Monday, 31 October 2016

Review: Final Fantasy 8

Wait, oops, this is a Sonic Adventure screenshot, my bad.

We’re back once more. Two fuffs in a single year ain’t too bad. This time we’re here to talk about Final Fantasy VIII. Like all the times before, I guess we should start with how much of it you knew going in?

I know that this is the one that only EDGY TEEEEENNNNZZZ like, and a lot of other people don’t. I seem to inexplicably know a load of names of the main characters. This is because I was on the internet in like 2001. This game was kind of a big deal back then! I know people liked the melodramatic cutscenes. I believe it features another posh, sultry, witchy, Parasite Eve-style lady as at least one of the villains, and a token malicious rival character as another. I know that the main character, Squall, is two Cloud Strifes stacked on top of each other, wearing a leather jacket and speaking only in ellipses.

Wow this introspective moment really paid off.

Sounds like you pretty much nailed all of it. Let’s just dive straight into it. The big hubbub about Final Fantasy 8 are its unconventional and impenetrable gameplay systems, and how they all weave in and out of each other, escalating the complexity even further. Perhaps you can give the good folks a primer on what we’re dealing with.

Oh geez. It’s all up to me. OKAY SO instead of a standard mana system you collect ‘Guardian Force’ characters which are based on the classic Final Fantasy ‘Summons’, but in this game they kind of serve as something resembling a ‘class’, allowing you to unlock specialist battle abilities but also they allow you to junction magic spells to your stats, allowing you to make huge stat modifiers that I suppose take the place of an equipment system. Now instead of a mana system for your magic and unlocking spells as your character grows, you instead have to ‘draw’ each individual spell as if it were an item from enemies. So you collect spells from enemies as you fight them, store up to 100 of each type, junction them to stats and/or use them in battle. Have I lost you? Sorry but whatever, I’ll keep going! Tough tonberries! You can also summon a ‘Guardian Force’ or ‘GF’ (heh) in battle to cast a powerful spell, and since the game has no mana system you rely on the GF’s own HP which takes place of yours during the time it takes to summon the GF. There are also needlessly convoluted limit breaks that activate only when your HP is low, so you can choose a strategy of doing massive damage while dancing on the brink of death if you so desire.

agh... opponent.. used... text.. wall..

You have a lot of options for wildly different strategies available to you. It’s actually kind of refreshing… but also.. It just feels kind of unbalanced and difficult to want to invest in. Certain RPG staples are rendered meaningless, like there’s no reason to ever switch characters because their abilities are determined by their custom junctions which you’ll be forced to just swap around. Oh, and the enemies scale to your level, so there’s actually no reason to want to gain exp from battles. Annoyingly, you’ll want to instead try and gain more spells, items and ‘ability points’ for your GF and avoid simply winning battles against lesser enemies quickly and efficiently. I think that’s everything!

FFVIII's hidden meaning, sound relationship advice.

While the game has a decently sized cast, I can’t help but think most of the characters merely exist in the background to the more personal story of Squall and Rinoa. It kind of made me realise that romance stories are sort of rare in video games, or at the very least rarely take the centre-stage. It’s a pretty bold move, but I think it did this aspect pretty well.

CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT TIME: I actually think I like Rinoa better than Tifa? Tifa was cool for being a female monk class, but she was so passive in terms of the storyline. Tifa's just like CLOUD WE WAS CHILDHOOD FRIENDS, WILL U PROTECT ME CUZ U IS A MALE? CHEERS. Rinoa like proves that she’s exceptionally friendly and feisty among the party members, but is also concerned about being the only non-soldier character and is aware of her privilege. A romance between 2 whingey teens might not be my cuppa tea, but for once it had enough character development to sorta work I guess. And yeah, honestly? My gut response was that a cheesy love story is pretty generic... but in a videogame… is it, actually?

Seriously Squall, man, come on.

One of the most popular aspects of the game, is its take on mini-games. Final Fantasy 7 had quite a lot of them, but they were short, quite simple, absolutely un-fun, and their explanations were often longer than the duration of these games-within-games. Final Fantasy 8 streamlines the process by mostly focussing on just a single type of minigame, which is the card game “Triple Triad”. Did you think it was the right move to dedicate so much time to it?

I actually have no idea. Normally I think straddling between some epic cinematic RPG and some rudimentary board game woven into the game so that you can take a break and play fucking CHECKERS or some shit, while the world hangs in the balance and every minute counts, is a dumb cliche. But y'know what, I’d rather go 20 rounds of their tic tac toe cards than do a single one of those baffling unresponsive simon says QTEs that FF7 forces upon you every 5 minutes. I did end up playing triple triad like 500% more than I needed to. I JUST NEEDED TO SEE WHAT KINDA CARDS THIS RANDOM GATE GUARD HAD OKAY??

Seriously, Ward, man, come on.

I found myself playing the card game a lot early on, basically in parts of the game where I didn’t really need distractions yet. As the time went on, I started ignoring it, which kind of felt like the opposite of the intended use. Anyway, while FF8 sold really well, it’s probably the most divisive entry in the series. Having played it, why do you reckon that is?

The aforementioned inaccessible combat mechanics, and the incomprehensible gameflow and plot and lack of clear directions for what the player is supposed to do next. It actually reminds me a lot of Chrono Cross in those regards, except CC’s battle system was a lot more likable and so were the characters. Also, incoming env artist complaint: DEAR FF7, FF8, PARASITE EVE AND CO: PUT. MORE. THOUGHT. INTO. LAYOUTS. OF. PRERENDERED. BACKGROUNDS.

Toot toot, its the slaggin' wagon approaching the railway cross-Zing!

While it’s far from my favourite, I think I enjoyed it a lot more than when I first played it. It’s a much more complicated game than anything before it, for better and for worse. It’s kind of unwelcoming to newcomers, and has systems in place that punish you further for not knowing what you’re doing.

I’m glad! I feel like our RPG experience actually helped a lot. I felt the same way with FF7 though as well. I think both games would have been impenetrable to like 14 year old me, who still preferred Yoshi’s Story to Ocarina of Time ‘cause I hadn’t figured out how to get out of Kokiri Village.


Any special last words to sum it all up?

The game has a lot of flaws, like really big and ridiculous flaws (like seriously did they ever really explain what the time compression thing was… for??), but it was actually a pretty memorable experience and it somehow didn’t kill me so it only made me stronger. Woulda preferred a game about Laguna, Kiros and Ward tbh. I give this a SERIOUSLY, ZELL WHAT THE FUCK ARE THOSE JEAN SHORTS?/10.

A cruel reminder for us all that the early 00's happened.




That's just what you get for going commando.

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