Final Fantasy VIII

Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII Cover
Platforms PlayStation, Windows
Genre Random Battle Heavy RPG
MtAMinutes to Action 24
Keep Playing? For a bit of nostalgia
Buy from Amazon

I used to call it one of my favorite games of all-time, I'm honestly not sure where it falls now since I've only played it once, and that game started 10 years ago. Final Fantasy VIII was released on September 9th, 1999, Sony's answer to the Sega Dreamcast North American release on the same day. I plowed through it in epic sessions of high school gaming, finishing it less than a month later after 60+ hours of gaming. While I'm a huge fan of the Dreamcast and will probably dig mine out over the next few days to honor its 10th anniversary also, Final Fantasy VIII just clicked with me. I'm not going to get into Final Fantasy VII versus VIII or anything, save that for some forums, I will, however, get into the first hour of Final Fantasy VIII shortly.

Well, I said I wouldn't get into FF7, but that game had a great first hour! Especially for a Japanese role-playing game that usually spends more time explaining the intricacies of the turn-based battle system than actually being, you know... fun. So it's been a while since I started a new game in Final Fantasy VIII, I remember the great opening video, and that's about it. So here's the setting: it's 1999, the sequel to one of the most popular games ever is now in your hands, and you're about to make the decision to either sign the next month away to it, or try to recover some of your cash at EB Games. So let's play the first hour of Final Fantasy VIII and make our decision.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Final Fantasy VIII begins and the screen goes black. We're looking at a beach, a haunting female choir begins singing... not sure what about though. "I'll be here..." appears on the screen as we fly quickly across the ocean, then to a desert, then to a field of flowers with a woman in blue among them.

01 - Flower petals are whipped through the air and the woman grabs one, then lets it go to the wind. We follow the same petal as it soars into a black, thunderous sky, then suddenly it comes down as a giant sword! "SquareSoft presents Final Fantasy VIII." Two men are on a deserted, dirt field, about to do battle.

02 - They swing their swords at each other in between taunts. The blonde guy in the white trench coat fends off a flurry of blows, and then shoots some fire at the man in black! As the man in black is lying on the ground, he gets a nasty slash across the forehead and blood spurts on the ground. Not to be outdone, he gets up and returns the favor.

03 - The final scene is of the man in black and woman in blue falling towards each other with their arms outstretched. The Final Fantasy VIII logo appears and again we fade to black.

Final Fantasy 8 Squall Seifer Gunblade

04 - After a bit of loading, it is clear the opening cutscene of full-motion video is done, and the real game's graphics are no where near as pretty. The man in black is laying on a small bed with Dr. Kadowaki standing over him. She asks how I'm feeling - no voice acting though, just text on the screen. I respond that my forehead hurts. She asks me my name, I leave it at the default, Squall. Yes, first Cloud in Final Fantasy VII, now Squall in number 8. Turns out the two of us were just training... Seifer and Squall.

05 - The doctor calls in my instructor named Quistis. Another cutscene kicks off a hot looking librarian that honestly can't be any older than Squall.

06 - She scolds me a bit, just the way I like it, teacher! We walk down a hall together, a couple of girl students walk past and giggle.

08 - Another cutscene that tried to move seamlessly from the game's graphics, it's of... some big thing. Not sure what the heck it was. The building we're in? It's huge! We're sitting in class now, Seifer and I are in the back row. Squall looks like he's a big moper with his head straight down to the floor. Quistis asks me if I've been to the Fire Cavern yet, it's part of my exam.

10 - Before we go, Quistis recommends I check my study panel to check up on the basics, I'll make this quick. It's the Balamb Garden Network. Guardian Forces is an independent energy force... with memory loss as a side effect?! Sounds dangerous. There's two Guardian Forces (GF) registered for me: Quezacotl and Shiva. I get the opportunity to rename each of them. That's probably why Quistis told me to check my panel.

13 - I leave the classroom and try to find Quistis, but some brown haired girl runs into me first. What is this, Chrono Trigger? She asks for a tour, "Sure," I respond.

Final Fantasy 8 Balamb Garden

15 - Squall talks to a kid and he gives him some trading cards, you can play by pressing Square. Huh? The girl and I hop in the elevator and head down. We're looking at the school directory now, there's a dorm, cafeteria, quad, all the usual stuff. There's even live monsters in the training facility.

17 - And of course, the headmaster's name is Cid. There always has to be a Cid. The girl finally leaves Squall and I then I direct him over to what has to be a save point, yep.

18 - I head towards the front gate and through a turnstyle. Wow, weird. Have to run a long way to find Quistis. What's that? There's some glowy purple thing coming from the ground.

19 - "Found a draw point - no one can draw." That was pointless. Ah, there's Quistis, like four long screens from the front door. She's going to talk about junctioning a GF now, it's a menu tutorial, my favorite.

22 - I get control again, I guess I should follow the instructions and junction one of the GF I picked up. I give Quezacotl to Squall and Shiva to Quistis.

24 - Off to the Fire Cavern! We're running on the world map now. It's east of here but since I can run any which way and there's no compass, I don't even know which way is east! Oh oh, random battle on the overworld! I tell Quistis to Draw from the monster, it looks like it has three things to Draw. After a couple rounds of drawing, I find out it has Blizzard, Cure, and Scan. Cure could be useful, and Blizzard in a Fire Cavern. I draw a bit more.

