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Revisiting a flawed classic 20 years later on Switch

On 09/04/2019 at 09:27 PM by SanAndreas

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The first week of September 1999 was a busy week for Electronics Boutique, Software Etc, and all the other video game retailers at the time. You were in one of two lines, or perhaps both. One was for a new console, the Sega Dreamcast. The other line was for one of the most anticipated games of the year - Final Fantasy VIII. I was part of the latter group, excited for this game having played and replayed FFVII. 

For this installment of the series, Square went with a setting styled after modern-day Europe, and the super-deformed characters of past entries were replaced with somewhat more realistic, if still highly stylized, characters. Its graphics were among the best of its day, and FFVIII even held its own against a lot of the library of the newly-launched Dreamcast. 

Square also took a different tack with the story. Though there was a typical Final Fantasy save-the-world-from-an-evil-magic-emperor storyline in the background, most of the game's story was focused on the relationships between its main cast, in particular Squall and Rinoa, as well as the relationship between three Galbadian soldiers named Laguna, Kiros, and Ward. I'm sure by now most people know the big reveal of how these three are connected to Squall and his fellow SeeDs. The Cid in FFVIII bore a striking resemblance to Robin Williams. The love story was admittedly a bit corny, but hey, it's still a better love story than Twilight, LOL. The one part of the story that made me roll my eyes was the other big reveal in Trabia Garden.

Final Fantasy VIII was most infamous for its interconnected system of battle and character growth, the Junction system. The Junction system throws out a lot of RPG conventions such as magic points, leveling, and even weapons and armor. Everything is based around summon monsters, known as Guardian Forces (GF). Until you equip GFs, you have no abilities. Magic spells, which are now inventoried in the manner that items are, serve as your weapons, armor, and secondary abilities. You can stock up to 100 of each spell. Using magic becomes a strategic consideration, as each magic spell you use weakens the stat it's junctioned to. FFVIII drew a lot of consternation for having the player repeatedly draw magic spells from monsters during battle, although once you learned item refinement and draw points, it largely reduced or negated the need to draw magic during battle. Leveling up doesn't boost your characters' stats as much as in other games, and in this game, the monsters scale their own levels to the average of your party. If you weren't careful you could run into monsters that were very difficult to defeat due to your character being over-leveled, but by the same token, once you understand magic refinement and the card game, you can actually break the game by making your characters super-powerful with maxed-out HP and strength before they get to the end of Disc One. The Junction System was an interesting system, but it was horribly unbalanced even for Final Fantasy games. Criticism of FFVIII's lengthy, hyper-animated summon sequences and the fact that you could summon repeatedly led Square to include shortened summon sequences starting in FFIX. 

Today, FFVIII is generally seen as the black sheep of the PS1 generation of Final Fantasy. Back then, though, it was insanely popular. It actually sold better than FFVII in Japan, and it sold twice what Final Fantasy IX would a year later. It remains the third most successful game in the series to date, behind only FFVII and FFX.  With the PS1 and (offline) PS2 Final Fantasy games being released on 8th gen consoles, FFVIII's status was up in the air as its localization lagged considerably behind the others, with speculation that its re-release was prevented because Square lost the original code, or that copyright issues with the song Eyes on Me, sung by Hong Kong singer Faye Wong, had put a stop to any re-releases. Instead, Square Enix gave us a re-release with greatly cleaned up, nice-looking character models, although the backgrounds look decidedly PS1-rez these days.  One thing I also appreciated about FFVIII was its monster designs. Where most FF games and RPGs in general rely on palette-swapping to fill out their bestiaries, especially FFX, almost all of FFVIII's enemies are unique in design and very few models are re-used. They're also very well-animated for a fifth generation game. 

