Feature Article

Rainbow After the Squall: The Legacy of Final Fantasy VIII

If you call out, they will answer.

by

Some games, like The Sims or Call of Duty, imitate the here and now. We can relate to a virtual person cleaning the house, taking the dog for a walk, or even going off to war, because these are real-world situations people actually face, even if the ways these games present them aren't always realistic. Final Fantasy VIII, like most games in the series, isn't intended to be grounded in any sort of reality. The characters convey--and frequently vocalize--thoughts and emotions that are applicable to the real world, but the blurred line between you and the land of Gaia sharpens once a loud-mouthed cat riding a stuffed Moogle explains its plan to save the planet.

The fantastical nature of this legendary role-playing game series is one of its most appealing qualities, and being able to travel across a monster-riddled continent on the plush back of a Chocobo is a form of escapism I've put hundreds of unforgettable hours into. But it's still high fantasy, and simple to distinguish from the many real-life circumstances taking place just beyond the edges of the screen.

However, not all Final Fantasy games are created equal, and Final Fantasy VIII--which just saw a PC release on Steam--might be the best example of the series' multiplicity. Eye-popping visuals, more pragmatic characters, and an unorthodox draw mechanic that established a new approach to magic are just a few of the features that define this polarizing product. Not all changes were received with open arms; the deep junction system, which requires you to siphon and equip magic from enemies to increase specific stats, had Final Fantasy fans split on the game's system of progression. Fortunately, the Steam rerelease gives you the option of stocking up on magic directly from the launcher through the Magic Booster. The inventory for spells, such as fire, blizzard, and thunder, can be increased by 100 with the simple press of a button, eliminating the need to slow down combat by continually drawing during random encounters.

Mechanically, Final Fantasy VIII has always been considered distinctive, but what has kept this PlayStation game engraved in my mind is a narrative that successfully conveys real human emotion, a feat accomplished by just a select few games before 1999.

It seems inane to be so personally attached to a game featuring a protagonist barely willing to contribute more than a nonchalant "whatever" to every conversation. I get that. But what helps sell Squall Leonhart and the rest of his colorful crew is their physical and psychological realism. Yoshinori Kitase, the director of Final Fantasy VIII, set out to make this massive RPG a thematic combination of fantasy and reality. This was the first time in the series that the characters sported sensible proportions and, for the most part, looked like ordinary people. You likely wouldn't see a modern-day cowboy like Irvine Kinneas--the game's amiable gunman--strolling down the streets of LA, but the wacky, animalistic party members that so often appear in a common Final Fantasy party are notably absent in this entry.

The blurred line between you and the land of Gaia sharpens once a loud-mouthed cat riding a stuffed Moogle explains its plan to save the planet.

The dedication to a more grounded experience didn't stop at the characters. The locations were designed to resemble pieces of real-world geography, trains and cars replaced the franchise's massive airships, and motion-capture technology was implemented in an attempt to achieve lifelike movements for the entire cast. The short, blocky heroes of past Final Fantasy games just wouldn't fit in this particular representation of Gaia, contributing to the overall effect of the most thematically divergent game in the long-running series.

At a glance, it's easy to see that Final Fantasy VIII attempts to add a spoonful of concentrated verism to a world full of sharp-toothed monsters and maleficent sorceresses. But it's not just this thematic shift that cements the game as one of the most interesting and personally relatable Japanese role-playing games on the market. Surprisingly, it's the introverted protagonist, Squall Leonhart, who gives the narrative its emotional backbone.

Squall is aloof, cold, and unable to successfully communicate with his peers. He's a member of SeeD, a mercenary force designed to provide military support to civilians, and these personality traits create a lack of cohesion between Squall and his fellow hirelings. He's unfit and unwilling to lead, but his proficiency as a tactician and fluency with a blade make him too skilled not to take charge. The other students trust his decisions and respect his abilities, pushing him into an uncomfortable leadership role. Squall is a lone wolf forced to lead a pack, and he rarely holds back from expressing his desire to do everything on his own. Even during the most complex of missions, he pushes his allies away and appears too cold to even hold a conversation.

Yet Squall doesn't act this way without good reason. As an orphan with few memories of his past, he projects this undesirable air, afraid of getting too close to those around him.

