I'm sure everyone knows the japanese role-playing game series Final Fantasy so I'm skipping the series introduction. If you haven't heard of it, you have a hole in your gaming knowledge the size of Bahamut. So without further ado, let the review begin.
Final Fantasy VIII (often , much like it's predecessors, is a japanese fantasy role-playing game. The game is set in an unnamed fantasy world divided in four major continents, Esthar, Galbadia, Trabia and Balamb. The game begins with the main protagonist, a young loner by the name of Squall Leonhart, having a friendly practice duel with his rival Seifer Almasy. The duel goes terribly wrong and the player finds himself in the infirmary on one of the worlds Gardens, which train special mercenary soldiers called SeeD. The SeeD are a force that get sent out in the world to deal with all sorts of trouble, from the desperate fight of the local resistance group to world-changing affairs with sorceress's and vile demons. Before the player fully becomes a SeeD, he has to complete an exam. In this case it's a training mission in the small dukedom of Dollet that has been invaded by the Galbadian army. The mission starts simple but once the true agenda of the Galbadian army's invasion of this small and peaceful country is unraveled, the wheels of fate really start to turn. I'm not going to spoil you about it but let's just say that it involves dark mysteries about the Gardens true purpose, betrayal, friendship and time-altering magics. You even get to travel to space and have a heart-warming love affair in the process.
The graphics in FF8 were state-of-the-art back in the day when it was released in 1999. It pushed the boundaries of the PlayStation gaming console. Today the graphics look outdated offcourse but that doesn't mean it's an ugly game. The world map is in 3D and the battles are fought also in 3D with backdroppings that show the current surroundings. This might not sound like a big deal but it was that back in the last millenium. There's much time put into the character animations and they still look splendid (although a little jagged). The one thing that has really withstood the teeth of the years is the full-motion videos (which are plenty and often), they still look great even in todays standards. The backdropping when moving around in towns and such are pre-rendered images with 3D characters walking across them. This was a common thing back then and it might look a bit weird to the eyes of a modern gamer. Still, the graphics do their thing and deliver the necessary emotion and drama to really enjoy playing this game.
This is the category where FF8 really beats most of the current RPGs. You move your character around the 3D world map and occasionally you encounter an enemy (which can't be seen on the map). This triggers a fight that takes place in a 3D arena. You and your enemies fight with a system that's called 'Active Timer Battle' (ATB). This system is almost like a turn-based battle but you and your enemies both have timers that fill in the course of the battle. Once the ATB bar fills up, you get to choose a battle command. These range from the basic 'Attack', 'Magic' and 'Item' to the more extreme 'Darkside', 'Card' and 'GF'. There are dozens of commands at your disposal, most of them which can be learned from GF's. And no, don't go to your girlfriend and ask her to teach you a battle command. GF in FF8 stands for 'Guardian Force' which is basically like summons in FF7 and other japanese RPGs. Each GF is like a character of it's own. They all have the same attributes as your main characters, strenght, magic, etc. When you summon a GF it's hitpoints replace your characters HP for the duration of the time it takes to summon it. The time it takes to summon a GF depends on the relations with the current character and the GF in question.
The first thing old FF players might find difficult to grasp is the FF8's Junction system. Each GF must be junctioned to a character to be able to summon it. And when you junction a GF to a character, the GF's abilities become available to that character and you might be able to junction magic to certain attributes. When you junction magic to an attribute, it might raise it a bit. For example if you junction a GF with the ability STR-Junction, you can then junction magic to that characters strength and raise it by a certain amount. The amount depends on the magic used. Same goes with battle commands. None of the characters can use items unless they are equipped with the 'Item' command from a junctioned GF. The Guardian Forces also gain experience just like your main characters but also AP which helps them learn new abilities.
Experience is also a thing that's made a little different then other RPGs. Every new level requires exactly 1000 experience points. When your characters gain levels, so do the enemies. This keeps the game well balanced and you'll never feel like you're playing with an overpowered party of characters. Rest assured, clever use of the junction system enables you to have an almost invincible characters. For example equipping a character with the ability 'Counter' (counter-attacks when attacked), 'Drain' (drains enemies health and gives it to your character) in Elemental Attack and 'Ultima' (raises every attribute it's junctioned to by great amounts) in Strength gives you a character that always counter-attacks when it's attacked and while doing so, heals himself fully.
The limit breaks that are a famous aspect of Final Fantasy are also present in FF8. A limit break is a powerful attack that can be done when the character is near death. These limits range from Squalls blade swooping action to Zells fist fighting and they all require the player to input commands. This brings some much wanted participation in the battles (although some limit breaks can be turned to automatic).
The story sets you off to save the world from an evil menace. This is just a minor thing, actually since the world of FF8 is full of stuff to do and things to see.There are hidden caves that house extra Guardian Forces, small little villages building statues, just about everything. And you don't always have to run from place to place and certainly not alone. During your travels you meet different kinds of people, some willing to aid you and some not-so-friendly characters. One of the characters you meet is worth to mention, Irvine Kinneas. He is a student in Galbadia Garden and an excellent sniper. He's always hitting on the ladies but when the action starts, he chokes. I'm not going to spoil you anymore but let me just tell you that the characters you meet in the world of FF8 are very well written, most of the modern game developers should really play these old games. And as far as transportation goes, I really can't tell you much without spoiling the game but let me tell you, you'll be traveling on land, sea, air and space.
The story is filled with memorable characters and moments, enough to fill a dozen modern games. All of this is backed up with gorgeous videos. Some might say that the videos in this game are far too constant and break the gameplay but I personally don't mind. The beginning video with Squall's gratuation dance was even used to demonstrate the power of the PlayStation system!
Overally, Final Fantasy 8 is a game that all modern gamers should play. Once you've played it through, few games can deliver that much satisfaction for completion. The story, setting, characters and especially the ingenious junction system make this one of the best RPGs to date! Just don't play this with your Witcher II -goggles on. One more thing I have to say about this game. I got this game on the PlayStation and once it came out on PC, I immediatly purchased it. A few months back I found this on the PlayStation Store and guess what? Correct, I purchased it without blinking an eye. You should do the same.