Final Fantasy VIII

a game by Square, and Squaresoft
Platforms: PC Playstation PSX
Genre: Adventure/RPG
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 6 reviews
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See also: Final Fantasy Series
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII

With a cohesive, engrossing story line and graphics that raise the bar higher than ever before, Pinal Fantasy VIII will immerse gamers in the promised land of role-playing nirvana.

Another Reality

Although the highly anticipated four-disc epic, Final Fantasy VIII, won't be released in the U.S. until this fall, it's already out in Japan. What's new? First and foremost, FFVIII contains an interesting and engrossing story line that's been enhanced with more realistic-looking characters than in Final Fantasy VII.

Most of FFVIIPs playable characters are graduates of the Garden Academy's Special Forces, called SeeDs. Aside from hand-to-hand fighting capabilities, FFVIII introduces Guardian Force (GF) Cards, or spells, to give you an edge in your quest Also new for FFVIII are vehicles and trains that provide travel options other than your characters feet-- but at a cost Furthermore, you'll marvel at the daytime and nighttime settings that lend a long-absent note of realism to the Final Fantasy fantasy realm.

Use the Force, Squall

Just like FFVII, you're allowed only three characters in your battle party, and each are armed with a unique weapon. FFVIII introduces a new combat system, however--you don't have to mess with weapon, armor, or equipment menus. Instead, nearly every initial character-attribute is modified through the GF Card Junction system, which lets you tie magic stocks to your statistics. The GF Cards must be equipped for your character to have any options during battle (besides attack). These cards also give your characters various special abilities, which are built up using AP points as in Final Fantasy Tactics. The only drawback is that the Cards are far too powerful early in the game, making it easy to win battles.

Delicious Eye-Candy

FFVIII's graphics are fantastic--especial the computer-generated cinemas (CGs). During gameplay, the polygonal characters are almost completely integrated into the CG surroundings with only a slight drop in graphical detail. Although the backgrounds are pre-rendered, they're filled with excellent details and moving elements that make them more realistic-looking. Another cool touch the character weapons that visually change every time your attack level is upgraded. Plus, the music fits the action perfectly, from the rousing battle overtures to the beautiful melodies that underscore the dramatic dialogue.

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Game Reviews

On July 16, Square released Brave Fencer Musashiden in Japan, which was bundled with the highly anticipated playable demo of Final Fantasy VIII. Of course, we were right there to snag one of the first copies of the demo, and now we're back with an updated preview of Square's incredible new RPG sequel.

First, some background on the story. Not much has been revealed yet, but here's what we do know. There's a strangely shaped building in the game that serves as a school for soldiers (sort of like West Point--see issue #109, page 72). The school is called Garden. Squall Leonhart, one of the game's main characters (and main character in the demo version) is one of the trainees of the school. It's a private school for students between six and 19 years of age. If a student doesn't pass the graduation exam at some point between the ages of 15 and 19, he or she will be expelled from Garden.

Garden graduates are exceptional people, and possess the ability to use magic. Interestingly enough, normal people cannot use magic, and there are no magic shops at all in Final Fantasy VIII.

An even harder goal than merely passing the graduation exam, however, is to become a member of SeeD, a special force that's known around the world of FFVIII. Highly capable trainees have a chance to try out for SeeD, and that's exactly what Squall is hoping for. The demo itself (titled "Escape from Dollet") contains only a very small portion of Final Fantasy Vlll's gamepiay--no more than an hour or so at most. The demo involves Squall and two new characters, Zell Dincht and Rinoa Heartilly--all SeeD candidates--taking part in a mission from Garden with their squad leader, the mysterious Seifer Almasy. Toward the end of the demo, they receive orders to withdraw from their mission and meet at the coast, which is when the timer kicks in (just like in the FFVII demo), and they're given 15 minutes to get the hell outta Dollet. Even though it's rather short, the demo makes for a great teaser. The world graphics are beautiful, the animation is even better than it was in FFVII, and the game's integration with FMV is remarkable--it's nearly flawless. There are three FMV scenes on the demo (the opening, a mid-FMV and a closing movie), all of which are of typical Square quality. The ending in particular is awesome. The in-game characters look much more realistic this time, though the texture mapping makes for some pixelization when viewed up close. As we said in our last preview, you now see all party members at all times during the game (instead of them just coming out during event scenes, as was the case in all previous FF games). Since the game supports Sony's Dual Shock analog controller, you can adjust your characters' walking speeds from a subtle tip-toe to a full-on dash, depending on how hard you press the analog stick. Vibration is supported too, both in and out of battle scenes (you can turn it off if you wish, of course). Even the music is excellent, though there's not too much of it in the demo.

