Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review #113: Final Fantasy VIII

 Grinding and Farming Fantasy VIII.
 If you didn't like Final Fantasy VII, chances are you never played it at launch or you simply don't like JRPGs, but if both are true and you still didn't like it.... tough luck, you missed out on one of the best RPGs of all time. When Final Fantasy 8 was first released, it received tons of  glowing critiques, some even calling it the best in the series. How did it age? It aged fairly well, problem being, the core mechanics were terrible even when at the time of its release!

  You take the role of Squall, a secluded young man who happens to be a trainee at Balamb Garden. This place trains young men and women into SeeDs, mercenaries of sorts, if they pay is good, they'll kill whatever they have to kill. The game's theme is that of "Love", as the game's logo suggests, it's all about the adorkable Rinoa trying to pry open Squall's secluded self. Also, there's a sort of second protagonist in the form of Laguna, an Esthar Soldier with a very carefree attitude. Every now and again, the game will switch to Laguna's exploits alongside his friends, and in the end, both narratives tie up together. Whether you can accept that Rinoa would keep trying to woo a jerk who evidently wants nothing to do with her(at the beginning, anyways) isn't really the biggest problem with the story, but rather, how dumb it can get. When the script is at its finest, it's fantastic, the story and seeing characters interact with each other was what kept me going, but when the script gets dumb... it gets really, really dumb. I found myself wanting to punch the screen at least twice due to how stupidly some characters were behaving.
 In this installment, Squaresoft decided to completely change how the combat system works. They had always tried to change it up between installments, but this was the first time that they wound up with a total blunder. Final Fantasy 7's most impressive spells were the Summoning Magic, in which you'd summon a giant beast or monster of sorts to wreck havoc upon your enemy, so this time they made Summoning, now named Guardian Forces or GF for short, the foundation of the system. You must "junction" your character to a GF, characters that don't have GFs junctioned to them can only Attack, but with a junction GF you gain access to "Magic", "GF", "Draw" and "Item", plus, certain GFs grant you bonus abilities, to a maximum of four, attack being unswappable. GFs also level up alongside you, and earning AP through battles allow them to learn passive or active skills that you can then equip to your character. So far, so good.

 Now then, first of all, Equipment has been done away with. You don't equip armor or accessories, rather, you junction magic into your stats to enhance them. Actually, you can upgrade weapons, but you need to gather Random Drops from enemies, Steal them from the enemies or play the Card Game(More on this in a bit). This means that the Mug command, that Diablos has, quickly becomes essential to upgrading your weapons, as random drops are a pain to get, and sometimes, when the game is feeling naughty, it makes the items that you can steal, different from the ones they drop, know what that means? Farming enemies until they drop it, and the drop percentage is very low. Although I got through the entire first disc not being able to upgrade anyone's weapon and I did just fine(Turns out the Wendingo held the steel pipes!).
 Doesn't sound like much fun, huh? It gets worse. I mentioned how you had to junction magic to your stats, right? Well, that is what the "Draw" command is there for. You draw magic out of your enemies. This is an incredibly slow process, you draw from 1 to 9 charges of magic per Draw. And you must do this every time you come across an enemy that has new Magic. And the best part about it? You won't even use this magic because the amount of magic that you junction to your stats is related to how much it buffs up your stats! Oh, and each of the 6 characters has their own individual magic pool. The only times I actually used magic, was the magic that the boss was carrying, instead of "stocking" it I'd use it against it, which is kinda amusing. True, there are other ways to earn magic, you can come across a few "Draw Zones", that let you draw once every couple of hours, or you can... play the Card Game to earn cards and then use the Card Mod ability on them  to earn a certain amount of a certain spell, or you can, hopefully, use another ability to turn your items into Magic. Whatever way you choose, it's gonna be a drag. As bothersome as it is, the game loves to split up your party at times, and when that happens there's an option to swiftly exchange all that is junctioned from one character to another, including Magic and the ability setup, which was fairly convenient.

 Then there are Limit Breaks. The good? Now they are more interactive than before, for example, Squall get's a sort of rhythm mini-game, while with Zell you get a list of commands, and you have to pick which ones to execute in a 5 second gap. This was a great change. The bad? Unless you engage in sidequests, you probably won't get to see them. Limit Breaks now trigger when you are low on health and at random. You can press circle, which normally switches you between the characters that you can use a turn with, until it shows up though. The thing is... I never got to be low on health, and I didn't even use healing items or spells. All throughout the game all I did, whenever I wasn't drawing magic, was have Squall junctioned with the strongest magics available on strength and the passive Strength boosts and have him use his normal attack, Squall has a unique trait to him, press R1 right when he attacks an enemy and you basically get a free critical hit, and then have my other two characters using Guardian Forces. Guardian Forces take a little time to cast, but they act as shields, so the GFs lose HP when attack while summoning them(They can "die", but there are special items to heal and revive them). This "strategy" got me throughout the first 3 discs with almost no problems at all. If you mean to get the Ultimate Weapons, which probably means you are gonna make trips to the hard encounters at the Island Closest to Hell and the Underground Sea Facility, you may need to change up your plans though!
 The game offers plenty of side quests, although you might need to consult FAQs to even know that they exist. There are about 6 secret GFs, a secret boss(Ultimate Weapon), a secret dungeon and even an optional town for you explore. There's two islands, The Island closest to Hell and the Island closes to Heaven that house some of the strongest random encounters in the game, and you never get to go to them on the main quest, only by exploring on your own. And then there's the Card Game, Triple Triad. Triple Triad can be fun if you get into it, and it's fairly in depth. Each Town has its own rules, and when the Card Queen visits, the rules can change. It's also a decent alternative to farming, some people can even get Squall's best weapon on the first disc just by playing the card game. And since the game does the stupid "Enemies level up alongside you" mechanic, this is a great way to keep your levels low. But then again, this also means that instead of playing the game, you'll be spending hours playing a card game, so pick your poison. They also changed the way you earn money. Killing monsters was too mainstream, now you must raise your SeeD rank by taking written tests(I'm not joking!) or according to how you play the game, sometimes the game will decide to lower it for no reason. Well, according to your SeeD rank is how much money you will earn whenever the game decides to give you money. Who came up with this?!

 Back when the game's first screenshots were shown, it was easy to see that graphics were a huge selling point, and... they have aged fine, considering it's a PS1 game. Easily one of the best looking PS1 games, the pre-rendered backgrounds look extremely well even today(And it's easy to notice, coming from Shadow Madness!), and character models feature a lot of detail. Monsters look particularly fierce and menacing, and there's some fairly funny animations(The Wending dribbling you like a basket ball!). Music is also great, albeit I doubt it has the lasting power that FF7's soundtrack had.

 The good news? It's not a terrible game, and when the game is at its greatest, when you don't need to draw magic, when you are actually playing and having fun, when the script is not being dumb? It's really, really fun. But at its worst it becomes a chore to play it, and that's why it will never be as good as 4, 6 or 7.
 7.0 out of 10.

1 comment:

  1. I'm excited at the remake of Final Fantasy VII but I'm more excited about the remake of Dragon Quest VII. =)