Final Fantasy VIII Impressions
Final Fantasy VIII's release is today at most places across the country, although some stores (at least one) got a small shipment of it last night. As one of those lucky people to get the game yesterday, here's my first impressions.
So far I am 5 or so hours into the game. Each character has a distinct personality which helps in understanding them better, and like FF7, each have their own way of talking. Zell's a goof-off, Fuujin is super-freaky who speaks in CAPS, Seifer is a punk, etc. As for dialogue and.....(wait for it).....the translation, it pleases me to say that the translation is good so far. There were some early screens released of the US version that contained some horribly-worded dialogue. One in particular in my mind sticks out. However, I reached that part in the game last night, and the text has been changed in the finished game so that it makes sense. So don't judge Final Fantasy VIII's translation by early screens, as it is much better.
Now for that weird magic system. When I had originally heard that FFVIII didn't use magic points, I was appalled. How stupid of a magic system that is, I thought. Once again, I kick myself for judging too early. The magic system, though drastically different from any previous Final Fantasy game, is actually rather cool.
Instead of learning spells by leveling up or from Espers or Materia, magic must be drawn from enemies. Different enemies have different spells. You can draw as many times as you want, up until you reach your maximum of 99 for a single spell.
This system actually increases the challenge over the old system. Before, you could cast spells until you ran out of MP. Then, you just had to use an Ether for example to get your MP back, and you could continue to cast spells. With FFVIII's system, when you run out of uses for a spell, that's it. You can't just use an item to cast it again, you need to fight whichever enemy you drew the spell from and draw some more. So if you aren't in an area where a certain spell is readily accessible, you'll think twice before using it up.
So in the end, different or not, I really like Final Fantasy VIII's magic system. There's no sense in complaining about it's lack of MP. If you want a game with a traditional magic system, you can play just about any other RPG. You at least have to applaud Square's innovation. They took a chance with this one, and it worked well.
While it is said graphics aren't really an important part of RPGs, at least not as much as the story, I beg to differ. To truly feel that you are part of this world with these people, it helps to have realistic graphics.
Before I get hate-mail, let me state that I love 2D as well. Lunar: SSSC is my fav. RPG next to FF8, and Final Fantasy 2 (4 in Japan) is what got me started on RPGs. I also don't prefer realistic characters over anime-style. Either way is good, but like I said, to actually believe that you are there, graphics like those of Final Fantasy VIII are required.
Now, as much as Square pushed the Playstation with this game, let's not forget the Playstation has its limits, and despite what many had thought (myself included), it shows sometimes in FFVIII. Of course you'd expect when the camera gets close to the characters, blockyness is seen in the textures, but that's forgivable, especially since it doesn't happen all the time.
The only real problem with the graphics is the battlefields. Why is it that those mountains that are way behind me are horribly pixelated? And nearly every floor texture I have seen is pixelated beyond belief. Bad. Maybe they had to cut down on polygons for those graphic-intensive Guardian Forces?
If so, then I must say, it just might be worth it. The Guardian Forces (monsters that you summon, just like using summon materia in FF7) are the greatest looking thing I have ever seen on this old Playstation of mine. I only have four right now (Ifrit, Quezalcotl, Shiva, Siren), but they are AMAZING. My favorite so far is Shiva, especially when you go and compare her to her previous incarnations. It blows Shiva from Final Fantasy VII out of the water. So yes, I love 2D hand drawn games, but I must admit, I'm a sucker for eye-candy of this caliber. The only game I have seen for the PS with comparable graphics is Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. This is the best of the best.
So there you go: Final Fantasy VIII has a good translation, a great magic system, interesting characters, and so far, an intriguing story. How odd that the one thing I thought was perfect, the graphics, is actually the only flaw I find in the game thus far.
One final note: The Dollet area, which is the part you get to play in the demo that was packaged with Brave Fencer Musashi, is VERY different in the final game. If you weren't impressed with the demo, you're not alone, but that area is much better in the final game, the most noteworthy point being the dialogue is much better.
Final Fantasy VIII proves that you can't judge a book by its cover. Or an RPG by its demo.
September 8th, 1999
Final Fantasy VIII screen shots
EB FFVIII Map
Commodore Wheeler's FFVIII Review