Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 22 2014 - Final Fantasy 8 Review

"The End".
That is what I just saw on my PC screen. Why? Because I just defeated space witches! Wait what? 
Yup. Final Fantasy 8 was a title I had never completed. When I had the 4 disc purchase for Play Station One, I had a glitch in the second disc. It would not load the game. I restarted several times, cleaned the disc, and tried so many things...It never worked and I never purchased another disc. So, I never really finished Final Fantasy 8 (I had finished 7 and moved on to 9 but never finished that either). Recently, I started it up again on PC and spent the last month and a half completing it. I did take the fast route and did not do allot of extra content. But it was an interesting ride and very good title to compare and contrast to the other games. So with out further wait, let's get into the details! 

(Take a hint from the cover. You will be forced to like this girl, despite the blonde one that says "she is in love with you"...meh, I want my money back!)

Game play:
Maps and World:
Final Fantasy 8 starts off allot like other games in their title. You are a young man around high school age (for 18ish US players...14ish for Japanese players) and involved right await in some regime that is for or against another regime. Your main character is Squall. The heart of the game is about a political plot to stop a destructive force and mix in a romance. Sound familiar? Yes, this is for sure a Final Fantasy title. The setting is set in a fantasy like world with future sci-fi elements. This is following the success of Final Fantasy 7. All the original FF titles flirt with sci-fi elements. Either meteors controlled come to the planet and or other dimensional beings are wanting to fight in outer space or voids etc.. All of this understood by "middle age towns folk" as their mages and engineers build steam punk like devices to bridge the two worlds...that is Final Fnatasy series in a nut shell. 
Final Fantasy 7 was one of the first to set itself apart and full embrace the neo-Tokyo look that would set in things not so fantasy like. Cars, ships, modern buildings etc. This would replace the old brick and wood models of the other titles. And it worked magically! It kept a great balance between the worlds of fantasy and magic and hi technology and mixed in an emotional love story and epic plot lines. 
Final Fantasy 8 had ALLOT of shoe space to fill. That is a hard act to follow. So, not surprising, they tried to use allot of the same imagery. Hi tech fantasy buildings, hip neo-sci fi dressed characters. and all the same elements etc.. There are a few aspects that set this game apart but the majority of them are purely cinematic.
Final Fantasy 8 uses Allot of older PC techniques to create environment. They do this at the sacrafice of story telling. Each place you walk is bordered by a square like zone. So in this square you have North, South, East and West to run to. Once at the end of the screen, you move to the next part and the screen blacks out and loads up the next scene. The probleme here is that, in order to "top" FF7, they wanted FF8 to literally visually STAND OUT. So every square inch was covered in detail. This lead to allot slower game play. Compared to other FF titles where one screen was big enough to run around and explore several rooms before loading the nexr map piece, FF8 had every movement confined in a room size palet. This lead to froced use of size and camera angels. ALLOT of game play will have you in one room, zoomed in, large models, perhaps standing by a lavish couch, table, and other deocrations...Then in the next room, if they want you to "search for something", the general box you are in is the same size, and to make up for it, they zoom out and change yout to a smaller character model and use a "zoom out" angled camera view as the "cinematic excuse" to fit you in this way. Games from the early 90's for PC did this often. Space Quest, Kings Quest, etc...
Now, this is great visually but they sacraficed ALLOT of story and game play for looks. For example, exploring and looking for hidden items often was just a matter of spamming the "X", action button in an attempt to touch an invisible object they could not model in the game. Allot of items are just invisible and require luck and spamming. 
The story itself was epic, but it was clear they clipped it down and DUMBED it down to fit only in a few ares. Why? Because, naturally, the story should be taking you to many exotic places and several villages (as most Final Fantasy titles do). However, this game used all it's resources to create enormous military bases and starting zones. So guess what... To make up for it, they decided that the starting zone with be a floating base that is actually a controllable ship that will follow you through the ENTIRE GAME! Yes folks...4 CD's of PSP discs, and you will be in side the "Balam Gardens" starting base 90% of the time. They do have a few other stops along the way, that take up a huge space of the other discs, but generally, one word to sum up Final Fantasy 8 As far as size is "Claustrophobic". The world map is incredbibly small and the places to explore stand out like a beacon. Compared to other final fantasy games, this gameplay and discovery is "easy". It does not take allot of effort. To realize this, they use ALLOT of excuses, but Final Fantasy producers are notorious for excuses. Whether it is CID just popping in to say "oh hey, the world just exploded, but I just built an air ship to fly to the next". WOW! How convenient (for the developers, not the player).
FF8 is no exception. Allot of excuses as to why you are confined in tight places and re-running the same building over and over again. HOwever, like I said, they do their best to make it look graphically stunning. The problem with this is that the game is less about exploration and discovery and more about "moving from one hall way to another triggering random battles". There was one point, 3 discs in, I was joking to myself: "I am playing QwOP Final Fantasy version". Because all I am really doing is trying to make my characters move down long stretches of walk. Boring.
The first disc starts dynamic. You are in the starter garden, you move out to a city, and you are then outside discovering a cave for a training. Then move out in the world. So the game starts out and fools you in thinking "yeah, diverse world! Cool quests! Adventure time!", then slowly kills itself as it brings you right back to the starter area and spends the rest of the discs walking around all the areas you already started in.
(*BURP* I just ate all this chicken! (actually a better love story than twilight...maybe))

