My theory is that most people’s favorite Final Fantasy game is the first one they played. In a lot of ways, this makes sense. Because the series is so self-referential, when you play a later game, the nostalgia you feel takes you back to that first Final Fantasy game you played.
My first Final Fantasy game was Final Fantasy VIII. It was also one of my first console games, back on the PlayStation. So for me, a lot of my expectations of other RPGs, other console games, and other Final Fantasy games, all go back to Final Fantasy VIII.
Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite Final Fantasy game, but that’s something of a rare statement, and the game seems to get a bit of flak from gamers – or is simply ignored. But there are a lot of elements to this game which I love, and so I thought I would write a post in defense of Final Fantasy VIII. Rather than try to defend the plot or game system – which are the parts easiest to be emotionally attached to or turned off by – and instead look at some of the broader items that were interesting in the game.
So here’s my list of five great parts to Final Fantasy VIII!
Enemies that Level With You
It seems like such a simple thing, but it’s something I haven’t seen implemented as well anywhere else in gaming. In Final Fantasy VIII, the enemies matched (or tried to match, if you had mixed levels) the level of your party.
That means, when you’re wondering around the world near the starting area? The enemies are your level! So you don’t run into a case of the boring early-game fight, that you completely demolish. Instead, they’re still maybe easier than later-game enemies, but they aren’t a total breeze. This makes exploration once you have full access to the world more worthwhile.
And if you still didn’t want the fight, there was always the No Encounters ability!
I see other games try this; for instance, the Borderlands DLC’s try to generally match your level, to a certain extent. This way, you can play them at whatever level you go to them, instead of having to wait… well, once you reach the minimum level.
I think that a lot of other games try to do this same thing with DLCs as well. One I know I looked up when I ran into a really hard fight (well, secret boss within a DLC) was Dragon Age 2. When looking at its setup, most of the areas in the Dragon Age games had level ranges, which depended on when you entered them… so some would be really hard early, or others really hard late, and for even progression there is a best order. So BioWare generally with its games has systems set up to try to do this, because I would say I have felt like there was level matching also in games like Mass Effect.
But all the enemies matching your level? Very Final Fantasy VIII to me.
I have gone back and played previous Final Fantasy games, so I feel like I can confidently say that it was in VIII that Squaresoft/SquareEnix really added a lot of the item names they still use in the games now. The spell names, too, I suppose: “Fira” instead of Final Fantasy VII‘s “Fire 2” for instance.
But the plethora of items had a purpose, a reason for being. Because they supplemented and enhanced the Draw system.
Now the Draw and Junction system the game uses is the sort of topic I didn’t want to make the list – it catches a lot of flak for being time-consuming. I also was annoyed by the fact that once you had a good spell equipped, you wouldn’t want to cast it, because it was Junctioned! This was the basis for your stats, so using your spells (at least your equipped spells) would actually decrease your stats.
However, as much as the Junction system might have had flaws, the item systems very strongly reinforced it. You could refine almost every item in the game into something else – something more powerful, like Potions into High-Potions into X-Potions, or, more importantly, into the spells.
So, you used a few of a spell in a fight? No problem, just refine this item and, viola, refilled. It was still a lot of inventory management, but that’s not a downside to a game for me, so it worked.
Then, to supplement the item collection, you could get items more than one way! One was from enemies, dropped or stolen, but the other way was through the main mini-game – the card game, Triple Triad. I loved Triple Triad, and it was certainly a better constructed game than, say, Final Fantasy IX‘s card game. That used hidden stats and random elements to make sure you felt continually confused.
I would totally play a Triple Triad app on my phone. Somebody, make this so!
I recently did a post on the ten best useable spells [link], and that was part of what got me thinking about this post in the first place. Final Fantasy VIII had some amazing spells, and, though the Junction system made you question using them as I mentioned above, they were nonetheless amazing to have access to.
Some of the most powerful spells they ever made were in Final Fantasy VIII, so let me review a few:
Because just resurrecting someone isn’t good enough, right? Many of the other games have this mechanic built in, but it often comes at high price – the caster dies, or it costs an insane amount of MP. In Final Fantasy VIII, the only cost is that it might drop your max HP – it was the best Junction for health! Except it was so good, that just using one probably wouldn’t drop you below the 9999 max.
