Five Great Parts of Final Fantasy VIII

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.

The Items

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!

Spells

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:

Full Life

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.

Triple

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!

Meltdown

*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:

Aura

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…

Limit Breaks

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.

Renzokoken

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.

Invincible Moon

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.

Black Hole

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.

The Music

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.

10 responses to “Five Great Parts of Final Fantasy VIII

  1. Awesome post! My favorite of the series, as well. Sometimes, yeah, the plot was a bit convoluted, but the gameplay mechanics were rock solid. I loved the draw mechanic because it let you actually use magic quite often as a core strategy instead of it being a micromanage thing of worrying about replenishing MP. You’re going to spend time leveling up anyway, so while you’re stocking up on XP you can also nab some spells, and that added an element of danger from a powerful enemy that you might normally want to just blitzkrieg and take out ASAP because you wanted a couple rounds to just draw spells from. The best part was that all the time you spend playing Triple Triad really pays off: you can trade those cards in for very rare items, so there’s a reason to actually play it beyond just killing time. I recall the card-swap items I got made a huge difference in the endgame.

    Honestly, I think this was the FF where the combat mechanics most closely mirrored a pen-and-paper RPG. With turn-based games I think it’s easy to fall into that rut where you find a good weapon and you just end up sitting there, spamming one button / one action from the menu. With the draw system for magic, it made combat a lot more engaging and fun.

    And wow, I forgot about the Malboros, those WERE a nightmare.

    Like

  2. Hah, I actually went through my history playing Final Fantasy games in one of my more recent updates. Looks like we loved a lot of the same stuff about VIII.

    VII was my first Final Fantasy game, but I loved VII, VIII and IX all pretty much equally, for very different reasons. My absolute favourite of the series though is Final Fantasy Tactics (the original one on PSone, not the DS ones).

    I loved the ability and magic system in all those games though. The Job system in Final Fantasy Tactics was brilliant, and allowed for some awesome combinations. Materia was a lot of fun in VII as well, because you could come up with some silly combinations… same with Drawing and Junctioning in VIII, which admittedly did lead to some silly situations where I’d just farm low level enemies for ages by putting them to sleep and maxing out my supplies of every spell they have. IX I loved because it harked back to the Job system of Tactics, despite only allowing each character one role. They even kept some of their signature abilities, like Jump for Freiya (the Dragoon), Throw for Amarant (the Ninja) and Sword Arts for Steiner (the Knight). I also really enjoyed that some of the characters could combine moves, like having Vivi and Steiner in the same party allowing Steiner to use Magic Sword.

    When it comes to Limit Breaks, I agree that VIII had the most impressive ones. The fun thing with Limit Breaks in that was that there was a tiny, almost nil chance that you could get one at almost any point as long as you’d taken some level of damage. You didn’t even have to be in the Yellow health range. Sure, it was unlikely, but when I was playing through recently and came up against the Oilboyle bosses in the Garden during the insurrection by NORG, I was pretty stoked to see Irvine randomly throw me a limit break. Weak to Fire enemies and I’ve got Fire Ammo? Yes please. I did like the Trance system in IX, but it had the same problem that VII’s version had for me, that once you hit that limit, it would automatically activate even if it was a waste for it to happen then. At least in VII you could choose to use non-physical attacks to save your Limit Break for a big fight… though it ended up chewing through your Ethers as you replenished MP.

    In regards to the changes of names when it comes to spells, if I recall correctly, VIII was when they decided to just translate the Japanese names into Romanised characters and make them sound better in English. So Faiga became Firaga and so on.

    Like

    • I went over and read your post and forgot to read the rest of your comment here! And I went off and recommended Tactics A2 when you said you weren’t in to the DS Tactics games… I did not play the original Tactics so I can’t quite compare, and I got War of Lions on PSP and didn’t get very far into it.

