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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Final Fantasy VIII- First Impressions

I've been a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series for years, but I've never had the opportunity to play most of the games until recently. This year has been a blitz of gaming for me, as I've obtained and played through most of the series this year. I got all three PS1 FF games over the summer, and now that I've beaten VII, I've turned my attention to one of the more controversial games in the series, VIII.

I'm about halfway through Disc 2 (out of 4) right now, and I must say that I'm enjoying myself quite a bit. I really love the RPGs of past gaming generations, and the three PS1 FFs so far (haven't started IX yet) are great games. Final Fantasy VIII does have some strange elements to it, though. Like most FF games, it almost completely reinvents the wheel, featuring a number of changes such as a magic-based character growth system and level scaling. Yes, every enemy in Final Fantasy VIII outside of a few rare exceptions will be at the same level as your party. This creates an odd scenario in which leveling up isn't a very good thing, as your stat increases will be minimal and every enemy will have leveled up as well, making things more difficult for you.  Characters also level up every with every 1000 experience points they earn, rather than an increasing amount. In order to combat the level scaling, mastering the Junction System is imperative. I won't go into too many details until I review the game, but suffice it to say that the Junction System, so far, is a massive headache. How it works is that every character stockpiles magic spells (up to 100 of each), and then, after equipping a Guardian Force (the iconic Summons of Final Fantasy), a character can 'Junction' a spell to any of their stats. The amount the stat is increased by is determined by the type of spell and how much of it you have (for example, 100 Curagas are good for HP Junctioning). That's all I'll say for now; the system is almost stupidly overcomplicated at times.

As for the story, Final Fantasy games are known for good stories, and Final Fantasy VIII still tells an engaging tale. I'm really digging the pseudo-modern setting of the game (sort of a cleaner version of FFVII's world, but not as sleek as XIII's), as well as the political situation concerning the evil Galbadian Republic. Having the main  characters be mercenaries (SeeD special forces) is an interesting touch which adds a unique flavor to the typical 'evil empire' storyline JRPGs are so fond of. What I don't like is that, so far, Squall is the only playable character to have a major character arc. Aside from Laguna (a playable who you control for brief flashbacks), the rest of the party has so far been strangely lacking in character development, which is dissapointing for a Final Fantasy game. Hopefully they'll have more to do later in the story.  I'm also rather dissapointed in what is arguably the most famous aspect of Final Fantasy VIII, which is the romance between Squall and Rinoa. Granted, I'm only two discs in, but so far Rinoa has got to be one of the least appealing love interests I've seen. Again, hopefully this aspect of the plot gets better, especially considering that the game's logo is the two of them embracing.

For now, I'm still enjoying FFVIII despite my criticisms. I'll have more on it later.

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