Gaijin Gunpla


Review number two in the Ranking Final Fantasy series is all about VIII. ASM and I went in detail and in-depth about VII in the previous post and we are back at it to talk about the game that had to follow that one. As such, the creators of VIII had a lot of pressure on them right out of the gate. Were they able to reach expectations?

Arriving around two years after its predecessor, VIII saw significant changes from VII in areas such as character models, gameplay systems, and sound design. Like last time we’ll assign a grade to the major areas of the game and give it a final grade to see how it stacks up. As always, the opinions expressed here are our own and, for the most part, are correct. 😉

Here’s a look at the various box art the game released with.

Japan release box art.

Looking at the box art you get an idea of a major story arc.

NTSC (North American) art.

Same as the cover on my much-loved, dog-eared strategy guide.

PAL box art.

Unlike VII, and later games like X, there was no ‘International Version’ of VIII released.

The Story

A member of an elite military team, Squall Leonheart, is forced into a conflict beyond imagination. To survive, he must contend with a desperate rival, a powerful sorceress, and his own mysterious dreams.

GG: I’ll throw out a big spoiler right here, VIII is a love story. Yes, peoples’ lives are in danger and the very existence of the world as they know it is threatened but through all this the love story is told. Because the story focuses so much on this angle it sometimes feels like plot lacks detail and depth at times and some things, especially near the end, can get pretty confusing. It may take multiple playthroughs to finally understand what has been happening. Hey, time travel/alternate universes are involved so it’s bound to get a little sketchy. With all that said, I did enjoy myself immensely when I played it the first time and continue to do so even now. Grade: B

ASM: When revisiting VIII, I realised something. VIII starts out literally as a Japanese school life love story. Yet it’s not completely overboard (well, relatively), and to be honest, I enjoyed that story. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings with the rest of VIII’s story, simply because the rest of it just comes across as forgettable. It feels like the story peaks after CD 1, and then it just fizzles. The villain wasn’t as clear cut as you had in previous games, and despite a much more aligned graphics style and world setting, VIII ends up being at the bottom of the 3 PS1 era FF’s for me. Grade: C plus

The Characters

The main characters of Final Fantasy VIII, with the exception of one, belong to an organisation known as SeeD which trains young fighters to send out throughout the world as mercenaries. They all work together throughout the course of the game to accomplish the objectives assigned to them. However, their connection turns out to be more than just that of school-mates…

Protagonists

Squall Leonheart

This dude needs to get laaaaaaaaaid. He is so serious all the time but that does make him perfect for the jobs assigned to him. As you learn more of his back story you begin to understand why he thinks the way he does. After meeting Rinoa however, things change and another side to him is revealed. – GG

Rinoa Heartilly

The heroine of our school love story, who doesn’t die! (well…) Fits the standard drama trope of bright and ambitious, yet stubborn in a cute way. Comes with her own version of interceptor, and is actually fairly useful in a fight. – ASM

Quistis Trepe

Quistis is the female character I was most attracted to at first. Smart and attractive (the glasses!). However, she ends up on the sidelines during most of my playthroughs. She is, however, one of the highest ranking members of the Balamb Garden Card Club. I feel it is important you know this. – GG

Zell Dincht

Brash, hot headed, and loves hot dogs. The monk archetype, he fights with his fists similar to Tifa. And honestly was just forgettable. – ASM

Selphie Tilmitt

Remember when the word Selphie had good connotations? This was then. She’s always happy and trying to cheer up the other members though she does occasionally need someone to do the same for her. No matter how many times I played this game, she always ended up being a main member of my party due to her Limit Breaks. – GG

Irvine Kineas

I really liked Irvine at the time, he was the ladies man and a sniper! A member of one of the other Garden Academies in the game, but actually ends up having the same background as all the other charcters. – ASM

Sub-characters
These characters were only playable when in the ‘Dream World’, sequences that appeared only in specific parts of the game.

