Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Final Fantasy VIII (PSX)

GOOD RETRO GAME WEEK, day 3

Why did I choose FFVIII and not Final Fantasy VII (or any of the earlier Final Fantasies for that matter)?

I went with this one because it was the first JRPG I really had any exposure to, the one I'm most nostalgic about. This is where the genre started for me.

This CGI is definitely dated now, and the video itself has some nasty compression artefacts (not helped here by me saving the image as a jpeg), but damn this is a cool intro. I mean seriously.

Cryptic shots show a woman in blue standing in a field of flowers, while another in an elaborate dress looks sinister elsewhere, interwoven are scenes of a sword gunblade fight between the hero and his hated arch rival. Doesn't sound so impressive, but the visuals are fantastic. I think it's the music that sells it though, definitely a step above the upbeat jpop intro song half the JRPGs I've played seem to be stuck with.

And then it turns out that the intro fight was actually the first event of the game, as it cuts to Squall [unnamed hero] waking up with a huge sword slash down the middle of his face. Fortunately the doctor assures me this is apparently nothing to worry about, although it may leave a badass looking scar. The bandage is gone so fast I wonder why they even bothered drawing it.

I'd forgotten that even were any dialogue choices in the game, so I'm assuming that they're uncommon and mostly as pointless as this one is.

I named the hero 'Squall', because that's his name. I don't see the point in being able to rename a person when I can't change anything else about his personality or actions, especially when his name's on the damn box!

Quistis is his teacher, who for some reason I can't rename. She likes to follow Squall around and annoy the hell out of him by predicting what he's going to say next, despite the fact that the poor guy clearly doesn't want anything to do with her.

Then as they're walking around, the pre-rendered background suddenly switches to video and pans around to reveal the other students walking around. The first time I saw this I was amazed. I'd never seen FFVII's cutscenes, and it didn't even occur to me that games could have real time 3d characters walking through a video clip like this.

This is Garden, the school/military academy where Squall and the other students were trained since childhood to become mercenaries. I dunno, there's something about a school for orphans run by a PMC that seems kinda entirely immoral to me. But whatever.

Helpfully the game likes to remind me what a Save Point is every single time I reach one, in a message box I have to wait to appear before I can press the button to get rid of it. But it doesn't bring up a save menu or anything useful like that, no I have to go into the menu and go to the save option there myself.

I don't get why they couldn't have just asked 'Would you like to save? Yes/no.' Chances are that if I'm walking into a Save Point, then I probably DO want to save.

Oh crap, no please don't make me sit through a tutorial! I'll figure it out myself, thanks.

Whoa, this tutorial IS skippable. And if I later regret my decision to ignore crucial gameplay information, I can still access it at any time from the menu. So far FFVIII is being suspiciously nice to me.

The junction system is reasonably straightforward if I remember right. Assigning a Guardian Force (mythical creature that lives in their head) to a character allows me to boost a particular stat, such as strength or health points, by junctioning one type of magic to it. The more of that magic I have, the higher the stat increase, and the GFs learn how to boost additional stats as they gain AP from combat.

Basically I'm going to want to get a lot of magic, and never use it.

Ten minutes in and I finally hit gameplay! I think I can live with that. Plus I've even reached the overworld, I can run around and do stuff and fight monsters. It's nice to not be stuck in one location for hours before they let me out.

I'm supposed to be going to the Fire Caves though, which I guess would be that cave over there. Once there I have to go inside, then find and subdue the Guardian Force that lives inside. When I've done that I'll be allowed to take the final test to become a SeeD mercenary.

Immediately I walk into a random battle, against a couple of insects.

I can barely remember how to play the game, though I'm pretty sure that in FF8 killing enemies is not generally a good idea. The enemies level up as I do, so to maintain an advantage in combat it's smart to keep my level low and instead raise my stats by junctioning magic. And these guys have plenty of magic on them for me to draw out.

Actually it turns out that enemies apparently have infinite magic on them for me to draw out. I'm sure that the game designers never intended players to sit for twenty minutes drawing magic from a single battle until their stocks were maxed out, but c'mon... I'm not going to go walking into the Fire Caves to fight a boss without doing all the preparation I can first.

Fortunately although I haven't given my characters the ability to cast their own magic, they do have the ability to cast the enemy's magic. So I have infinite cure magic on hand to make sure that no matter how much damage I take, I can always recover.

You're leaving it to me to select the time limit? But I've got no idea what these Fire Caves are like inside! I could pick '30 minutes' and then find that it takes me half the day to get to the GF. Or maybe he's right there by the door and can I kick his ass within 2 minutes.

I decided to go for the smallest time limit, ten minutes. I'm assuming that they wouldn't have given me the option if it wasn't possible.

Well actually I just remembered that it took me less than ten minutes to finish the dungeon the last time I played it. Plus I'm just going to run away from every fight, so I should reach the boss with plenty of time to spare.

Though I did notice that the timer continues to count down during conversations and inside the menu.

