In the wake of Final Fantasy 7, fans were hungry for the next main entry in the series. In 1999, Square Enix delivered with Final Fantasy VIII. The second 3D installment in the series, this entry took huge steps in creating a more realistic character design and a new world for players to explore. The creators took a more ‘realistic-fantasy’ approach, pulling from sci-fi influences, and they created a very different game with some daring new elements.
Out with the Old; In With the New
Like many of the previous entries, Final Fantasy VIII didn’t stick to any particular formula. With new technology, the visuals allowed for seamless transitions from game play into cut scenes. The old battle and leveling system was swapped for the newer Junction system, while summon monsters took on a more central role. Players could try their luck at the new card mini-game, Triple Triad, and drive new vehicles that were unavailable in previous titles. The focus was definitely on a more ‘modern’ look at the definition of fantasy.
Of course, there were still the lovable series icons: chocobos, a character named Cid, access to airships, a traversal world map, the ATB-System, and Nobuo Uematsu’s wonderful score. The game wasn’t such a complete departure from the series that it was unrecognizable. Many of the familiar elements were included with a fresh and brighter design, and Uematsu captures the emotional aspect with his master pieces Eyes on Me and Liberi Fatali. However, with all of the changes, this is an entry that many fans have come to argue about over time, especially when regarding the battle mechanics and story-line.
Joining SeeD: Planting the Garden
Final Fantasy VIII puts a unique twist on storytelling. While there are six primary protagonists, gamers will find themselves shifting gears between two very different playable groups. Up until this point, Final Fantasy games usually involve a particular set of characters throughout the story, rarely shifting from their point of view. Gamers get to enjoy a shift in tone and explore different places while piecing together the story-line puzzle.
It takes place on an unnamed fantasy world with one moon, with a mixed design of modern and futuristic elements. The world is split into five major sections: Esthar, Galbadia, Trabia, Balamb, and a rocky-inhabitable section. While the overall look is fresh, don’t let that fool you. Here – there be wizards and monsters.
The story focuses primarily on the kingdom ‘Gardens’ or military academies that churn out recruits to defend their cities. Cadets in the academies train to eventually to become ‘SeeDs,’a special military taskforce. While the world has three primary Gardens, our story begins in Balamb.
Recruitment – Welcome to Balamb
The game opens with a stunning cut scene as our main protagonist, Squall Lionheart, is locked in a duel with his school rival, Seifer. While the two end up ultimately scaring each other’s faces, the player takes control of Squall in the aftermath of his brawl. A promising SeeD cadet, he’s a sullen loner with the intent of focusing on his missions alone. Despite his attempt to polarize others, his instructor, Quistis Trepe, has taken a shine to him and accompanies him on a pre-requisite mission before his final SeeD exam. In order to pass, Squall must fight and obtain a Guardian Force, or GF. Following his mission, there is a growing issue with the sudden imperialistic movements of a neighboring Garden, Galbadia.
Enter Rinoa Heartilly, a fiery and passionate woman, who pleads with the leaders of Balamb to assist her in taking out the fearsome Sorceress Edea, the leader of the Galbadian movement. Players follow Squall as things spiral out of control into fearsome battles, Garden warfare, and a budding romance that all circle around the mysteries of the past and the future.
Digging Up The Garden
The plot is a major area that divides the fan base. We follow a romantic story centering on the relationship between Squall and Rinoa, while the world around them crumbs into chaos. While the concept is basic, critics found an issue in the main protagonist Squall; he is a polarizing character that is hard to connect with. He was cold to point where he almost seemed robotic; however, there are many who loved him as an “anti-hero” persona. There is also some skepticism for his romance with Rinoa, which seemed to just click for his character at a pivotal plot moment. While theirs is truly the focus, there are certainly better romances within the game.
Another criticism of the plot plays out in several awkward scenes and reveals that didn’t really hold substance. While the story can be incredibly engaging, some of the developments felt forced, and the characters lacked significant growth. While the characters were charming, they were flat personalities without any real backstory – with the exceptions being Laguna, Kiros, and Ward’s story. This includes the main villain, Ultimecia.
Regardless of the missteps, Final Fantasy VIII’s story ends up being pretty exciting when overlooking the flaws. When considering the previous entries, more than a handful of the Final Fantasy games had problems with significant character development and exciting, over-the-top stories. Again, there is a mixed bag of opinions on this particular entry. It’s really a personal preference and it really is worth diving into.