Laguna Loire

The second protagnist in the game, during certain sequences, and the one that actually gets his own battle music. Very likable and served as counterpart to angsty Squall. – ASM

Kiros Seagill

Being a sub-character his backstory isn’t really fleshed out and you don’t really get to know him in much detail. He does do a pretty good job of keeping an eye on Laguna in that other world, however. – GG

Ward Zabac

The other sub-character in Laguna’s party for his sequence, A man of little words who carries (like a lot of people in these game) an abnormally large weapon. – ASM

Antagonist

Seifer

One of the antagonists in the game, Seifer serves as Squall’s rival in school life, as you note immedietely as you start the game. Also known as a gunblade wielder, Seifer is one of the most visible villains you face throughout the game. – ASM

Main Antagonist

Edea (aka Matron)

She’s the main bad guy in the game. No wait. She’s actually a big part of your history and at one point a member of your party. No wait. She’s connected somehow to the ultimate evil in the galaxy. Women are confusing. – GG

Favorite CharacterASMIt’s a toss up between Squall and Laguna. The two protagonists of the game had such a great contrast between them that it makes it hard to choose. But Square did make an iconic weapon with the gunblade, so Squall edges ahead for me.

Favorite CharacterGG – Squall. I have a special fondness for him that stands the test of time even if I start to get more annoyed at his petulance with each play through.

Least Favorite CharacterASMZell, simply because there wasn’t anything interesting about him that made him memorable.

Least Favorite CharacterGG – Ward, probably. He’s a big brute who they try to add some sensitivity to but because you use him so seldom it’s tough to feel much of an attachment to him.

Character Grade by ASM – C

Character Grade by GG – B minus

The Battle System

Probably the most controversial battle system of any Final Fantasy game, the Draw System has you drawing (basically stealing) magic from enemies, or various points around the world map, which can be used in battle or stored for use in junctioning to various stats in order to increase them.

GG: This is massively different from what we are used to which I kind of admire the development team for. It took a lot of guts to change things so completely. There are flaws in it to say the least. You can just sit there and draw magic from an enemy instead of defeating it which means battles can take a long time. What I found, though, is that you don’t usually want to use magic that you have stocked, unless it curative, and so you’re just pounding your Guardian Forces. Grade: B

ASM: While the battles themselves follow standard FF style in regards to fighting and magic, the major departure was in how you would aquire magic, skills, and summons, aka Guardian Forces. Using the draw system, you could draw from enemies, but with varying success rates, it felt like battles were longer than before. Guardian Forces, during the wait for it to be summoned, would actually take the any damage inflicted by the enemy in place of the party member. Grade: B minus

The Character Levelling System

Junctioning! By attaching the spells you have drawn to particular stats you can increase that stat. This ties into the Guardian Force summons and how you assign them to your characters. However, enemies level up as you do so you can actually rush through the game without really needing to level your character. This was and still is somewhat controversial.

ASM: The system used in VIII is similar to II in the fact that it was quite different from other FFs, to the point that it was never used again. While II’s leveling system would live on in the SaGa series, VIII’s hasn’t been seen since. As enemies leveled with you, the later battles could get quite tedious and long. However, this added a new challenge in that you could beat the game at a very low level if you worked at it, as it was less about your levels and more about what spells you had junctioned that would affect your stats. While spells junctioned would help your stats, you would use spells, which would then, in turn, affect your stats. With that in mind, the need to balance both your stats, magic stock, and how you fought was much more important than any of the previous FFs to this point. Grade: B

GG: This is actually quite complex if you pay enough attention. Each GF has different attributes to which you can attach spells. One aspect they included was that whomever lands the killing blow gets more EXP and because Squall almost always had to be in your party he ended up with stats much higher than the other members. I was actually trying to manage fights so characters other than Squall did the killing. All that said, if you want a balanced party or assigned roles for your characters you’ll be looking to spread those stats/GF around. It is a big learning curve but maybe that’s why I liked it. Grade: B plus

The Limit Breaks

Like VII each character has a limit break however in VIII it is activated when your character is near death similar to the Desperation Attack found in VI. Finding the balance between keeping your character alive and keeping them in LB can be risky. Each characters’ Limit Break acquisition and activation was unique to that character meaning sometimes a certain character may have more Limit Break options than his/her teammates.