      I too love most all of the Final Fantasy games, so though I say VIII is my favorite, I loved VII, and X, and XII, and XIII-2, and VI, and V, and had a lot of fun with III, IV, X-2, XI, XIII… I played spin-off games on the DS and PSP… Dirge of Cerberus was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to Lightning Returns which may be a bit like Dirge… and when I came back later to IX, I found that it was much better than I remembered. It has some of the best cutscenes of the series, with the over-the-top stuff happening with the summons. Amazing stuff.

      Good games, so I was kind of thinking back and wondering to myself… why is VIII still my favorite? Just nostalgia? I think I gave some solid reasons here that go beyond nostalgia for why this game was solid, and the sorts of things that shaped and still shape my expectations of video games.

      Like

      • Thanks for the plug 🙂

        Yeah, the DS games never clicked with me. I do own them, but I don’t have a DS anymore, my ex took it with her when she left and I never bothered to replace it. I really should, since there are some awesome games on the DS, if you like Tactical Strategy I’d recommend checking out Valkyrie Profile: The Covenant of the Plume. I like The War of the Lions, but I preferred the original version purely because it played a lot smoother. They did fix up some balance issues etc. for War of the Lions, but when they were porting over some of the code they clearly screwed some aspects of it up good and proper, hence why any abilities that have CGI imagery (magic, summons, potions, pretty much any special ability) slows the game down something shocking.

        Another one on PSP that might be worth checking out is Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. Like I mentioned in my post, it’s a remake of the game that essentially led directly to the creation of the original Final Fantasy Tactics.

        When Final Fantasy X & X-2 gets the HD re-release (fairly shortly I think), I’ll be grabbing those and replaying them. I’ll make the effort to push through them both this time. Same with XIII and XIII-2, they’re high up on my list of games to knock off the ol’ Pile of Shame. Chrono Trigger is also one of my favourite RPGs, I don’t know how I forgot to mention it. It’s another one that I should really get a DS to continue playing. Did you ever play Front Mission 3? It’s another Square game, very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics in terms of gameplay, but has a sci-fi setting. You control a team of pilots in walking tanks called Wanzers, and can customise each one to suit you, including different arms, legs, torsos, accessory packs and weaponry. Each pilot also learns new special moves that are unique them and allow for longer chain attacks (randomly occurring, but the more moves you assign to them, the more likely they are to activate). Lot of fun, and if you’ve got a PS3, it’s available as a PSone classic from the store.

        I think VII, VIII and IX were all solid games for very different reasons. They all had brilliant storylines, fantastic gameplay, and deep, immersive worlds, but they handled it in their own way. I definitely think they needed to take a break from the sci-fantasy settings they’d had for VII and VIII, and IX achieved that well (though I wish they hadn’t made such a bloody mess of the card game in that. Triple Triad was a much better game). In terms of their storytelling, I think the strengths of the three were in different areas. VII had an amazing dynamic between the villain and the protagonist, Cloud and Sephiroth were brilliantly matched. VIII had a much more relatable protagonist, I really liked the fact that you got a lot of Squalls internal dialogue throughout the game (part of the relatable bit may be that I was playing it all through my teenage years, so a moody protagonist suited me just fine :P) and IX had a cast that just worked so well together. Everyone had their role, and fitted into the group perfectly, even when their role was to be a foil to the main group (Steiner, I’m looking at you).

        I have to say, it’s nice to find someone else who’s as much of a fan of the games as me. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who are, but I’m by far the most into gaming in my office, and mostly these days it’s table top RPGs, so I don’t get a lot of chances to talk about these games. So cheers for that 🙂

        Like

        • Glad we were here, then!

          Haven’t played the other games you mention, and no PS3… we are considering one if the price goes down once the PS4 is out. Or, we’ll see what the PSN looks like for older games on the PS4 itself, I suppose!

          Might also be possible on the PSP to play some, but haven’t actually touched that in a while. I got it to play Dissidia, which, while a different type of game entirely, as a fan was a ton of fun. So maybe also a couple of games to check out!

          Like

  3. Pingback: Five Great Parts of Bioshock Infinite | Comparative Geeks

Don't Feed the Trolls....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s