What Were They Thinking: Final Fantasy VIII


I almost feel bad picking on Final Fantasy VIII. It’s been done so well, by so many people that it feels like beating a dead horse with a sledge hammer. That said, I just finished watching the massive and excellent review of the game over at Spoony Experiment and am feeling a bit inspired. Or lazy. Whichever you prefer to call it.

For the record, Final Fantasy VIII is actually a game I really, deeply love. It the game that got me back into the franchise and for a long time I genuinely thought it to be the best in the series. I know, what was I thinking?

For the most part I blame it on my just being something an emo loser in my own right at the time. Well, emo may be a bit strong, but I was certainly very insecure with myself, was at times anti-social and very much assured that no girl would ever want to lay a hand on me. That’s thankfully over now, but at the time it made it easy for to me relate to Squall who was an odd combination of sullen and popular. I mean if he could get a girl, then surely I could too!

And I did eventually meet someone, fall in love and yadda yadda, but it had more to do with my just growing a pair and asking her out than anything else. So while I can play Final Fantasy VIII now and enjoy it, I do acknowledge that is actually a pretty lousy game.

The core problems? The battle is mediocre at best. Many fans of the game proclaim it to allow a profound amount of customization but honestly, four complete play throughs the most that I’ve ever tinkered with the Junction system is to set all my junctions to one of the default attack or defense settings. And yes, the draw system sucks. There are alternatives, but really magic should not be such a hassle.
The battle system is something I’ve always been able to tolerate though. It’s not as if it’s broken; the game is quite playable and even enjoyable at times.

The biggest problem with Final Fantasy VIII is plain and simple its story. There are elements of it that I enjoy but for the most part it is one big mess of confusing and random events that are forcibly strung together to create a story. It reminds me of the …And Justice for All album. Many count it as Metallica’s best because it is their most technical. I’ve always had trouble listening to it though because none of it really strikes me as being organic. The songs just continue on, shoving in a solo here and there to show off their ability to masturbate a guitar. It doesn’t feel natural.

Final Fantasy VIII has a similar problem. The opening FMV, the train sequence, the battle with the gardens, the space station, the final battle and ending; these are all cool, but they happen often just for the sake of happening. The epic battle between Seifer and Squall from the opening? A training match. The battle between the two gardens? It just kind of happens. The game had gone fifteen minutes without an FMV and the developers had to meet their quota.

Much of this is just to push the plot forward, and honestly, a bit of clumsy MacGuffin wouldn’t be horrible, but it far exceeds mere clumsiness. Take for instance, the most infamous scene in the game: the orphanage revelation. The heroes are reminiscing about their younger years and as it turns out not only are the all orphans, they also lived together as children in the same orphanage. The reason this hasn’t come up before? It pretty much amounts to “we just plum forgot.”

This scene alone almost destroyed the game for me, even back in my own “woe is me” days. It is so stupid and above all else, utterly pointless. It could be removed and all you’d need to do is edit a few sentences and it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the overall plot. But it can’t be removed; it’s there, a part of the story and it remains the elephant in the room for the remainder of the game.

How is the good in the game supposed to shine through when it is up against stupid such as this? The game never quite gets as bad as that again, but there are plenty of moments that are almost its equal. And the dialogue! How can you not cringe when Seifer wants to tell you about his “romantic dream?”

So yeah, I love Final Fantasy VIII but it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s like an intelligent person enjoying Twilight. You know it’s crap, but somehow you just enjoy it any ways. You know, with some face glitter and some contacts Squall could almost be Edward Cullen. Damn it Square! What were you thinking?

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10 Responses to What Were They Thinking: Final Fantasy VIII

  1. ron hayter says:

    I personaly love FF8, It’s my favourite FF game. I think I’ve spent over 1000 hours all my playthroughs combined. Such an awesome game.

  2. zero says:

    I think you’re taking things a bit too seriously. FF8 is a great installment in the franchise. “Plot holes” are superfluous really, and a good deal of them can be blamed on lazy/not caring translations. The main story is pretty enjoyable, and the game overall is great fun. The locales are memorable, and the battle system is fantastic. As usual, the music is awesome, some of my favorite tracks here. Now a days the battle system may feel dated, but it’s still classic FF, which is now dead. Some funny points in your article, but I feel FF8 deserves much much more than the title “guilty pleasure”.