Gameplay-wise, there are two new battle commands that have been revealed in the demo. One is the Draw/Stock magic command, and the other is the Guardian Force (G.F.) command. So far it seems as if Magic Points have been eliminated entirely and replaced by Draw/Stock. Here's how it works: In the demo, you have three party members the entire time who go into battle: Squall, Zell and Rinoa. Squall and Zell both have a "Draw" command in their Command Menu. This allows them to "Draw" magic from their enemies and either "Use" it immediately, or "Stock" it for later use. In the demo, you can Draw as often as you wish, and there doesn't seem to be any limit to how much magic you can carry (or steal). This isn't exactly a good thing, as you could just run around getting into random encounters to massively build up your stock of magic spells; but then again, this is only a demo. We're sure the final game will have some sort of limit to how this works to keep the gameplay balanced.

Rinoa, on the other hand, has a command called "G.F.," which is short for Guardian Force. This seems to be the replacement for Summoning Magic, which has always been a staple of the FF series. Guardian Force acts much like a Summon spell did in FFVII--you select the command, choose a monster (the demo version lets you choose Leviathan), and the monster comes and wreaks havoc on your opposition in an intense animation filled with blinding flashes of light and all sorts of incredible special effects. You'll be able to evolve your Guardian Force monsters as they gain experience, so they can grow and become more powerful throughout play.

While Final Fantasy games generally don't carry over unique gameplay systems from previous games in the series (like Materia, for example), there IS a Limit meter in FFVIII. So far though, it doesn't seem to be quite the same as it was in FFVII. In the demo, Squall and Zell both get special attacks that become available after they take a certain amount of damage. Zell's is called Meteo Bullet, and it's a pretty cool attack that does a huge amount of damage. Squall's is called Renzokuken (Sequential Sword Attack), and there are three different forms of it--each has its own special Limit Meter. On the meter are little triangles; as the meter fills up during the attack, you can increase the damage done by pressing Ri every time the bar crosses over one of the triangles. This is similar to Squall's normal attacks, which can be strengthened by pressing Ri just as his Gunblade cuts through an enemy. Unfortunately, that's all we know.

No official word on whether or not anyone else will have a Limit Meter has been released so far. But of course, we'll keep you updated. That's all for new information this month. Be sure to keep checking back, because as new info is released, you'll find it right here. In the meantime, enjoy the latest barrage of screenshots we've prepared for you.

Some of FFVIII's principal players (clockwise from top left): Edea's "knight," Seifer; SeeD member, Squall; the evil sorceress, Edea; and the leader of the resistance, Rinoa.

Visual Splendor. Commanding Controls

Aside from a few instances of graphical breakup and distortion during close-ups, FFYIII's visuals remain con-sistendy spectacular. All the characters and surroundings sport excellent details, and the rendered cinematic sequences--more plentiful than those in FFVII--are among the best ever seen on the PlayStation. The character graphics also give the game a more grownup feel. The super-deformed Brave Fencer Musashi-ish characters from FFVII have given way to FFVIH's new players, who look more realistic and mature; more like those in Parasite Eve.

The controls in the English-language preview version of FFVIII were flawless. Navigating the various spell and item menus was easy (something to be grateful for in the heat of battle), and the pressure-sensitive { analog controls easily transported you from place to place.

Key Differences

For Final Fantasy fans, VIII has some key differences from its predecessors. On the first disc, FFVIII's story is very linear, including only a few tangents. Given that there are three other discs to come, the tale doesn't even begin to take shape until the curtain falls on disc one. Another notable difference is the new combat system. Why bother learning spells (by building experience points) when you can steal them? FFVIII allows characters to draw spells from enemies during combat and then cast the acquired spell immediately or stock it for later use. Of course, tougher enemies yield more powerful spells.

FINAL FANTASY ANTHOLOGY

Final Fantasy fans unable to Find an old copy of one of the greatest RPGs ever made Final Fantasy III for the Super NES--will find their prayers answered with Final Fantasy Anthology. FFA features the full game version of FFIII (called Final Fantasy VI in Japan) and Final Fantasy V (which was never released in the U.S.). While both games' graphics and narratives are unchanged, rendered cinema cut-scenes have been added to help flesh out each title's prospective story. The two-CD Anthology is slated for an early October release.

On May 15 in Japan, Square unveiled to an enthusiastic press the latest installment in what is undeniably the most popular RPG series in the entire world. The game, of course, is none other than Final Fantasy VIII. Later in the month, at E3, Square EA officially announced the game's U.S. release at a press conference during the show.

