The excellent podcast Platforms and Pitfalls asked for people’s thoughts on Final Fantasy 8 for their next show and instead of making an extremely long string of tweets I’ll type my thoughts here. Disclaimer it has been quite a while since I played through it, 10 years at least, probably more like 15. On the upside you’ll learn what stuck with me long term.
First I’ll talk about what I remember of the story, then I’ll rant about the mechanics.
I enjoyed the story a lot at the time, but definitely can see the issues people have with it now. We all knew each other and grew up together but using guardian forces made us forget feels like super convenient lazy writing. There were lot’s of cool moments though even if the overarching plot wasn’t exactly on par with War and Peace. I remember:
- Quistis being a badass and shooting the big gun to save Squall
- Some stressful moment with Squall being in charge and having to make a lot of fast decisions
- Irivine gearing up to take the big shot.
- I remember laughing a lot at the group making fun of Rinoa’s crappy model train
- I don’t remember many details about the Squall/Laguna thing but know I liked it at the time
- Probably some other parts
What ever issues may exist with the story, my main issue with the game was the mechanics. None of the systems themselves were inherently bad on their own. I felt like they achieved their goal just fine, although the way the enemies scaled with your level could have been improved with a Resident Evil 4 approach. My issue is that the characters didn’t matter mechanically. This game was the peak of the trend of character customization (besides the games that used the job system, they belong to a different discussion). This is best illustrated in a list:
- 4: Character’s stats and abilities hard coded, every character feels unique
- 6: Every character can learn every spell and espers can give certain stats huge boosts. Characters still have unique special abilities though, like blitzes or tools. This still gives you mechanical incentive to use one character over another
- 7: Materia gives characters their skills as well, stats can be farmed but not in a normal playthrough, so essentially characters are just their base stats and limit breaks
- 8: Characters base stats are customizable with junctions, you have free reign to make characters excel at whatever you want. Only real differentiating features are their character model and limit break
- 9: Still haven’t played it enough to comment, maybe 2019 will finally be the year that I do
- 10 Sphere grid limits characters to whichever route they’re on, so characters fall into different categories: strength, speed, magic, etc. Every character can learn everything but not in a normal playthrough, so during the game they are still mechanically fairly unique
That’s really my main issue. Customization isn’t inherently bad but too much of it erases the uniqueness of different characters. I felt like Final Fantasy 6 was already teetering close to the edge of the cliff, 7 slipped over it, and 8 was in freefall towards the bottom of the canyon. I realize this is subjective, finding the right balance is difficult and different people will draw the line in different places. But this article is about where Final Fantasy 8 falls compared to where I draw that line.
I played the game never using any magic. Some of the spells probably looked cool. I just attached what gave the biggest bonus to Speed, Strength, Defense in that priority. I don’t remember where I learned the Mad Rush (cast Berserk, Haste, and Protect on the whole party) skill but once I did I just used that in every fight, even some of the boss fights once I felt like they were close to dead. Having the highest speed I could and strong attacks then getting hasted and berserked made running through the game fairly easy. I don’t remember any real hang ups or spots that I had to retry multiple times. The only time I changed tactics was the end boss with whatever the spell that makes you more likely to use your limit break and that you could just cancel the menu and keep trying until it showed up.
I feel like the main issue is that because the customization allowed me too much freedom, I was able to do something kind of broken and play through the game without being as mechanically involved as a different system would have required. I guess you could blame me for the way I played and saying I should have done it differently and handicapped myself some how, but I still don’t feel like it would have been that challenging or that different of an overall experience.
Also the soundtrack was pretty good.