Final Fantasy VIII was the first entry that I ever played in the Final Fantasy series. I love it and still do to this day. To this day, I still love the realistic graphics (particularly for its time as a PlayStation One classic), its memorable soundtrack and the visually stunning Guardian Force (or GF) summoning animations. For an impressionable 10 year old, this game was my life for many years and it is still a pleasure to revisit. If it gives you any indication of how much I have played this game, I can complete the game and all its side quests without needing to refer to a guide or walkthrough. (I can also bore you to tears with its lore and my interpretation of everything.)
Even if you dislike most of this game, you can’t go past the game’s incredible soundtrack that was entirely composed by legendary Final Fantasy composer Uematsu Nobuo. Soundtracks in this game like Fisherman’s Horizon, The Landing, The Extreme, The Man With A Machine Gun, Force Your Way, The Oath, Ami, etc, are legendary. There are so many incredible tracks. I think Final Fantasy VIII has the best soundtrack or is at least within the top 3. In my view, Final Fantasy XIV would be the other game that has an incredible soundtrack.
Given that this game came out in 1999, I think it fair to say that I am going to get into some spoilers in this article.
The story is a wild, unbelievable chain of events, but it is fun to follow
To this day, the fanbase of the Final Fantasy series are divided on this eighth entry. The common complaint is that the story gets unbelievably unrealistic and that the game play is broken. I’ll touch on the story first.
Understandably, if you started from the first Final Fantasy or even Final Fantasy VII (the first game on the PlayStation One and where most people started) you would be able to follow those game’s often linear stories with straight forward good versus bad themes without too much issue. With this entry, I would argue that Final Fantasy VIII is one of the first in the series to allow for interesting speculations and theories to a great degree, I mean hardcore speculations and theories about why things are the way they are. I am talking about the fan theories that have been debunked by the game producer that 1) Squall died at the end of assassination attempt on Sorceress Edea and is living the rest of the game in his dreams and 2) that Rinoa and Ultimecia are one and the same. The simple reason for all these speculations and theories is that the game does not explain everything, which is typical of Japanese cinema and other forms of their entertainment. This gives the viewer the chance to land on their own meaning without it being told to them.
Let me summarise the story and hopefully it will illustrate why the game’s story is so wild and unbelievable.
Squall is a young mercenary trained in a military facility called Balamb Garden. He is a rising talent with skills in wielding a difficult weapon, a gunblade, and despite him being an introverted person, he happens to wind up on some epic missions that take him to fight a giant floating demon on a radio tower, being chased by an almost unbeatable killer spider, made a leader and then tasked with assassinating the President of Galbadia and then the sorceress controlling that President. This all happens in what happened to be Disc 1 (out of 4) on the original PlayStation.
The story gets even more wild in Disc 2 when he has to escape a prison in the middle of desert, entrusts the destruction of a missile base to a hippy girl (Selphie), fights in a chaotic civil war between the Balamb Garden proprietor and its headmaster, then is forced to fight the said Balamb Garden proprietor, he then starts developing feelings for the heroine Rinoa and then realizes that the other four members of his team are from his childhood orphanage and that the sorceress was his caretaker, e.g. foster parent, when his father abandoned him. (Also, we aren’t explicitly told who Squall’s parents are, but enough clues are left.) The reason why our characters can’t remember anything? We are told that GFs cause the person who is junctioned with the GF to lose their memories over time. (Which can be believable, because even to this day, there are people who say they knew me as a child and can list some mutual people I can remember as well, but I still can’t remember them. Maybe I have a GF junctioned to me as well.)
In Disc 3, the story then takes a turn for the weird when Squall is launched into space, monsters from the moon start to fall to the ‘earth’, and time compression, where to beat the evil sorceress from the future time has to be compressed, becomes canon.
One thing is for sure. When you play Final Fantasy VIII, you are in for a ride. But it was a ride I really enjoyed as a child. I speculated about so many things back then and spent countless days with friends about all sorts of wild theories. These moments, where I could share my experiences with my friends, were probably the real reason why I still hold this game in a special place in my memories. I still get a shiver when confronting Sorceress Edea in the Deling City Parade, confront a Malboro/Ruby Dragon, and during the Garden clash.
