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Final Fantasy VIII (PSX)

By James Puckett

      I can sum this game review up in one sentence for those of you who like it quick. Final Fantasy VIII is a great game, but it sure is not as good as should have been.

      FFVIII is a far depature from FFVII, aside from the "we need to save the world but we better all get to level 99 first" formula. Not that this is surprising, as each game in the series has added something new and better to the legacy. In FFVIII the characters become realistically drawn, proportioned, and animated. Background characters move around, gesture to each other, talk to each other, and generally often seem to have better things to do than just wait for you to bug them, adding a whole new level of realism and immersion to RPG's.

      FFVIII also adds the Junction/Guardian Force system, which allows characters to junction a Guardian Force, referred to from here on, and in game, as GF's. Junctioning is essentially assigning a GF to a character and that character only, or junctioning magic to a statistic. A GF comes with some abilities, and learns others, that allow a character to alter his stats by junctioning magic to the characters statistics., attack, cast spells, use special attacks (such as turning a monster into a card, or killing a monster outright), or summon the GF to take combat damage for the character for a time, and then unleash a powerful attack on an enemy after a time runs down. The GF's start out with a few skills, and others are learned by gaining AP in combat, which allows hard core players to blow eight hours now and then teaching his GF's all the skills they can have at their current level.

      The GF's are a great addition to the role playing world, and the junctioning of magic to stats adds even more anal retentive micromanagement to the game. Stat junctioning can also be done automatically, although it often works out better to do it by hand. About the only downside to the Junction/GF system is using the GF's in combat. The GF animations are all pretty long, and you will use them often, and they get old quick. Squaresoft should have allowed players to skip the animations entirely, which, although it would prevent the players from using the "boost" effect (mash the button enough times at the right pace to make the GF do more damage! How fun!), would drastically enhance the replay value.

      Combat in FFVIII hasn't changed much from FFVII, with the exception of magic. Magic is no longer bought, sold, and does not use mana. Instead you draw magic from monsters in combat or from special draw spots. Not very realistic, but insteresting. Having to draw magic in combat will send you into combat more often, but that's fine, as combat seems to boost your SEED ranking.

      And just what is a SEED ranking? SEED is the mercenary group that the main character Squall, works for. You have a ranking, based on your performance in the field, which determines how much you get paid, among other things. The problem is that the game manual and in game tutorial never really tell you much about what affects your SEED ranking, leaving it to the player to figure it out. It seems that lots of combat is good for your ranking, and using GF's too often is bad for your ranking. SEED rankings can also be improved by taking simple tests relating to the game and how you play it, which will allow most players to max out Squall's SEED ranking to whatever his current SEED ranking can be maxed out to in relation to his level. Overall the ranking system just got plain annoying, sort of like Squall.

      Oh yeah. Squall. I just have to talk about Squall. I HATE Squall. For much of the game Squall acts like an antisocial teenage guy, which he is, but it gets on your nerves fast. I found myself sick of Squall early on, to the degree that it actually kept me from wanting to play the game. Unlike the likeable Cloud and friends, Squall and his compatriots are, for the most part, annoying teenagers, are just as interesting as annoying teenagers,  and they act like annoying teenagers. If I wanted to watch teenagers act stupid I would watch "Saved by the Bell" reruns on cable, not pay $50 to play a game chock full of them. Fortunately they get better as the game goes on (or maybe I just got used to them) and the game gets better around disc 3, for those of you willing to hang in through the first 20+ hours of being annoyed by almost anything Squall does.

      FFVIII also gives us something that really adds to the game, a minigame played by the NPC's and Squall. Playing the card game allows you to earn certain cool items, not to mention being a nice way to kill time. I know people who spend more time playing the card game than they do playing the rest of the game. It defiantely extends the overall enjoyment and replayability of FFVIII, which is a good thing given that most retailers will want $50 for this game.

      Plotwise, FFVIII is incredible. You get another long, deep story of a world nearing destruction. Love, death, plot twists and intrigue are all present in FFVIII, so you never stop paying attention once the game gets going.  Add in that Squall has a dream world alter ego you get to play as, whose own story intertwines with Squall's, and the story will really draw you in once you get past the early character flaws.

      The sound in FFVIII is good overall, and reall shines at times, especially during the GF animations. The game features Dolby Digital Stereo, so it really kicks ass on a nice stereo system or good headphones. Musically, FFVIII is decent. Much is the music was is in the same style as the music of FF7, and the game retains the familiar victory song from the series. FFVIII does have better music than most RPG's, but it still gets old. Being able to just turn it off would be great, but as in most RPG's, that isn't an option.

      All in all you just can't go wrong with FFVIII. It has a few flaws, but once you accept them you can't help but enjoy the game. So go for it.


Overall Score: 9 out of 10