Always careful not to reveal too much too early, Square has only released a few minor tidbits about the game so far, as well as some screenshots and information regarding the game's first two main characters, Squall Leonhart and Laguna Loire. At the press conference in Japan, and then again at E3, they showed off a brief video of the game, showcasing mostly FMV scenes and some early battle sequences from the game, which according to Square, is currently about 20 percent complete.

The video opened with a huge tower-like satellite/antenna station on the screen (obviously of some significance to the plot). The scene then changed to seven fighter jets (airships?) flying across the sky in front of a huge moon, where the Final Fantasy VIII logo soon appeared. Afterward, we saw a fleet of huge ships forging through the sea. Standing on the deck of one of the ships was Squall, who checks out a map before suddenly dropping into a flashback sequence that shows him running through a desert, being chased by an armed vehicle. After this sequence, the video went on to show various battle scenes (filled with flashy special effects), more FMV clips and a few in-game scenes. A couple of scenes worth noting were the awesome Leviathan summon spell (which is shown wiping out a huge spider-like mech robot), as well as the aforementioned satellite tower unleashing a massive attack on unsuspecting opposition. Needless to say, the video was impressive.

When asked about the theme of Final Fantasy VIII, the game's producer, Hironobu Sakaguchi, responded "There are lots of elements in the game, but one of the members of the team.Tetsuya Nomura (the character designer who also did the character designs for Final Fantasy VII, Parasite Eve and the upcoming Brave Fencer Musashiden) says that the theme is love." That might explain the man and woman who are embracing each other in the background of the game's logo.

The main differences noted so far between Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII are as follows: For one, the characters are being designed to look more realistic than the characters in FFVII. The anime-like look of FFVII's characters will be replaced with more correctly proportioned models in FFVIII, mainly to make the transition from FMV to game more fluid and convincing. Sakaguchi explained that he wants to pursue a more in-depth and detailed story line for FFVIII, and he's seeking a more effective graphical expression for the storytelling. He added that he hasn't forgotten about the interactive elements that make it a video game, though. He also mentioned that Square's overseas offices (namely Square USA) are contributing to the technical aspects of FFVIII, namely the game's CG and development tools.

Another difference from FFVII is that this time the characters will all be fully texture-mapped. This too will help make the in-game characters look more like their FMV counterparts. And last but certainly not least, for the first time in the series, all of your party members will be shown on the field at the same time. No more will you have one guy walking around when suddenly three people jump out of him to start chatting. Now everyone will be shown simultaneously, all the time.

The best news of all at this press conference concerned the game's release date. While it won't be released in Japan until "sometime this winter" (which basically means anytime before the end of the fiscal year next March), the U.S. release has been officially confirmed for the latter half of 1999, probably around September. To keep eager gamers from going out of their minds waiting for the game, a movie of FFVIII will be packed in with Parasite Eve when it's released here this September. Another demo--this time playable-will come bundled with Brave Fencer Musashiden when it is released in November.

We'll have our own playable demo on July 14 when Brave Fencer Musashiden hits Japan, so expect more coverage of what will surely become the most anticipated game of 1999 real soon.

Squall Leonhart

Squall is a poker-faced, short-spoken man who carries a unique sword known as the "Gunblade." That is, unless the subject at hand is one he's interested in, at which point he's known to become quite lively and outspoken. He's a bit of a loner (according to Square he has "little sense of comradeship for the people around him"), and he wears a necklace that bears a strange griffon-like symbol (the same one that can be seen near the barrel on the Gunblade). According to character designer Tetsuya Nomura, he wanted the character's name to have the meaning of a passing shower, which is how he came up with the name Squall. His last name, Leonhart, was the name of one of the main characters from an earlier 8-Bit Final Fantasy (for the Famicom) which never came to the United States. This isn't the first time Square has brought back names from earlier games in the series...

Laguna Loire

Unlike Squall, Laguna is a man of heart. He knows love and respects his duties. According to Square, he's an optimistic and vigorous person who enjoys the confidence bestowed in him by those around him. Not much else is known about him yet, but we do know that he's a former soldier who now works as a journalist. Apparently, Laguna and Squall, while both main characters, reside on different worlds. How their paths will cross hasn't yet been revealed, but the idea of possibly playing with two entirely different characters from the outset is quite attractive. Whatever the case, we'll know more on this as it develops.

According to Nomura-san, the inspiration for the name Laguna came from none other than Laguna Beach, Calif., as well as the powerful sword Ragnarok (which, when broken down phonetically in Japanese sounds a bit like "la-gu-na-ro-k").

