Released in 1999, Final Fantasy VIII was the highly anticipated successor to the very successful Final Fantasy VII. It’s the first game in the series to have a more realistic look to it, and was seen as a departure in the franchise with its jettisoning of traditional mechanics towards a more experimental nature. A trend Square would use in later Final Fantasy installments.
You play as Squall Leonhart, a SeeD in training who is getting ready to attend a field exam to graduate as a full fledged SeeD member. He later passes his final exam and becomes a full fledged SeeD member much to the dismay of his rival Seifer Almasy, due to his disobedience during the final exam. At the coronation ceremony he meets Rinoa Heartilly, who he soon finds out that she is the client for his first mission as a SeeD. Rinoa is a member of a resistance faction in the town of Timber who is occupied by the aggressive nation Galbadia. After a series of missions, you discover that the culprit of the aggression is the evil sorcerress Edea and your new mission is to defeat her. Through this mission, you uncover the truth behind the world affairs, the secrets of SeeD, and who this mysterious Laguna Loire is.
In core facets, the overall gameplay of FF8 is unchanged from previous Final Fantasy games. The series signature Active Time Battle system is present, as is traditional experience points and leveling up. Though this is where the similarities end, as the game introduces the Junction System which has mixed reception with fans.
The core of the Junction System are the Guardian Forces (called GF’s), which are the game’s version of summons. After equipping them, you will gain ability points to level up the abilities of the GF’s. In the initial stages of the game, you will spam summon them, as they do much more damage than conventional attacking. Once you gain further abilities, you gain the ability to junction magic to certain stats to increase their levels. Magic is gained either through drawing them from enemies, or from certain spots visible on the ground, and you have an inventory for each individual spell. Your stats increase for every 10 you have of that spell, so for max levels for your stats, you must have 100 of each spell.
With this, the game more or less has you ignore your normal level and forces you to focus more on collecting magic and gaining ability points for your GF’s. It is also advised to get as many GF’s as possible, because if you want all of your stats to increase, you need to equip multiple GF’s. Critics view this system as broken, as you’re able to have incredibly high stats (such as having 9999 HP), despite being at low levels, early on in the game, allowing you to pretty much steamroll everything. Other critics of the system claim that the in-game tutorial confuses new players with its complexity, and causes them to not know how to effectively junction. While correct junctioning is unnecessary to advance through much of the game, it does end up as quite punishing once you get to the late portions of the game when some battles become incredibly difficult without a properly junctioned party.
Just like Final Fantasy VII, and many other RPG’s at the time, the game uses 3D characters on 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. Luckily Square mastered the nature of this style, so they were able to effectively use this to their advantage, and make the world much more immersive than the previous game. The paths your character could walk on are incredibly obvious, as are doorways or points that lead to new areas. While FF7 somewhat explored other camera angles, it was still largely top-down like its sprite based predecessors. FF8 on the other hand further expanded on this, giving the game a much more three dimensional environment.
Just like FF6, FF8 uses the same character graphics for both the field and in battle. Gone were the days of playing the majority of the game with deformed sprites, and only seeing your character full sized in battle and choice cut scenes. This is also the first game in the series to use more realistic looking characters, a trend that would continue on in later titles. They would also explore this with other aspects of the game, such as vehicles and monsters. This is a title that showcases the capabilities of the original Playstation.
FF8 has a very strong soundtrack and has more variety than its melancholy predecessor. It’s also the first game in the franchise to have vocals for a track in the song Eyes on Me.
Final Fantasy VIII is a great game, and one of the best RPG’s the PS1 has to offer. The story is a hit or miss with others as is the gameplay. This is a game where you either get it or you don’t, and if you don’t, you’re not going to have a good time. If you’re in the camp that does get it, you’re in for a ride.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 9/10.