This becomes increasingly apparent as we begin to see what he's actually thinking. Squall narrates his thoughts throughout the game, and lines like "As long as you don't get your hopes up, you can take anything...you feel less pain" illustrate why he's unwilling to accept the emotional support of his party members. Even as the story progresses and Squall begins to establish a greater trust with his companions, his nagging insecurities often drag him back into emotional instability.

As an orphan with few memories of his past, he projects this undesirable air, afraid of getting too close to those around him.

"To tell you the truth...I worry too much about what other people think of me. I hate that side of me...that's why I didn't want anyone to get to know me," he tells his love interest, Rinoa Heartilly. "I wanted to hide that side of myself. I hate it. 'Squall is an unfriendly, introverted guy.' It made it easy for me when people perceived me that way."

Unmistakably, Squall is an exaggerated recluse. His insistence on being left alone, paired with his ham-fisted quips about not needing to be understood, can grate on the nerves, but I still related to him when I first played the game. As a homeschooled adolescent who struggled to approach kids my age, I sympathized with Squall's introverted tendencies. I continually fought to temper my insecurities whenever pushed into a social setting, so Squall's refusal to utter the thoughts that only the player can see just made sense to me. Honestly, if you spent a hundred hours with this turn-based experience instead of socializing, you likely connected with portions of his plight, too.

He's the game's hero, but unlike the archetypal JRPG protagonist, Squall isn't a gallant, confident figure with a strong sense of justice. He's just a kid with pitiable social skills, and that's undoubtedly more relatable than your average white knight. My psychological similarities to Squall made his journey feel like my journey. That was me overthinking relationships and pushing people away through silence. That was me moving forward alone, even if those around me were trying their hardest to reach out and help. It's this connection, bolstered by the series' newfound realism, that makes Final Fantasy VIII's journey more personally potent.

Eventually, the main characters chip away at Squall's hard outer shell. He becomes emotionally invested in those around him, and as the battles become more difficult to overcome, Squall realizes he can't just continue to push forward on his own. The thoughts he so often hid from the rest of his party find a voice, and he somehow even manages to crack a smile before the story concludes.

That simple smirk that caps off the epilogue? Even seeing it 14 years later, I get emotional. I would never argue that Final Fantasy VIII features the strongest writing or most cohesive story in this still-young medium, but the game just clicked with me. Squall's personal evolution, which has him start as a socially conflicted kid and end as a confident leader, clicked with me, too. The game's protagonist might not represent every timid, disinclined player who held that PlayStation controller, but the less fantastical setting coupled with that standard Final Fantasy flight of fancy allows you to jump, even if subconsciously, into his black leather boots.

It's not a visual stunner in 2013, but the turn-based combat and deep junction system still hold up today. It's one of the most well-designed JRPGs available, and with few developers creating blockbuster-budget games of this ilk, Final Fantasy VIII on Steam acts as the perfect reminder of why you fell in love with the genre in the first place.

However, if you happen to relate to Squall's personal shortcomings and social deficiencies, Final Fantasy VIII becomes essential.

That simple smirk that caps off the epilogue? Even seeing it 14 years later, I get emotional.

Completing the game didn't encourage me to grab a gunblade and save the world. Final Fantasy VIII is more grounded, but as previously stated, it's still just a game. Yet this game helped me become more cognizant of my introspective tendencies. It pushed me to spark conversation when I'd otherwise find it easier just to keep to myself. And in the end, it presented a story that I still return to every few years.

I won't spend your $11.99 for you. The Steam release of this classic RPG doesn't improve upon the now-dated visuals, and other than the Magic Booster, the 45 Steam achievements are the only notable additions. But even with next-generation consoles now available for purchase, there's no other game I'd recommend more than Final Fantasy VIII.

Discussion

225 comments
uncle5555
uncle5555

As much as I appreciate that people like this game, I still passionately abhor how boring it is.  Triple Triad and Laguna are it's only saving graces for me.  But the enemies that level with you, junctioning and that evil, evil draw system killed it for me, someone commented on grinding being lessened takes away something from this game, to which I whole heartedly disagree.  The tedious fights always drawing for more spells, this killed the gameflow for me, and I have seen it for what it is now...padding to a lacking title.  


