Overview - Final Fantasy VIII Review
+ The customization that the Junction System affords
+ Strong characters all connected to one another
- The convoluted story line towards the end of the game
- A weak villain in comparison to other entries
Final Fantasy VIII INFORMATION
Release Date: September 9th, 1999
Often overlooked or under appreciated due to being sandwiched between the genre defining Final Fantasy VII and the old-school influenced with a new coat of paint favorite, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy VIII is just as good if not better than some of the best RPGs on the PlayStation.
Story - Final Fantasy VIII Review
Taking a cue from the psuedo science-fiction setting of Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII continues in this genre but pushes further into science side of things, where science serves as a conflict in of itself within the plot. Like many JRPGs, Final Fantasy VIII (FF VIII) is told from the perspective of a group of teenagers. This group is enrolled in miltary institutions called Gardens as part of an organization called SeeD. Through a series of events (but of course) they end up being the only way to save the world. None of this new to the genre, but like all of the Final Fantasy series, character development is the key to enjoying the story. Motivation aside, the connection between the characters is the foundation in which the story is built.
Set in two different time lines, with a different set of characters in each and how they come together isn't as convoluted as it may sound. It's a surprisingly well thought out and implemented tale. The ending falters slightly as the motivation of the antagonist is quite weak, especially following a character such as Sephiroth from the previous iteration. And because at that point it is a fairly long slog, once the plot is wrapping up you will be ready for it to end.
It's not all bad though, several brilliant set-pieces also serve as important plot advancement devices. The set-pieces are something to look forward to amongst the many exposition scenes. There are no emotional moments a la Final Fantasy VII, but still enough to amp up an important encounter. Whether it's rivalry or revenge, many of the battles set the stakes high, and without that context boss fights would just be equal to another random encounter.
Technical - Final Fantasy VIII Review
For the PlayStation, FF VIII is absolutely beautiful. The first Final Fantasy to attempt realistic character models (not just within battles), characters are highly detailed, especially compared to its contemporaries. Backgrounds are beautifully pre-rendered in the open world and full 3D models within battles. Magic and summons are impressive (even if they aren't skipable after the one hundredth time calling on them) with good water and fire effects standing out.
FF VIII features several scenes that act like rotoscoping did for the previous generation; the background and the character action in the foreground functioning independently from one another. The difference in FF VIII, is that full motion video (FMV) is used as the background and the results are impressive. The foreground of the scenes are filled with the jagged, polygonal character models, and truth be told, it can be quite jarring, but the backgrounds are rich with action. These were set-pieces in a time before se-pieces existed and they really help to elevate the overall look of the game.
Frankly, Final Fantasy VIII is one of the best looking games on the PlayStation.
The sound effects are one area of the game where it is difficult to find something to highlight. There is nothing poor about the sound, but slashes, punches and magic effects are about what you'd expect them to be, familiar.
Music - Final Fantasy VIII Review
Final Fantasy games have always had some of the best music in videogames. Many times musical themes pop into your head and immediately inspires you to listen, watch or play the source of that theme, FF VIII has that kind of music. Slightly more orchestral than the synthetic sounds of Final Fantasy VII, every area visited is highlighted by the music. Standouts of the game are the battle theme for the portions of the game played with the alternate characters and the Balamb Garden theme. It is worth mentioning that once you've heard the actual orchestral versions the in-game music just doesn't do it justice anymore, but that's hardly a knock on the game, rather an endorsement to seek out the orchestral version.
Gameplay - Final Fantasy VIII Review
One of the biggest complaints about the Junction System of FF VIII, was that it enabled characters to be too powerful, too early and was a repetitive chore that bogged down the flow of the game.
In regards to the repetiveness, most RPGs have some sort of 'grinding' and FF VIII is no different. The Junction System allows each character to affiliate magic spells with that of an attribute. Each character can only hold up to 100 of each spell, and the more you have, the more powerful that attribute the spell is tied to, becomes. Also taken into account is power of each spell. For example, if Fire is affiliated with your Strength attribute but you also have Firaga (a more powerful version of Fire) it may make sense to affiliate (Junction) Firaga to Strength instead. Of course if you have 100 Fire spells and only 10 Firaga, your strength may not increase as much as if it stayed with Fire. In addition, some spells junction better with certain attributes such as Cure related spells with HP. Also factoring in is that each time you cast a spell, your stock of each is consumed, thusly lowering the effect on the attribute it is junctioned to.
The tedious part of all this process is acquiring the spells. Spells (and some summons for that matter) are acquired by drawing' from enemies. During battle, 'Draw' is an option just as attack, magic or item would be. Once 'Draw' is selected, spells from an enemy can either be Cast (without effecting your inventory) or Stocked. The complaint is you can use this to draw spells all day long and junction them early on in the game. While this is partially true, the most powerful spells aren't available until you've worked your way through the game and it's a trade off like anything else; spending your time 'drawing' versus literally anything else.
The great part of the Junction System is that it is much easier to customize your characters. Junctioning certain spells to certain attributes allows you to make characters more powerful in specific ways. Because you can't Junction super powerful spells to every attribute you can decide who the tank, the healer or the mage are just by adjusting their Junctions.
If you've played other Final Fantasy games other gameplay features will be familiar; with random encounters, a turn-based battle system and an over world map eventually traversed by an airship. One other differentiator are timed button presses for certain character attacks that add a little more action into the tactics. These timed button presses usually result in bigger chunks of damage or prolonging a combo of a special attack. It's all very familiar to step into the game and the learning curve rests solely with the Junction System.
Final Fantasy VIII Review Roundup
Final Fantasy VIII is one of the best looking, best sounding and accessible RPGs on the PlayStation. Say what you will about the Junction System, its advantages far outweigh its flaws, adding a very exact way to customize character attributes, even from early on in the game.
Final Fantasy VIII is a top tier RPG on a console known for its RPG library. While many do not consider it better than the two Final Fantasy games that bookend it, it should be considered at the same level.