Final Fantasy VII was an excellent title and matching something that sets a high bar in terms of storyline is difficult to accomplish. Final Fantasy VIII’s release has been undoubtedly anxiety ridden and filled with some doubt whether it would it be a return to the series’ roots or something different. After everything, SquareSoft has supremely impressed and understood how to get rid of design flaws and much more. Final Fantasy VIII is a masterpiece.
Final Fantasy VIII’s story is the best the series. Personal is taken to a whole new level. The characters and their relationships are believable and complex while the core romance holds up against all odds. The decision to eschew a cast of dozens and focus on a central cast of six major characters is incredible, and heartfelt in the incautious eyes of someone hoping to see something incredible and be surprised that it actually is.
Squall Leonhear, a student at Garden, attends the world’s foremost military academy. His classmates are a myriad bunch that have their own personalities and what not. The good-natured Zell Dincht; the ill-natured Seifer Almasy; the childish Selphie Tilmitt; the prominent Quistis Trepe; and personal yet entertaining Rinoa Heartilly. Soon after success in their latest training mission, Squall, Selphie, and Zell are all inducted into the elite combat-unit-for-hire, SeeD. Their first mission consists of assisting a rebel organization in the capture of Galbadian president Deling, who is set to announce a new alliance that will bring Galbadia glory and triumph over its opponents. This alliance will come with a powerful sorceress named Edea. SquareSoft begins the entire plot at an academy and allows the characters to go around the globe as the twists and turns in the story will leave you reeling.
A great deal of credit for the story goes to the graphic design. The first Final Fantasy through the sixth featured character models that were just plain ugly, even Final Fantasy VII –Cloud did not look too hot as we already mentioned in that review. Final Fantasy VII had conflicting graphical styles with most of the environments to the actual FMV’s being either SD and non-SD. With Final Fantasy VIII, Square has taken the series fully non-SD. Involving, personal, and emotional stories are far more believable when they come from, decent looking characters. This coherency and design choice is the game’s greatest visual asset over its predecessors.
The graphics are absolutely incredible while the detail in the backgrounds is meticulous, and almost all backgrounds contain some animated elements. Battle sequences are nicely textured, and the number of battle environments is borderline perfect. Most full-motion video sequences are well integrated with gameplay, eliminating jarring “cuts” to and from CG sequences while the motion and animation are what set Final Fantasy VIII’s graphics apart from the rest. Both the FMV and in-game graphics are extensively motion-captured, and the difference between past titles is there as characters act realistically.
With incredible graphics comes incredible sound as Uematsu is still a certifiable genius, and the soundtrack is very good, with more “quality” songs than Final Fantasy VII’s. Sound effects are excellent during FMV sequences, but only average during battle and gameplay sequences. Yet again, there is no voice acting which is so horribly disappointing that it does hold the game back from truly realizing the potential.
Battles take the form of traditional RPG “active time” system where your characters and their opponents take turns unleashing attacks and spells. Final Fantasy VIII introduces several new systems from the draw system to the guardian force system, and the junction system. The draw system replaces the traditional “pool of Mana Point” system. Magic in Final Fantasy VIII’s world is drawn from another source: usually an enemy or a “draw point.” Each draw brings with it a number of uses: if you draw a cure spell, you will usually draw between five and eight uses of the spell. Powerful magic becomes more valuable when it is not easily replaced, and this draw system makes you really think about what to use and what not to use. The guardian force system in Final Fantasy VIII is a way of handling summoned monsters. Every guardian force, or GF, is like a sub-member of your party. Each has its own HP, life, level, statistics, and abilities. After each battle, your characters earn experience, the GFs earn AP, and all gain levels and skills accordingly. When a GF is summoned, its HP replaces your character’s HP for the duration of the “casting” period, and any damage to your character is absorbed by the GF. GFs have their own healing potions, life potions, and even shops.
The junction system is quite noticeable and deserves a seperate explanation. This system works with the GF system to give you varying skills and abilities. Each GF can be joined, or junctioned to a character. The effects of this are incredibly evident in the actual battle mechanics. First, until junctioned with a GF, a character has no battle commands except “fight.” Junctioning a GF gives you immediate access to the “magic,” “draw,” and “item” commands; many offer extra commands, such as “card,” “death sentence,” “revive,” and “steal.” Certain abilities can be unlocked this way as well for example, linking a “level three” elemental spell to your characters’ defense statistic will let them absorb HP from that element’s attacks. The more powerful the spell – and the more uses stocked – the greater the effect on the statistic. Customization possibilities are endless.
The mini-games make a splendid return again through the Card Battle game, and Triple Triad. There are several hundred cards to collect and swap, and local variations on the standard rule set help make each battle unique. Some cards are won from battles against opponents; others are found by using the “card” command on a weakened enemy. What’s more, rare cards can be converted to rare items; rare items can be converted to rare weapons. In other words, your skill at the minigame can affect the main game itself.
Final Fantasy VIII combines incredible RPG gameplay, brilliant storyline and visuals with incredible sound for an an eminently playable journey and one of the best in the series yet, better than VII. After many visually amazing but ponderous games from SquareSoft, everyone here feared that Final Fantasy VIII would be more of the same and follow this disappointing trend. Thankfully, Final Fantasy VIII is the best game in the Final Fantasy Series.