Final Fantasy VIII was released in 2000 by Squaresoft on four discs for the PlayStation. This was a game that was always going to have a hard time living up to its predecessor; it was following on from the commercial and critical success that was Final Fantasy VII. In terms of the battle system it didn’t manage that but the graphics were a serious step up! The introduction to Final Fantasy VIII remains one of the best and my personal favourite.
The FMV cut scenes were amazing for the time and the in game sprites were a serious improvement from Final Fantasy VII. Your party now followed behind you rather than disappearing into you for a start. Everything about it was more visually impressive. The towns, fights and monsters all looked fantastic. I wouldn’t say the music was any better or worse than Final Fantasy VII but it was by the same composer Nobuo Uematsu and had a strong impact on the game too. Nobuo Uematsu is the composer of many of the main Final Fantasy games and is justly one of the most well known composers of music for games.
A less impressive feature of Final Fantasy VIII was the new battle system. Rather than learning spells as you went along and using magic points to cast the spell we were introduced the ‘draw’ system. In battle you could use ‘draw’ on your enemy and it would take a move from the enemy which you then stored a couple of uses of. When you used it up then that was it, the spell was gone until you used draw again on an enemy to get more uses of it. This was an inventive way to go against the typical RPG style of magic points to decide how many times you could cast a spell but it is a serious pain when you first begin using it. I will say that you do become accustomed to it as you play through the game but if you decide in a moment of nostalgia to revisit this classic, the battle system will quickly be a dose of annoying reality.
A positive new aspect of the fighting was the new type of summons, Guardian Forces. These were large mythical beasts that you could fight against and if you won, they would join you and allow you to summon them for a spectacular looking magic attack. These attacks were made more exciting by giving you the option to rapidly press square while casting the spell, the faster you pressed it the more powerful the attack would be. Final Fantasy VIII was the most challenging of the series’ three PlayStation entries. As you levelled up so did the bosses, there was room for manoeuvre here as they only jumped up to match your level periodically. For example some bosses would be the same strength against a player if they were level 25 or 29, but if you were level 30 the boss’s strength would increase to match this change. Since it didn’t happen for every level you gained there was still room for those who wanted to over level the current boss but it added extra challenge for others.
Let’s not forget the Triple Triad card mini game. What was only an optional part of the game could become seriously time consuming and fun. As you travelled across the world you could challenge countless people you met to a card game. There were rare cards to win and these could then be turned into useful items for battle or kept as part of your deck to make other card fights easier. Final Fantasy IX tried to replicate this popular game but didn’t manage to pull it off, so Triple Triad remains the best card game in the Final Fantasy series.
The plot to Final Fantasy VIII covered a lot of topics, teen angst, amnesia, romance, sorcery, space and time travel are the ones that spring to mind but it touched on so much more too. You took the role of Squall, an orphan attending SeeD, an organisation which pretty much trained up teenagers to be part of a private army for hire. From here you see a budding romance between him and a young rebel, Rinoa (after she dates and then is left by his biggest rival who then becomes an enemy of the group). Their romance led to a very awkward but brilliant moment in space where the expressionless faces of the two figures expressed their feelings for each other. Rinoa was my favourite character, (totally wanted a top with wings on the back of it like hers). I was disappointed when she got possessed by a sorceress and became unplayable for a section of the game, having to be carried around in an unconscious heap by Squall. The good news is she didn’t die, (I’m looking at you Aeris) and came back to the group with new crazy sorceress powers. While all this is happening you also go back in time to take control of Laguna instead of Squall. Happy and fun loving, he is the opposite of Squall in demeanour and it’s a joy to see parts of his story. His fighting music is great too, listen to this:
The only disappointing part of the plot for me was everyone having mass amnesia. Games need to stop relying on this condition in their stories so much… The cool aspect to it was that it was a side effect of using Guardian Forces, examining the affects that using that kind of power will have on you was an interesting idea but it wasn’t explored any further.
Final Fantasy VIII has been released on the PSN and is currently €9.99. For fans of the game this is well worth it, as it can be played on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable or PlayStation Vita.