  • MANUFACTURER - Square Electronic Arts
  • THEME - RPG
  • NUMBER OF PLAYERS - 1

Overview

Unless you are new to video games or have been living in a cave, chances are you have heard of the Final Fantasy games. This could very well be one of the most popular game franchises of all time. I have a small confession to make, though—I have never played any of the past Final Fantasy games, so FF 8 is my first exposure to this world. Do I think that all of the hype is justified? Not sure about that, but it is still a pretty amazing game.

FF 8 is a four-CD romp through a huge world that develops characters like no other game that I have seen before. Great graphics, great music and a deep storyline are the highlights of this game. The CG is nothing short of amazing and I can't wait to see what Squaresoft will be able to do with the next generation PSX, because what they have managed to squeeze out of the underpowered PSX will blow you away.

Gameplay

While I was playing through this game, I kept a detailed notes sheet next to me that I used to record things I liked about the game and things that I was not so crazy about. To be honest, my list of things that I was not so crazy about ended up almost as long as the things that I liked, but that does not mean that the game was bad. I think that due to the enormous amount of hype associated with this game, I reviewed it with a much more critical eye than I would other games so as you are reading this review, keep this in mind.

As I mentioned above, I have never played any of the Final Fantasy games. Most of them were made for 16-bit consoles so I never had a chance to play them. A few years back, FF 7 was released on the PSX and it was a huge success. For some reason, I never played it either. For those of you who do not even know what type of games they are, let me fill you in: The Final Fantasy games are role playing games (RPGs). From what I have read on the past games along with playing this game, I think it is safe to say that they all focus on great storylines and character development.

Since storyline has been a staple of the franchise, let's start there. All I can really say is "wow." They spent a huge amount of time developing the story for FF 8. You will take your character through training, missions, and battles; throw in some romance and you will find yourself waiting for the next twist in the plot. Nothing can prepare you for everything that this game has to offer. Let me just say that if you are big into the storylines of RPGs (and who isn't?), you will not be disappointed on this front.

Going along with the storyline is great character development. This is another important factor in RPGs and FF 8 does a great job on this front as well. You will meet and develop a ton of different characters, each with their own unique personalities. You have the opportunity to change the names of some characters to your liking and I have to admit, this really helped me develop a bond with the characters. There are plenty of twists and surprises along the way and you will even end up controlling whole teams of different characters.

Another thing that will be sure to please Final Fantasy fans is the length of this game. You will not finish it overnight, that is for sure. It is made up of four CDs and each one will take at least 10 hours to play through. The game is so long that it almost starts to feel like a different game after a while (not in all areas, though). Part of the reason that it takes so long to play through is also one of my complaints, though. I felt like a spectator more than a participant a lot of the time. As the story unfolds, you will find yourself sitting back and just watching CG scenes or reading text dialog on the screen and there is no way to skip past it. Your are stuck watching and that means there is no way you can make the game go any faster.

As long as we are talking about complaints, let me hit my biggest. I really don't like turn-based combat. This may be insulting to some Final Fantasy veterans but I personally don't care for it. To me, it makes me feel completely disconnected from the battles: Press a button and just sit back and wait for something to happen that is completely out of your control. Now they did try to add a small element of real-time action by allowing you to press a button just as your character strikes an enemy to try increasing the hit points that are inflicted on your opponent, but it really did not make me feel any more involved. Hell, I got to the point where I would just keep pressing the X button during battles without even really paying attention to what was going on. Sure, there was the occasional magic that I would cast but for the most part, the battles were just so uninvolving that I lost interest.

Speaking of battles, I have another complaint. There were way too many random battles. This is another thing that I don’t like about some RPGs. I like games where you can actually see something and choose to enter a battle or not. I don't mind an occasional surprise attack, but every 15 steps is a bit much for my tastes. Since I don't really like turn-based battles either, this made the game all the more frustrating for me. I also thought the bosses took way too long to kill. Some took up to 30 minutes before they finally died and it just got plain boring at times. I can't tell you the number of times I yelled at the TV for the stupid boss to just die already so I could move on. And to top it all off, you do not get any experience points when you kill the bosses. Huh? That sucks! I battle for 30 minutes and gain no experience?

My final complaint with the game is that there were just too many instances where I was an innocent bystander and had no control over what was happening in the game. There were times that I felt I was watching a semi-interactive movie or something. In my mind, a big part of what makes a game great is the way that it pulls you into the world of the game. Just as this was starting to happen in FF 8, I would watch a cut scene or 15 minutes of dialog that I had no input on. This really made it difficult for me to get sucked completely in.

