Here are some solid gameplay tips for players who may be stumbling their way through Final Fantasy VIII.
Draw early, Draw oftenThe only way your characters will increase in power is through drawing more powerful magic. If you don't take the time to draw from your enemies, you'll find yourself hopelessly outclassed. The number of "uses" per Draw is determined by both the strength and rarity of the spell, as well as the Drawing character's magic power. If you have to, find a weak enemy and Draw repeatedly from him - he won't run out. It's no cheesier than fighting Ogres and Creeps for hours on end to buy silver armor, now is it?
Don't forget to Draw from bossesBosses, especially early in the game, often have spells you've never seen before. Draw from them to learn the new magic. Also, many bosses have rare Guardian Forces that must be Drawn out of them. If you kill them without Drawing, you will miss the Guardian Force (and feel really lame when your friends start talking about how cooool Alexander is, and how they can't believe the Pandemonium summon! And you didn't get either).
Magic Junction, Magic Junction, Magic JunctionWithout upgradable armor, and with barely upgradable weapons, this is the only real way to improve your statistics. And boy, do they improve. The more powerful the spell - and the more uses a character has Drawn - the greater the added effect. Two examples: A character with 891 total HP had her HP statistic junctioned to 100 uses of Cure 2. Her HP jumped to more than 5,000; more dramatically, her status immediately became critical! When another character had his Agility statistic junctioned to 100 uses of Haste, he could take three turns to another party member's one! Dramatic shifts in power are caused by Junctioning Magic. Do not overlook the importance of this ability!
Special abilities give you the edgeIn Final Fantasy VIII, enemies are always at the same level you are. It's impossible to find "weak" enemies to beat up on for easy level gains. As in Final Fantasy V and Tactics, the winning edge comes not from sheer statistical superiority, but from more strategic ability matching. "Power+40 percent" will drive your point home with a vengeance. "Auto Reflect" gets your party preemptively prepared for those tough magic opponents. "Reduce Encounter Rate" is a Godsend for weakened parties deep within a dungeon. Our current favorite ability is "Double Magic, Single Cost." The only thing more painful than Ultima would have to be Ultima - squared.
Don't be ashamed to call your GFsFor better or worse, Final Fantasy VIII is heavily skewed in favor of the Guardian Forces. Don't summon them, and you will lose. Summon them, and you stand a decent chance of success. The extra damage they do more than offsets the time spent summoning them. The enemies' power is designed to withstand the GFs, though, so they still won't be pushovers. Even though you'll be calling your GFs often, you'll still find yourself dying quite a bit; Final Fantasy VIII is hard compared to recent titles in the series.
Always Junction every GF all the timeOne-, two-, or three-person party - it doesn't matter. Always keep every GF Junctioned to a character. Otherwise, they're just sitting in your inventory, dooting around, probably playing the Card Battle game with each other, wondering why they're not earning experience. If you got it, baby, flaunt it! Make sure GFs are always out on the battle field, increasing their levels and abilities.
Don't let your GFs fight aloneMost attack GFs have a "Support" ability (called "Ouen" in Japanese). It costs only ten AP to learn. LEARN IT IMMEDIATELY. Now, when you summon your GF in battle, press "Select" as the casting begins. See that meter in the bottom right-hand corner? It starts at 75; press the "Square" key rapidly to increase the number. When the red X appears, stop! Pressing it now returns the counter to 75. When the red X disappears, resume pressing "Square" like there's no tomorrow. The higher the number, the more powerful the attack. My personal record is pumping an attack up to 216 (from 75). There is a difference. In close battles, a "normal" vs. a "pumped up" attack can mean the difference between life and death.
Card BattleSure, it may seem like a cheesy minigame, but it's fun ...too fun. You'll soon find that what begins as an innocuous pastime soon swells into something more important than the story itself; yeah yeah fate of the world blah blah blah you've got to get those Character Cards! And later in the game, when you discover that rare and powerful Cards are required to be "morphed" into items necessary to upgrade your weapons to a reasonably high level ... well, you'll feel really stupid if you haven't been keeping up with the Joneses. Everyone in Final Fantasy VIII's world loves the game. So should you.