Back to my standard tactic of hitting the boss with regular attacks each turn until my heath is low, then using his own cure magic to heal me. I guess I could deliberately keep Squall at low health, so I can use his limit break attack, but I don't want to risk getting the poor guy killed by my screwing around.

Ifrit is defeated with 5 minutes left on the clock, and agrees to join my fine collection of GFs. Assigning Ifrit to Squall gives me the ability to junction magic to his strength stat, which should be handy.

Time for the final exam. But first I needed to run all the way across the Garden to Squall's room to put his uniform on. Then back to the lobby again.

Well I suppose it's much better than having to go hunt down an NPC to talk to. At least there are signs pointing to the dormitory so I can find it.

And then I have to sit through a car ride with the other two members of my assigned team; Zell the hyperactive martial artist, and Seifer the asshole who sliced Squall's face open in the intro. It's okay though, Squall cut him a matching scar across his face too.

We finally arrive at the docks... only to get onto a boat this time. The journey continues.

Oh also, the final test is a mission in a war zone. We'll be sent into combat to help fight off an invading army. I guess if we die then we fail the test.

I have to admit I love the music in this cutscene. Plus I love the cutscene too, Squall climbs out the top hatch to see the town ahead hammered by explosions, with soldiers running around in the chaos. Then the Garden troop transports jump the defensive wall and ride in to the beach.

Damn, I was hoping that video was going to be longer. It's not often I can say that.

In another cool looking video to still background transition, the team disembark from the troop transport and race into battle. But they get distracted and stand around for a bit. And THEN race into battle.

I figured that if I kill off Zell and Squall right at the start of the mission, then they'll be safe from getting any experience and level ups. Seifer wanted to fight off the entire invading army by himself anyway, so this works out well for everyone.

Fortunately loaded with all my GFs and magic, Seifer is pretty much unstoppable in combat. Plus for some reason he keeps using his limit break, which is overkill against these goons.

Oh, it seems that Seifer's finally gotten bored of dragging Squall and Zell's unconscious bodies around. He's ran off without us, just as a messenger arrives with an important message for him.

It turns out that the soldiers invaded to take over this communications tower. And I have to admit, it is a damn impressive looking communications tower.

And now I have to fight a boss, one of the soldiers who was working on repairing the tower.

I actually caught up to Seifer in the end, he should be standing over there on the right. But for some reason he can't be bothered helping out so I've drafted the messenger into the team instead

Biggs isn't so bad on his own, but after a while his friend Wedge arrives to help out and now I have to fight both of them.

Both Biggs and Wedge together aren't so bad, but soon they're knocked out of the way by another boss, Elvoret! I have no idea what the hell this thing is meant to be, some kind of giant flying duck billed bat dragon?

Though I found another GF on him when I tried to draw his magic, so that'll be useful.

Well the third boss wasn't so bad, except for taking forever to kill, but now they're sending a giant spider after me! A giant robot spider, plus I have a time limit!

This guy wouldn't be as annoying if he'd just stay dead when I defeat him. Whenever I knock him down, I only manage to run a screen or two before he's back. Well okay I know I CAN defeat him if I stick around and hit him for long enough, but I have a time limit here and I assumed it'd be faster to try to outrun him instead.

You know, these three would have a massive lead by now if they'd just stop turning around and watching it stomp around for a bit. What the hell is Squall thinking? Even Zell and Selphie are leaving him behind now.

See, this is what happens when you stay and watch the giant robot spider. Now poor Squall's lagging way behind the others, and the spider's gonna get him. Let's see him get a passing grade with 'killed by robot spider' on his report.

Fortunately Quistis is around to save the day with a mounted machine gun. Does this count as cheating on the test?

And the robot spider is toast. Again. This is like the fourth or fifth time we've wrecked this thing, so I doubt it's gone for good. But at least it made a pretty explosion.

I was given some time off after the mission, and Seifer stole the car, so I walked over to Zell's house and played a game of Triple Triad against his mother. And then she won and took my precious Ifrit card from me. That was my only good card... I'll never get that back

In despair after losing his best card, Squall ran away from Garden in shame, never knowing whether he passed the test or not. And without him around to defend humanity, the inevitable evil last boss eventually appears and conquers the world. Bad end.


Is Final Fantasy VIII as good as I remember? Pretty much yeah, actually. Okay it'd be fair to say that if I'm doing better by not levelling up, then there's something fundamentally screwed up with the game mechanics. Plus timed levels and multiple boss fights in a row are not my favourite things. But somehow I'm still enjoying it. The game has some incredible art and design work, the music is fantastic, the cutscenes are great... and after over two hours of play it's still entertaining me. I like the game.

Final Fantasy series:
1987 - Final Fantasy (NES)
1991 - Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy)
1991 - Final Fantasy IV (SNES)
1999 - Final Fantasy VIII (PSX)

4 comments:

  1. It is a cool game. I think I should try beating it legitimately someday, without doing all the weird tricks or cheats or whatever.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe try a speedy low-level run with the Enc-None ability active. Or is that still a weird trick?

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  2. kill your own character to not receive exp ???
    kinda pretty broken system.

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