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Final Fantasy VIII - Retroview

Sand In My Eyes, Frost On My Heart

By: ASV


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 9
   Plot 9
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

40-70 hours

 
Overall
7
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   This might well be the most highly inflammatory and debatable RPG of all time. On one side we have the people that absolutely refuse to acknowledge it period and spend their days avidly picketing outside SquareSoft's HQ. And then there are those individuals that believe staunchly that it is the best game ever made; not just the best Final Fantasy but the best SquareSoft, PSX, and RPG of all time... I fall distinctly in the middle - albeit closer in with the people that oppose it.

   You're probably asking yourself why I gave the battle system of a Final Fantasy game a '5'... The answer is simple; the combat portions of the game are what made the game go from being a '9' to a '7'. I'll get more into why in a minute.
As is the custom with FF games, ATB is back in action. We've got bigger, better, more powerful Limit Breaks - Add-On skills ala Legend of Dragoon (if only for Squall and Seifer) - and the ever present items and magic. Alas... The magic system is the thing that drags this game down like Jimmy Hoffa's cement boots.

   The easiest way to explain the magic system of FFVIII is to call your attention to Legend of Dragoon. In much the same way that magic is used like an item in LoD, you can 'use up' magic in FFVIII. The major difference is that instead of just going to the closest 7-Eleven to pick up 50 Blizzaga spells, you have to either 'Draw' the magic from your enemies while in combat (this can be VERY, VERY time consuming), find 'Draw Points' on the map or in explorable locations, or manufacture it with the help of 'Guardian Forces' (essentially just summon magic that allows you to enhance your abilities... more on that later...). All of these things are complicated enough individually but when you think about trying to give all the magic of a certain type to a single character when each person draws magic, for the most part, the problems present themselves.


Oooooh What Ramuh Could Do...
Oooooh What Ramuh Could Do... 

   Really... Although the moving magic around concept isn't that hard, it's the other function of magic that can be very time consuming to do properly. That is 'Junctioning'. A fair way of describing the process is that by 'equipping/junctioning' Guardian Forces to a character, you retroactively get the power to Junction magic to their individual statistics. A good example would be that if you Junction the GF, Pandemona, you can junction various types of magic to your Speed, thus making your character faster. Granted this process can be easily averted if you're willing to have the PSX junction for you based on either Attack, Defense, or Magic being the thing that you want enhanced the most. The further into the game - and consequently the more types and larger amounts of magic that you have - letting the computer do it is not necessarily a good plan. But if you're willing to be handicapped in one way or another, be my guest and Auto-Junction.

   As if Junctioning wasn't complicated enough already, it's made easily twice as hard by the overly complex layout of the menu system of FFVIII. Finding out which stats a GF allows you to junction comes hand in hand with which you want junctioned to each person, but in order to find out information like that in enough detail, you have to go to a completely different section of the menu system. There is no 'equipment' to be put on or taken off so you're at least spared the unpleasantness of what that would be like in the game, but there are enough other bad ways of having to do simple tasks in the interface menus that it more than makes up for that one gift.

   The music is much different than any other FF game I've ever heard. It's primarily synth sounding and high tech with almost no really normal FFish fare to be found. The soundtrack even includes its' very own pop/soft-rock song (and it's in English on both sides of the Pacific!). To top this mystical menagerie off, the sound effects actually work in this game. They're probably the best samplings done by SquareSoft to date... This is highly apparent in the opening FMV of the game when Seifer and Squall 'practice' against one another.

   The plot of FFVIII is more perplexing than a Mobius Strip at times. Not only do you know nothing about the villain for the better part of 3/4 of the game but the logic behind the whole 'Sorceress' thing is sorta messed up. In its' most basic form it boils down to that the characters get drawn into a quest that leads them across the world - and time - in order to stop the utter domination of the Sorceress. That mixed with the constantly blooming love story between Squall and Rinoa makes for an exciting, if predictable, time.


How Sweet!
How Sweet! 

   On a personal level, I feel that FFVIII is well done all around. There aren't a lot of localization errors in the game - although I may not have noticed them over the awful time I had with Junctioning. Even the vocalized music is of an extremely high quality level.

   Replay is a pretty constant thing where Final Fantasy games are concerned. There's not really enough added bonus to playing the game a second time to make it worthwhile. Of course, depending on how much you enjoy it the first time, you could end up playing it once a year or more. FFVIII isn't exactly my favorite RPG of all time but I can forsee playing it again eventually.

   Perhaps the best part (and the one saving grace for all those that really hate the game otherwise...) of FFVIII are the graphics. They're highly detailed, flow nicely, have good aesthetic sense, and are smooth and fluid. The greatest drawback to them is that there is little or no actual 'Fantasy' to the game anywhere with which to show off the power of the graphics. I guess you'll just have to settle for 'Sci-Fi' instead.


That's What I Said!
That's What I Said! 

   The portion of the game that adds the most difficulty to your FFVIII experience - and this might seem strange - is because Squall can never leave your party. Why - if he's the most powerful character - does that actually make the game hard, eh? Simple. All the enemies level up equal to him and since you're probably trying to use the other characters equally, they'll quickly fall behind the great and mighty Squall. This puts them in a very high and direct amount of danger when they'd otherwise be awesome to have around. For this reason SquareSoft almost punishes you if you try to not keep two favorite characters.

   The amount of levelling up that you do (which is something I rarely spend more than an hour or two doing) should directly correlate to the time you need to beat the game. Keep in mind that the better you master the junctioning system, the lower levels you'll actually need to defeat the end boss. She stays even with Squall so if you can pump him and your two other characters up to 9999HP and have boatload of high affinity GFs when you're all at level 35, Ultimecia won't know what hit her.

   What I'm about to say will probably get me rafts of emails from both types of gamers I mentioned way back at the beginning of this review, but here is the opinion that I have come to fomulate:
This game would have been infinitely better if it hadn't carried the name 'Final Fantasy'. If they had merely had it be another off-shoot game like Parasite Eve, Chrono Trigger, or Vagrant Story, and hadn't insisted on calling it by the 'f' words just to sell it en masse, it would have been at least respectable. One thing is sure... SquareSoft can't possibly be dumb enough ever to use the 'Junction/Draw' system of magic again  >;)





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