Story:
The story starts off interesting enough, you are in military school and suddenly political instability causes chaos that throws you against other factions and a sorceress. You will start a voyage of self discovery and possible love interest. This is typical Final Fantasy lore. How does Final Fantasy do it different? Well, it does not really. It is pretty copy and paste and falls flat in comparison to the 7th installment. Here are the noticeable differences. 
It seems Square E has a hard time to create a character that is not over immature or over serious. So they they went with over emo. The main character is the least motivated FF character ever to exist. For 3 discs he shows no emotional interest in anything. Not his job, friends, life etc.. we are told through flash backs he was an orphan. So that is why...but that does not hold up because the entire cast in the game is from the same orphanage...and they all have the same FF over personalized characters. You have gullable yet serious female trainer Quistes. You have the over macho male Zel. You have ditzy young female Selphie. You have the charming young man Irvine. And last but not least, the love interest who is naive female but interesting enough to be worthy of your brain and balls: Rinoa.
Square E failed on this love story. For 3 discs you show nothing but disgust and disinterest for Rinoa, but they needed you to fall for her before the 4th disc ends...In Final Fantasy 7, your character builds the relationship through the entire story and you even have dialog choices that your fingers were trembling to push in the event you made the wrong choice and worried if she liked you or not! In Final Fantasy 8 you have NOTHING! You are forced to watch your EMO character get passively drawn in. He has no interest, and the dialog choices are between; "Ok I guess so" and "whatever". BLEH. Now, that said, Squal does have allot of characteristics that I liked and relate to. Final Fantasy 8 uses ALLOT LESS "immature" dialog and uses a little more serious tone. Most Final Fantasy games border line that immature "HE looked at me, it must be love tehehehe" Japanese Nintendo RPG script. They pepper in allot, but keep just enough out so it is likable. FF8 is uses a little, but over all is a decent serious dialog, that I liked. Sadly, it just wasn't deep or epic enough like Final Fantasy 7, again, because of it's environment restrictions in my opinion. In FF7, you were in so many places and progressing to an epic place on a large world free to explore. So everything tied together epicly. FF8 was the first in the series to use a real life modeling method that limited the resources in the world, that in the end dumbed down the story.

