Final Fantasy VIII Review
In 1997, the world of Role Playing Games was forever changed by the introduction of Final Fantasy VII, the first 3D RPG in Hironobu Sakaguchi’s famous franchise. A little over 10 years has passed since then, and the world is still in love with the game, but, let’s rewind a bit. 2 years after VII, we were given Final Fantasy VIII. Granted the game didn’t trump it’s older brother, but it’s still a Final Fantasy game, and even today it’s still very overlooked. Considering the popularity of the series, the games are all seriously hard to compare, and with that in mind, FF8 held the title of the fastest selling Final Fantasy title of all time, up until Final Fantasy XIII, which was multi-platform, and released about a decade later. As a fan of many RPGs, this title stays on the throne of my list of games that should remain untouched and not be remade.
Part of its publicity came from the fact that it’s the successor to VII. Because, obviously who wouldn’t think that the sequel of a near perfect game wouldn’t be amazing, right? Gamers who played VII will turn VIII on, and instantly realize that the graphics have been improved ten fold, the characters have a true humanoid shape, and the music is still amazing! But behind these new aesthetics is what really matters; the mechanics. As with every Final Fantasy game, the mechanics of the game are unique and are tied in with the story. This one is quite unique among the franchise in itself though. For one thing, there are no weapon vendors. It’s not that you can buy different weapons, but it’s that you have full game weapons for each character, and you can collect reagents to upgrade them at a store, with the prerequisite of finding the model as an advertisement in an in-game magazine. Each weapon upgrade looks pretty cool, and more intimidating as you progress. Especially those gunblades, yum.
There are only about 5 or 6 upgrades per weapon, but the difference is quite significant, and upgrades come with additional Limit Breaks. Another mechanic is the summons. Summons are a huge aspect of Final Fantasy in terms of power, and popularity. They look epic, deal massive elemental damage, and I have to note again just how epic they look. FF8’s growth system, and combat system, are completely built around your summons. You can level up your summons individually and with each level, they learn new perks and abilities. You can equip the summons on different characters, known as “Junction”. For example, If a character has the Diablos summon Junctioned, and the summon is high level, the character has access to abilities such as Mug, Darkside, HP+40%, etc. Junctioning also allows for spells to be linked to your stats, if the summon allows it.
The magic system is VERY different from any FF game. It still has me mind boggled at just how different it is, but how well it works. Instead of the typical upgrade system for magic, there are two systems directly related to it. Junctioning and Draw. The Draw system is based on the Junction Command of the same name, and it allows you to draw magic from Draw Points scattered in the game’s world. As long as you have a character in your party with Draw, you can use Draw Points.
In combat, you can use Draw to steal magic from enemies. Because you need to “draw” magic to use, nobody has mana, MP, magic, energy, or anything. Just hit points. Magic is treated as items, and even has an amount of uses, almost like ammunition. You can use these magics either for offensive purposes, or stockpile them and attach them to a stat with Junction. The higher the amount and the power of the spell, the more of a stat increase you get. Your magic menu could consist of something like 9 Fires, 12 Lifes, 45 Thundagas, 19 Demis, 53 Cures, etc. You may still use junctioned magic however, so it’s easy to grind through a spell’s numbers, not realizing your stats are declining. It sounds confusing, but you get really used to it, and it eventually feels easier than the usual magic systems. It feels very comfortable, and there is never a point in the game at all where you wish the magic system was normal.
The game has its fair share of easily skippable items, and this allows it to be even less linear then it already is. There’s tons to grab after you beat the game, including secret areas and summons. Not only that, but a fun challenge is to do a minimalistic run of the game. No matter how rage inducing certain parts of this game are, you can NOT power level your way past it. Everything in the game scales with you, including enemies, and even bosses. Everything has its own growth system, making the game require more skill. One could challenge a boss at level 1, and again at level 46, and have an equally difficult time.
While the game is a breath of fresh air for any RPG fan, it is also quite a long one at that. It’s four discs long, and the story grasps you at every chance. The story is intuitive, and the characters are easily remembered. The game has depth and ingenuity but lacks a few things, such as balance. Some characters are clearly better than others, and at times, there are quite a few difficulty spikes. Running out of magic requires you to tediously hunt it down, assuming you don’t keep up with it. The game never lets up on entertainment, and it holds the torch high as a Final Fantasy game. It’s certainly one you don’t want to miss, and for PS3 owners, I can bring the good news that it’s been available on the PSN Store since 2009, as a PSOne Classic for $9.99. It’s a small price to play for a four disc RPG that was never shot down at all by the masses. An instant classic that’s sure to have you playing for 50-60+ hours.