Final Fantasy VIII is a game that has sparked debates and discussions among RPG enthusiasts for decades, captivating many with its unique charm while leaving others bewildered by its unconventionality. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will be diving deep into the intriguing game that is Final Fantasy VIII in many different categories from its polarizing battle system to its eccentric storyline and captivating characters, we'll explore every facet of this incredible JRPG... one of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time. Now without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... a Final Fantasy VIII Review: Too weird to live, too rare to die.
Battle System - 9
I put this in my top five worst battle systems article... yet I gave it a 9 out of 10? Why? Well, I can acknowledge that this battle system is stupid, but I'm also stupid enough to love it. First of all, as soon as you find an enemy with a new spell, you feel obligated to draw 100 copies of that spell, which, for many, is a reason they hate this game. However, I love some JRPG grinding and seeing my stats rise directly from equipping spells that I draw. This system is much more fun than basic grinding, a sentiment that also makes me adore Final Fantasy II, as I said in my review. Also, grinding becomes negligible if you hate it because you can Card Mod Triple Triad cards to power up your characters in a more abstract and broken way. If you power up your abilities correctly, magic0casting and summoning become obsolete, driving the focus of combat toward physical attack and Limit Break optimization. This streamlines the experience in my eyes and makes this battle system feel so distinct from every previous Final Fantasy ATB system. It also gives a sense of magic management similar to Final Fantasy III, which I love! While I covered that in my review of Final Fantasy III, I love this idea of managing opportunity costs of casting magic or not casting it. Also, even if GFs are somewhat obsolete, they were still excellent, as they could act as meat shields, and their animations were top-notch. Last of all, many people don't like how enemies level up with the player, but I do because, quite frankly, it tests the players on how well they can effectively manipulate the Junction system. I would have loved to see actual equipment and a 4 person party, but otherwise, I love this ATB system's distinct and progressive feel.
Story - 10
Like with the battle system (and pretty much everything in this game), the story in Final Fantasy VIII is weird and polarizing. NO RPG story I've ever played has come even close to the bizarreness of this story, and honestly? That's part of why I love it so much. First, I'll acknowledge some of the flaws. For some, the time-traveling, sorceresses, and parallel Laguna storyline are overstuffed and convoluted—especially on the first playthrough. While I and many others loved this story, I can see how it'd be too much or too little for many. There are some jarring plot twists that people either love or hate and the tone can sometimes be disjointed. However, to me, the pros far outweigh the cons! I adored the two simultaneous plotlines with the main party and Laguna, as they added so much to the characters and storytelling. The world was also unique, with a blend of futuristic and fantasy elements and wacky lore. Overall, the story in Final Fantasy VIII is memorable and distinct, but it is definitely an acquired taste.
Music - 10
Nobuo Uematsu wrote another phenomenal score with Final Fantasy VIII. While I'm not a diehard fan of this soundtrack like many, there are some incredible tracks here. From tracks like Eyes on Me that encapsulate the love story between Squall and Rinoa, creating a poignant connection with players, to Don't Be Afraid, an intense battle song that makes the battles in this game awesome; from Fisherman's Horizon, a piece of tranquil beauty, to Balamb Garden, an uplifting and hopeful melody that serves as a musical emblem for the game's central hub; from Man With A Machine Gun, one of the greatest Final Fantasy boss themes, to Waltz for the Moon, a whimsical and danceable melody that adds a touch of elegance to the scenes it is part of; from Slideshow Part 2, a humorous and fun jazzy tune, to Liberi Fatali, the epic and operatic opening song that sets the stage for the adventure. While this game's music isn't my favorite in the series, it is pretty close.
Art & Graphics - 8
This was a revolutionary JRPG, as it was one of the first to have realistic character proportions and "facial features." While I deeply admire it for this, it hasn't aged all too well, and the Remaster was half-baked in the graphical department—it literally only remastered some of the character models! However, this game has beautiful environments that a true Remaster could bring to justice, but as-is, it is mediocre. So why an 8 out of 10? Well, to this day, I have never liked the CG cutscenes in an RPG better than in Final Fantasy VIII (other than Lost Odyssey, but I'm biased because that's my favorite game of all time). The cutscenes in this game are beautiful, climactic, and impressive, and they make me desperately want a full-on Final Fantasy VIII remake so badly! Overall, the graphics were outstanding at the time, but even the remaster couldn't save the graphics score from a 5 or a 6—only the phenomenal cutscenes could. And for that, it deserves a 8.
