Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)

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Introduction

Squall is an emotionally stunted teenage mercenary who has finished his final exams. He is now eligible to get sent out to do real wet-work and other dangerous missions (Wait… hold on. There are teenage mercenaries? Most of them are orphaned? Yeah because teenage mercenaries are killing soldiers and leaving their children parentless. And then the cycle propogates itself. Cid… you monster). His first mission gets messy and embroils his academy into a war. This war then gets messy and embroils the world in a conflict over relative time and space. Throw in a couple of romances, some kooky characters, some sweet settings, and a leveling up system that made my head spin and we’ve got a game.

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Apparently this is what leveling up looks like… uh… umm…. I’ll get back to this later.

History

Another Final Fantasy game with the same old crew. It’s bizarre to think that most FF games begin with Yoshitaka Amano’s art and then those designs get extrapolated and integrated by writers and graphic designers into a cohesive product but that’s how it happens. Squall’s and Seifer’s trademark scars just started as something interesting Amano added to the designs and they turned into a symbol of bitter rivalry and parallel ability. Or how the card game came into being because they were popular in Japan at the time and so they made one, the simplest things provoke design and expansion (And then how those simple designs can get blown out of proportion).

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Somehow that first image becomes the second. (And the Final Fantasy desire for more than the usual number of belts begins. Also, Jesus, Squall have you ever gone outside. He looks damn near translucent.)

Final Fantasy VIII was also the second game to get a release for PC. It had sharper but more jarring visuals, slightly worse background images, and more midi sounding music. It was also more difficult to control with a keyboard instead of a keyboard (X is the gunblade trigger, what were these guys thinking?). Steam’s PC port even includes a magic booster which provides Squall and his friends with a pool of simple spells to start the game with (Which would make sense considering they’re learning in a university that specializes in the application of magical warfare). When I was growing up it was also strangely difficult to find a computer that it ran well on.

Fun Fact: This is the first Final Fantasy with an ongoing internal monologue.

Funner Fact: This is the first Final Fantasy game with realistic models for characters.

Final Fantasy VIII was released on September 9th 1999. It’s competition was Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage (PS1), Heroes of Might and Magic III (PC), and Ape Escape (PS1).

Nostalgia

This is the first Final Fantasy game that I completed. There may have been a Gameshark involved and a lot of swearing but that doesn’t change the fact that I beat it. It was difficult even with a Squall with maxed out stats, one overpowered character does not an effective party make. And there are some fights that can’t be won with brute force alone. I didn’t do as much exploring as I would have otherwise and I didn’t figure out how to make the Junction system work. I’m so glad I revisited it and gave it an honest go though. Delving into it’s systems was one of the major points of playing and even if it meant a few saves that were basically unsalvageable and starting over… there was also a lot of cursing involved.

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Also, navigating the debug menu was a giant nightmare.

Gameplay

It’s a Final Fantasy game so get ready for some angsty and over the top characters (Now don’t confuse those groups), turn based combat, a plot that’ll make your head spin a little, some minigames, and a brand new system that isn’t seen before or since.

Our angsty protagonist is Squall, an emotionally damaged young man who finds himself unable to trust anyone or anything but himself. Someone who keeps his feelings bottled up inside because it’s impossible, and therefor foolish, to truly relate to anyone or anything… ugh. Sorry, but playing as this guy can get a little oppressive. I see his point of view and how he got there from being abandoned as a small and impressionable child and that he’s still young, young enough to snap out of it or change in any way. But it’s still difficult to hear him think and talk about it all the time like he doesn’t see the adoration and care that his companions have for him. But, having been this way myself (Oh past me, you’re always worse than present me), I can understand where he comes from. I didn’t want to see the way others cared about me because that would mean having to admit that I could or should do the same for them. And in the end Squall breaks these nasty habits at least a little bit.

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I bet he thinks he’s so deep. If he brings an acoustic guitar to my party I’m gonna throw him out.

The over the top characters are basically the rest of the cast. They’re all uproarious and compelling in their own ways. With only six main party characters it’s easier to develop them. Unlike Final Fantasy VI and it’s cast of 14 characters, 5 out of 6 of these characters get development and closure (This is even a bigger fraction!).

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Look at these bright faced young people. Time for their spirits to get crushed.

The plot can turn into a jumbled mess a little bit though. When time travel gets involved and The Doctor is around to explain it away things are bound to get messed up.

