I Will Not Be Defeated
Overly long work days/weeks, broken motherboards etc. Someone or something doesn’t seem to want these released, but I shall persevere...I love the sound of my own typing too much :P
Square Is Learning The Tech, And It’s Awesome
With FFVII under their belt, the second you load up FFVIII you see for yourselves how educational the entire experience was. Rather than the blocky equivalent of stick figures, we have properly (for the most part) proportioned characters, and a much more detailed world. The FMVs are both more frequent, and better produced. Characters actually show facial movement and emotions on true 3D faces. Building on the legacy of One Winged Angel, FFVIII further expands its use of lyrics in it’s soundtrack. The main sorceress theme is full of ominous chanting and definitely sets their mysterious and foreboding nature.
FFVIII Makes A Lot of Breaks With Traditional FF Mechanics
FFVIII is definitely mechanically an experimental beast no matter which way you slice it. Enemies level dynamically with your party’s average level. Levels themselves have very little meaning for the most part. Each takes 1000xp no matter what, and stat gains aren’t great. Squall only gains 46 strength from 1 to 99. The magic system is also a big odd. Instead of having MP and learning spells, they’re treated more as items, you stockpile them by drawing them from enemies. You can have up to 100 of each spell, up to a max number (like 40 spells or something). In fact, MP doesn’t exist at all. It’s pretty easy to say that FFVIII is a very experimental entry into the series. One could make the argument that it’s probably THE most experimental. Probably one of the biggest systems to break away from traditional FF mechanics is the Junction system, which is such a prominent aspect of the game, that it will receive it’s own section
The Junction System Is The most Complex System Yet, And The Most Breakable
As opposed to traditional JRPG’s, where a majority of your power simply comes from gaining da xp’s and leveling up, most of your power comes from the Junction system. To explain the system, it works like this: you have in your possession GF’s (summons) that you junction to your characters. This sounds quite similar to the FFVI system, however in VI, you just equipped the esper and reaped the passive level up bonus. However in VIII GF’s have abilities, the most important of which is their Junction abilities such as Str-J, HP-J etc. These abilities allow you junction your stored magic spells to said stat, granting bonuses. The magnitude of the bonus is dependent on how much you have of the magic you junction (up to 100), and the appropriateness of the magic (ie cure and life magic boosts HP more than attack magic, which is good for Str and Mag). It’s not just basic stats you can junction however, you can also, with the right abilities, junction magic to imbue your attack and defenses with elements and statuses.
Now what is great about this system, is pretty much the same as what was great with the Materia system in VII. The junction system is versatile and easily changed, allowing you to maintain your favorite set ups regardless as to who is in the party, so pick your favorites and roll with it. You’re able to vary your setup for each situation, and with the draw system it’s relatively easy to maintain a diverse stock of magics for junctioning. One of the things I liked about the materia system, was trying to fit everything you wanted in to you characters to maximize their effectiveness. However characters almost always had the same amount of slots and configurations. The Junction system takes the puzzle aspect a bit further. GF’s don’t all have the same junction abilities. You can equip as many GF’s to a party member as you want, so GF’s become a big jigsaw puzzle, and you need to try and arrange them in the way as to give all 3 of your party the biggest spread of junction abilities possible. As time goes on and you acquire more GF’s (most are acquired by drawing them from bosses, so ALWAYS CHECK WHAT YOU CAN DRAW FROM BOSSES) this becomes easier, but at the beginning you’ll have to make choices. The choice is slightly reduced as you begin to realize that the only ones that really matter are HP and Str.
Now there are some noticeable drawbacks that are worth mentioning. Because the system relies on magic to junction, and the more magic the better, you’re actively discouraged from actually using that magic, lest you lower your stats. Of course, the biggest disincentive to using magic as a form of attack is the fact that it sucks and is quickly outstripped by loading your best shit on to str and just mashing X to attack (gee...i wonder where i’ve heard that criticism before?). The biggest problem however, is just how easy it is to break the system and become ridiculously overpowered. Just parking yourself in an area and drawing full stacks of the most powerful available magic is enough to put you on the higher end of the power scale. The crafty individual however, WILL find ways to break the system. GF’s also have abilities to refine higher magic levels and items into magic, these abilities, with even a small amount of the right materials, can be made in to magic that you won’t see for some time and result in a massive power boost. The most powerful junction magic’s, Full Life and Ultima (for HP and anything else respectively), don’t fall from the sky (at first), but you can get full stacks and have 9999 hps and 255 str pretty easily. The full stack of Full Life can be gained from just using a GF ability to refine cheap and plentiful tents. Now GF’s do have stat bonus passives that when equipped, give you bonus stats on level up (+1 to respective stat) however depending on what you focus on, you might not see these abilities till quite late in the game (especially how easy leveling up is). If you remember correctly I criticized VI for taking a bit too long to get to the esper system, making you feel like you wasted levels, and while it doesn’t matter in the long run, you don’t know that at the time. VIII takes even longer to get those abilities, so you might think i’d be even more critical. You’d be wrong however, because in the case of VIII, it becomes QUICKLY apparent it doesn’t matter. Even if you were lvl 99 (so enemies were at their greatest) and never used the stat bonus abilities, you could still junction yourself to OPness. Still, imbalance aside, once you understand how to spread the junction love, it’s a fun system to play with.