The gameplay can be hard, but you can break the game and become unbeatable
Final Fantasy VIII has an unconventional gameplay. I know many people don’t like it. The idea of having to junction GFs to be able to increase character stats (and commands) and also selecting powerful magics to junction to each of those stats. This meant that magic that was junctioned was rarely used because, by using the junctioned magic, your stats would be lowered. Also, I can completely understand that having to draw magic from enemies to boost your stockpile of certain magic as being tedious than a joy.
What I really liked in this game was that I could activate a trigger to deal extra damage when attacking with a gunblade user, both Squall and Seifer, could use limit breaks at will by triggering the right conditions (e.g. low health or using Aura, and watching my characters wipe out enemies with those attacks was satisfying) and being able to watch those incredible GF summoning animations (you can’t get sick of seeing Diablos’ summoning where he comes out of that oozy black orb).
At the same time, I know that using the attack command in 99% of battles is tedious and is boring, because attack happens to be the most effective way to deal damage. You can win the game by just attacking. Plus the customization of weapons, armor and abilities is limited and uninteresting, and all characters are literally the same except for their limit breaks. Therefore Squall, Rinoa and Zell were my main stays in my party. (Squall is a mandatory member whenever he is usable.)
Final Fantasy VIII happens to be one of the first in the series to allow people to break the game even before the main events in the game. This happens through the use of the card game, Triple Triad, where you can acquire powerful cards from people in the early section of the game and then modify those cards into items or powerful magicks that you can junction onto your character. In fact, it is very possible to have an end game character near the start of the game with a bit of effort and even the ultimate weapon for Squall, Lionheart. (I found it interesting to see how broken I could be.)
The side content such as the card game, Triple Triad is a must, and acquiring optional GFs is challenging and rewarding
Many of the Final Fantasy games have little gems that are worth trying and/or exploring. The game usually rewards those who explore.
You can pretty much play the game entire game of Final Fantasy VIII and never come across the awesome card game, Triple Triad. The card game is simple to learn and master, but can be difficult where NPCs challenge you with rules such as Plus, Same, Random, etc. Where the game rules are simply Open, you can have fun decimating your opponents with your powerful cards. It is also fun to find the rare cards, e.g. Elloine has Laguna’s card and you can only challenge her when you are in space. A nice hint at a relationship is that Laguna holds Squall’s card.
Chocobo World can be rewarding as it provides unique rewards that can be obtained elsewhere. You can only get these rewards with a PocketStation, which was elusive outside Japan. For Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, Chocobo World was removed and the items associated with it have been added to potential items that Angelo Search can provide. All in all, chocobos play a very small role in this game.
The other side quests such as the Obel Lake side quest and the Deep Sea Research Center are interesting. The most rewarding to take on is the Deep Sea Research Center, which will offer two incredibly strong GFs, Bahamut and Eden. Plus, you can use this location to spawn certain monsters to help give Quistis her most powerful limit break, Shockwave Pulsar (Shockwave Pulsar is also used by Griever during the final battles.), and/or acquire some hard to find end game items for ultimate weapons and magicks.
Overall, Final Fantasy VIII is a fun game because it takes you on a journey and there are plenty of memorable moments
I am firmly still in the love it category. I say this with full knowledge of the game’s flaws. I just have too much nostalgia for this game and even 20+ years on, I still keep the game in a special place in my memories.
The memorable moments include the opening cinematic where Squall and Seifer clash in the training grounds, the Deling City Parade, being introduced to the Ragnarok and even the final battle against Ultimecia. Also the Final Fantasy VIII GFs such as Diablos, Odin, Eden and weapons like Valkyrie and Lionheart have become iconic in many ways.
The whole game is helped by its legendary soundtrack. I love the soundtrack, my favorite tracks are in order: The Landing, Force Your Way and Fisherman’s Horizon. Uematsu Nobuo truly did a phenomenal job composing the tracks for this game. Most tracks are memorable and timeless.
If you haven’t played Final Fantasy VIII before, I recommend getting the Remastered edition. The character and monster models are so much better. You won’t see some the deformed figures that I saw growing up. The Remastered edition just adds nice new models, some nicer visuals and some other minor quality of life enhancements, but otherwise doesn’t add much more to the overall game.
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