The Kvush

The Junction system. I want to be angry at it because it’s a byzantine and nearly incomprehensible mess but I can’t stay mad at it. It provides the ability when connected with other systems, like the card game, allows characters to become very powerful very quickly. A system that provides nearly full character customization with the navigation of a few menus and the application of the player’s mind. And I know that everyone hates on the draw system for being a dumb, tedious, waste of time and it is but it’s not meant to be the primary source of magical charges (The only spell I draw is a few scans at the beginning of the game). It’s clear that items and Guardian Force refinement abilities are meant to be the main source of magic and that draw is meant to snag a few precious spells or Guardian Forces from bosses. So I loved figuring it out and loved having mastered it but there was a long time where the Junction system just didn’t make sense and I think the game has a bad way of conveying how it works.

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Wait… wait! I see it now. You “equip” the magic to the stats. Why didn’t the game just phrase it that way?

Time Compression, I don’t know if it’s brilliant or supremely fucked up. I’m going to say it’s both, call it a night, and then ask Cthulhu to turn the lights out for me before he comes to bed.

The gunblade. Just… its existence can make fans cream their jeans and haters froth at the mouth. I think it’s an interesting idea for a cutting weapon to pierce thick hide and then inject an explosive shell into the wound but… it’s super impractical. And that was just my head canon on it. I think the game tries to say that it just fires bullets out of it’s invisible sword barrel. I dunno, it looks cool but it sounds so dumb.

The Gush

I love the card game. Screw all the haters, this game can get really strategically satisfying. Between the spread or abolishment of rules, the manipulation of those rules, and how their simple natures can change the game in big ways next next rules region is always full of surprises. There are also web sites that support the Triple Triad game if anyone has a hankering to play online with an expanded card set.

The music in this game is great but it was made by Uematsu and Uematsu doesn’t make bad stuff. At least he doesn’t make bad stuff at this time anyway.

The summons in this game are awesome. Because they’re usable multiple times in fights and have to be equipped to characters it’s a viable strategy to rely on GF attacks to dominate the opposition.

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Besides, if you could summon this guy in real life to throw needles at your enemies you would.

The environments and backgrounds of this game look really good. Sometimes I marvel at things for a little while. And sometimes this marvelling leads to the discovery of sweet hidden passages.

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These two places are part of the same location! And that location tells an impressive tale.

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I also can’t think of a Final Fantasy game before it that was able to produce as much spectacle as the Garden fight from Disc 2. This is just madness, and there are even more scenes of the bloodshed.

I really like the character of Seifer Almasy. He’s got all of Squall’s emotional trauma but none of his reservedness. He’s loud, belligerent, dangerous, and inspiring but in the end that’s what captures him in a cult of personality lead and staffed by himself. He’s young, idealistic, and confused about his life but is unwilling to share that with anyone. And to top this all off he’s extremely capable. It’s like if Tyler Durden had all of the skills but none of the direction. When I was younger I didn’t understand his motivations at all but being all growed up it’s plain for me to see his rampant confusion and unwillingness to bring it to light.

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Golden dialogue right there.

The Kvetch

Quistis is a really interesting character, or she could be. She’s the oldest of the bunch and the only female in the party who isn’t romantically involved (Well, except her obvious desire to fuck Squall around the beginning of the game which gets destroyed in the cold emotional black hole Squall has instead of a libido). But we know almost nothing about her. We don’t know where she trained, what her aspirations are, or what she’s all about.

This game is chock full of pointless side quests. There are so many little side activities that are not worth the player’s time. Some of them give Guardian Forces and that’s super cool and rewarding but Mr. Monkey’s quest line offers simple healing items that can be purchased from up scale shops. And don’t get me started on the obfuscated BS they expect of the player when it comes to the PUPU alien quest line.

The monsters scale with the player. Oblivion should’ve learned their lesson from this game. The average level of the party is used to determine the level of monsters and their statistics react accordingly with stronger monsters getting stronger faster and weaker monsters not seeing that big of a boost. This leads to a problem where players who are confused by the Junction System try to grind enemies to make up for it and then get left even further into the dust by enemies that they’re even more ill matched for. It leads to some interesting abuse with party balance and Junction manipulation but it feels like mean trick on an unsuspecting player.

The Verdict

Find your walk through or a friend who can help you cheat the system because I think this game is damn good. It’s certainly not as good as its review scores might suggest (10/10 my ass Playstation Magazine. I’ll go as high as 8/10 and not one point higher. [I would go for 7.5/10 but I have to make dumb number jokes]) but it’s also not as bad as it’s harsh critics would say. I recommend it to those that enjoy the byzantine or complex if only for complexity’s sake. There are too many wonderful moments, characters, places, and secrets to pass this one up.

Next Week: Brave Fencer Musashi (PS1)

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