A quick note I want to make, because of the enemy scaling and how much power the junction system gives, I’ve seen many people claim how leveling is bad and you want to stay as low as possible for the most part. For all those who haven’t played and may come across this little tidbit? Ignore it. It honestly Does. Not. Matter. If you have half a brain you can break this system. If you don’t have half a brain, you’ll still powerful, just not broken.
Evidence I Am A Horrible Person Part 2
My favorite thing to do in FFVIII? put an enemy to sleep and drain him of his magical essence over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over etc etc.
The Story Has Many Problems, But I Find Myself Caring Less About Them Every Replay
I’m going to be perfectly honest, of the PS1 era FFs, FFVIII was my least favorite, and I still kind of think it is, Of the three it’s the one I’ve played the least. This all stems from the problems with the story. We’ll dive in to my biggest criticisms, but first I want to make clear that strangely, as time has gone on, and I’ve replayed the game several times, I’ve become oddly indifferent. It’s not that the problems aren’t still there, or that some new insight has changed how I view the problems, it’s just that I honestly don’t think they’re as bad or impactful as they once were. But let’s get into the nitty gritty and you can sound off yourself in the comments below.
The Main Plot Twist Fails To Maintain Suspension of Disbelief
Without delving into direct spoilers, the big plot twist of the game centers around something that most of the main party has forgotten due to amnesia induced by use of the GF’s. The actual plot twist itself is fine, in fact I would even say it’s pretty good. The problem is the set up to the plot twist, has two issues, one big, one small. The small issue lies with the matter of the GF induced amnesia. It’s one of those plot devices that I feel isn’t really brought up enough to function as a good way to excuse a certain failing or flaw of the characters. Before the point at which the characters realize the GF’s are at fault, you only hear about it twice. Once on the tutorial console at the beginning of the game, which most people would probably overlook, and a few minutes later when an instructor tells Squall to not listen to anti GF sentiments (without talking about anything specific). While it’s not quite as bad as if the game only first mentioned the problem right before the plot twist (I hate when games introduce a flaw like two seconds before someone brings it up when you’re halfway through the game), we’re told there’s anti GF sentiment, but we never really see it in game, so it feels like it exists purely to excuse the character’s forgetfulness, rather than feeling like an actual problem that is debated in the world itself.
The second problem is a bit more...well problematic. The way that the party finds out the twist is by being informed by the one party member who knew it all along. Now here’s where the failure to maintain SoD comes in because when i first learned this, it was complete No Sale for me. It just felt like a bit of a pulled out of the ass moment to try and forge a deeper connection between the party, it felt artificial and poorly done. The big problem is that the party member in the know, gives no indication that something may be up. Unlike Tifa in VII who obviously has some form of hesitation during Cloud’s initial retelling of the events in Nibelheim, this character plays off the situation in a way that fits the character so much, or seems so logical and reasonable, that it flies completely under the radar. It’s too subtle and perfectly delivered, to the point where it feels like when those lines had been written, the plot event in question hadn’t actually be written yet. The character never stutters, hesitates, or misses a step that might clue the player to the fact that something isn’t quite right. Adding to the problems is that another character should technically be able to remember the events because until recently, she hadn’t used GF. Oh but of course, turns out she went on a field trip with her non GF using gardan (military academy-esque school) and found one to junction (for an undetermined amount of time, she doesn’t come equipped with a GF when first joining the party). Well how convenient right?