Sure some like this author (and many others apparently who have responded below) still have great attachment to the characters, which is admirable (I think it is one of the weakest FF's personally character and storywise, but then again it wasn't my first FF game) but gameplay is what kills this game for me and is why I can almost never understand why people defend it, because frankly it's just not fun (for me) to play.  (Similar to the way Crono Cross seems to disappoint me in every way as well, and even after owning it since launch I can't bring myself to play it more than a few hours at a time before quitting and not looking back) 


I beat this game one, and honestly that was more than enough, I like 6 & 7 and 9, 10 and 12, and enjoyed the stories and gameplay quite a bit, but 8 is the dark horse in the series to me (along side 2) and is one of the few titles I just don't have any compunction or need to play ever again, which is a shame, but C'est la vie and It is what it is.  Just not for me sadly.

tom_cat_01
tom_cat_01

It's amazing how detailed some of these comments are. People remember the story, the junction system, the song lyrics, the character relationships etc. in amazingly vivid detail. This game is 14 years old, and still so clear in people's minds. I've played games *this year* which I've already half-forgotten.


I wonder if any of today's games will be so well-remembered in 2027...?

decebal
decebal

I tried playing it many times... But ... so much grind...

Dieknochenblume
Dieknochenblume

Despite the fact that FFVI is my personal favorite game of all time, FFVIII is still very dear to me.

I didn't mind Squall's attitude at all, because it was always softened by Rinoa's and magnificently balanced by Laguna's. Saying Squall was the backbone of FFVIII holds true because it also allowed everyone around him to shine in its own way and he "drew" from them, as well. The story might have been better, but main character development, music, locations and most gameplay features sure filled in.

On top of that, I always thought FFVIII had the best ending out of all games I had played till then. Would be cool to test it out these days, but I'm sure it still holds in the top 5.

chuckles471
chuckles471

Liked the game(even drawing the big magics like ultima to get the best stats), couldn't stand Squall.


We get it, you are a outsider with salon quality hair and a leather jacket, who moans about everything.  I blame him for emo.

Kats_RK
Kats_RK

One of my favorite childhood games and I still have it <3

kenpachi212
kenpachi212

FFIX was awesome!!!! Playing FFVIII right now and loving it!!!

Wahab_MinSeo
Wahab_MinSeo

Remake of Final Fantasy VIII With HD Textures And DirectX 11 Graphics & Effects Gonna be awesome, if it be i will buy it no matter what!

ShinobiMedic
ShinobiMedic

I am one of the people that think FF7 peaked the series and then it went downhill. FF10 Did a little to redeem the series, but then it went bad again. Sorry FF8, don't really have any love for you.

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

btw nice pic for feature article, i love that CG fight in the beginning between Squall & Seifer!

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

 ff8 was my fav as well, just because i loved squall as a kid. i was also very anti-social when i was younger, constantly moving around and being Indian definitely separated me from the other kids at my age. I got used to it, able to turn off "that switch" that makes you give a crap about what others care and say about. whenever i felt lonely as a kid, i knew i could always relate to Squall Leonhart, and that if he can handle this shitty world than so can I XD


weird that a video game from 1999 could have such an emotional resonance with me, just hope that there are more games in the future that have interesting and humanistic narratives. if Square could do it in 1998 with a PS1, there's no excuses other than the execs gettin in the way creatively.

Plus Squall Leonhart is still my favorite name of a video game character to this day! If anyone hasn't played ff8 yet, you gotta, it's an effin masterpiece people.

slaxl
slaxl

the game that got me hooked me on final fantasy games, i was amazed by this game at the time, had it on PS1 and PC and played it again with my ps2 and downloaded it from PSN for my PS3, and forgot this piece, when i first got Lionheart i felt as though i was invincible 

nigelholden
nigelholden

Personally, I wasn't a fan of this installment. But the article does a good job shedding light on why many people liked it. Not a question of bad/good tastes. Just different tastes.

gamerno66666
gamerno66666

FF6 will be the best ff game for me.(might pick up the android version again)

lethal41
lethal41

Reading this reminds me how lucky I was to have such great FF games to play during my childhood. Saddens me though to think that at the hands of the current devs people new to the franchise will never realise just how great FF really is and why you get people like me banging on about the "good old FFs" if only they knew, sigh. 

platinumking320
platinumking320

y'know funniest thing in retrospect. The way those characters projected to my generation when this game had been out for a year. A male protagonist that surprisingly a lot of female players. (At least the many I knew back in high school considerably liked to some degree. They made rinoa out to be a rival. I just thought rinoa was at first annoying. 