ASM: As limit breaks were now a staple, everyone gets their own style. At this point there isn’t anything that was super new in terms of new limit, aside from Squall. The idea of hitting the shoulder button to signify hitting the trigger on the gunblade worked well, and is memorable even today. Grade: B plus

GG: Selphie’s Slots are the best thing ever (even after I complained about those of VII’s Cait Sith). You get a Do Over so you can keep mashing it until you get Full-Cure or Rapture, or even better and more rare, The End. I’ve defeated Bosses with this thing! Quistis was like the Blue Mage of the group who could learn attacks from certain enemies and then use them as Limit Breaks, but perhaps the character whose Limit Breaks I liked the least was Zell. You had to input button combination making him pummel opponents.

The attack was quite strong but I prefer to sit back and watch Limit Breaks as they happen rather than be actively involved in determining how effective the are. Grade: B

Summons

Summons were called Guardian Forces in VIII and they are the most important part of the game when you consider how they affect the plot, your characters’ stats, and battles. Several attack with elemental magic while others boost your party’s stats or debuff an enemy.

ASM: Animations notched up with even more flashy attacks and came with a way to overpower them as well during their signature attacks. There were a bunch of new ones such as Doomtrain, Eden, and Pandemona, in addition to all the classic ones. Grade: B plus

GG:Summoning animation for Diablos remains one of the best in the series (and I loved seeing it again in XIV)! And the rock-paper-scissors match between the Brothers is funny. Summons were also interactive as you could boost their attack power by hitting the select button repeatedly at the right time during the summon animation. My finger got tired, particularly with the greatest summon, Eden, which I could easily boost to 250 percent. Grade: A

Mini-Games, Sidequests, and Extras

Like VII various mini-games and secrets can be found by exploring the world of FF VIII. Some will yield excellent rewards while others are there more to add depth to the world/story. You could also find extra Guardian Forces by doing the sidequests.

GG: I loved the side quests that rewarded me with Odin and the Tonberry King GF but, really, Triple Triad is the greatest mini-game ever!

I spent so many hours just walking up to NPCs and challenging them. There were also side quests involving the card game that gave you some pretty awesome rewards if you could win the card matches, which wasn’t alwasy easy. But it can allow you to cakewalk through the end of the game. Let me tell you how to beat it (spoilers!) Get your Gilgamesh card and convert it into 10 Holy Wars. At the start of the final battle (or against any of the Weapons) summon Cerberus so you have the Triple ability, cast Aura on each of your party members so they are in Limit Break, then throw up a Holy War making yourself invisible. You won’t be touched. Game over. Thank me later. The addition of quite a few secret Guardian Force offered you the chance to test your fighting skills while extending the playablity of the game. Grade: A plus

ASM: I think I could say Triple Triad and drop the mic. This major mini game that actually lives on now in FFXIV and a phone application was the meat of mini-games in VIII. While there were other games that involved chocobos, and even the short lived pocket station (which I imported actually), the most memorable one is Triple Triad by far. Grade: A

Most Memorable Moment

GG: Oh, so many of these. The failed assassination attempt. When Garden becomes mobile. The Garden battle. Having to put together a band and perform to try and cheer up a bummed out party member. Saving Rinoa in space.

ASM: I am in line with GG on this, as the CG quality of Square had jumped leaps and bounds ahead of VII in such a short time. For me, the scene in space, followed by the Garden battle for sure.

Moment we’d most like to forget

GG: A few of these as well. Fighting your own friends while inside that mobile armour. The orphanage scene. Having to put together a band and perform to try and cheer up a bummed out party member. The orphanage scene again.