The Story, For Lack of A Better Term, Shits Itself A Bit In The Third Disc
The first two discs are a standard but enjoyable story. Your intrepid group of child soldier special forces mercenary badasses are seeking to stop the machinations of the evil sorceress and the nation of Galbadia that has become her domain. The plot twist occurs, and shows a deeper, more personal connections between all the major players, and the romance between Squall and Rinoa is progressing nicely. Hit disc 3 however, and it all goes a bit loopy. The major setting for the third disc is the massive city of Esthar which is ridiculously sci-fi. Up until now it’s been a bit of a low key sci-fi setting. Except for the big flying schools, a lot of the tech seems mostly near future for the most part. Esthar sticks out like a sore thumb and massively clashes with the world, the entire city is cloaked and has stereotypical transport tubes and curved designs. Then for story reasons you get sent up to an orbiting space station, watch a moon monster invasion triggered by a massive construct only vaguely mentioned before (and was supposed to apparently be at the bottom of the sea, but galbadia excavated it pretty damn fast), catch a ride from the destroyed space station on an airship that’s been lost for 17 years, and decide the best way to defeat the big bad is to basically let her do exactly what she wants to do, but it’s okay because love and friendship will let you not die (even Squall thinks this is ridiculous).
Now as I mentioned, I’m not as bothered by this as I once was, but the problem is that the story and setting change up is just so jarring, and involve events that are barely explained or well presented that it just feels removed and janky compared to the previous segments. Why have we never heard about the fact that every once in a while monsters just RAIN DOWN FROM THE SKY? How has this spaceship been lost for 17 years, but apparently close enough to the route of the space station escape pods that Squall and Rinoa can basically drift to it in space suits. Lunatic Pandora just kind of shows up, does what it’s supposed to with marginal explanation, and then everything just becomes irrelevant once the big bad does her thing. It just feels...disconnected, almost like we’ve jumped in to another game/world/story. But it’s not all bad, so lets stop talking shit and start talking what I actually do like about FFVIII’s story.
Squall Is a Great Example of Showing Character Progression
Like Cloud, I’ve seen a lot of people write Squall off as a typical angsty emo JRPG protagonist, and like Cloud, confirms my suspicions that most gamers who throw around the “emo” tag willy nilly are fucking idiots. That’s not to say he doesn’t have angsty moments, but we’ll get to that in a moment. At the start of the game, Squall is the opposite of angsty and emo, he is in essence emo-less. He’s quickly portrayed as an indifferent, cool, and sort of a poster child for what he is, a professional special forces mercenary in training since he was 5. Now if you know anything about FFVIII, you know that it is in part, a romance story (notice the two people embracing in the logo). What follows is a sequence of events and people (mainly Rinoa, the female lead) that cause Squall to question who he is, and how he has lived his life so far. What probably makes this one of my favorite aspects of FFVIII is the way in which the game proceeds to show the changes in Squall. Unlike any protagonist before, we are given a large window into what Squall is thinking. A large amount of his dialogue is actually what he is thinking (denoted in dark translucent text boxes) so rather than just seeing his actions and spoken words, we are able to see his inner turmoil as he’s forced to deal with situations he’s never thought about before, such as death and love. Early on Rinoa mentions how easy it must be for them to just have to follow orders, nothing more or less, and when Squall is forced to finally forge his own path, and those who come under his command, we start to see his normal tactics for life breakdown. It’s in these deeply introspective moments that Squall may come across as angsty, whiny, and childishly indecisive...but that’s the point. One of the big themes amongst most of the party members is that their upbringing as basically child soldiers, in combination with the GF induced amnesia, is that emotionally Squall basically IS a whiny angsty 5 year old. Other instances of the emotional immaturity of the party are present, such as Quistis inability to decipher her feelings for squall, or Zell...pretty much just being Zell. However these characters are for the most part safely in the supporting character territory.
In the same way that Sephiroth won me over with one scene in particular, Squall also has one of his own that sort of drives home his overall progression. At one point in the game we see a scene of a young Squall, telling his sister, who’s gone, to not worry, he’ll be alright all on his own. Much later on we see the same scene except present day squall is standing beside himself. When his young self says he’ll be okay, present day Squall realizes that is complete bullshit, he didn’t turn out okay at all, in fact, he’s pretty fucked up, not able to realize what everyone else already knows (he and Rinoa are meant for eachother), or fully rely on people who’ve been fighting beside him the entire way through. The turning point of a flawed character to an improved character can be a tough one, and as much as i’ve taken FFVIII to task for it’s story issues, it’s really well done. Back when i was a dumb little 10(ish) year old kid, I couldn’t really appreciate this. I wanted strong confident protagonists, not self doubting flawed characters and romance stories. Well now I want the opposite because I’m not a shallow minded dumbass who wants everything to be smirking, nails for breakfast rambo clones (damn man, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder today). Now is a perfect and flawless aspect of the game? no of course not. There are some times where you kinda get this “okay lets wrap this crippling introspection segment up and move the fuck on” feeling but overall I ended up really liking the overall flow of the character progression.
