Final Fantasy 8 Review

Deep down inside, I really want to systematically smother the population of the world to death with a pillow. A little deeper, though, is a part of me that loves love stories, and that’s exactly why I’ve beaten this game over a dozen times. In fact, I’ve probably played through this game in its entirety more than 50 times over the years, sometimes beginning a new playthrough immediately after finishing. There’s something about the balance that Final Fantasy 8 strikes between the old and new that I find intoxicating.

Shut up; love stories are cool

There’s romance in the air. You play as the aloof Squall Leonhart, a talented student at a school that trains mercenaries, when “boom,” someone enters your life. Of course, she’s just trying to get your attention so she can hire your organization to assist her resistance group in a kidnapping, but those are just details like favorite colors and anything pertaining to her. After all, this is your love story.

“I don’t know about ‘legendary,’ but I work out.”

Final Fantasy 8 is easily the most maligned entry in the series outside of the modern entries, and it’s hard to explain why this is. One of my theories is that there was a huge divide between fans’ expectations and what the game ended up being like in the end, and that’s probably exacerbated by Squall being every bit as teen emo as Cloud Strife was in Final Fantasy 7. Whatever the reasons, 8 is easily my favorite Final Fantasy, even beating out the fantastic-beyond-words Final Fantasy 6 because of how unique it is in terms of the series. You don’t start out a villager in some town or have to rush to save a bunch of crystals; instead, you spend the majority of the game chasing after (and often fighting against) very real enemies who are very much like yourself and your friends. There’s a certain reflective quality to the story, then, that occasionally causes you to question where the line is between “good” and “bad.” It’s not a theme that’s explored thoroughly in the game or anything, and the line between the good guys and bad guys is often well-defined, but the many similarities between you and your enemies makes the dynamic between the various characters all the more interesting, especially given that many of them have a shared history.

Drawing a blank

I hate grinding. Do you hate grinding? Of course you do—no one really enjoys mindless repetition being sprinkled into their entertainment. Final Fantasy games prior to 8 suffered from the need to grind, however, and this diminished their greatness somewhat. The eighth game, on the other hand, introduced all kinds of new mechanics that greatly countered the need to grind (though they didn’t remove it entirely), making it a much easier game to pick up and play.

“Yeah, that’ll totally help my abandonment complex.”

The drawing and junctioning systems are at the heart of the new system. Basically, there are monster allies called Guardian Forces (or GF) who you can gain over the course of the story, and these can be equipped to your party members however you like so that said party members can not only summon them in battle, but also steal magic from enemies. Your GFs gain experience as your characters do, and their special skills are unlocked the more you play since they’re gaining ability points (AP) in each fight as well. As their abilities unlock (and you can choose which order they unlock in), you gain a number of perks, including stat boosts, passive abilities such as a no-encounter option that turns off random battles entirely, new attacks, and most interestingly, the ability to equip magic to certain stats in order to raise them.

That last one is the most interesting because enemies have their levels scale with yours, so grinding endlessly won’t do you much good in the end. Instead, it’s almost always better to grind only until you can equip magic to your stats, then steal a ton of high-level magic to equip. This magic doesn’t disappear unless you actively cast it, so it’s basically a permanent upgrade that ensures that you have the upper hand against your opponents throughout the game.

It has some story deficiencies

I love this game. It’s my absolute favorite Final Fantasy game by far, and I won’t apologize for that, but even I can acknowledge that it has some serious flaws in its story. Most specifically, a plot twist three-quarters of the way through the game that makes absolutely no sense. You can almost see the writers sitting around in a room going, “Oh, they’ll never see this coming,” never stopping to question whether the reason no one would see it coming is because it’s completely incoherent and random.

Above: HUGS TIEM

But again, I love this game, and that means I can forgive it for having a fatal flaw or two. That scene is really the Achilles heel of the game, though the game’s somewhat confusing ending that seems to hint at a greater meaning behind everything that happens without ever delivering is easily a close second. That’s not to say that things don’t get wrapped up satisfactorily. They do. The final boss’ motivations are just never adequately explained, though this can be considered a running theme in the Final Fantasy series. I mean, does anyone remember Exdeath? He was just evil for no real reason, a convenient villain casting a shadow over the entire game in order to rush the heroes into danger. Final Fantasy 8 is similar in that regard, though all of the other villains are fleshed out (and even humanized). In that sense, FF8 is a bit of a bridge between the old and new.

Anyway, if you read this site, you’re no doubt aware that I enjoy the stories in games above all else, and despite a couple missteps and crazy coincidences, I find the characters and overall story in Final Fantasy 8 to be incredibly enjoyable. Not only that, but the story arc is almost like a fairy tale, and by the end of the game it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

PS1 graphics at their best

The realistic poses and gestures introduced in this installment of the franchise are fantastically well done and provide a lot of character for the 3D models. Graphically, this is a huge step up from Final Fantasy 7, though for young’uns who grew up with fancy high-res texture maps and antialiasing, the graphics will seem underwhelming at best. The graphical high point would definitely be the cutscenes, still pretty even today, and even better, they’re never long enough to be distracting.

Avoid the PC version at all costs

Square-Enix has re-released the PC version of Final Fantasy 8 on Steam. Sounds incredible, right? Think again. This version was not only released with awful midi music that butchers one of gaming’s greatest soundtracks and shamelessly wears its face like some kind of psycho killer, but the buttons are referred to as “B1, B2,” etcetera, making certain sections where you have to hit the right buttons incredibly confusing compared to their PS1 counterpart. Even the graphics have taken a step back, with the otherwise-amazing cutscenes being re-encoded, butchering their quality. It’s literally one of the worst ports/re-releases I’ve ever played, and Square-Enix doesn’t deserve money for it, full stop. Buy the PS1 game used or avoid the game entirely.

And that music!

You’ll never hear anyone complaining about the PS1 version’s music. Never. You know why? Because the soundtrack for Final Fantasy 8 is just about as close to perfect as a soundtrack can get, rivaling Chrono Cross, Chrono Trigger, and all other similarly legendary-sounding games. Every scene is accompanied by music every bit as detailed and creative as it is unique to the point where you could play hundreds of other games and never find anything that comes close to the music in this game. Trust me, I have played hundreds of other games, and that’s personal experience talking.

Seriously, this is a great game. It receives a lot of hate for not being a carbon-copy of FF7, but if you judge it on its own merits rather than those of its forebears, you’ll find an old gem truly deserving of love. You may even come to consider it one of the greatest Playstation games ever made. I certainly do.

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