Final Fantasy VIII Review

Title: Final Fantasy VIII
Developer: Square Enix
Game Type: PlayStation Classic
Download: 1.8 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download, Direct Download
EU Availability: Digital Download, Direct Download

March is upon us.  This is very good news for PlayStation Vita owners.  In two short weeks, Square Enix is finally going to release the HD Remaster Collection of PlayStation 2 hits Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2.  You know what that means, right?  Final Fantasy fans can rejoice, and it also means that it’s time, once again, for us to give out another review on the remaining Final Fantasy main titles available for the Vita.  You can already guess what this will be.  After all, there are only two main series games left that we’ve not reviewed as of yet.

A couple weeks ago, we submitted a review for Final Fantasy VII, the first of the PlayStation Final Fantasy games.  This marked the series’ entry into 3D gaming, and expanded on a lot of things.  After that, Square Enix started work on two more titles in the main series, which were both being developed at the same time.  The first of these games, which debuted in 1999, is considered the “Black Sheep” of the series by many fans.  This game, featuring the Gunblade Mercenary Squall Leonheart is none other than Final Fantasy VIII.

Many fans will tell you to avoid this game, as it is considered one of the lowest of the series.  In my honest opinion, there is no low to the series.  Every game is unique in its own way and each one is worth playing at least once.  If you’re a fan of summon magic, then I would definitely not skip out on this game.  For our reasons why you should check it out, here is our official review of the PlayStation Classic, Final Fantasy VIII.

Story

At this point of the series, the storylines were starting to expand and become more and more extensive.  This is especially true for other characters.  Before the 3D Age, there were brief backstories for the playable characters that weren’t the main hero/villain, but Final Fantasy VIII continues the expansion of those stories.  There are fairly extensive backstories for nearly every character you have the opportunity to control, whether they are permanent or temporary party members.

The story of Final Fantasy VIII takes place in a large Military School called Balamb Garden.  You play as Squall Leonheart, a young man about to partake in his Final Examination to becoming a SeeD, a member of the Mercenary Group being trained and deployed by Balamb and other Gardens around the world, both to travel and for an unforeseen goal that has yet to unfold.  As you follow in his footsteps, you encounter many other characters, from Garden and otherwise, that join you as a world-shaking plot unfolds as Squall goes out on his very first mission.

Final Fantasy VIII is unique in that its storyline is sent out in two timelines.  You follow Squall and his party as they travel the world and fight against the oppressive Galbadian Army and their leader, an evil Sorceress.  Every so often, though, your characters are sent into a “Dream World”, following the events of Laguna Loire and his party as they travel as part of the Galbadian Army and discover their own world-shaking plot.  It’s very much like following two tales, consecutively, that are destined to intertwine by journey’s end.

I won’t say the story of Final Fantasy VIII is perfect, but I also will not say it’s bad.  It definitely has its good moments, and it also has situations where you just sit back and are confused about what just happened.  At the end of the day, though, it is entertaining and each character is different.  I, myself, can relate to Squall for the majority of the game.  Finding a character you can relate to can really make a difference.  The story’s not fantastic, but it stays entertaining and fresh throughout the entire game.

Gameplay

The gameplay of Final Fantasy VIII largely resembles that of its predecessor.  From the get-go, you and your party will be able to explore a huge world map, full of towns, dungeons, and other locations that you can explore to expand the story, do side-quests, and customize your characters further.  From the very beginning, you will be a bit limited on where all you can explore, but the further you go along, the more vehicles you receive and the more ground you can cover and explore.  Along with the similarities, you will also encounter battles with enemies in dungeons and on the world map, along with fighting powerful Bosses to progress the story or complete quests.

Despite this, there are a few things that separates Final Fantasy VIII from many of its predecessors and even its successors.  Some of these features that make it unique are why some don’t enjoy it as much, but they do make it an experience you will not get anywhere else.  This is in the form of the Guardian Force, Draw, Junction, and Upgrade systems.

First of all, there is the Guardian Force system.  Guardian Forces are Final Fantasy VIII’s versions of Summon Magic.  Summons are available from the very beginning of the game and there are plenty to go around.  From the normal summons Ifrit and Shiva to the exclusive Diablos and Pandemona, there are a lot of summons to find and use in this game.  There is also a lot more to Summons than just equipping them and using them in battle, too.

In Final Fantasy VIII, Summons are like extra characters that can be equipped to your party members.  Each summon has its own Level, HP count, and abilities they can learn.  As you fight in battles, your characters earn experience to level up, but Summons do as well.  As Summons level up, the damage they inflict with their attacks increases, as does their HP count.  Whenever you try to summon a GF, you take on their HP count.  Until they are summoned, any damage you take is taken from the GF’s HP, rather than your own.  Along with this, there are special items to revive and heal Guardian Forces, apart from the normal Potions and Tents you can use for your characters.

Along with gaining experience, levels, and HP, each GF also gains abilities that the equipped character can use.  Each Guardian Force can earn a large number of abilities, and each of these requires AP that is gained in battle to learn.  Each time they learn/master an ability, you can use and equip it.  These range from increasing stats, changing Attack to Mug to allow stealing while damaging, turning enemies into items, refining items from other items, or even preventing random encounters from happening.

This leads into the Junction and Draw System.  The Draw system allows you to draw and store spells (and Guardian Forces if you know where to look) from enemies you encounter.  You can hold up to 100 of each spell to cast or to use for Junctioning.  Drawing is imperative to having a fresh stock of spells to use, give someone else, or boost yourself with.  You should always check what your enemies have to draw, especially Bosses.  Many Guardian Forces can be missed and are drawable from bosses.