Final Fantasy 8 Overworld

26 - Okay, now it's time to kill this thing, even though I have a ton of health and am not in danger of dying. Squall uses his sword and Quistis cracks her whip. Man, talk about a guy's fantasy. We finish the beast off.

27 - I manage to pop up a mini world map, but then we get into another battle. Quistis informs me that the R1 button is the trigger... is this a sword and gun? Wow, that's much more effective, like a free critical hit.

29 - I can also Draw Fire from these little bugs. Don't feel like it though this round and just finish them off.

30 - Ugh, another battle! I'm just getting my head wrapped around the map!

32 - And another... at least this one features a different camera angle.

33 - We finally reach the Fire Cavern, but it's time for another tutorial, this time Junctioning Magic. Hey, you can auto-junction magic!

Final Fantasy 8 Fire Cavern Quistis

35 - We're at the cavern mouth now, Squall says he's ready for the challenge, Quistis is my support. I get to select a time limit: 10, 20, 30, and 40 minutes. Well, there's only about 20 minutes left, better shoot for that one.

36 - Quistis is just here for support, Squall will actually have to do the grunt work. They chat some more as the lava licks their boots.

37 - Our first encounter in the cave, some fire birds. We both draw from them quickly. For some reason they have Thunder, and they also go down in one hit.

39 - We're fighting some Bombs, Quistis tells me to use ice attacks, but I didn't select Magic to be an option in battle! Guess we'll have to take them down the old fashioned way.

40 - I have Squall draw some Fire from them as he junctioned it to one of his stats. Time continues to count down while we fight.

42 - After the battle I decide to replace Item option with Magic. Both my GF's also leveled up! The next enemy has some Blizzard to stock up on.

Final Fantasy 8 Fire Cavern Ifrit

43 - Looks like the end of the road... we'd better Cure up.

44 - Yep, boss battle! It's Ifrit, a giant fire monster! I decide to summon Quistis' GF, Shiva! It takes a few seconds to show up, but then does a truly epic Diamond Dust move against Ifrit. 180 damage! Nice.

45 - Ifrit yells, "They have Shiva?" Poor guy. We both keep spamming him with Blizzard, but oh yeah, Squall has got Quezacotl.

47 - I guess you can just keep summoning Shiva? I'll do that instead, it seems kind of cheap though. I'll give Quezacotl a try though, just to see what the move looks like. It's called Thunder Storm, and a bird is struck down from the heavens to perform some mouth-lightning-explosions on Ifrit.

49 - Interesting, while you're summoning, your GF takes damage for the summoner and they have their own set of hit points.. Oh, we beat Ifrit, and he'll join me! I still had about eight minutes left too.

Final Fantasy 8 Shiva

50 - And another tutorial, this time about Elemental Junctions. I guess you can link magic to regular attacks to do elemental damage, or protect myself from elemental damage. Thankfully Auto takes care of this too.

52 - Oh man, we actually have to walk out of the dungeon, that's annoying. And there's still battles. Typical.

55 - Three battles later and I'm out, but I still have to walk back to school, no battles on the way though, phew. Okay, one more tutorial by Quistis, it's about GF's learning abilities.

58 - That was interesting at least, she walks off but first tells me to change into my uniform. Guess I head to the dorm?

60 - The garden is a big place though, and I don't even make it there before the first hour of Final Fantasy VIII is up.

Final Fantasy 8 Shiva Diamond Dust

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 24

Was was awesome: The opening cutscene. I had no idea what was going on for most of it, but it was a spectacular use of full-motion video. While it didn't set up the actual game that well, as far as I can tell, it let us know that the game meant business.

What I liked: Drawing magic is a great alternative to almost every other RPG I've ever played. Anyone can use any magic as long as they stock up on it first. Characters aren't shoved into a particular class that they can never escape.

What I didn't like: The game is a bit slow to the action, FF7 gets to fighting in three short minutes, but number eight has you wandering through a giant school giving tours. It's different, that's for sure. At least the game had me showdown against a boss. The cardinal sin of starting a game (especially a long one) is not facing off against at least a mini boss.

With great power comes great responsibility, or in terms of Final Fantasy VIII, when you give us a beautiful opening cutscene, the rest of the game had better keep the ball rolling. Unfortunately, it fails rather miserably. It's really more of the stage of technology we were in 10 years ago, but maybe they could have eased the transition between awesome opening and blocky polygons a bit better.

Gameplay: Battles move slowly, but they seem to have a lot of depth with the Guardian Forces, drawing magic, and junctioning attributes. It seems like a stat-gamer's dream (and actually, during college, my friend sat for hours just maxing out his stats by drawing tons of magic and leveling up very slowly).

Fun Factor: Like I said before, it's a slow to get going game, but not as bad as I've played before. Final Fantasy VIII also loves the random battles, I don't.

Graphics and Sound: An amazing combination of well directed video and an entrancing soundtrack kicks the game off, and then it's a bit downhill from there. Honestly, the in-game graphics aren't that bad, it's just hard not to compare them to the opening. Would have been nice to have some voice acting too.

Story: Final Fantasy VIII made basically zero attempt to try and develop an over-arcing story. It would have been nice to at least have a hint, but I'm glad it didn't dwell on anything too heavily.

Would I keep playing? I'd love to, not only for a bit of nostalgia, but to also determine if it still ranks among my favorite games. I just don't know if I have the time to do it, blame Persona 3, that game is long. However, if you haven't played it, I would definitely give it a chance.

Final Fantasy 8 Squall Rinoa