Final Fantasy VIII is a Mess and I Hate It

Remember how last week’s review of Final Fantasy VII was overwhelmingly positive and was brimming with joy and love? Yeah, this is gonna be the exact opposite of that.

Following up a game as renowned as Final Fantasy VII was never going to be an easy prospect. Impossible is how I would describe it. No matter what Square had put out, people would have complained that it wasn’t VII.

Thankfully, Square did what they did best: the innovated. Rather than just copy-pasting the gameplay mechanics of VII and slapping a new story on top of it, they decided to go in an entirely different direction. They took a risk and made a game that challenged everything people knew about Final Fantasy.

It didn’t pay off, but hey! They sure tried. And I respect that. Truly, I do. It would’ve been so easy for them just to try and do VII again. Creative stagnation is where art goes to die. So props to Square for being willing to experiment.

Anyways, I hate this game and I shall show it no mercy.

You play as Squall, an up and coming member of SeeD, what is essentially a group of magic mercenaries. Not long after graduating from the academy and becoming a fully fledged SeeD, he’s given a mission to assist a woman named Rinoa overthrow a tyrannical dictator and liberate her homeland. All the while, he and his friends have mysterious dreams of the past.

Reading that, you might think the game’s story is fine. It’s not. It is far more messy, complicated, and confusing than that one paragraph makes it look. This game tries to do so much stuff and none of it comes together.

As a protagonist, I have mixed feelings on Squall. He’s certainly a unique character. An introverted kid with issues being thrust into a leadership position against his will? That could make for a really engaging plot! The problem is that Squall doesn’t act like an introvert; he acts like a total fucking dickhead, yet everyone on his squad loves him like they’re all family.

Well, ‘love’ in brackets. Characters do a whole lot of saying how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking, but you never actually feel it. Like Quistis; she’s in love with Squall (it’s basically the only thing this character has got going on in her life), but the only time that comes across in the game is when she just says that she’s in love with him. Out loud. Right in front of him.

None of the rest of the cast fares much better. If they get a single personality trait, they’re one of the lucky ones. Seifer’s whole deal is that he’s the rival. Selphie sure does like trains and she sure is bubbly… and that’s about it. Zell sure is energetic and stupid. Hell, some characters are so flat that they’re entire personality is just a catchphrase. Like how Fujin finishes almost every sentence with “Y’know?” and how Raijin just shouts single-word sentences. What wonderfully annoying charming characters!

Then there are our villains. Edea is utterly devoid of personality and she really isn’t all that menacing. Then she just gets swept under the rug for another bad guy that wasn’t foreshadowed at all before hand. Didn’t we learn to stop doing that after Final Fantasy IV?

The biggest problem with the story is how none of it comes together. It keeps throwing new ideas and plot twists at you, but none of it feels cohesive. It all just comes across like the game is making it all up as you go along.

In no scene is this more clear than the basketball scene. Wherein it’s revealed – and I’m not making any of this up – that every single member of the party except Rinoa has amnesia. Turns out, they all were raised in the same orphanage together. An orphanage run by Edea, the main villain at the time of this revelation. And all of them just forgot because the in-universe magic causes amnesia. A fact that was never established, never even hinted at, in the story before this moment.

Who. Wrote. This?

I could go on and on about all the shortcomings of the writing. Hell, I could write a whole damn book about it. But for the sake of all our sanities, let’s just move on to the presentation. And surprise! I actually have positive things to say in this segment!

At the time, Final Fantasy VIII was an incredibly impressive game. The character models were more richly detailed than any other game at the time, and the pre-rendered backgrounds were – and still are – really nice to look at. Not to mention how seamlessly it transitioned from high-grade cinematic cutscenes into gameplay and vice versa. It was pretty amazing stuff.

Thankfully, much of that magic remains with the HD remaster. Better yet, this version smoothed out those original character models, making them more detailed than ever (not to mention easier on the eyes than the original PS1 models; those have not aged well).

Of course, the music is amazing. That was never in doubt. But it is worth noting that VIII has an especially good OST. It’s even got an actual song with lyrics, ‘Eyes on Me’, which works perfectly for the romantic plot of the game.

So we’ve got our silver lining. The game looks and sounds amazing. It did some really revolutionary things for a Playstation 1 game.

Alright, let’s talk about the gameplay now.

