|Love. Yeah, its kind of hard to imagine that word cropping
up in a game review, especially when it encapsulates the story of Squaresofts next
installment in the FF series--Final Fantasy VIII, for those who havent been
following. After a wait and numerous MPEG previews on various websites, screen shots to
make you drool over, and rumor after rumor, its landed on our shores during a busy
week for the gaming community. Put down that Dreamcast control and pick up this title,
'cause youre going to want to experience this latest fantasy.
Lets run through the games premise. You play the character of young Squall Leonhart, a member of an elite mercenary group known as SeeD based out of Balamb Garden, your training facility. As the first disc unfolds you learn that theres more going on than what you know. Isnt there always? Your quest is to go against the Sorceress Edea. Now, this may sound like a spoiler, but it isnt. As any experienced FF player out there will know, this isnt the full story. Expect the story to get more complex and dense as it unfolds across the four disc set.
I really enjoyed this installment over all the others in the series--this is by far the most fleshed-out story Ive seen in an RPG. Its like reading a bookas you progress, you begin to get a feel for who Squall ishis internal struggles with becoming a leader and the fear of relying upon someone else besides himself. Instead of coming up with the quests and monsters, Squaresoft built this game around the story of Squall falling in love with Rhinoa. This isnt your classic wander-around-kill-monsters-collect-things game.
Yes, you do have your mini-quests that dont really work into the story, but the cool thing is that you dont have to play these. You are given the option of continuing with the story or taking a break to increase your characters XP and to gather more GFs. There are points where youll want to do this. Like any RPG, there seems to be a point where you are forced to wander around and rise in level before moving on, but dont let this get you down. Squaresoft has structured the game in such a way that your level increases as you proceed through the game. Yes, the battles will be a little more difficult, but you can still finish it without doing the side quests.
After this game, Ive seen what the PlayStation is capable of and what it is limited to. Squaresoft has pushed the limitations of Sonys hardware with FFVIII. Some of the unique tricks in this game are FMVs that are going on behind the movement of your characters across the screen. And, by far, these FMVs are top notch eye candy. Theres seemingly no pause between action and movie. To say the least, the graphics make seamless transitions. There are sections where explosions and battles are ensuing while you must struggle through the landscape, making your way from point A to point B, hoping you wont be attacked. FFVIII is not just a game. Its more of an interactive movie; it heralds the future of RPG gaming.
Another addition Squaresoft has made is the use of the dual-shock controller. Yeah, I know. Cool isnt it? Theyve also made it a little easier to balance between running and walking, something VII had a problem with. Theres also less confusion on where to go when youre in an area. Like a good RPG, they nudge you in the right direction discreetly instead of just forcing you into something.
As always, the battle sequences and the controls are the same. The difference, though, with VIII is that instead of channeling magic you can now junction things known as Guardian Forces (or GF during the game). Essentially, GFs are BOSS characters you acquire and add to your arsenal of magic and weapons. Whats nice about this new system is instead of just having your party of three characters you can now use the GFs who have their own HP, making it easier for you to get through some of the more difficult sections of the game. And trust me, there are plenty of sections thatll challenge your ability to balance attacks with magic and GFs.
Dont misunderstand, magic hasnt been totally written off in VIII. The way your characters acquire magic is to "draw" various spells from draw points found in towns and other areas. Basically, what youre doing is stocking it up. One thing I didnt figure out until I made it toward the end of the second discskipping the instruction manual completelyis the ability to not only draw from draw points but to draw from enemies. In some cases this is a must if you want to defeat them. Youre able to either stock the points or redirect the magic back at your opponent.
Alright, now down to the few flaws of this game. The only thing that kind of struck me as odd is that weapon and armor upgrades have taken a back seat. Instead, most of the time you find yourself using your GFs in battle instead of fighting it out with your gunblade. But Squaresoft balances this out nicely if youre willing to run around and collect all the GFs that are out there. Yep, thats my only problem with the game.
I dont need to say that this is a must play, must own game. It seems to me that Final Fantasy VIII is the final hurrah for the PlayStation as we move into the next generation of consoles. Its like a story book ending for the generation of PSX gaming. Squaresoft has taken the hardware to the limits, showing us that other developers out there havent been taking full advantage of the hardware at their fingertips. By far Final Fantasy VIII is this years reigning champion of RPGs, but its also the only game Ive seen take full advantage of the PSX hardware. Go, young gunblade, and experience this RPG.