Despite its flaws, FFVIII holds a special place in my heart. First, there is the main character, Squall, who definitely has issues. Although a competent, disciplined soldier, he's rude, belligerent, and a jerk. He wants to be cool and aloof, but his idea of cool and aloof is basically a kid's idea of machismo, and that was deliberate on Square's part. He's my favorite male lead of the series for one reason: he was a lot like I was when I was a teenager. A lot of the way he acted was to protect himself from getting hurt again, and I can definitely sympathize with that even though I'd like to hope I've grown since then. 

Secondly, the setting - a military college - came at the right time in my life. When I got FFVIII, I'd just enrolled for my first semester of college after having been out of high school for a few years. I was starting in the Spring 2000 semester. My experiences with the public school system weren't pleasant, and I was nervous about fitting in at college and making good grades. I went on to have a great time in college. So in these ways FFVIII resonated with the person I was at the time. 

In contrast to the cheesy arcade-style minigames that FFVII had, FFVIII has only one major minigame, Triple Triad. I didn't really like the card game in FFIX, but I really enjoyed Triple Triad, which is surprising since I don't usually do card games. Part of this was because, in addition to having much clearer rules than Tetra Master, the cards are actually useful in the main game, as they can be turned into items needed for weapon mods. Yes, I know there was the Chocobo/Mog minigame that you played on the PocketStation, which ended up never being released in the US.

So right now, I'm playing FFVIII Remastered on my Switch, enjoying the prettied-up character models and remembering the enjoyment an awkward soon-to-be college boy got out of this game way back in 1999 and loving it just as much now as I did then. Plus, I now have a complete set of post-Nintendo Final Fantasy games on my Nintendo Switch.  How cool is that?



Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/05/2019 at 10:19 AM

Has it really been twenty years? Jeez. 

FF8 was a big deal to me at the time too. in 1999 I was 22 and living in a shithole apartment in San Francisco. FF8 was something I was very excited for, and I was not disappointed. I didn't see it's flaws at the time. In fact, I loved it and still love it. 

I don't really remember what happens in the end of it now, as it's been a long time, but I remember being very touched by the conclusion of the game. 

I'm gonna get it soon. 


09/06/2019 at 04:47 PM

I actually enjoyed tinkering with the Junction System. As unbalanced as it was, it was satisfying AF to be able to demolish enemies.

Cary Woodham

09/05/2019 at 02:49 PM

So FF8 was significant for me, too, for the opposite reason.   It was the first FF game released in the US that I didn't have an interest in.  I appreciated the differences in FF7, but it was the differences I didn't like that they decided to focus on in FF8.  I played a demo of FF8 on Brave Fencer Musashi (which was a great game and I wish Square would revisit that one again).  After playing the FF8 demo, I decided I wasn't going to get it.  Just as well, too, since I was a poor college student at the time.  But my disinterest changed when FF9 came out.  Boy I loved that game!  That's what FF7 and 8 should've been for me.

On an unrelated topic, I played River City Girls at PAX and thought of you.


09/05/2019 at 03:28 PM

Looking at sales numbers for FF7, FF8, and FF10 compared to FF9 or Square's pre-PS1 games, it's easy to see why they went in that direction. FF9 deserved better, as it was both highly polished and well-balanced, but it also had the problem of releasing the same year the PS2 did.

Dragon Quest is interesting. Unlike Final Fantasy, its designers refuse to change the series other than some quality-of-life changes to take advantage of modern technology. After over 30 years, Dragon Quest still has the same three core creative designers that led development on the original NES game - Yuji Hori, Akira Toriyama, and Koichi Sugiyama. And the games still sell like hotcakes, at least in Japan. 

River City Girls is out now, right?

Cary Woodham

09/05/2019 at 07:30 PM

Yup.  I'm going to try and review it, or see if there is a physical copy available to buy.


09/06/2019 at 08:29 PM

It always seems that when something big came out, I was playing something else, unless it was Halo. I really like RPGs too. Maybe it was that my friends were all into western shooters. 

FFVIII's battle system sound interesting. I've got to try it one of these days. 

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