Blast From The Past: Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)
With Final Fantasy VII HD releasing (hopefully) in a few months, I thought it was time I revisited a few other Fantasy games. Another reason that got me to replay Final Fantasy VIII was listening to all the tracks on Final Fantasy Theatrhythm – an insanely addictive game in its own right. Having said that, let’s take a look at how this old classic holds up to my 21st century expectations.
Like all Fantasy games, the world is under threat by a force and only a select few can stop it. Despite its age I’m not going to mention a lot of plot details as I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t played it yet.
There’s Nothing Wrong with a School for Teenage Mercenaries…
It follows the story of Squall and his band of teenage mercenaries: Zell, Selphie, Quistis, Rinoa (who isn’t part of the merc squad) and Ervine. The world is under threat by an evil Sorceress and it’s up to these guys to put an end to her. The story kicks off with Squall and Seifer (a nemesis of sorts) going head-to-head in a fight, where both of them injure and scar the other, leaving them both with their iconic facial scars.
Why are they fighting? They’re part of a new type of school; one where students are trained as paid mercenaries to help fight in conflicts, wars, assassinations or whatever the client wants. The school itself is called a Garden, and it’s one of three in the entire world. When one passes their SeeD exams, they become an official member of SeeD – a merc.
A lot of the story, obviously, revolves around the jobs they receive, especially one in particular involving the liberation of a town called Timber, which is where Squall and his team mates join forces with Rinoa. It pretty much goes downhill from there. But when things go downhill for the hero, things get very interesting for the player.
Final Fantasy VIII does a great job of delivering a very good story with a lot of interesting plot twists and set pieces. Unlike most JRPGs, where the hero is set, FFVIII is a little more flexible with its hero, often forcing you to put other people in charge, or completely changing who you’re playing as (For those who’ve played, I’m talking about Laguna). What you’re given is a very mature and well-paced story that suits the world it plays out in.
Para-Magic: It’s a Kind of Magic
What’s so unique, and slightly frustrating at times, is how the story/ lore melds into the gameplay itself. Since the Sorceress is the only one who can use real magic, people can’t suddenly develop powers. Instead they’re forced to use ‘para-magic.’ By drawing magic out of another being, they can stock up on moves and use these stockpiled magics to improve their abilities. But drawing a power out of another person/ monster isn’t enough.
Guardian Forces, which also form part of the plot, are used in conjunction with your team mates. Junctioning a GF will allow that person to summon the GF spirit, similar to the Summons, Espers and Eidolons in other Final Fantasy games. However, their purpose is more than just raw power. When the GF is junctioned to a character, you can assign a specific magic to a certain stat – like adding fire to your attacks or blizzard to your defence. This way you get to shape and mould the character you want. The downside is that if you start to use the assigned magics in battle, the status increase will decrease. It’s also not the only downside.
A big problem I had with the game is that it’s very limiting in what you can do in battle. When you junction your characters, you may only select three additional commands. The attack command is automatic, so you have free reign of what to pick, but it can sometimes be tricky and cost you. Do you add the Draw, Item and Magic abilities or do you select Draw, GF, Item? There are quite a few other options and juggling them can be a little tricky.
Where Are All The Weapons?
You have to think smart and strategically if you want to win – which isn’t something you often see in a modern JRPG. What I find odd, for a JRPG, is the lack of weapon variety. Unlike most games, you don’t just buy new weapons, you modify them by using weapon components. The funny thing is, I didn’t even change my weapons for the first two discs of the game. There are also very few weapon options available – it might even be the smallest selection in any Final Fantasy game.
Now, despite my love for playing older games, the visuals of the game did take a long time getting used to. The battle graphics are pretty good, it’s the running around, world graphics that made my eyes water. However, the cinematics are still impressive! The opening scene is still one of the most amazing scenes I’ve watched in a game. Another aspect that still holds up is the musical score. The composer really knew how to match the music to the scene, especially during some of the more dramatic sequences.
Unless you’re a fan, or have played the game years ago, playing Final Fantasy VIII now might be a bit too much for you to chew on. The visuals are very outdated, but if you can push through it, you’ll get to see a well-executed story, with relatable characters who are far more complex than they seem.