But then again, you can blame High School alone for that. Given the insecure environment it was all too easy for quite a few to find avatar refuge in him.
 

Jesus Christ those were a lot of ahem..'unique'  fanfiction.net entries,

cstv
cstv

What a great article! Agree with every word. The characters in this game became my friends. They were so well developed and REAL. All of them: Squall, Laguna, Rinoa, Quistis, Zell, Irvine, Selphie, Seifer. FF8 was an experience beyond words. My favourite game of all time. Please play it if you havent.

rynmls
rynmls

love the article. that's the same reason why i fell in love with this game.  glad that i am not alone...

IncisionX
IncisionX

Fantastic article, I couldn't agree more Josiah.


My brother and I grew up in a childhood filled with Final fantasy, I was always the die hard FF7 fan and he was always the die hard FF8 fan, we had hundreds of arguments from who would win in a fight between Cloud and Squall or which game had the better story etc ^^


One thing we could always agree on though was no matter which Final fantasy was YOUR favorite, they're all fantastic games and resonate with everyone on emotional levels most other media forms cannot hit.


Again, thanks for the great article and I hope to see more like this in the future :D

LJNkickstarter
LJNkickstarter

Good read. FF8 still my favorite JRPG Of all time it has a ton of NOstalgic Value for me as well as Suikoden 2. And its also have the best Sound Track in the series. Thank you Squaresoft for making this game.

korvus
korvus

Great article Josiah, FF8 is still one of my favourite games to date and you expressed the "why" a lot better than I could have. Thinking of re-buying it on Steam, but I really disliked the fact that the game encouraged low-lvl walkthroughs and I'm more of a "let's max everything and go to town" kind of guy...I'm assuming that hasn't changed in the Steam version.

Albaficas
Albaficas

good article now the squall haters callin him emo can shut it

Jinroh_basic
Jinroh_basic

FF8 is great and in several ways better than the mega-hit FF7. i love the depth and breadth of "junction" system, and triple triad remains the best minigame in the franchise so far. I'm glad that the game still has its following. :) 

CloudXentar
CloudXentar

I remember playing FFVIII and I the joy I felt while playing it, something that today's games hardly do for me. They can say that I outgrow them, but the fact that games like Tales of Xillia or Telltale's The Walking Dead holds me at the edge of my seat would suggest otherwise. Back in those days, they really put an effort in JRPGs to make them immersive, they had soul. Character development hasn't been the same since then. Square really had an impressive lineup of FF in that day. And not just that but Xenogears, Chrono Trigger and Parasite Eve were all hit after a hit.  How I miss the old days...

uglypinkmoose
uglypinkmoose

FF8 was always my favorite but I noticed a lot of people don't like it


In fact I remember buying 9 at a gamestop and the worker saying he didn't like 8 so I don't know about the statistics but 8 gets a lot of crap even if it does get some love... from what I've seen people seem to agree on 7 and 9 more often than 8 


I certainly understand why most prefer 7 but I was just a huge fan of the character development in 8 regardless of the inferior plot


9 is my second favorite and then 7....... I didn't find 7 as amazing as most did but it did have the best plot

RoachRush
RoachRush

LOL at the silly noobs that think the only way to stock up on magic is via multiple Draws in battle. If only they knew about the GF ability that converts items into magic...

Zero_Echo
Zero_Echo

Seems like a lot of bandwagoners hopping on the FF8 love train. FF7 HAS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE THE BEST FF EVER! SHINRA HAS SPOKEN! ALL HAIL THE LIFESTREAM! JUNCTION THIS!

NeleNel
NeleNel

The only thing that was wrong with FF VIII, was that it came out after FF VII. If it had been the other way around, I personally think the fan base would have been much larger. Still, it's easily my second favorite in the series, behind FF VI.