I did not like the love story. For 3 discs it is not clear who likes who and WHY. I for one, like Quistess. She was the literally the hotest made in game female model! She was well rendered and had a cool personality, tough, yet elegent, and girly but not immature. Selphie was pedo material and Rinoa was... Meh. Quistess has history with you and helped and saved you! She even admits 3 discs in that she was "in love" with you, but she understands now that perhaps she "mistook it for wanting to be your mom". WTF? This was Square E way of avoiding complicated live triangle as the 4th disc got closer,just DROP all other options of love interests and force Rinoa on Squal. 
Rinoa is introduced around the end of the 1st disc. You have a mission to kidnap a president for a rebel group that hires you out. The leader of this group is Rinoa... The kidnapping goes wrong and so does the story. PLOT HOLES, PLOT HOLES everywhere! So, when the kidnapping goes wrong, we learn the president was aware of the military and rebel group act. And you go in hiding. Now, at this point, I was literally nervous for my character. I was thinking: "OMG, the president KNEW of our secret attempt and now we will be hunted like dogs and forced to go underground (like in FF7 when you fall to the underground ghetto to hide from your terror acts)." But no, as soon as you go to the next scene, it ends up the rebel leader, Rinoa, is the daughter of the military leader of the village and they are hosting a presidential meeting with hte president and a sorceress. So all of a sudden the tension wears off and the story flat lines. You learn Rinoa was just a "rebel" because her father did not pay her attention she wanted. You learn the president doesn't care about his assassinations but prefers to speak to the world using "the internet and cable TV"...apparently a HUGE technology advancement (which is strange in a land of flying ships and space stations...)... And suddenly your mission changes to assassinate the sorceress. None of this makes sense. Who is calling the shots? The rebel group is just 5 local kids. So that can't be it. The guy paying her salary is her dad, but he is military and FOR the president. The sorceress, we have no idea why people do not like her...no back story or histroy is ever told as to why sorceress is not liked. Around the last disc we learn that there is a history where a sorceress destroyed allot of things...and so they have her prisoner in a space satellite...and your real threat is a sorceress from the FUTURE controlling all of this wait....
During all this you learn your best friend wants to help the bad sorceress, that will NEVER be clearly understood why other than he has a big ego. You also learn that your orphanage lady that raised you is a sorceress that is dating Cid, the leader of your military school (who also is using the name of Cid the engineer that is in the other Final Fantasy games). The pot holes, the lack of interest, and the out right story errors are so bad. Oh, and how does Square Enix ATTEMPT TO COVER IT UP? "I have memory loss. Why do I not remember her?" your character says and the other characters as they attempt to figure out the plot holes. "Why do we have memory loss?" asks another. "Because when we use the GF's (your magical pets used in all Final Fantasy games), it affects our memory". Later on in the game some one notes: "Maybe I should write down what we are doing so one day when all my memories are gone, I will have a record". GUESS WHAT! This never is EXPLAINED! In fact, after they tell you this, the game tells you over and over "DO NOT FORGET TO EQUIP YOUR GF FOR THIS BATTLE" "ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO PROCEED WITHOUT EQUIPING YOUR GF"? The entire game is based on making sure you continue to use the powers of the GF and no one talks about it anymore. The entire story of how or why GFs steal your memories is just DROPPED! And apparently is not even TRUE! as people are not losing their memories as they continue to use GF! IT WAS JUST AN EXCUSE TO COVER THE STUPID STORY PLOT HOLE!!!
(All the chocobos, aliens, and places to see are all EXTRA and take meaningless detours to see. I beat the game and never once needed or saw a chocobo. There is ONE pause in the game where they hint you should go "visit". Other than that, the events roll out so close to each other you will never need to go anywhere else unless you get bored. Traveling is clunky and the map is cramped, nothing feels as "open" as it did in the other titles)
Back to the love. As I played Squal, I did my damned hardest to hate Rinoa. I never put her in groups, I left her dead, all my dialog choices I tried to disgust her. I always grouped Quistess. I did everything to agree with my blonde hot instructor...the game pisses in your face and says "haha, to bad, insert disc3"... Once Disc 3 starts, your character has an instant change of heart. Rinoa, who is TAGGING ALONG In your group for god knows why (she should be at her home), decides to follow you on difficult military missions. She get's hurt and balances on the verge of death. SUDDENLY! Squal cracks and falls in love with her and throws his entire mission in jeopardy to save her. WAIT! REWIND! WTF square E??? Up to this point, we learn that Squal makes sacrifices to stay on the mission and has no feelings for her! In fact, he should NATURALLY be attracted to the girl that is acting as his mother (whom he has no memory of). QUISTISS! But he doesn't, of course, for the sake of the story hole.
So Squal (you) is suddenly a mad man and does anything to save this girl, including making suicidal choices like throwing himself out in space. Now, I am ok with this relation if it was BUILT ON! But it was not, there is no build up, there is no INTELLIGENTENT or LOGICAL Design, it is just "you changed the disc, you only have one disc left, better make them fall in love because that is the design we put on the cover". At this point I did not even want to play the game, the only thing keeping me going was, of course, the graphics. AT this point I am flying a bad ass ship called the Ragnarok. I am getting closer to the final battle. Final Fantasy is known for cool battles...but even that goes wrong.
(Notice the face that expresses love and shock. Oh...you can't, because it doesn't exist, yet it is attempted, and fails. 3 discs of "I'm Emo. I'm sad. I'm angry." then disc 4 "I am madly in love for no reason". DERP)

