Now, the heading above, will sound hypocritical to some who have read our reviews over the past 20 years (the site turns 20 in 2023). Until very recently, I did not like Final Fantasy VIII; at least, not nearly as much as I did its legendary predecessor.
Final Fantasy VIII was the first video game that I truly anticipated (back in 1999), that I was able to buy at Electronic’s Boutique with my own hard earned money (without my mother’s help). I spent a whole weekend cleaning basements for our landlord in order to earn the game’s price tag.
I had awaited for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with much more fervor than I did any other game, but my mom had paid the price tag of that one. Thus, for better or worse, Final Fantasy VIII, was forever etched in my memories.
Given all of the above, Final Fantasy VIII, beyond its visual spectacle (mostly in the form of amazing CG scenes), disappointed me greatly, nearly a quarter century ago.
A Teen Soap Opera Vibe With Solid Dialog, But a Bland Storyline
Final Fantasy VIII might have been the first game in the FF series that was influenced (at least artistically), by modern “pop” trends outside of gaming. That might have aided in some of the less than rational aspects of the game’s tale and presentation.
Final Fantasy VII, was a hit with the mainstream gaming audiences of the late 1990s. However, its tale was rational and its characters were older, and more believable (in their capacity to save the world) than Final Fantasy VIII’s teen studded cast.
True, our cast of teens, had been trained in a military high school of sorts, with the purpose of facing the “Sorceress”, but underneath all the military training, they were still high school teens.
This is an unlikely cast for a world saving mission within the confines of a rational world. Back in 1999, being 14-15 years old myself, I did not care much about this issue, but I was bothered by some of the nonsensical stuff present in the game’s storyline.
Things like characters losing their memories from equipping Guardian Forces, felt like an easy way out for Square Enix to avoid explaining (or writing) complex back grounds for the entire cast.
Then, there was the game’s villain, Ultimecia, and her ultimate goal of “time compression”. Yes, time compression. Compressing time would make Ultimecia the “all powerful being”, while destroying everything else. This ultimate goal of turning into a god, and while engineering world destruction, had been a mainstay on previous FF games, but none was more nonsensical than Final Fantasy VIII in the implementation of this ultimate evil goal.
A Divisive Love Tale
In the end, it is quite possible that Squaresoft botched the game’s over all plot because it wanted to focus on the love story between Squall and Rinoa. I remember that the hype preceding FFVIII’s release was largely fueled by the promise of a timeless, deep, and enthralling love story.
A lot of the game’s shortcomings would be forgiven, if Squall and Rinoa delivered on their end of the bargain. But, alas, it was not meant to be. Squall is the ultimate lone-wolf.
JRPG heroes are, for the most part, anti-social dark heroes. Perhaps, this troupe was very popular in the 1990s because it appealed to a specific segment of the teenage population that played JRPGs. Still, you can be a lone wolf, and not be a jerk. It is not impossible, Cloud pulled off this trick before in Final Fantasy VII; Squall doesn’t quite pull it off here.
For a leader, he lacked charisma, and for a lover, he certainly dismissed Rinoa for great part of the story until he didn’t. The entire dramatic “rescue the princess” moment in space was lost on me, because Squall never sold me on his love for Rinoa.
It was a shame, because the game’s imagery was phenomenal, as was its music.
So, How is Final Fantasy VIII Underrated?
Despite my animosity towards the game; time has helped to make me appreciate the game’s subtleties. In comparison to the pedestrian Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy VIII remains a tremendous masterpiece.
The game was part of the Sakaguchi saga of games which remains the best that the series has to offer. The game went a bit off the rails in contrast to the previous two legendary titles that preceded it, but in comparison to modern Final Fantasies, FFVIII is quite excellent.
In a weird parallel to another odd ball in a legendary series (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask), specific gameplay quirks that many found “annoying” back in its hey day, have made Final Fantasy VIII a unique game in the series, and one that is worthy of replay.
Now, before Zelda fans get offended, no, FFVIII, is no where near the game that MM was, but the comparison here is valid, in the sense that FFVIII’s unique junction system (and card battling game) makes it worthy of a modern play through, and the game will likely feel like a fresher experience than other FF games.
I hated the game’s Junction System back in the day, and more so the fact that enemies around the world leveled up according to your own levels. Yet, replaying the game recently, I found that tinkering with this system was a fresh way to manage character and party progression, and this keeps this game an interesting play through nearly 24 years after it was first released.
So, in terms of gameplay, I actually found Final Fantasy VIII to be a more enjoyable ride than my favorite Final Fantasy game of all time (Final Fantasy VII) in modern times, if only because the game is different from other entries in the series.
The game’s story remains the worst of the Final Fantasy golden era (Final Fantasy VI-X) group of titles, but it is certainly a much better tale than the one we received in FFXIII, and most recently, Final Fantasy XV.
Basically, when Final Fantasy “missed” under Sakaguchi’s watch, it was still a great game in contrast to modern FF games post Sakaguchi era.
Critically, Final Fantasy VIII, did extremely well in its time. It scored an 89 Game Rankings wise, and a 90 on Metacritic. These scores are lower than Final Fantasy VII’s 92, and Final Fantasy IX’s 94, but the game far from embarrassed itself.
However, it wasn’t until Final Fantasy XIII, that I began to rethink my position on Final Fantasy VIII being the ugly duckling of the series. Most fans will either rank FFVI or FFVII, as their favorite games on the series. Occasionally, some love will be given to FFVI and FFIX, with the rare inception of FFX on some lists.
The post SNES era Final Fantasy game that seems to receive less love is none other than Final Fantasy VIII. Given the quality of life in improvements offered on the remastered version of the game; I strongly suggest that you give FFVIII a try today, if you haven’t done so already. You might be surprised to find that it is better than any Final Fantasy game released over the last 20 years.
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