Loshead
Loshead

Great article, this game was awesome, may have to buy it again. 

Darkreaper_1
Darkreaper_1

The first FF game i played and to me the best i've played.  Not only was the gameplay enjoyable the story, despite being a far fetched fantasy one, was easy to follow.  The characters were deep and the plot rivalled any other piece of media in terms of scope and emotion.

madsnakehhh
madsnakehhh

Great article, this game is to this date my favorite FF and one of my all time favorite JRPGs, despite the flaws, i think is fantastic, and in some ways i can relate to Squall too.

chadwick1343
chadwick1343

Still the greatest FF game ever to be released.

rufusamatrix
rufusamatrix

I don't have time to read this now but I'm just glad someone finally recognized this grossly under-discussed game. For example, this's a 1999 JRPG THAT LET'S YOU (in time) HAVE TOTAL CONTROL OVER RANDOM ENCOUNTERS!  

mav_destroyer
mav_destroyer

Final Fantasy VII is what hooked me into the JRPG genre but FFVIII is by far my most favorite in the series. I also played Shadow Hearts(PS2) around the same time as FFVIII and absolutely loved both, probably because there were some similarities.

Doomerang
Doomerang

Just letting you know, the PC version has mods that drastically improve the music (Roses and Wine makes the music AT LEAST on par with PS1, but often drastically improves on it by using the various orchestral renditions of the songs) and fixes some of the graphical issues that the steam version has. You can find the links for them on the steam forums. It makes the game so much more fun to play.

ruffluffs
ruffluffs

FFVIII is by far the most over the top game in the series, I mean just look at Squalls limit breaks and the final boss death is ridiculously dramatic. while the games that came after had better graphics I still think VIII had the coolest looking effects for magic, Summons and Limit breaks.

Fallensting
Fallensting

Great article. I feel the same way. The plot may have had a few issues but the character development and ability to easily relate to them and their experiences were unlike any other game I've played. It may be my favorite game now that I think about it. No other game besides maybe FF9 made such an impact. The fact that I can easily go back and play it because of the junction system (which you can refine cards into magic instead of drawing), level up system (so I never have to grind), and encounter-none ability to avoid random battles makes it even sweeter. 

Skrillbak
Skrillbak

@tom_cat_01I think that's one of the things that is so impressive about the Playstation Era Final Fantasy games is that even all of these years later they're still fresh to me. 


As for FFVIII, it isn't even my favorite of those games yet I remember so much of it, all the secret places, and the soundtrack to boot. I feel like even another 14 years from today I'll remember Ward losing his voice, Galbadia and Balamb Gardens fighting, etc,. 


Just a great game all around.

baystatethrashr
baystatethrashr

@gamerno66666 I'd still rather play the PS1 or SNES version. The graphics on the mobile release look like a crappy RPG maker game.

IncisionX
IncisionX

@Korvus85 Not at all sir, you can cut corners by maxing your junctions early due to "Magic booster" but I wouldn't recommend it.... takes away half the satisfaction of grinding etc :D

korvus
korvus

@Jinroh_basic I think I have spent more time with Triple Triad (playing, collecting, challenging the Queen, changing rules...) than with the normal campaign. At the time Triple Triad was my Magic the Gathering =P

hikaruai
hikaruai

@Zero_EchoNah, FF8 has always been my favorite, 8, 6, and 4 are the best hands down

Stebsis
Stebsis

@NeleNelOnly thing? What about draw? I love VIII, but drawing magic was so damn boring that I almost fell asleep couple of times when doing it :D

RoachRush
RoachRush

@ruffluffsEh.... I loved FF7, but the blocky chibi character designs are nothing compared to the full sized and better textured characters from FF8.

Fallensting
Fallensting

@Stebsis @NeleNel  Well you don't have to draw magic in this game though. You can refine cards into magic and avoid random battles entirely with Diablos' encounter-none ability. And if you don't like the card game you can use Quetzacoatl's card ability to turn monsters into cards kinda like pokemon. 

Final Fantasy VIII More Info

First Release on Sep 07, 1999
  • PC
  • PlayStation
Cast all fears aside: the latest Final Fantasy is the greatest game ever to bear the name.