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Final Fantasy VIII Review

Developer: Square Publisher: Square EA
Release Date: September 9, 1999 Also On: None

The release of Final Fantasy VII on the Sony PlayStation rocked the world with 3D graphics never before seen in any Final Fantasy title, mind-blowing cinematic summons and an epic story with a spiky haired protagonist that one could never forget. Two years later, Square has taken it a step further with it’s latest installment in the infamous role playing series, Final Fantasy VIII. Final Fantasy VIII sports fancy new 3D graphics (no more blocky characters), a completely fresh magic system, and an engaging romantic story that will have you instantly drawn to the characters, making it one of the best traditional RPGs you can get your hands on.

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Final Fantasy VIII tells the story of war between two neighboring kingdoms, Dollet and Galbadia, who were previously at peace. Dollet, the weaker of the two kingdoms, has enlisted the help of SeeD, an independent and highly trained mercenary group. SeeD are educated and trained in military-like facilities called Gardens. The protagonist, Squall Leonheart, is a SeeD cadet in Balamb garden. The game opens up with a stunning cinematic sequence showing a high-tension sparring match between Squall and his nemesis/ fellow cadet Seifer Almasy. Seifer takes the practice session a bit too far and next thing you know you’re thrown in game as Squall, laying down in the infirmary. After a bit, Squall’s instructor Quistis Trepe picks you up, and takes you to the classroom where you get to learn the basics of the game. Once class is dismissed, Squall embarks on two training missions and graduates into the rank of SeeD. Shortly after, he’s assigned his first mission; to hijack a train that the Galbadian president is riding in. Once this mission begins, the game truly begins.

Perhaps the most noticeable feature of FFVIII are the truly mind blowing graphics. FFVIII has some of the most impressive 3d graphics I’ve seen so far in any game, and are way more than a step up from its predecessor. No more pop-eye esque arms and disproportionate heads. Your eyes get to gaze upon perfectly proportionate bodies, beautiful fluid animations, and wonderful backdrops. The only problem with the graphics is that the character graphics against the backgrounds sometimes make the characters seem a bit clunky. Everything from the spell animations and impressive boss models, to the awesome summon animation sequences look impressive.

Another high point of Final Fantasy VIII is the storyline. Final Fantasy VIII is the first in the series that has a consistent and clear story line throughout the whole game. That’s not to say that there aren’t plot twists and surprises a plenty. Not to mention the character development is nothing less than excellent, although some supporting characters could’ve been developed a bit better.

Gameplay in FFVIII has a few similarities but also has a plethora of differences. Battles are still random encounter, and are carried out in real time. You can still summon, cast magic, and even use limit breaks. However, the biggest change in gameplay lies within the “junction� system, which is explained in a tutorial towards the beginning of the game. Basically, summons in FFVIII are called Garden Forces (GF for short), and in order to do anything but use your physical attack (even use items!) you must have a GF junctioned to that character. Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, GF’s have their own health meters, and can be damaged while being summoned in battle. There is also no limit to how many times you can summon a GF, as long as it has health left.

The best change, in my opinion, in the gameplay is the completely redone magic system. Materia and magic points are thrown out the window. Once your character has a GF junctioned to it, it can use the “Draw� command, which allows you to essentially steal magic from enemies during battles. Relative strength between you and the enemy you’re trying to draw from determine how many uses of the spell you can draw from the enemy. There are draw points scattered about the world, but you will acquire most of your magic from enemies you face. You can even draw GF from some enemies. So always remember to draw when encountering a new enemy. You never know what you might find.

Once you have magic, it can be junctioned to your character just as a GF would be. Each GF allows you to junction magic to certain attributes such as HP, strength, vitality, etc. The more of a spell you have, the higher that attribute will be boosted. You can choose to customize your own junctions, or have the computer do it for you (but that’s no fun). Due to the junctioning system, there is no longer any armor or weapons in FFVIII. A characters strength and defense is determined by their junctioned stats. You can however upgrade your weapon into a better one if you have the items necessary to do so. You can learn what items you need to make new weapons in weapon magazines scattered throughout the game.

Guardian Forces also get their own experience points (AP) and level up with your characters, raising their health, strength, etc. They can also learn new abilities, which can allow you to use new commands, increase attributes of the junctioned character, and many other things. Even the experience point system has been tweaked for, at least I think, the better. In FFVIII, it takes exactly 1000 exp to level up, regardless of what level you’re on, and the amount of exp you gain from enemies is constant. The only thing is that the enemies level up with you, so if you encounter monsters you’ve seen before later, you may be met with new spells or attack methods due to its higher level.

The money system has changed as well. No longer do you obtain Gil by defeating monsters. As a member of SeeD, Squall receives a salary, which is paid roughly every ten minutes. Squall’s salary depends on his SeeD ranking, which can be increased by completing missions, and by taking the SeeD test in the tutorial section of the menu. If you make bad choices, or run around aimlessly for too long, your SeeD rank will go down. This adds a feel of realism to the game.

Instead of the limit break bar constantly charging up during the fight while being hit/hitting enemies, you may only use limit breaks when your health is critically low. Although at low health, you may not get the limit option right away, but if you keep your character alive with low health, odds are you’ll be able to pull off quite a few limits in a row. Final Fantasy VIII supports wonderful, clear sounds and surprisingly catchy toons as you enter cities and the world map.

I have few things to complain about in Final Fantasy VIII. It is a solid game, with endlessly entertaining gameplay, and an incredibly griping story. It has surpassed FFVII in almost every way in my opinion, and is certainly one of the best games on the PlayStation. If you’re a traditional Final Fantasy guy, who likes MP and customizable armor, you might want to be weary when going into this game. However if you want to take a journey into the new yet familiar world of this epic RPG series, Final Fantasy VIII is a great way to turn.

Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 9.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 9.1
Written by Matt Evangelista Review Guide