I talked about this one in my best spells post. Double-casting is pretty common in the Final Fantasy games, and is also regularly one of the best ways to combo with something else for maximum damage. For instance, in Final Fantasy Dimensions, you can Doublecast spell-sword attacks while Dual Wielding for crazy damage. But if it were Triple instead of Double? Even better. Only VIII has had Triple, and I think it was the idea of being able to buff your whole party in one round. They created area-of-effect spells after this to do that same thing, but still – for the crazy combos, Triple was great. Triple Meteor!
Oh, and there was a summon that gave the whole party Triple, so that was amazing. Start every boss fight with Cerberus? Yep!
*Edit* I forgot this spell, but it deserves a place here in the post as well. Meltdown caused the status effect Vitality Zero, which bottoms out the opponent’s defenses, maximizing your damage. Later Final Fantasy games included a mechanic like this, such as Auron’s Break abilities in Final Fantasy X, but this only decreased their defenses a bit. Meltdown zeroed them out, in one go. Plus, the animation was amazing:
When you play a game like Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X, where in the end-game building up your Limit Break takes so much work, you forget what these powerful moves are or what they do, and move on to your other abilities. In Final Fantasy VIII, however, they gave you a spell for that. Aura is simple, and elegant: it gives you a high chance to access your Limit Break on every round. Add in that it’s easy to just switch characters and switch back to try to get a Limit Break, and it means you can use them all the time! This spell really makes it so other spells are unnecessary: Your Limit Breaks are just so powerful. Speaking of which…
The Limit Break system is still one of the cooler parts of Final Fantasy. That things-are-going-poorly-but-I-am-just-so-powerful move that saves the day. It’s probably because Aura gives such easy access to the Limit Breaks, but I found the Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VIII to be the best in the series – and still some of the best character attacks I’ve seen in a game.
The obvious is Squall’s Renzokoken attack, which, when you get the Lionheart, is more powerful than the fabled Knights of the Round from Final Fantasy VII. And is awesome. You may often find yourself wondering throughout the plot why Squall is the leader, or why everyone made such a big deal about him using a Gunblade. Then you see Lionheart in action, and some of that makes just a bit more sense.
Less obvious, however, is one of Rinoa’s Limit Breaks: Invincible Moon. Just like it sounds, yes, this makes the party invincible for a time. The downside to this is that you can’t buff your characters either – no Haste, and no Aura, unless they already have it. And it’s random, but it’s randomly mixed in with ones that are multihit or otherwise not terrible. There are items which duplicate this effect, but they involve refining one-of-a-kind items, or a huge amount of farming, so are mostly only useful for when you want to challenge the Omega Weapon and show him who’s boss. Because the only good answer to that is you’re the boss… while invincible.
My other most used Limit Break was actually Quistis’. One of the earlier ones she can learn is Black Hole, which amazingly just makes the enemy go away. Useful in all kinds of situations (except boss fights), but the best application is for getting rid of Malboros. In no other game are the Malboro quite as fearsome as they are in VIII – there are just so many status effects, and they can last so long! Many a time I watched my party, berserked and blind, fail to kill a Malboro, while slowly killing themselves with poison. It’s the slow death. The quick death is throwing the Malboro in a Black Hole. I would go Malboro hunting with Quistis striking first and at low health – and just have her throw everything in a Black Hole. Somewhere there is a Final Fantasy universe just full of Malboro next to a White Hole…
Oh, and my favorite move in Scribblenauts? Black Hole.
I thought I would finish the list strong, and after the transition away from Midi, it was in Final Fantasy VIII that full orchestral music was used in the Final Fantasy games to such an amazing extent. After the success of One Winged Angel, they even had a lot of choral music as well.
The series has more recently included an increasing number of lyrical songs, with Final Fantasy XIII-2 using them to great effect, but the orchestral power of Final Fantasy VIII was fantastic.
This music is still great, hearing it played by the Distant Worlds orchestra, or even covered by the Black Mages. The music from Final Fantasy VIII sees a lot of play with these groups, and with good reason.
So I guess, let me leave you with the beginning, and all the feels: The opening cutscene, Liberi Fatali.