ASM: To be honest I’ve already forgotten it, as nothing really comes to mind.

The Soundtrack

Uematsu is once again the maestro behind this soundtrack but now he has had more experience on the Playstation.

ASM: For all the mixed feelings I have for the game, the soundtrack is probably my favorite of the 3 PS1 Final Fantasy games. From the opening track, to the totally different battle music for Laguna, VIII’s soundtrack showed that Uematsu had gotten used to the sound architecture of the playstation. The end movie and credit music really sticks out to me even now, and is in my top three ending themes of all the FFs. Eye’s on Me would start the usage of vocal songs in Final Fantasy, and it would actually go on to win awards in Japan.

The lyrics were about 90% decent too! It was well placed within the game, although I do like the vocal from IX better.
Grade: B

GG: The opening song, Liberi Fatali, is awesome!

Lactose… Dominos… and it works its way into the game at several key points. There are certain tracks that stick out, Man with a Machine Gun for one and the Balamb Garden theme for two, but the one thing that impresses me most is they took Eyes on Me, performed by Faye Wong, and made it a theme that recurs again and again in different forms throughout the course of the game. When the sequence arrives where the song plays in its entirety you realize what everything was building towards. The sound production overall is much higher than in VII and for that reason I think it surpasses that one easily. Grade: A minus

Discussion

ASM: So VIII. Coming off of VII, Final Fantasy was riding a big wave of popularity. Where were you when it was announced and released? For me it was playing the demo of the SeeD assault. Which is now infamous for the musical similarities to the music from The Rock. Big standout as well was the move to make the character models be the same no matter the mode. Some of the flack that VII got was the SD mode, battle mode, and event mode character models being different.

GG: I kept up with info coming out about VIII in the various magazines and played the SEED mission demo that came on a disc with PlayStation magazine. Of course it was awesome to be getting a taste of the new FF.

I remember reading articles about the changes to the character models. They went from those large polygon models to more realistic looking characters. It was also nice to see that in field mode all three party members were there. Thought they was a nice upgrade.

I had it preordered at the local GameStop and took the day off work and was waiting outside the doors when they opened. I was actually there before the game was as the shipment hadn’t yet arrived. So I waited and chatted with the staff there at the time until the boxes came through the door. He cut open the carton and handed me my copy. First out of the box. Picked up the strategy guide as well.

ASM: As noted before this was the first game I imported so I got it in the fall of ’98. I remember trying to figure out the commands and spells and so that’s why I started studying Japanese hiragana and katakana.

GG: You did mention getting the JP version and I’ve been there with XII. However didn’t the JP version of VIII not have the Junction Exchange option. You couldn’t switch your junctioned Magic between characters but had to reassign them all each time?

ASM: Yeah I think that’s right, I don’t recall so much though. The junction system certainly was new though, the concept of individual magic enhancing your stats was very new, and I don’t think there have been any other series who have tried that.

GG: It really was a lot to handle. Each magic boosted each stay differently and figuring out the best combinations could take a long time. You would end up with some powerful characters if you put the time in. I’m not sure I would want to see that system again, though.

ASM: Well the monsters levels all scaled with you. Guess the idea was to always have a challenge?

GG: I suppose so but as the monsters levels went up they became more dangerous at times. This is one of the controversial aspects of VIII. You could play pretty much the entire game without needing to fight or level up. This lead to many types of gameplay challenges. The no leveling challenge. The no junction magic challenge. I appreciate the variety and replay value in VIII.

Summons, or Guardian Forces, went from being a cool addition to battle mode to being a huge part of the story. What did you think about that?

ASM: I thought it was interesting that you could power them up by button mashing during the summon.

GG: Yes, if you’re timing was good. I did feel that you relied on them too much though. You need to have them equipped in order to draw magic but if you’ve got them you’ll likely choose the option to use them in battle. I know they saved my bacon quite a few times.