Final Fantasy VIII plays unlike any game in the series before it. Oh, sure, the active-time battle system is still here. However, actually building your characters is completely unlike any RPG to come before or since.

See, your characters don’t get stronger by leveling up. Rather, you need to use the new Junction system. Basically, by equipping a GF (summons) you can attach magic to your various stats to increase them. For example, you can raise your max HP by plugging in a healing spell, like Cure. Or you could raise your STR by plugging in Berserk, or raise your defensive stats with Shell.

How do you attach magic to your stats? Well, first, you need to get it using the Draw system. Basically, every enemy in the game has a set list of spells that you can Draw from them, essentially like stealing an item. Each character can hold up to 100 of any given spell and hold up to 48 different spells.

All of this was done in the effort to reduce grinding. In fact, Final Fantasy VIII actually punishes you for grinding levels! Enemies scale in this game, so it’ll be easier to finish if you keep your character levels low but your Junctions high.

But don’t just go running away from every battle. You still need to level up your GFs in order to gain access to those Junction stats in the first place.

Does all this sound needlessly complicated and kinda confusing? That’s because it is. Especially because the game does a piss poor job of explaining these mechanics to you. You’re bombarded by text box after text box after text box teaching you how to use it right at the start of the game, then you’re just thrown out into the wild to figure it out.

Sad thing is: this system introduced to kill grinding requires you to grind to make it work. All it did was replace one form of grinding with another.

Thankfully, you can freely swap Junctions and magic supplies between characters. This way, when the game forces you to use party members you haven’t touched before, you can immediately bring them up to snuff with the others. Plus, you don’t need to go and Draw grind with every single character. So that’s a plus.

What isn’t is how magic is treated in this game. Remember: magic is basically an item. An item tied directly to your character’s stats. Meaning that if you use magic, you’ll not only be losing a valuable item, you’ll be dropping whatever stat it might be attached to. The game actively encourages you not to ever use magic!

Instead, you can just spam summons. See, summons in this game aren’t limited to one or two uses per battle. Rather, they have their own independent health bars; so long as they still have HP, you can use them over and over and over again.

Hope you enjoy those Summon animations. Because you’ll be seeing them a lot. Unless you want to keep hitting enemies with your significantly less powerful weapons.

Speaking of which: weapons have been completely revamped in this game. Rather than buying new ones as you go along, you’ll be upgrading the ones you already have throughout your journey. I like this in concept; why replace a perfectly good weapon when you can upgrade? Problem is, you now have to go out and grind to find the parts you need to upgrade. Not to mention that you can only upgrade after reading a god damn magazine that tells you about the newer versions.

Limit Breaks make their return. I wouldn’t call it triumphant, though. In VIII, once your character’s HP drops low enough, they have a chance to use their Limit Breaks. Some characters just press a button and unleash a powerful attack, some have to do timed button presses, and others have to input a combo ala Sabin from VI. Sadly, for me at least, none of them were as flashy, cool, or fun to use as those in other Final Fantasy games.

Even traversal sucks now. The camera in the overworld is a god damn nightmare, always being positioned at the wrong angle and being too close to the land to be of any use. Not to mention that the maps are all absolutely useless and the overworld itself looks like ass. You don’t even get a cool airship; the only vehicles you get are either rental cars or massive, ugly pieces of shit.

I don’t want to talk about this game anymore. At the end of the day, it just isn’t fun. Sure, it’s nice to be able to just break the game open with the Junction system. But actually learning and using the system just isn’t enjoyable! Constantly navigating the menus just so you can optimally spam summons and never once touch magic? It all gets so old so fast!

Nothing about this game works. It’s all needlessly complicated, half-baked, and slapped together with no rhyme or reason. The story is an absolute mess that makes less and less sense as it goes on and the gameplay is a nightmare of menus and nonsensical, poorly explained mechanics.

The best thing Final Fantasy VIII has got going for it is its visuals and the music. It managed some revolutionary stuff that led the way for cinematic gameplay as we know it today. That’s the only part of this game that I actually enjoyed.

Plenty of people out there will say that VIII is their favorite Final Fantasy game. And if you’re one of those people… thanks for reading through this really long article lampooning your game. More power to you. Keep on liking it.

But me? I am never going to touch this game again.

That’s all I have to say. I’m going to bed. Writing this review wiped me out.

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