Graphics & Audio

I don't know what to say here other than WOW! This game is absolutely amazing in the graphics department. Even though I just complained about the cut scenes, at least they looked awesome. Wait until you see the dance scene and then the train scene. These are two that you will encounter fairly early on and these alone will give you some motivation to keep playing. The in-game graphics are impressive as well. When summoning magic, you will see some of the best-looking graphics around. It is just too bad that after you have seen the animations once or twice, you can't skip them if you want.

One quick note on the audio of the game. First, the music was absolutely incredible and fits the game perfectly, but where are the voices? I don't understand why some games don't record voices. It would have helped out tremendously if the cut scenes and the dialog scenes were narrated. I know voices take up a lot of space, but hell, it is already four CDs long. Why not make it five and include voices?

Bottom Line

I would say my overall first experience in the Final Fantasy arena was pretty positive. I know that I harped on the negatives, but I think that it is important for people to see what I did not like about the game. Most of the issues were not really major but instead kept the game from being top-notch. As it stand, fans of Final Fantasy are sure to be pleased and non-fans should enjoy the game as well. Man, I just can't say enough about the graphics in this game either. After you play all the way through this game, you will not be able to say that you did not get your money's worth, that is for sure.

Overview

The wait for PC owners is finally over and the next installment of this popular RPG series is upon us. Taking on the role of Squall Leonhart (or whatever you choose to name him) you battle outlandish monsters to become the newest member of SeeD, a mercenary organization with a mysterious background. Of course that is only the beginning, as a rebellion plans to topple a president, a powerful woman vies for power, and your party tries to get to the bottom of their own recurring dreams. Once again mixing sci-fi and fantasy, the eighth in the Final Fantasy series takes you through even more plot twists and intrigue than ever before.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

If you’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game (but especially FF7), you are basically accustomed to both the movement screen and the battle mode. The major departure is how you divvy up your abilities among your party members. While in FF7 you attached special crystals to your weapons, and thus gained experience in the abilities associated with that specific crystal, FF8 links all abilities through your Guardian Forces (GF). These Guardian Forces have gone from being a unique once-per-battle special attack to becoming a staple of your attacks. Based on which GF you choose, you are able to use, research, and increase certain powers. At first, this process called junctioning is incredibly confusing, but after several hours of gameplay you will begin to get the idea and, more importantly, appreciate the amount of freedom this affords in character growth. While the Guardian Forces animations are as creative as ever (and truly a highlight of FF7 and FF8), I found they started to become redundant as I used them over and over again. I began to wish I could just skip part of the full-animated sequence. Another annoyance is in the way that you gain your GFs. While some are attained through major plot points, some have to be drawn (stolen) off of main bosses. As far as I can tell, if you forget to draw the GFs at the opportune time, you cannot come back later and pick them up. Since GFs, in my opinion, are one of the major selling points for FF8, finding out that I missed a couple and would have to play the game from the beginning to pick them up again, really cheesed me off.

Graphics

While the 3D graphics have been tremendously improved from the Playstation version, Final Fantasy 8 still looks dated and worst of all inconsistent. Why is that so bad? Imagine the frustration of seeing a beautifully animated cut-scene (and they are truly great, much better than FF7 for PC) and then walking through a 3D map where it is next to impossible to decipher that these blobs are forests and those round donuts are buildings. Or how about seeing a graphically intense GF animation and then walking through a 2D campus with resolution so bad you can’t read the signs on the wall. This graphical confusion seems to be caused by Squaresoft’s attempt to transfer FF8 from Playstation to PC as simply as possible. For PC owners who are used to the 3D graphics of Homeworld, or even the 2D graphics of Riven, these sloppy pixel stews will disappoint.

Audio

Like with the graphics, the audio department has the essence right but fails to take advantage of the PC platform. The music is catchy, moody, and even climactic at times, but comes across like a midi file running on my old 486. Why not fully orchestrated CD audio? Why not at least FM radio quality? I don’t know.

System Requirements

Windows 95/98, P200 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, 8MB 3D accelerated video card, and 8X CD-ROM.

Reviewed On: Windows 98, P466 Celeron, 64 MB RAM, 12 MB Voodoo 2 video card, and 32X CD-ROM.

Bottom Line

If you are a fan of the series, you’ll find plenty to like: a story as convoluted as ever, interesting characters (with slightly two dimensional personalities), gorgeous cinema scenes, breathtaking GF animation, and plenty of ways to customize your characters. If you were expected something completely new and different, or you are a PC owner spoiled by the latest in graphics and sound, you’ll probably feel as I do, slightly disappointed.

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