Written by Bad Demoman 2nd November 2016

It’s pretty undeniable that Final Fantasy 8 is the odd one out of the PS1 Final Fantasy trio. It’s very much a Marmite game, where some love and some hate it. Until lately, I was of the opinion that I liked the idea, particularly the story and characters, but that I couldn’t put myself up to dealing with the systems. After the runaway success of FF7, it’s a hard sell when it’s so incredibly different. So let’s take a look at what it did so differently, and how that affects its place as an FF game.

The most infamous aspect of Final Fantasy 8 is the junction system. This is where you assign Guardian Forces (or GFs, which are this game's equivalent of summons) to a character. This lets you then gain access to its power, and also allows you to assign magic to stats. For example, assigning offensive magic to your Strength will increase it, with more powerful magic in greater quantities having a much more pronounced effect. Magic is acquired occasionally from ‘Draw’ points around the world, but these are rare. So, the most used method of acquiring magic is Drawing from enemies. This is where the tedium and distaste for FF8 arises. Each enemy has certain magic you can Draw from it. Grinding is almost a dirty word in RPGs, and so to introduce a system that seems so intrinsically linked to grinding is destined to be an unpopular change. It’s difficult to make a player want to stop during every encounter and stock up on magic, but you feel like you have to. After all, it’s the only way to increase your stats. Thankfully, there are ways around grinding, such as refining items and Triple Triad cards into magic. This can lead to another issue with the Junctioning system - one that I ran into on my playthrough.

I ended up hilariously overpowered in FF8. Nothing was a challenge - not even Ultima Weapon, infamous for being among the hardest bosses to best in the FF series. I’m the sort of gamer that likes to do things optimally, and in FF8 if you are willing to grind out magic or even just acquire the right items, it is incredibly easy to become so strong that the game feels incredibly easy. I had as much HP on my party by the end of the first disk as I ended up with at the end of some other Final Fantasy games. It didn’t help that even though I don’t feel like I did a huge amount of farming, I ended up at max level on all my party by the end of the game. It’s likely due to my insistence on optimal play, but FF8 ended up far too easy. On the flipside, I’ve heard from others that it’s the hardest of the Final Fantasy games!

When designing FF8, Square wanted battles to be more interactive than ever. I can see where they tried this - Squall can have guaranteed critical hits if the player hits R1 with the right timing as he hits the enemy, and summons have a mini-game of sorts where the player can boost their power by mashing Square during the animation. However, I’d argue that the result is less interactive than your usual Final Fantasy game! This is due to most fights consisting of 2 commands - Fight and Draw. Magic feels horrendously underpowered, and there's even less incentive to use it when it's tied to your stats! At one point in the game, one of my characters had a maxed out magic stat, and used Holy on an enemy, which is usually an incredibly powerful spell. Time and again, I found it actually caused more damage to simply attack the enemy. Summoning GFs requires incredibly long animations that can’t be skipped to accommodate for the power boosting aspect of them, but I never wanted to use the boost. It feels like it’s very memory reliant, as if you press the button at the wrong time, your boost will be reduced significantly. The payoff is rarely worth it, as failure is incredibly punishing. I ended up using them rarely, which is a shame as FF8 has some of the coolest Summon designs of the entire series, with a whole lot of GFs that have never been seen before or since as Summons.

The only thing really differentiating characters is their limit breaks, so you can use any setup you want. Early in the game, your party gets limited to whoevers available as the story allows. The result is an even usage of all the party members before you get a little more freedom, which is nice since it gives you time to decide your favourites. However, Squall is in the party most the time. This, combined with his potential 100% crit rate using his trigger, makes it entirely possible for Squall to carry you throughout the game. It’s frustrating, because it makes everyone else feel incredibly weak. If Squall gets a little over levelled early, he’s likely to remain that way and even increase the gap as the game goes on. This is because the last hit against an enemy gets more of the EXP. Now, who's likely to get more last hits - The constantly criting overleveled guy, or the entirely new party member who's still a bit behind?

So you might be thinking to myself - Wow, this guy’s got nothing but bad to say about FF8. He must really hate it. Well, no. That’s not the case. I love the junction system, because it lets you explore different ways to play the game. For someone who loves to optimise a game, it’s more of a challenge to explore all the different possible options with the junction system, combining different GFs and different spells to end up with the best possible result. FF8 also has some of my favourite characters and one of the strongest stories in the series, as well as my favourite iteration of my favourite FF character! (Gilgamesh, for reference). Had Final Fantasy 8 been just another Final Fantasy game, it probably would’ve been crushed under the expectations thrust upon it by fans of Final Fantasy 7. Instead, we got one of the most unique entries into the series. It might not be for every FF fan. Sure, some of the mechanics are really awkward and it emphasizes the dreaded Grinding, but I only played it through in its entirety for the first time quite recently. It was the most fun I’ve had with a Final Fantasy game since my first playthrough of my favourite Final Fantasy (which is a topic for another article!). FF8 sits solidly near the top in my rankings of the best FF games, and if you passed it by or never played it, I urge you to at least give it a go.

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Bad Demoman

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