Retro Review: Final Fantasy VIII
Developed and Published in house by SquareSoft for Playstation and released in 1999. Following the critical success of FF7, Squares next game in the series would prove to be divisive one among fans, this is Back to the Final Future...er, Final Fantasy VIII.
Sometime after the Sorceress War between Galbadia and Esthar, the creation of Garden and it's mercenary force SeeDs rose up to face the challenge any Sorceress could pose. Squall Leonhart is one of the most promising cadets at Balamb Garden and well on his way to graduating to SeeD status. Squall is a loner, unemotional, and detached from his fellow students and wants nothing more than to focus on his training and duties as member of Garden. After graduating with fellow students, Zell Dincht and Selphie Tilmitt, they take on their first official gig to help the Timber rebels lead by Rinoa Heartilly, the opposite of Squall in every way and a persistence to crack that hard shell of his and win his heart. When our heroes learn of the Sorceress Edea (with her White Knight, Squalls school rival, Seifer Almasy) and her new plans, SeeDs new job is assassination. With the help of a sniper, Irvine Kinneas, from Galbadia Garden in tow they nearly pull it off. A jailbreak and missile diversion later, we learn the power of the Guardian Forces they possess has probably caused amnesia and there may be more to Sorceress Edea's story and to theirs, something personal to them all. An adventure of time hopping, dream skipping, space jumping, and Sorceress body possession ensues.
Starting development not long after it's predecessor, we get a semi-familiar 3-D character models with pre-rendered backgrounds here. However, SquareSoft this time went with a more traditional look to the character models instead of the super deformed style players have been used too up to this point. The world of Final Fantasy VIII is, in my opinion, a more modern take mixed with some futuristic elements. The vehicles and clothes look like they could've been ripped from our times but some of the technology is definitely ahead of us. Back again is Nobuo Uematsu for the soundtrack this time with a more tranquil, deep, and emotionally impactive track listing. Also on the soundtrack would be the first for a Final Fantasy game, a vocal track sung by Chinese pop star Faye Wong.
Junctions, Junctions, Junctions! That's what you'll be spending all your time on in this game. Traditional leveling isn't of much use here, the enemies level with you so if grind hard too early, it'll probably do more bad than good. Instead, the focus is on raising your Guardian Forces (the summon monsters of FF8). Raise them right, get the proper skills, and junction those skills to your characters and you can become near unstoppable. To support that junction system, you'll be doing a lot of farming and probably playing lots of FF8 mini card game, Triple Triad. Some of the best abilities in this game are being able to turn items and cards from Triple Triad into powerful spells, and the more of those you have the better!
Final Fantasy VIII is an epic journey spanning 4 discs on the Playstation. It was an even further departure from it's other Final Fantasy brethren than FF7 turned out to be. If you're like me, you may think it starts out slow but trust me it picks up around disc 2 and if you have the fortitude the story is not hard to keep up with. Time will only tell if Square Enix will treat this story with as much reverence as Final Fantasy VII and give it a remake as well. Hell, it took years of fans begging for that to happen but, anything is possible.
1999 would be the last year in what I call the Holy Trinity of Years for RPGs on the Playstation. Final Fantasy VIII definitely marks a big green check mark on the positive side of those releases.