Oh, Final Fantasy VIII, where do I start? There’s so much to say, so much that went wrong, but so much to love all wrapped up together in a fat, messy package.
I’ll start off straight: I enjoyed the game quite a bit. The story is interesting, and I’m a sucker for romance, something which is a bit rare in JRPGs (not including those little hints so many games like to drop throughout, only to leave you with empty promises by the end). That said, the story does take some odd turns, one in particular which comes far out of left field for all players involved. The character development mostly makes up for it, but if you’re someone who has trouble suspending your sense of belief, this game might be better off avoided.
Another reason one could easily be put off is the combat, particularly the leveling system. Grinding in the traditional sense means little in FF VIII, as the enemies actually level up with you. Instead, you fight enemies to ‘draw’ spell points off them. How many points you have on any given spell dictates how strong the connected stat of the character is. Connecting spells to stats is done by junctioning Guardian Forces (summons) to your characters. Junctioning different Guardian Forces means opening up different spells to different stats. It’s obtuse at first, and in a way discourages spellcasting. Cast too many of a spell connected to your hp, and your hp drops. On the flip side, enemies leveling with you means you don’t need to fight many of them once you’ve drawn all the needed spells off any given foe. I spent most of my game running away from enemies, and my party’s level by the end of the game topped off around 15. Despite this, I was still fine when it came time to take on the final boss.
Luckily, FF VIII manages to shine in other areas, one of the biggest being the music. While many will argue VII is the best in the series overall, VIII might honestly have it beat in the sound department. The vocal track that echoes in different melodies throughout is absolutely lovely, as are the tunes to accompany you through the various cities you’ll travel while working to take down Edea, the evil witch seemingly set on bending the world to her will. Speaking of which (ha, get it?), the witches in the game also get their own special track, and it’s simultaneously one of the most memorable and eerie tunes I’ve ever heard in a game. The game does an excellent job of using the music to shape your mood during the story’s many crescendos throughout the game, whether to evoke the feeling of romance between Squall and Rinoa, or make you tense up in fear when something particularly nasty has you in their sights.
Coming off these strengths, FF VIII is a game I recommend to most people. Yes, it has problems, but it also tells an engaging story within an interesting world with a fun cast. Throw in some of the best game music I’ve ever heard, and you’ve got a fun ride ahead of you. Just, you know, don’t get too overwhelmed when you first start getting all the battle tutorials.