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Final Fantasy VIII - Import Review

Square sets the standard once again

By Ryan Amos, RPGamer Writer


Review Breakdown
   Battle System9.0
   Gameplay9.5
   Music8.5
   Originality9.5
   PlotN/A
   Replay Value9.0
   Sound9.0
   Visuals9.5
   DifficultyEasy
   Time to Complete45-60 hours 
Overall
9.5
Criteria

WARNING: Contains non-story spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.

   When you look at the 9.5 above, don't freak out. I rated it to the best of my ability not knowing the language the game is in. I'm not rating the plot because I really am not crystal clear as to what it is. I'm sure it would help if I could read Japanese, but I don't feel prepared to pass judgement on something I don't know the whole deal on, so I won't. What I do know is that this is a great game with a few imbalances. I'm definately going to buy it, no, I'll be sleeping in line for it when it comes to the USA.

   Imbalances? Well, if you ask, we'll start with the one bad point first. The Guardian Force / Draw systems are too powerful and poorly balanced. In the beginning of the game, Guardian Force attacks are the rule-all force and magic seems to take a back seat (I never even cast a spell on the entire first disc, the Guardian Forces were just too much more powerful.) But by the end of the second disc, the tables start to turn. You get more powerful spells such as Ultima, Flare, Holy, Quake and Merton in increasing numbers. They're quicker to cast than Guardian Forces and do about the same damage. But, later towards the middle of the third disc, the tables turn yet again. Magic has outlived its usefulness it seemed, and Guardian Forces such as Bahamut and Eden take over, doing massive amounts of damage. Then, near the very end of the game after you get a certain spell which dramatically increases the chances of limit breaks, physical attacks start to rule all (seriously, these things are like Omnislash except you get them almost every turn.) All of this power makes the game very easy, I had very few problems after I figured it all out.

   Okay, now that we have THAT out of the way.. By far the outstanding point of this game are the graphics. Wow. This game is the best looking I have seen... ever. Final Fantasy VII set the standard for graphics in video games, and Final Fantasy VIII has re-set it. Most of the world excluding the overworld and a very few caves are pre-rendered backgrounds (and very wonderfully done.) Not that the overworld and these caves are bad looking, in fact it's quite the contrary, they're wonderful. The character polygons are the weakest point of the graphics, though that's not saying much. They're much better than Final Fantasy VII's (they have FACES! Innovation to the extreme ;) and about on par with Parasite Eve.

   In addition to the graphical improvements, Final Fantasy VIII is almost a brand new experience from previous installments in the series, or any other RPG ever created for that matter. There is no armor or purchasable weapons. Rather, the weapon system consists of finding or buying weapons catalogs and "upgrading" your weapons a la Secret of Mana. These weapon upgrades require certain items (say, an iron pipe, 5 Cure 1000s and 3 life 1 potions,) some of which are more difficult to find than others. Different you say? That's not the half of it.

Beautiful Pics
Graphics.. Amazing  

   The magic system, as you probably already know, is based around "drawing" magic from enemies. There are also various draw points throughout the world which contain magic. Naturally, the magic gets more powerful as you progress in the game, though in my opinion you start getting ultimate spells way too early. Most every other system in the game relies on the magic system in some way or another.

   The heart of the game is the "Junction" system. I will try to explain this the best I can, so here we go. When you Junction a Guardian Force, which is very similar to equipping an Esper in Final Fantasy VI, the Guardian Force has various learnable "Junction" abilities such as "HP Junction," "Defense Junction," and "Power Junction." When these are used, magic spells can be attached to status abilities, which raise depending on the spell, character and Guardian Force used. Sound confusing? The game makes it easier by having a "HP Preference," "Magic Preference," and "Power Preference" specifying which abilities should be priority. It's... different. I really don't know if I like it better than previous versions, though I think it's an improvement over the Materia system (which I really didn't like.)

   Anyway, back to Guardian Forces. They're kind of like a cross between Espers from Final Fantasy VII and normal characters. They level up like your characters (though each Guardian Force has its own independent experience totals and level,) and they gain a certain number of "AP" per battle. This AP goes toward learning abilities such as "Mug" (the same attack & steal as in previous Final Fantasy games,) "Card" (turn the enemy into a card for use in the minigame,) and "Defend." All Guardian Forces come with some abilities already learned, for example, every Guardian Force has "Magic," "Draw," "G.F." and "Item." Other things can be learned from Guardian Forces as well, such as a means of manufacturing magic out of items, status boosters (e.g. HP +80%) and Guardian Force abilities (such as GF Damage +20%.) This system works surprisingly effectively, though some Guardian Forces are obviously better than others.

Ifrit
Ifrit tips the scales  

   If there is a low point in the artistry of the game, it would be the music. Not that it's bad, it's just not great. Sure, there are those few tunes that will stick around (example: One Winged Angel from FF7) but considering the official soundtrack is 4 discs long, they're far between. I expected a little more when I heard Nobuo Uematsu was working on the music. Had this music shown up in any series besides Final Fantasy, it would have been hailed as wonderful, but because Final Fantasy has such a rich musical history, it disappoints a little bit.

   By now you have surely heard of the mini-game in FF8. It's pretty much ever-present throughout the game; you can play it with most NPCs in the game. Through it, you can win certain cards which when morphed by a certain Guardian Force skill, become rare items. True, you can beat the game without touching the card game, but you're not going to get all the best weapons and abilities.

   If you're like me, and hate spending hours building levels, you'll like FF8. Sure, you still have to build levels, but the way the exp system is set up, late in the game you can gain about 20 levels per hour, compared with 5 or 6 from previous FF games. Of course, earlier in the game this is much lower, but level gaining does happen very quickly.

   I never got a chance to play the PocketStation minigame, because I couldn't get my hands on a PocketStation (those things are impossible to find right now) but there are several extra goodies, such as two special "item summons" (use an item and it summons something to attack) which you can only get from playing the chocobo RPG.

   I just have to add that Square did a magnificent job in choosing what information to release to the public before the game's release. I believe the game has offered MORE enjoyment to me because I knew what Square had released before I played it.

   One side note to add: There is a bug in the game. *gasp* Say it ain't so? Well, as reported on Square's own web site, and confirmed by myself, there is a timed dungeon on the third disc in which if the time runs out while you are fighting and you choose to restart the dungeon, the game will crash. Just a warning to those people who imported it.

   As was expected, Final Fantasy VIII will set (or should I say, has set) a new standard in gaming excellence. Not just in graphics, but in other areas as well (look for systems similar to the "Draw" and "Junction" systems to show up in other games soon.) This one is definately deserving of the Final Fantasy name, though really, did you expect anything less?


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