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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004


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by Squaresoft

cup.gif (5516 bytes)Ups:Amazing graphics; innovative play features; no superdeformed sprites; that old-time FF flavor.

Downs:There are downs?

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation, memory card.

ff8_2.jpg (11112 bytes)Love. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to imagine that word cropping up in a game review, especially when it encapsulates the story of Squaresoft’s next installment in the FF series--Final Fantasy VIII, for those who haven’t been following. After a wait and numerous MPEG previews on various websites, screen shots to make you drool over, and rumor after rumor, it’s landed on our shores during a busy week for the gaming community. Put down that Dreamcast control and pick up this title, 'cause you’re going to want to experience this latest fantasy.

sel_ifrit.gif (6821 bytes)Let’s run through the game’s 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 there’s more going on than what you know. Isn’t there always? Your quest is to go against the Sorceress Edea. Now, this may sound like a spoiler, but it isn’t. As any experienced FF player out there will know, this isn’t the full story. Expect the story to get more complex and dense as it unfolds across the four disc set.

screen1.gif (66299 bytes)I really enjoyed this installment over all the others in the series--this is by far the most fleshed-out story I’ve seen in an RPG. It’s like reading a book—as you progress, you begin to get a feel for who Squall is—his 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 isn’t your classic wander-around-kill-monsters-collect-things game.

screen2.gif (65230 bytes)Yes, you do have your mini-quests that don’t really work into the story, but the cool thing is that you don’t 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 you’ll 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 don’t 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.

screen20.gif (63742 bytes)After this game, I’ve seen what the PlayStation is capable of and what it is limited to. Squaresoft has pushed the limitations of Sony’s 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. There’s 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 won’t be attacked. FFVIII is not just a game. It’s more of an interactive movie; it heralds the future of RPG gaming.

screen7.gif (66567 bytes)Another addition Squaresoft has made is the use of the dual-shock controller. Yeah, I know. Cool isn’t it? They’ve also made it a little easier to balance between running and walking, something VII had a problem with. There’s also less confusion on where to go when you’re in an area. Like a good RPG, they nudge you in the right direction discreetly instead of just forcing you into something.

sel_diablos.gif (10984 bytes)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. What’s 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 that’ll challenge your ability to balance attacks with magic and GFs.

screen13.gif (52196 bytes)Don’t misunderstand, magic hasn’t 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 you’re doing is stocking it up. One thing I didn’t figure out until I made it toward the end of the second disc—skipping the instruction manual completely—is 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. You’re 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 you’re willing to run around and collect all the GFs that are out there. Yep, that’s my only problem with the game.

squall_profile.jpg (9397 bytes)I don’t 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. It’s 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 haven’t been taking full advantage of the hardware at their fingertips. By far Final Fantasy VIII is this year’s reigning champion of RPGs, but it’s also the only game I’ve seen take full advantage of the PSX hardware. Go, young gunblade, and experience this RPG.

--Matt Baldwin