Final Story and battle and other tid bits: So, last disc and you are Fighting people that some how survived your first battle (Something I hate about Final Fantasy). Final Fantasy has a way of forcing you to grind and get powerful, fight a boss, only to learn once you defeat it, that it is just "weakened" and sometimes runs away to re-appear later. This is the case in this game. There are two soldiers (Hicks and Wedge I believe) that are constantly appearing in this game, and although you do not re-fight them, it just mocks of your first boss encounter with them and shows you how senseless all that was.
Then you fight Seifer, Squals "nemesis", who you already defeated once. You fight him again, and it is not clear if he dies or just goes away in this last battle as he protects the sorceress. In fact, for being a Nemesis, he is actually cool. For the most part Squal (you) and everyone else look up to him. So the reasons he "betrays" you are mixed with Square E trying to say "He is under the sorceress influence" and "He just wants power". But that is odd because the sorceress is not really controlling him, she is controlling the current witch, because if she could control random people, then she would just take what she needs and no need for any of this mess....but that would be to easy, and this, of course, creates more story plot holes. 
The last queen battle is a joke. This was seriously the most weak final boss fight I ever saw. All Final Fantasy games have a reputation of taking you to the cosmos, or the void, or other dimensions to fight the last boss. Final Fantasy 8 has no smooth transition to this. They took big pains and efforts to create this floating castle that is "the presence of the sorceress"...(that is never explained, it is just here). You find her (easily through stupid running around). And the fight begins. The first phase are these laughing clones that just appear an re-appear. Casting typical moves. The background changes to all the battle backgrounds you have seen in the game. This is odd, and not explained, this is a time sorceress also, they make a point to explain she will use compressed time to achieve her sinister goals...so compressed time just means that the background will change during battle. BRAVO Square E. You fail. In facy, FF4 through 7 made classes that USE actual time magic! The last fight here...not a single time magic spell is CAST (haste, slow, etc), she just uses fire and meteor, and all the other typical physical spells! 
Once this song and dance is over, some beast appears and starts to fight. It is the sorceress GF apparently. At this point you are now in a small black room that is supposed to be another dimension I guess. The beast dies, and turns into a ball and the sorceress announces: "I will now Junction my GF" and she melds into the beast making a huge boss thing. This is stupid because "Junction" means "equip" the GF to your character. Not meld with it. All my team is junctioned but we are not melded like that WTF? Another little story mess up in the middle of the last battle. Classy.
So, once dead, you get a cut scene etc and you live happily ever after in love.