When you equip a GF, you open up Junction options.  Each GF allows you to junction magic and abilities to yourself.  Magic is junctioned to your stats, and some GFs can only enable you to junction magic to certain stats, like Max HP, Attack, Magic, Status Attack, and more.  This is a unique way to boost your power, especially Status Attack.  If you, by chance, Junction 100 Death spells to your Status Attack, you’ve got an extremely high chance of getting a one-hit-KO every time you attack a non-boss enemy.  Also, junctioning 100 Curagas to your HP can get you a really high HP count early in the game.

Finally is the Upgrade system.  In Final Fantasy VIII, you cannot buy and equip weapons and armor.  You simply upgrade and modify your current weapon.  This is a system sort of like synthesis, where each remodel requires specific materials to make.  These materials can be found as Item Drops from enemies, steals from enemies, or you can get them in side quests or by playing the game’s option Card Minigame.  These items are available at any time of the game, if you know where to look.  In theory, and you spend a lot of time on it, you could obtain all of the ultimate weapons before the end of the first Disc of the game.

Another unique system is the payment system.  In most RPGs like this, you get money by winning battles.  You still do in Final Fantasy VIII, but there are also other methods.  Since you are part of a Military Mercenary group, you get paid for your work.  Every so many minutes, you automatically get paid money.  You can also go into the menu and do quizzes based on the game’s world to increase your rank as well as how much you get paid each time those timers run out.

Weapon upgrades enable you to use better Limit Breaks for some characters, like Squall.  In battle, you are able to use Limit Breaks, which are your ultimate attacks, when your character is either low on HP or has Aura cast on them.  These are all unique for each character, with Irvine using specialized ammo from your inventory for damage, and Zell using combination attacks with his martial arts to deal high damage.  Having higher-end weapons is the key to enabling the higher Limit Break abilities with characters like Squall, not to mention having a higher Attack stat to do more damage with those attacks.

All of this makes Final Fantasy VIII unique.  While the upgrade system could be compared to synthesis from other games, but the Draw, GF, and Junction systems remain, to this day, a unique experience only found within Final Fantasy VIII.  It’s a love-or-hate system, but it makes the game unique and interesting.

Apart from these, most of it runs the same.  You’re still running through towns and dungeons to gain more expansion on the story, fight enemies in dungeons and on the map, gain vehicles to traverse the world, and slowly work your way towards the ending portions of the game, where sidequests open up and you can tackle the final boss.  One part of Final Fantasy VIII is that, like Final Fantasy VII, you are limited to having three party members in battle at once.

Controls

Controls are pretty simple in Final Fantasy VIII, as it is a turn-based RPG.  However, that is not to say you can go into the game and automatically know how to do everything.  This game has a few things that are different from past games, as far as the control scheme goes.  Of course, you have the option to remap controls to whatever you want.  By default, though, it’s a little different than you would expect it to be.

Movement is done with the D-Pad, which is nothing new.  Most of the differences comes with the Face Buttons.  You will still press X to confirm something in a menu, whether it be a normal menu or something within battle commands.  Normally, you would press the Circle button to go back, but in this game, that is done with the Triangle Button.  As such, the Circle button is used to bring up the Menu, like the Triangle Button would normally do.  In this game, those two buttons are flip-flopped.  It’s a little weird at first, but you can just change the control scheme if it gives you problems.

Another thing of note is the L2 and R2 functions.  In Final Fantasy VIII, those buttons would glitch up the game if held while you’re doing other things.  If you notice a menu lagging, you will need to go into the settings on the Vita and make sure that FF8’s R2 and L2 buttons are removed from the Rear Touch Panel.  I found that to be a big problem until I removed it when playing on the Vita.  Once it was deactivated, though, it was all smooth sailing.

The control scheme isn’t hard to get used to, though it does require some tinkering with to get to a good scheme for you to use.

Presentation

Presentation is by far one of the biggest improvements Final Fantasy VIII made above its predecessor.  First, the similarities are that the 3D World Maps and the Pre-rendered backgrounds of towns and dungeons look the same as Final Fantasy VII.  These definitely look pretty nice.  However, they made a lot of changes to the presentation, regarding the character models and battle models.

The character models from its predecessor were lifeless and looked almost like Lego creations.  Final Fantasy VIII, however, keeps the same models between battle and outside of battle.  Along with this, they’ve given each model correct physical proportions, each character has a mouth now, and the attire on them as well as battle models for the GFs and enemies are much more detailed than in Final Fantasy VII.  Everything looks a few steps further than its predecessor and the difference really is noticeable.

As far as playing the game, some may complain about Load Times.  When you’re entering into a new area in this game, you’ll be waiting a good 5 seconds or more and you will be waiting a good 8-10 seconds to load a battle.  The feel of the game and music makes the battle wait times not as noticeable, but they’re still there.  Moreso than other games in the series, at least.  Other than that, I didn’t notice any glitches or technical problems with the game.

Overall

All in all, Final Fantasy VIII has a lot of unique systems that you will not find anywhere else in the series.  To many of the fans,  these systems make the game unenjoyable, but it is definitely something that any RPG fan will want to experience.  To go along with it, fans of Summon Magic will love the variety of Summons available and there is a love story hidden that will show just how far someone can go in a small amount of time.  We highly recommend Final Fantasy VIII.

The PlayStation Vita Review Network rates Final Fantasy VIII an 8/10

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