Final Fantasy VIII Review by: endingsI think Square really dropped the ball a couple places here.
Squaresoft made Final Fantasy VII. It garnered a ton of attention, got people who didn't even play rpgs to try it, and wet the appetite for the follow up. The game came out, and I bought it launch day, all those years ago. I forgot about this game until Janus reviewed it and I started looking at other posts here on VIzzed.
A funny thing happened. I noticed a distinct lack of lower grades for FFVIII. I'm the odd man out here, as this is a game I didn't like. Its not my least liked Final Fantasy game, but its really close. I think this game needs to be taken to task on some things.
Now, this review is like comparing Pixar movies. Some people will love one, and there might be a few that people are kinda "EH" on, but on the whole what the company does is very good and respected. And here I represent the Devil's Advocate for this game. This is a Squaresoft game, and they know this field so well, this is not a horrible rpg game. Its a lackluster Final Fantasy game in my opinion, though. It fails in key areas to me, and I just can't see past that to give it a great score.
Some key elements of Final Fantasy return, of course there is a Cid. There isn't an airship per se, but you do get to fly something in the air. The limit breaks and summons return. The summons are now GF, Guardian Force, and they now can have a minigame where you push a button while the long cutscene play to deal extra damage.
The big changes are:
There is no money in this game from killing monsters - you are paid a stipend from SeeD, as an employee.
The monsters are near about your level at all time. There is no point to go back to earlier areas to grind, unless you want spells unique to that monster.
There is no magic spells. Huh?? Well the monsters have them, you have to get them from the monsters. Read about it later. I can feel my blood pressure going up just thinking about it, but its too early.
Make no mistake, Square noticed people LOVED their cg from FFVII - and they added more in this game. In fact, sometimes the summons took 3 times as long as previous (thats good .. or bad, as they are unskippable). The biggest change was they took away the Super Deform look they've used forever and popeye arms of FFVII and made it realistic. Real human bodied characters at last! This game looks gorgeous for when it was released.
There is one key scene I remember. Towards the end, you scuffle with an enemy soldier on a suspended line WHILE A whole detailed battle goes on in the background. Its short but it blew me away.
Although to shine a bit of a negative light on why it didn't get a 10, I don't really like the character designs. Zell, Quistis and Selphie in particular. Zell is dressed like he's ready for Blitzball, wild hair and the only one rocking shorts, but hes 2 games too early. Quistis herself is a nice character, but her color palette and teacher look are very dull. Selphie.. is wearing her kid sister's clothes and acts like shes a clumsy ditz. Get to work Selphie, fighting to be done.
Sound is subjective. I'm sure many people love the soundtrack. This one I wasn't so sold on. Give me Liberi Fatali or Ultimecia's Castle any day. Love em. But other than that, I couldn't find many tracks I could say I loved, and thats unusual for me considering Square's track record for soundtracks. The looming mystery of Find your way is nice, but Balamb Garden, the music that plays at your mercenary academy, is halfway to lullaby. This isn't bedtime music! The battle music to me wasn't as catchy as past versions. Laguna's battle music I did like a lot. However you seldom control him for long. The signature "All Eyes On Me", no thanks.
Maybe there's beauty in this beholder I don't get. I have tried listening to the music again, but nothing other than what I mentioned grabs me. It might be the new, more modern setting for the world (space travel), or just something I cannot get into. Your mileage may vary.
Square had the radical idea for this version to not give you spells to learn, but spells to take. You have to steal - or draw them from the monsters or bosses, would give you a certain one. And you could cast those- or stack them onto your character like armor - and it would give you special abilities based on how many copies you have.
This was so tedious and stupid to me, I almost quit playing it several times. You end up playing the longest battles of attrition with so many encounters -it felt like bad padding to the game. Case in point. You want a fire spell. Oh look, this dog creature has it. Draw a bunch of them for one character. Now your 2nd. Now your 3rd. Might have taken awhile to get them all the way to 100 copies. Now you equip it to your stat, so you get a big boost. You can't use them as spells (even though they are), because using them diminishes the value. So you end up getting a whole separate stack just to be able to use in fights! Thats just one spell, imagine how many more to get.
NOW REPEAT THIS FOR EVERY NEW AREA. As spells become more powerful, you are constantly switching out weaker ones and getting enough copies for three players. All so you can be at peak performance so when a boss comes, you can hold them off while you drain THEM of spells too. Its just a vicious cycle.
You also have the fact the characters aren't very likable. This to me is the last cast of Final Fantasy I'd want to be stuck in a liferaft with. You have Squall, so emo its painful to watch, so unsocial he has "..." for most of his lines, but then you see the other characters and start to see why. We have Zell, who just talks about hot dogs all day like some kind of freak, and Irvine, a concrete jungle cowboy you need for one specific moment, he is hyped up right before you get him - and then he pretty much shows how he can't help you. Fun! Nearly every one of them is just ... uughh, even poor Quistis, who like Irvine just sort of fades off from relevance in the story the further you go on. Rinoa is the only shining spot, the only one to me who felt like a real FF character, and sadly she isn't one of the starting people. You have to slog through the game to get to her. And thats what this game felt like, a giant endurance test.
There's... something going on here. I wish I could tell you what, or that I cared. You starts as Squall, an agent of SeeD, a world-wide mercenary program. Squall has a bitter rivalry with colleague Seifer, a guy who also has a scar on his nose. A country breaks out into war with another, and your group gets all shuffled around, then some kind of sorceress is thought to be behind things. Weird rich alien guy lives under your school? Something about space? Love? Then time-travel? Its just.. honestly, its hot mess. I am leaving so much out, including boring segments with a strange guy named Laguna whom you play as for brief segments, and when it was all over, I was like, why did I play as him? Was he really that important?
The combining of spells and mastering of GF will keep you busy for hours. Its super detailed and considering it affects your performance and stats, very important to learn. There is a strangely addictive card game also, although at first it seems daunting. You don't get a lot of equipment to fool around with, its all in the junction your GF and spell abilities. Every level up is done at 1000xp, and sometimes, you have to think strategically if you want to go up a level, because that means the monsters go up with you. If you are quite comfortable killing the bosses around you now, you might want to hold off on grinding. A lot of secret GF and things to uncover!
Given you have some control over what level the monsters are, this game could be easy, it could be hard. You using weak spells while they blast you with Fireaga all bad. The limit breaks try to balance out somewhat,, and Squalls and Rinoas are obscenely powerful. So is Irvine's if you get the right stuff. The spell hoarding is instrumental to making the way easy for you, and the sooner you adapt to the draw system, the better off you'll be. The fact some spells are so rare you only get them from one-time bosses is a letdown. Hope you don't regret letting the boss almost kill you to draw Carbunkle!
A serviceable rpg. But thats not what I expect from a Square game. To me, if this was a Pixar game, its the Cars 2, a game with a plot so muddled and inconsistently plotted, I doubt wikipedia could make it clear. The draw system is a nightmare of a time-sink, and the bane of this game for me. And the characters, they may be the most realistic yet up to this point in the series history, but never have I had the misfortunate of watching such a ragtag, unfun cast (save for Rinoa). Fortunately for me, Square changes the universe for every version of Final Fantasy, so I never had to come here again.