by Maria "Jigglypuff" Rider
Two years in the making, Squaresoft has yet again developed one of the more memorable role-playing games of 1999. Final Fantasy VIII, the continuation of the popular role-playing game series, released on the U.S. on September 9th. Ironically, this was also the day the most-awaited Sega Dreamcast console released as well. Despite competition, Final Fantasy VIII broke all barriers with gamers' expectations with stunning graphics and music.
The tale centers around the lone wolf-like Squall Leonheart, who is part of an elite military group called SeeD. SeeD is a group of elite soldier that are sent out on missions throughout the world that the countries' that hire them would rather not undertake. Squall is one of the last SeeD cadets to use a Gunblade, an odd, yet powerful weapon that can not only be used as a sword, but as a gun as well. As with all heroes, there is a rival, Seifer Almasy is a headstrong troublemaker, who only wants to be a SeeD operative, but will find his rebellious attitude his downfall. Quistis Trepe, formerly Squall's instructor, she finds that the only way to get her point across is with her powerful whip. Selphie Tilmitt, a spunky SeeD operative, uses her magic and versatile nunchakus to subdue any opponent. Zell Dincht, the impulsive martial artist, is never one to ask questions first and rushes into situations with his fists. Rinoa Heartilly, a caring, yet misguided young woman, seems to become more attracted to Squall's lone wolf attitude everyday. Irvine Kinneas, the ladies' man, is always finding ways to swoon the ladies with his pick-up lines and is quite the sharpshooter. All of these character play a part in succeeding in Final Fantasy VIII as the player utilizes each character's strengths to finish the game.
Final Fantasy VIII is a vast improvement over the predecessor, Final Fantasy VII. The game's improved animations and musical score add to the overall gaming experience. The player takes the role of Squall where he must control the actions of this stalwart, young hero. The battle system has changed from the Final Fantasy VII game as the materia function has been done away with and the Junctioning system has been put in its place. Junctioning functions just like materia, but it doesn't have any limiting magic points. The player can junction magic to improve his stats such as strength or vitality. The player can also junction Guardian Forces (GFs) to his character to summon the Guardian Force to his aid. In comparison, each character in the Final Fantasy series used magic points as well as particular materia to summon the Guardian Forces such as Ifrit, Shiva, or Odin. Guardian Forces are obtained at the beginning of the game, but the player can Draw new ones from boss monsters during a battle. Some GFs are more compatible with some of the characters (i.e. Zell with Ifrit), but all can be interchanged with other characters as needed. GFs act much like pets as they stay loyal to their master, but only if the player uses them constantly. The use of other GFs will make the other GFs jealous and less likely to appear quickly when summon. Slower summoning can mean certain death during some battles. GFs have different abilities that act much like materia when each GF acquires experience points such as Auto-Shells (defends against magic) or Auto-Reflect (reflects magic spells back to the caster). Also, the GFs can control particular elements such as Ice, Water, Wind, and Fire. Each GF can learn natural innate abilities or be taught different ones with a number of different scrolls. A GF can also forget abilities to make room for better ones.
Casting magic is also character specific as each character starts out with a certain magical point level. Some characters are more in-tune with casting spells (i.e. Rinoa or Selphie) while others are better in attack points (i.e. Squall or Zell). The player must make decisions to create the best battle party to defeat each enemy that they face. The 3D animation in Final Fantasy VIII is very well done and up to par of its predecessor. A lot of the characters are rotoscoped and move fluidly in the various cinemas that appear throughout the game. The music score done by Uematsu Nobuo, who did the Final Fantasy music for all the previous games in the series. With a number of symphonic melodies flowing throughout the scenes create the mood for the player's relation to the characters on the screen. A lot of the music in the Final Fantasy VIII game has been developed more carefully by incorporating symphonic-type music over the usual synthetizer-type of the previous games. The usually long animation times for the GFs hasn't changed, in fact, with some it's even longer than the Knights of the Round, the longest one in the previous game.
The theme of Final Fantasy VIII, "Eyes on Me" sung by Faye Wong, is echoed throughout the game in regular vocal form as well as a waltz-like arrangement, which this author really enjoys because of its love theme. Final Fantasy VIII is a full four discs long and full of lots and lots of gameplay throughout. At an affordable $49.99, any Final Fantasy fan will not be disappointed. Squaresoft has definitely outdid themselves with this game and Final Fantasy IX is right over the horizon. Overall, an action-packed role-playing game full of tears and hardships well-worth the time put to bring this game together.