ASM: What did you think of the story?

GG: That is the question indeed. I was so hyped to play this game that I loved it right from the beginning. I still think the first half is really good. And then they introduce a time compressing sorceress and things get strange and the plot starts to fizzle. I think they were so focused on the love story that they didn’t really concentrate on the narrative as a while. I love the game but can admit the story lacks. What about you?

ASM: I’m there with you, while I like Squall, Rinoa, and Laguna most of the other characters were forgettable. The story definitely went huh after disc 1. But it brings probably FF’s most popular mini game, Triple Triad. It also tried new things with the pocket station. But at the end of the day I was like so we are doing what and beating who?

GG: Ya, the pocket station thing never got anywhere (was that even available outside Japan) and I’ve mentioned my love affair with Triple Triad but VIII really suffered from what I find with a lot of the FF games. At a certain point the world opens up and you can explore and do so many things that the main strength of the game, the story, can get forgotten. Viii’s was the easiest to forget. You actually don’t see the full form of the villain until the very last battle.

ASM: Very true, but you know, I found the ending of VIII pretty satisfying. Loved the music through that and the end roll.

GG: I enjoyed the ending though wasn’t sure of everything that was happening. I loved the video camera shots of the party at the end. That CG was impressive.

What did you think of the weapon upgrade system?

ASM: I think I’m actually gonna have to pull out my soundtrack to VIII and listen to it again. The music for the end roll was just wonderful. It’s a wonderful track. As for the weapon system to tell you the truth it’s not very memorable. It was where you upgraded by buying parts wasn’t it? However, what was more memorable about the weapon system was the Gunblades. While this might actually come into more of our overall what do you think of the game as a whole I think some of the main memorable items were actually the Gunblade, and a few of the main characters.

Squall, Seifer, Rinoa mainly. I would like to say Laguna as well because he had his own battle music. I remember that making my jaw drop. Like oh shit this guy gets his own music he must be special.

Actually thinking about this though does make me want to go back and replay it now…

GG: Yes, you didn’t buy new weapons like in previous FF titles. Instead you located a vendor, which wasn’t that hard as there was one in each city, and if you had enough of the correct parts you could upgrade your weapon. Unless you found some of the Weapons Monthly magazines left lying around somewhere in the works, you would know what parts you needed to collect. However with enemies dropping parts after battles, your ability to Mug them, and the ability to refine cards into items, you could upgrade without too much difficulty. The gunblades were indeed cool and upgrading Squall’s changed his Limit Breaks.

I’ve been replaying it off and on for a few months. It’s great to get back in and feel that nostalgia.

ASM: So actually you know I was thinking about this and and the thing about VIII is that it’s almost like II. I say that because it has a fairly different system from all the past games that was not used again.

The junction system is a one off and II as well had a system where the stats that you used were the ones that went up. So for II, while that system would be used for saga games, it was never used in FF again.

GG: It’s like they decided to turn the RPG genre on its ear. No purchasing weapons. No armour at all. The draw system. Not needing to level but leveling every 1000 points.

ASM: Perhaps it was a little too ahead of its time which we will see you at IX when they went back to the old-school values so to say.

I note that VIII hasn’t gotten a remake or mobile port yet either. Whereas I-VII, IX and X have.

GG: VIII does hold a unique place. It’s the second on the psx so they had experience designing on that system. If Square had stuck with their plan of nine being a side game and not in the main FF line then it would have been the last on psx before it moved to ps2.

And, yes, the lack or remake/port has not escaped my notice. And Squall shows up in the Dissidia games but that’s it.

ASM: Well, most memorable character. Unfortunately everyone else was meh.

GG: True. I have a hard time conjuring up feelings for characters like Zell.

ASM: As much as I liked Irvine at the time Balthier rules the gun-toting class. Quistis and Selphie were meh.

GG: Irvine, the ladies man, made the game a little less heavy and a little more adult.