The tid bits that make this game worse. There is a whole second story that happens. You play the role of Laguna and his two side soldiers. You take the role of this guy that will eventually be met in the future with. Because your sister is controlling your BRAIN!
YUP, you have a sister that makes you and your team pass out on the floor and go into dream land, where you control (just act out in linear progression) the role of this other guy. This is so shallow and empty. 1) This is proof of how empty this game is when you play 40% of it as a nother character who is in the past, so he HAS TO PROGRESS linear to tell the story meaning, there is no real "threat", you are just there to move him around and read text (not fun). Does he pass out in the present with you as your sister messes with your brains?
2) Your sister is discovered, and should be the key to make you not emo any more, because all you cry about is your sister. Once found, the developers had to force yet another story line in, and since they are to close to the end, they make your meeting your sister very shallow. In fact, you brush your sister off just to be with Rinoa, whom you show no emotion too. Do you see what I am saying? 90% of the game is you emo because you are searching "for my sister who I miss". You find Rinoa who treat like garbage and say "whatever, you whine to much". Then, at the conclusion, you decide to "Just leave her here, I have to save Rinoa". WTF??? At what point was Rinoa more important than your sister who is psychically linked to the bad guy and you and CONTROLS TIME! ? 
This game....Is stupid.
So yeah, you play the role of a whole other guy as your sister try's to show you her past I guess??? WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT??? All your sister could do is WRITE A LETTER! SEND AN EMAIL (Email exists, you have an account in your military academy). This whole flash back crap servers NO PURPOSE in the game other than (OOPS, we started design and cant stop now). 
I will not talk to much about this aspect of the game as it is so silly and just destroy's the entire game. I prefer to pretend it does not happen. It is so stupid in fact, that Laguna's role in the end of the game is PRESIDENT of the largest city, and he somehow knows EXACTLY how to re-unite you and the evil sorceress. This makes no sense. He is shown as a dumbed down drunk soldier suddenly turned sandle wearing cool president that knows how to undo all the bad??? You would think CID! The husband of the first sorceress who is your military leader, knows the secret details, and has ACCESS TO THE SORCERESS would know what to do, no Laguna....but no...stupidity is this games shining point.

There is also this side boss battle that MAKES 0 SENSE in the story but takes up allot of the game disc space. There is this this guy called NORG: http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/NORG_(Boss)
He says that he is the guy that teamed up with CID to finance the military project. It was just a small idea that got them rich after it's success. And that the sorceress was always a sorceress and that she would distance herself from CID due to CID being to busy in the military project leader stuff... So, because he is trying to do the GOOD thing and stop the sorceress and CID from fighting, you have to fight and KILL HIM! He never reappears LOL! And of course his story CONFLICTS the rest of the story that will be told.
Do you also see what is happening in this game? To many elements are introduced in the game to make it feel "deep". It ends up a MESS! 
Final Fantasy 7 genius was that it kept the complex details passive. And gave you the simple story up front. They poked in at times at the details, like: "what is materia" etc. You did not need these mass cut scenes, and other characters to appear to explain it. The mystery is what created it's magic and ambiance of the world. The relation and evolution of your character and others was more important, and it worked. 
Final Fantasy 8 tries to bite off more than it can chew. To much cinematics and space rendering. Trying to use a real life scale model system on this system and to many errors to correct (bad management). I think Final Fantasy 7 success left them a little drunk with success and 8 was made. They redeem themselves with 9 though.

Insult to injury. There are no Chocobos. Ok, there is a chocobo temple hidden off somewhere. But I finished this entire game. START TO FINISH with no chocobo. I did not even see a statue, a painting, a symbol. NOTHING! I used a car, my flying base, and the Ragnarok to get around. I never used a chocobo and no one ever talked about them... In most FF games, if chocobos took the back seat, they at least had one NPC talk about them. Or you saw a statue of one... You even heard their little cries: "squak". HEll, Final Fnatasy 4 even had a helper tool use chocobos. In this game. NOTHING. And on Moogle's. Sorry. 

