Final Fantasy VIII was probably the most anticipated game of the 90's; not including Ocarina of Time. After Final Fantasy VII's blockbuster success the game had a lot to live up to. But once again, like every game of the series, FFVIII had to be significantly different to its predecessor and the games prior. What we were given was a very complicated and fulfilling game that rewarded the gamers hard work and cunning. Although through these mechanics; Final Fantasy VIII had many shortcuts that could turn your characters into powerful super-humans.
Story- The game features a group of teenagers learning in an academy that teaches them how to battle a enemy known as 'The Sorceress'. It is set in a world of post-modern technology. Despite the setting; the worlds habitat and wildlife are abundant. FFVIII's plot branches into interesting adventure after an introductory part with tutorials that might last an hour or so. By the time it reaches the second disc, the plot becomes very epic and original. However by the time the game reaches disc 3, the plot begins to jump the shark and was filled with ambiguity. The characters are great though. Don't let their realistically proportioned character models fool you. These characters are full of personality and likability...well...maybe not Irvine.
Graphics and Design- Final Fantasy VIII was probably the most groundbreaking, cinematic, open world game ever to be released on the PSone. It's photo-realistic characters along with its beautifully designed photo realistic environments make it look somewhat pretty, even today. In many ways the graphics haven't aged as well as other Final Fantasy's either. The problem with realism is that it doesn't age very well. More colorful titles like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX and especially Final Fantasy X have aged much better. This is due to its use of colors and textures that Final Fantasy VIII seems to lack. For example the world map looks horrible! Its older brother, FFVII, has a far better and polished world map.
Another small flaw in Final Fantasy VIII is its design. By the time the player reaches the 4th disc he or she 'CAN NOT' backtrack to the world to explore. Yes the team can return to the world map, close to the final boss, but its a world destroyed! With very little towns and temples to explore, the player is left with the world map to defeat monsters! errgh! This forces the player to stay on disc 3 to finish side-quests and not progress to disc 4. If you progress to disc 4 without knowing this, your tough out of luck! The last temple does allow the team to draw and junction the remaining GF's the player didn't get from sub-bosses before final boss. But this is only here to help the player win if he was unable to get it in the ACTUAL game world. It really makes you wish you preserved a save file for disc 3!
Gameplay- The games complicated junction system takes time to get used to but it is very rewarding when given the time and effort. The 'Junction System' involves junctioning/merging a character to a powerful being called a 'Guardian Force' or GF. These allow the characters to perform the essential special abilities in the game such as 'using magic', 'using items' (for some strange reason), summoning the Junctioned GF; and most importantly 'Drawing' magic from enemies. If you don't draw magic from enemies you can't use magic, but that not the real issue. You need to draw magic to also 'junction' to your characters statistics.
For example, If I junction my 'fire magic' to my characters strength stat, my characters strength will increase.
Also If I junction my 'lighting magic' to my 'elemental attack' stat, my characters attacks will have lightning damage and do extra well against water enemies.
Not only that, but if I junction my 'haste magic' to my speed stat, my character will become significantly faster in battle. All these abilities must be learned by specific 'Guardian force's' and some take a long while to learn some of the better abilities.
Many of the 'Guardian Force's' are obtainable through only key boss battles. In fact, you can go through the entire game and only have the three essential GF's, Quezacotl, Shiva and Ifrit. The gamer doesn't have to obtain the 13 other GF's! This is both a fine-point and a flaw in the game in my opinion. Throughout the story the gamer comes across a number of bosses that have certain GF's attached to them to be 'Drawn'. However a boss fight only happens once in the context of the storyline in the game. So GF's such as 'Siren', 'Carbuncle', 'Leviathan' . 'Pandomena', 'Alexander' and 'Eden' can be missed out on if the player is not careful.
However, GF's such as 'Brothers', 'Diablos', 'Cerberus', 'Doomtrain', 'Bahamat', 'Cactuar', 'Odin' and 'Tonberry' can be gained through special requirements AKA Sidequests.
Many of the 'Guardian Force's' (GF's) are side-quests in themselves. However there are a number of quirky side-quests the gamer can do with the selected characters.
All the characters need weapon upgrades to make significant progress on each of their hit points. Squall upgrades his Gunblade, Quistis upgrades her whip and Irvine upgrades his Rifle for example. All the weapons require certain materials that can be obtained through defeating monsters on the field, mugging enemies, or transferring a 'Triple Trade Card' into a number of powerful materials through the learned 'ability' of a certain GF.
The card game 'Triple Trade' is a very rewarding and helpful side-quest that can be played by more 3/4 the 'non-playable-characters' (NPC) in the game-world. Many rare cards can either be won through defeating NPC's or killing certain monsters or bosses.
Final Fantasy VIII is a great Console RPG! This is probably the last Final Fantasy I would show to newcomers though. The complicated game mechanics that need bland overly-long tutorials would be a nightmare for a child! With that said, the game mechanics give the player a lot to sink their teeth into. Older gamers that are more mathematically tolerant ; or gamers that are interested in a unique take on upgrading your characters will get a lot out of this wonderfully strange and misunderstood blockbuster of game. I certainly did.