Following my new game of Final Fantasy VII, I wanted to explore once more the next instalment that I hold dearly in my heart from my first playthrough. It did not go as expected and I was in for a painful realization.
Indeed, in my memories, Final Fantasy VIII was more mature in so many levels. First, graphically speaking, the developers chose to give up the SD (Super Deformed—big head, small body) representation used in Final Fantasy in lieu of more realistic characters and proportions. The sound design was also upgraded as we hear the footsteps of the character, which is not as trivial as it may sound. This struck me back in 2000 and I felt playing a more adult and serious game because of that. Of course the game engine didn’t allow for heavy details on the faces especially, but it didn’t matter to me. Back then, I was 13, an age full of questioning, and self research. I was on my way to high school which would then lead me to the university which is one of the main area of the game (and a character in and of itself). But most importantly, character development was more in tune with what I felt back when I was a teen and the game was originally released. In 2000, when I completed my first play through on the PC version of this masterpiece, it was way ahead of Final Fantasy VII.
Now that I’m more than twice the age I was when I first played Final Fantasy VIII for the first time, I have a whole different understanding of the world around me, including video games. Playing again the games we enjoyed or not during our youth should be something we should all do, by the way. Having a new point of view on things, a better culture is helpful to catch on the jokes and the humour of those types of games.
Starting Final Fantasy VIII made me realize that it’s a deeply flawed game, especially when it is compared to its predecessor. First, right at the beginning there is a detail that I never noticed before which is nevertheless so important when it comes to playing a role playing game: there are no more treasure chests! As silly as it may sound, this is something that the developers chose not to include for some reason. Playing back-to-back Final Fantasy VII, with its world full treasure chests to hunt in every possible areas whether it’s covered in snow, in a sunken submarine or in a haunted mansion, and Final Fantasy VIII where hidden items are as rare as an Adamantoise, made me realize how much I relied on this feature to motivate me to explore the various locatio
s of a given game. Not only is it a way to reward us as players but it can also be a good way to direct us. For example, having a few chests here and there in the Tomb of the Unknown King in Final Fantasy VIII would help us not to wander around in circles.
Second, the game system is so exploitable that, if you understand correctly how it works, the last third of the game becomes insignificant in terms of difficulty. The Junction system introduced here requires you to attach a certain magic spell to a certain ability to increase it. In order to have the said magic spell, you can, basically, draw it and stock it from monsters in battles or create it using items through abilities offered by the summons here called the Guardian Forces (I’ll come back to those later). Starting the game you can only draw magic from the enemies. The good thing is that they have an unlimited amount of them but the drawback (pun intended) is that it takes a certain amount of time. Come to think of it, this is kind of what life is. If you’re willing to spend enough time absorbing knowledge, you can exploit life’s rules to your own gain. Food for thoughts. Anyway, in Final Fantasy VIII, the systems allows to be so powerful so early on the adventure that you barely sweat during boss fights. It’s a bit of a shame considering that the point of an RPG is to progressively build up your character.
Finally, and it’s a detail, but developers wanted us to hear our characters moving so they added a sound effect for their footsteps. I haven’t realized until now that I actually didn’t care, not that it is annoying or anything but it’s funny to think that it was that important for them to be present in the game.
With that being said, I enjoyed this new playthrough, my first one in English for this game. Even though I didn’t care that much for the characters this time around, I loved every part of the game. Whether it is the Balamb Garden University, Deling City, getting lost in the Tomb of the Unknown King or blowing up the missile base. But I have to say that my biggest surprise was Ultimecia’s Castle. This last dungeon represents, for me, an apogee of the series. Upon entering this immense building, you are deprived of every feature including saving! Solving puzzles and beating up bosses will grant you those back. Even though it’s cruelly empty, the baroque architecture is amazing (woodwork, chandeliers,…), and the music track is amazing with its harpsichord part.
Final Fantasy VIII is a work of art no doubt about it. But I realized that it lacks something in terms of character development. I would gladly play it again or if Square Enix would offer a remake after finishing the one they’re working on right now, I wouldn’t say no.