Squaresoft – Sony Computer Entertainment – PS1/PC/PSN – 1 player – Released Autumn 1999
Reviewed by Juanvasquez, Videogames Editor
What do you do when your last game is biggest selling and most critically acclaimed title of all time? You make a sequel with absolutely nothing to do with that game of course! With different characters, story, setting and tone, FFVIII was a different beast to its predecessor that was released just two years before. Although still in keeping with the steam punk style of FFVII, this was on a much grander scale, with a more serious graphical tone and a darker feel overall. FFVII had a more cartoon look to it, with a lot of characters looking like Popeye, but this one took things in a more realistic (in terms of visual style) approach.
The games protagonist is military cadet, Squall Leonheart. He’s actually bit of a moody loner who isolates himself from everyone else and just lives for what he does, putting on a nonchalant front to mask any feelings he may have. He is stationed at theBalambGarden– Gardens are massive military installations, with one on each continent – where is training to be a SeeD. SeeD are a Special Forces branch of the military that are dispatched to particular conflicts and disputes. Accompanying Squall are Zell and Seifer, two other cadets taking their SeeD exams. The first major mission of the game sees the SeeD cadets sent to a part of the world called the Dollet Dukedom. The way the cadets deal with conflict, and its resolution, will determine the results of the exam. The main bulk of the story is what unravels from your main mission; assassinate the evil Sorceress, Edea. Though as its Final Fantasy, things aren’t quite as straight forward. With romantic subplots and more twists than a Curly-Wurly, the adventure spans four discs, taking in a varied, gorgeous world of weird and wonderful, and an adventure rivalling its predecessor.
Like previous FF’s, the gameplay revolves around different sections. There’s the location based sections, where you are exploring certain towns and buildings. Then there’s the world map. This is where you travel between locations, in a scaled down version of the nameless world. As well as allowing you to travel to various places, if you don’t stick to the roads, you will encounter random battles. The other part of the game is the battles. These are usually random battles that occur when progressing through the various areas of the game. These are turn based battles, meaning that each of the characters in your party take it in turns, when their time gauge has filled, to attack the enemy.
The fight system has been changed from the previous Materia system. Now known as the Junction System, you no longer have magic points. The system works via Draw Points. Throughout the game you will find Draw Points randomly scattered around. These Draw Points contain magic, for example it would contain 5 Cures, or 7 Thunders. Rather than having Magic Points, you have a certain amount of different types of magic, dependant on what you have drawn. As well as Draw Points, you can draw from the enemies you are fighting, meaning you can steal their magic and stock it for later, or cast the enemies own spell on them.
Like FFVII, you can call upon the powers of great monsters. Known as Summon monsters in the previous game, they have been renamed as the Guardian Force. These can be summoned in battle as many times as you require, however it is possible for them to be critically injured during battle. Again, doing away with MP, rather than appearing straight away, the GF have a time bar that counts down as they prepare to attack. While that bar is counting however, they are vulnerable to attacks. This means that the GF will take any damage instead of the character that’s summoning them. The GF are obtained by either fighting them or drawing from an enemy. Most drawn GF are found during a boss fight.
Also featured in the game, is a very addictive card game called Triple Triad. You find cards along your way through the game, be it from the spoils of battle, or turning an enemy into one using a junction technique, or in the first instance, being gifted a deck from a fellow SeeD candidate. It’s a simple game, with each player taking it in turns to play one of 5 cards on the game board. Each card has four numbers facing up, down, left and right. If the number on the card is higher than that of the adjacent card, then you win that turn. The winner is the player with the most turns won, and can claim one of the opponents’ cards as a prize. The cards are based on enemies found in the game as well as the characters. Character cards are rare and one of a kind.
As with all massive titles, FFVIII’s presentation really pushed the graphical capabilities of the 32-bit days to the limits. The detail was rich, with even little things in the background seemingly created with great care. The FMV’s look sublime, and are still some of the finest videos of its era.
Typically for a Final Fantasy game, the soundtrack is sublime. As the dialogue in the game is text based, the music has to make up for the gap in sound, and does a fantastic job. There are some many memorable pieces to the score, with my particular favourite being Balamb Garden’s music. While there is a grand orchestral score, there is also more of a mellow acid-jazz sound to the game at times, which really fits in well and acts as a great counter to the over the top dramatic music used in parts of the game.
It’s a brilliant, beautiful RPG with hours and hours of gameplay, and while not quite as amazing as Final Fantasy VII, it is a magnificent, worthy sequel, that any RPG should love.