ASM: Although I like the design of Selphie, she was cute.

GG: I like Selphie more than Rinoa.

ASM: And Laguna too. But didn’t care about Raijin and Fujin.

GG: There were so many characters in VIII that it was hard to make them all likeable. Despite what we are saying here VIII has always been one of my favorites. Maybe it came at just the right time for me.

ASM: It’s not bad at all I think, it had a strong first act and it’s important as it really shows that Square learned to align their graphics with the character models and settings. It’s just that after the first act, it really gets forgettable for me. Which is, in our current context of talking about the last 7 Final Fantasy games, is just how it is.

If we were just talking about VIII only then great but next is IX, my favorite of the ps1 era.

The Verdict

ASM: So I say I have mixed feelings. I actually loved the military school life/love story that VIII has. I loved the character design and how everything was “one consistent design”. I especially loved the soundtrack. Yet, after disc 1, the story dropped off for me. Of all the FF’s, this is the one that I have the hardest time remembering what happened after the end of disc 1. The time between disc 1 and you ending up on the Ragnarok at the end of CD 3(?) is a blank for me. The final boss and the thread there is just huh. Aside from a couple of fhe main characters themselves, the rest of the characters are actually very forgettable.

Yet… FFVIII was the first time I jumped ahead and played the Japanese version of an FF. (Now that I think about it, IX would have been easier to do!) As I was in college at the time, I get that school life vibe, and man, Squall had a bad ass gunblade! So VIII comes across as divisive for me, there are things I love, yet for others, I’m only so-so. I can appreciate the Junction/Draw system, yet going through the means to get the magic needed for junctioning makes me apathetic. While I have felt the urge to go back and replay it, for some reason VIII is the only FF between I and IX that hasn’t been released on smartphones. Still, it looks like I may need to dig out my Vita and give it another go.

ASM Final Grade: B

GG: It is difficult for me to look at VIII obectively, I feel. I was so hyped for all things Final Fantasy after VII that I adored VIII as well, similar to how a young, fresh-faced lad in love for the first time sees no flaws in their love interest. Now that I’m older and many years have passed I can look at the game and realize and, more importantly, accept its deficiencies. It’s a paradox that I look back on it more fondly than the others while recognising that it is the inferior game. Like ASM I think the setting and theme were fantastic and the love story pretty touching. It’s just what they placed those in that ended up lacking. Still, I occasionally still hop on my ps3 and play it or take out my strategy guide or Ultimania and have a quick look. Maybe it is best it stands alone as the only one that isn’t being touched up or redone in any way. That may lead it to be more affectionately viewed by Final Fantasy fans.

GG Final Grade: B plus

Combined Final Grade:

2 Responses so far.

  1. Frankon says:

    When i was a kid i hated this game after playing FFVII. The card game was cool. The GF animations were breathtaking (at that time) but magic system was a big no no for me. When you spammed the magic you were getting weaker. To be honest didnt finish the game then ( i think i was at the begining or end of disk 3) cause got screwed with my play style. Recently i picked the steam version – yes its not a remake (like a HD version) but it fixed some problems with the old VIII pc port (like the crappy 3d and fmv synchronization). And now i kind of appreciate the combat/magic/gf system. Use as least magic as possible (just stack it for the stats), put the GF on chars that need the right stats (just think of them as equipment and not as summons/magic). It took me 10+ years to finally fully appreciate that system and start to really appreciate that game. FFVIII got better with time like a old wine.
    PS. Limit break spam for max dps ^^

  2. Danforth Vista says:

    This is the first FF game I saw when we are cutting classes and spending time in my bestfriend’s house, definitely a game I will never forget. This is the iteration I love the most though there should have been so many storylines that should’ve been fleshed out.

    I like this one the most because of the theories surrounding the later half (or third part) of the game, where Squall was struck by the icicle. I really do believe that everything happened after his “supposed” death was not real.

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