricks it kills the challenge of the game. Also, whoever thought of monsters leveling up with you should be made to wade through Level 99 goldfish! Not only does this mean that careful players will never face a challenging fight, it also means that newbies can never out-level the enemy if they're having difficulty. On top of that, the designers seem to have used this "feature" as an excuse to design only about half as many enemies as earlier Final Fantasy games. Also, the gear upgrade system is frustrating, hard to use and doesn't make much sense. On a positive note, though, the salary system is interesting, and probably deserves to be revisited at some point, with the proviso that you should still be able to find Gil in treasure chests and such.

  • Graphics: 9/10. Make no mistake, Final Fantasy VIII is shiny. It's all-around a better looking game by far than the acclaimed Final Fantasy VII, and in general better looking than Final Fantasy IX. Most of the character and building designs are interesting, if a little garish, and the cutscenes are beautiful. Gone are the blocky graphics of FF7, and character models are more realistically proportioned, too.

  • Story and Plot 6.5/10. Not one of the best in the franchise - that award probably goes to FF6 or FF7 - but not bad, either. The whole time-loop thing is weird and reminds me of a bad episode of Star Trek, and Seifer's role in the whole sordid affair always seemed a little vague to me. That said, the political intrigue, drama, romance and tragedy elements are quite well executed. Where the writers hit, they hit hard - but the misses miss by a mile.

  • Music: 9.5/10. If Final Fantasy VIII doesn't have the best soundtrack in the entire Final Fantasy series, then it's damn close. Nobuo Uematsu hit a metaphorical grand slam on this one. Its love themes actually sound like love songs, and the battle themes (especially The Man With The Machine Gun) make me want to fight - or at least dance. Its only real weakness, as far as I'm concerned, is a slightly uninspiring main battle theme. It's not bad by any stretch, it's just that Don't Be Afraid seems slightly weak next to The Man With The Machine Gun, Force Your Way, The Legendary Beast or Maybe I'm A Lion. It's telling that Final Fantasy VIII has one of the most frequently re-performed scores of any video game. Eyes on Me, performed by Faye Wong, doesn't fit terribly well with the rest of the score, but the effect is more like a green apple in a barrel of red ones, than like the oft-mentioned turd in the punch bowl - it's a misfit, but still stands well on its own merits.

  • Characters: 6/10. This was a real mixed bag. Some characters are spectacularly well developed - Rinoa Heartilly, Laguna Loire and oddly, Ellone, while others are eminently forgettable or just breezed over, like Irvine Kinneas or Selphie Tilmitt. The main protagonist, Squall Leonheart, just pisses me off. He's a self-absorbed taciturn ass with a level of emo-ness that would make Shinji Ikari tell him to lighten up, who morphs into an altruistic taciturn ass who's only marginally less emo. I want to like Squall, but every time he has a chance to redeem himself for his earlier assiness, he bungles it! Rinoa vacillates between being a pillar of strength and almost completely helpless, but does so in a way that makes perfect sense for her character. Zell Dincht, on the other hand, has all the hallmarks of a mama's boy hiding behind a veneer of machismo. I think that's exactly what he's supposed to be, but the something in the way it's portrayed just rankles.

  • Translation: 7.5/10. On the face of it, the translation seems good - and by and large it is. There's just a few minor niggles - mostly plot elements that come from out of the blue - that make me think that a few nuances of dialog were lost. Still, compared to the relatively gimpy translation in earlier Final Fantasy games, this one is quite good. It's also not censored, or at the very least, not enough to notice. There's actually cussing in the dialog now. I'm somewhat neutral on that, since it did stir up some controversy that the series could do without, but it certainly fits and doesn't feel gratuitous.

  • Secrets and replay value: 7/10. There's actually a fair amount of stuff squirreled away in the crevices of the world for you to discover. It doesn't have the wealth of side quests that made Final Fantasy 6 and 7 notorious, but it's close. Between the various hidden GFs, spells, monsters and issues of Weapons Monthly, there's a lot to find, even before you start playing Triple Triad.

  • Mini-Game: 7/10. Triple Triad is an entertaining game, though the 'local rules' variant is more annoying than enjoyable. Plus, Triple Triad fits into the world fairly well, and there are real game-mechanincal benefits to playing it, unlike Final Fantasy 1's sliding tiles game. Comparisons to the various Gold Saucer games from Final Fantasy 7, and to Tetra Master from Final Fantasy 9 are inevitable - but Triple Triad comes out looking OK.

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