There is allot of other bland empty pits to talk about but I nailed the main points.
(I hope you like this ALLOT. Because it is all you will ever use. I miss the FF days of deciding what weapon I could use based on my build. Or, like 7, a good character progression / Story, that INVOLVES my sword)
Combat:

This is a mixed bag. There is no MP. No more magic points. No class builds. Your weapon is stuck to you. You will not change weapons. You can only collect parts and upgrade it's look and stats later on. Magic is available to all characters. You just suck it out of enemies and collect a stock of it. And you cast it back instantly. The combat is more about managing attack rotation, and knowing boss weakness and playing a "pokemon" like game of collecting all the magic you can and finding the best ones that suit you, and preparing ahead of time for boss fights. Without guides, this takes months of farming and testing boss strengths. But for how shallow the game is, and the small mob selection...combat is very lacking. They try to keep some elements form the other games, sadly, the bad ones. I always hated the combo systems in RPG like this. For example, Zel, the fist fighter, has the DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN CIRCLE combo to do a move. IF you scrw up it fails. This is tiresome and boring, and takes away from the tactical edge of auto combat. The lack of roles, weapons, and other RPG elements from Final Fantasy, this combat was by far one of the worst I played. It empties out the core, and in the end, you should just have everyone do as much damage and defense as possible as spells will be disactivated in DISC 4 (with a choice to reactivate, item, GF, game save, or spells....The stupidest thing I have ever seen in an RPG). 
Not much else to say about this game combat.
(He is sad because he is in a bad Final Fantasy game. Ohhhh, I get it now!)
Conclusion:
My biggest complaint is what THEY COULD HAVE DONE! Square E has a Super Nintendo game called Star Ocean. That games has Voice scripting! Interesting story, and hard puzzles that involve interaction based on deep dungeon design. They have all these resources to make an epic game on 4 discs of play station engine. They could have done voice, story, and FF7 like scale. Instead they used all the resources for the stage. That is, the looks and cut scenes. Ignoring intelligent design in story and plot. Lack of character development, and over all a mass fail combat.
I am not heartless. The scene where Squal is floating in space with Rinoa is heart wrenching. This games movie scenes mad me emotional, but just for a few seconds, as soon as the movie ended, I was thrown back into the realization that nothing that happened up to this point made enough sense to justify this scene. Imagine this, for those that have played this game, if the space scene and squals relation with Rinoa was used at the START OF THE GAME! And you were a space cadet trying to save her. And she is dragged down to the planet to be used in an experiment. And they build with logic on that base! OH MAN! This game could have been by far one of my top Final Fantasy games. But no... we got this sad sad excuse.
My final score for this game is 2/5.
I love the art. I love the design. I like the nod to older PC games. I like the characters in general. 
I do not like the story, plot, or the combat. The heart of the game is barely beating. Not allot there to keep you going. They had so much potential not realized. Sadly, this is also a very large example of where Square Enix is going as their next titles really do not reach their potential either (*cough couch re-relase of FF14*). Sriously, 14th title and you had to re-release it because you could not get away with bad production? I think they need to start thinking with the heart and not the wallet for the next title. 
Well, I have played all the Final Fantasy games up to the 8th. I have played but not finished the 9th and after. So I will be reviewing those soon. In the meantime, I am now testing FF7 Crisis Core for PSP and hope to get another retro review on that. Here is a clip from one of my favorite scenes in Final Fantasy 8, the graphics are good, the music is awesome, but look at that mess of a story, she tries to get romantic with you by talking about your mom. Yeahhhhh... that is always a turn on LOL!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV52DvjX9rA

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