I’ve Completely Flip Flopped on Laguna, His Segments Are Kind Of Awesome
Another thing I’ve really changed my mind on was the segments of the game that take place in the past, controlling a character known as Laguna Loire. Instead of the cool calm mercenary badasses, I was now playing a goofy clueless dork. Of course now I realize that his difference is the whole point. Laguna acts as a perfect foil to Squall. He’s warm, friendly, he’s supportive of his friends and is absolutely willing to help, or ask for help from them. He freely shares what he’s feeling and is willing to act on those feelings by himself. Laguna is basically what Squall isn’t, and what that is, is a person who by reality’s standards (ie non nail munching rambo worlds) is a well adjusted person. Yeah he’s still a bit of a dork, but he’s a lovable dork. He’s the kind of character that, if more existed in the real world, our world would probably be a better place. When before I wanted to get his segments over with to get back to the main story (some of his segments transition from cliffhanger type scenarios), now I appreciate his seemingly non sequitur segments as a way to slow the pacing down into a breather mode (something some games, such as CoD, could use some of), and thus give any particular serious events that bookend the segment more punch.
Laguna also aids to reinforce the progression of Squall’s character arc. The addition of Laguna into the story isn’t purely for pacing or comedic relief, the game, nearing it’s end, begins to imply a deep connection between the two. Eventually you’ll come to realize isn’t just a foil to Squall, but sort of a vision of his future mindset. No Squall doesn’t turn into a dork, and when the meeting of the two happens, he thinks Laguna is a bit ridiculous. However the smart player can see some parallels in the journey of the two men, especially their motivations that drive them. In Laguna we can see what Squall could have been had he been raised in a happier, more emotionally supportive environment, and the man that Squall is starting to become. While it’s a longshot, and direct sequels for the FF series have seemingly been crapshoots, when the game was over...I sort of wished we could have had a game detailing Laguna’s journey in full. This probably wouldn’t actually work since we get to see all the greatest hits segments of the journey, and beyond those points the game sort of implies it wasn’t the most gripping journey ever. But still, the idea of more Laguna was one that I could entertain.
Final Fantasy VIII Is The Least Critical PS1 Final Fantasy, But That Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Worth Playing
Even before my more icy demeanor towards FFVIII underwent a bit of a thaw, I still always held that FFVIII was worth playing. However I tend to think any game that isn’t technically broken is worth playing (worth finishing can be a different matter entirely looks at Dragon Age: Origins and Inquisition). Obviously my opinion has improved by a measurable amount. One of the personal points of this entire project, was to see how my opinion of the ones I’ve played will change, and of all the one’s I’ve completed so far, I’d say FFVIII is the only one in which my opinion has changed noticeably. Now is this because of the perspective gained from playing earlier installments? I don’t actually think so, I think it’s more a case of, like Squall, me simply being an older, more mature individual. While I’ve got a sunnier outlook on FFVIII, I will say that it still remains my least favorite of the PS1 FFs, however I often say, not as awesome as Fucking Awesome, is still Awesome. Even if you read my criticisms and think “wow I don’t think I’d like this game” give it a try anyway. FFVIII seems to be one of the more “Love it Or Hate it” entries in the series, and you may find my criticisms to be, to put it bluntly, complete fucking bullshit. And if you do? great. Too often I feel we concern ourselves too much with instilling this idea that people who don’t like/love/hate what we do are somehow “Wrong”, and that’s bullshit. I remember watching a video of Jim Sterling’s about how the greatest vitriol and hate he ever received was for liking the DmC reboot (for the record, I really liked it too, if you need more ammunition against me). He mentioned how he doesn’t begrudge people for liking games he doesn’t, he envies them. He wishes he could love and be enthralled by every game. I agree, I wish EVERY Final Fantasy was equally the best FF (and I wish i could love Dragon Age as much as everyone else, if only to justify the ridiculous play times). Unfortunately FFVIII doesn’t quite live up to that desire for me. But if it does for you? Awesome.
As Always, We Press On
Despite aforementioned obstacles, today marks 8 titles down. Next up on the list? the modern throwback that is FFIX. Now I can’t promise this will follow next week (the game is already completed) as next week marks the release of The Witcher 3 and I’m about as big a Witcher Fanboy as I am a Final Fantasy Fanboy. But hey, that’s a tomorrow problem. Today is the day for you to sound off in the comments below about your personal thoughts on Final Fantasy VIII. As always you comments on the craftsmanship of the article itself is always appreciated and a big thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my work.