Characters - 8.5
This game has some of the best characters in the whole series! From Squall, a rather realistic (albeit entirely stereotyped) teenager, to Rinoa, a member of a resistance faction and Squall's love interest; from Seifer and Edea, two fantastically written villains that are some of the best in the series, to Laguna, are of my favorite Final Fantasy characters of all-time. Going on this journey with these five incredible characters makes this a touching and intense adventure. However, the rest of the characters? There's an enormous gap in quality there. Irvine and Quistis are fabulous for a couple hours but are sidelined, whereas Zell and Selphie are too often and annoyingly put at the forefront of the game. And the less said about the entirely forgettable Kiros and Ward, the better! While the good characters here are some of the best in the series, the others are awful, so overall, 8.5 seemed like a fair score in my eyes.
Customization System - 10
My favorite Final Fantasy customization system of all time and one of my favorites in any RPG, this system was made with me in mind. I love statistics, and being able to manipulate every single stat to my whim was phenomenal. I also loved the GFs and all their abilities, which made the junctioning even more enjoyable! And on top of all this, you can manipulate different ailmental and elemental attacks and defenses, which is incredible! While the Materia system is objectively better (and my second favorite Final Fantasy customization system of all time), I adore manipulating stats, switching around GFs between characters, and equipping GF abilities? It's amazing. This system deserves so many more people singing its praises, and people who don't actually read the tutorials need to stop complaining and try this system, using their brains to come up with powerful stat combinations and GF abilities. If I say anything else, this will be 8 paragraphs long, so I will end it here.
Sidequests - 9
While there are only a few sidequests in this game, the ones there are are awesome. Most obviously is Triple Triad, one of the best sidequests ever to grace an RPG. With different rules in every region and with meaning behind playing (because of the Card Mod ability), this quest is fantastic. It adds so much life into the world, making each region feel incredibly distinct, and to this day, it has made a considerable impact on the gaming community. Outside of Blitzball, this is definitely my favorite Final Fantasy minigame! But there are still a lot of other good sidequests! There are plenty of optional GFs to find, weapons to upgrade, Blue Magic to get, 3 secret dungeons, an optional town, and more! I can't give this a 10 because it lacks quantity compared to other Final Fantasy games. Triple Triad is just phenomenal, though, so...
Dungeons - 5
This game doesn't have dungeons, to be honest. In a sense, I don't hate this. It streamlines the experience to make the story quick and snappy. However, when the game only has 3 dungeons that aren't just hallways with Draw Points—that is embarrassing. However, there are some highlights still. Centra Ruins is fun with all of its Tonberries, the Missile Base is intense with the two teams, the Lunar Base is atmospheric, Lunatic Pandora has a cool story and scenery, and the Deep Sea Research Center has some decent challenges. However, the only thing saving this score is Ultimecia's Castle, possibly the best final dungeon in the series. Overall, even the best dungeons in this game (other than Ultimecia's Castle) are mediocre, so this only deserves a 5 out of 10.
Quality of Life - 8.5
Okay, I don't hate drawing or enemies leveling up or any of that. So why do I give this a 8.5? Well, because I'm going to be selfless and represent the opinions of the mass majority. The menus and systems could be more straightforward, but intently listening to the tutorials (unlike half the Internet...) will give you all the system's necessary information. In the end, I don't think this game has as many issues as many say—maybe I just like grinding, but this game is really well-polished! Not really any glaring issues in my eyes! Just kidding. The point of no return at the end of the game is absolutely disgusting, and I would disgrace myself if I talked about it so... ahem. I'm done.
Fun Factor: 10
Overall Score: 88%
Letter Score: S
Ultimately, Final Fantasy VIII is a game that demands a particular taste and patience. Still, for those willing to dive into its eccentricities, it offers a rewarding and unforgettable experience. Whether you love it or find it perplexing, one thing remains certain: it's a testament to the ever-evolving and boundary-pushing nature of the JRPG genre. So, if you're seeking a journey that challenges the norms, Final Fantasy VIII might be the adventure you've been waiting for. This game is absolutely bonkers and is one of the weirdest games ever made. And honestly, that's what makes it so charming and is why Final Fantasy VIII to this day is one of my favorite Final Fantasy games.
Interested in Final Fantasy VIII? I mean, you should be, this is one of the greatest Final Fantasy games! My recommended version is the pack that has both Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, as these are both just phenomenal games,
Primary Version: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered (Xbox)