Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 09/07/99 | Genre: RPG
I was rather disappointed by Final Fantasy VII, and this made me dubious about the follow-up's veracity to the hollowed Final Fantasy moniker. Fortunately, I didn't allow this to bias and possibly preclude my decision about the title because Final Fantasy VIII proves to be better than its immediate predecessor in every way.
Final Fantasy VIII unveils an epic story of war, adventure, and personal development with love as its central theme. Squall, the primary protagonist, must win the friendship of his comrades, come to terms with his stoic nature, and save the world, all while trying to extricate the surreptitious impetus within him to do so. Like Squall, many of the characters in Final Fantasy VIII are quite deep and complex. Quistis, for example, is Squall's instructor, yet she harbors a deep, almost taboo, infatuation for him. Zell seems like a standard, overzealous martial artist but under closer scrutiny a shady past is revealed. It's great that Square is making an effort to create believable character personalities, although they're still nowhere near the magic of Final Fantasy VI (or III in the U.S.).
Final Fantasy VII's materia system was an innovative supplement to the classic Final Fantasy design, but Final Fantasy VIII's "junction system" will force even the most seasoned Square-phile to relearn the fundamental system. Magic is accrued like items by "drawing" them from enemies or from draw points. The spells can then be cast and depleted or stored to junction to various ability traits on your Guardian Force. Guardian Forces replace Summon Materia this time around and the awesome beasts' purpose is twofold. After equipping them, you can use them in battle for devastating effects, or you can "junction" magic to available slots to raise your statistics and obtain new abilities. Unfortunately, without equipping a Guardian Force the only available option is "Attack." You are highly dependant on Guardian Forces for success, but after seeing some of the abilities you can learn from a leveled up Guardian Force (yes, they gain levels just like your part members) you'll see there is no reason not to equip as many as possible. With such a puissant freedom of originality, you'll be experimenting with different combinations for days.
The graphics in Final Fantasy VIII are nothing short of breathtaking. To think that so much detail and artistic flare can stilled be wrenched out of 5-year-old hardware is inspiring to say the least. Your 3D polygonal characters traverse beautiful pre-rendered backdrops and the game often seamlessly shifts into CG without hesitation. Animated sequences, such as the ball scene or the one where Squall rescues Rinoa the side of Garden, firmly grab hold of your emotions and only loosen their grip at their convenience. I am sad to declare, however, that the music does not have such an efficacious command. It seems that the quality of the music in the Final Fantasy series started diminishing after part VI. Final Fantasy VIII continues this trend with some tawdry and ill-placed tunes. There are a few redeeming songs, like "Eyes on Me," sung by pop sensation, Faye Wong, but there are not enough good tracks to make this a memorable score.
Another foible of the game is its linearity. Once you are granted a craft to explore the world in, you realize that there is scant little left unearthed in the game. Japanese gamers can play Chocobo Adventure on their Pocketations as an added excursion, but American gamers have yet to receive that luxury. On the plus side, the one mini-game featured in Final Fantasy VIII, Triple Triad, is as addictive as all get out! Triple Triad is a card game that is similar to an Othello/Dominoes and is played on a 3 X 3 grid. The rules are too complicated to explain in a mere review, but it involves flipping over your opponents cards by placing one of a higher value down beside it. The victor is the player with the most cards showing at the end of the match. Winning a match enables you to take some of your opponent's card to use at you won disposal; you can collect them, create items out of them, or use them in future matches. With hundreds or cards to find, the mini-game can easily became your main concern.
Final Fantasy VIII is quite an enigma. It is probably the most fulfilling RPG you can find for the Playstation right now, but it's not the best Square can do. It's just not as majestic as some of Square's older titles. My main gravamen with the game is more implied than corporeal. Final Fantasy VIII seems to lack the same cohesiveness of story and scintillating characters that are present in other RPGs. The game is great, but falls short of the high benchmark Square has set for itself.