    • Stew Shearer says:

      Fair enough. It would be nice to believe that much of the problems came from bad localization, though after more than a decade I think there would have been more discussion on that point. Furthermore, the franchise had suffered from poor localization in the past (FFVI had some issues) and the stories of those games didn’t suffer.

      I would agree that FFVIII can be enjoyed, especially when several of the better sequences are taken on their own, but overall the game as a whole falls apart when placed under concentrated scrutiny. It isn’t like Ninja Gaiden for instance where you could say “oh, the story is insane but the gameplay is awesome.” FFVIII is simply flawed in every way possible

  3. MarkysJazZ says:

    Just an amazingly terrible article. Shallow, insipid and trite. Please i beg you, improve the world of “video game journalism” by resigning and never writing anything this bad again. The world will owe you a debt for showing such mercy.

    • Stew Shearer says:

      You’ve shown me the light. After posting this comment I’m going to call up my editor and my freelance contacts and let them know that I’m finished. Thank you so much for this revelation! I mean, if I had continued on I might have made a few thousand dollars more in extra spending cash this year! What was I thinking!

  4. Dev says:

    Although I like your writing style, I think your an idiot.

  5. val says:

    Edit – Sorry I’ve been so obnoxiously opinionated, and this is more about what’s the best in the series than VIII specifically…ty

    FFVIII has a great setting with some great locations and a nice cast. It’s one of my favourite games, and I remember it for those and triple triad, not the silly love story or memory thing. The location is what really defines a game. That’s why 7-9 are, almost inarguably, the best in the series. People mention IV and VI a lot but they are laughable, they’re games made on a low budget by a handful of inexperienced people. The only thing about them that stands up is the music. FFVI is like the original Grand Theft Auto, while FFVII is San andreas, the masterpiece made with experience, it’s just an enormous leap in quality ahead.

    FFVII was revolutionary, the seminal jRPG. Or at least it should have been, but no one has bothered trying to imitate it because it’s too much work to create such a vast interactive adventure, and only wrpg’s have similar modern realistic settings. Much easier to create cutscenes and battles in a silly fantasy world.

    What do you do in a video game? What do you remember about it? You remember exploring a location, or at least I do. Take the depth of location out of an rpg and you’re left with a really hollow experience. Fallout 3 was a mediocre game, set in a great location. Every FF since 9 has been a mediocre game in a mediocre location.

    Put the FFVII story in Spira and it would be a mediocre game because the futuristic fantasy setting is not relatable or likeable. The society doesn’t feel alive, it’s not engaging. FFVII was cyberpunk, it had a level of realism that hasn’t been seen since in the series. Not the realism of wrpgs, but there was a believability to the story. You knew you wouldn’t be disappointed with macguffins and deus ex machinima explanations of everything like 10 & 13. Magic had a meaningful, albeit unrealistic, explanation and wasnt overused. Airships weren’t hideous fantasy monsters powered by magic, they were quaint dirigibles and helicopters. Variety is the spice of life and FF had the most of any game I’ve ever played. From chocobo breeding, to going into space and piloting a submarine and a theme park and tower defense and it goes on…

    It was a modern setting with realistic societies, realistic vehicles, even realistic clothing on the characters. That made it mean more because it’s so much like our own. Cid just wears a tshirt and trousers. Can you imagine a FFXIII character wearing something so down to earth? Can you imagine Yuffie’s weapon being a fishing rod?

    Thematically it was about a corrupt corporation, science experiments, terrorism, environmentalism, death and helping your friends. You go into space with Cid, you help Red XIII discover the truth about his dad, etc. Recently the themes seem to be more about destiny which is horribly uninteresting. Silly empty fantasy worlds where every character is forgettable and meaningless and you barely do anything with them except battle. Each character used to have an identity because they had a location with a backstory. Cloud was nibelheim, Red XIII cosmo canyon, cid rocket town, yuffie wutai, caith sith the golden saucer, barret corel etc. Now what do you associate with Hope? Just his dad’s house which was stupid and empty. What do you associate with Lightning? Nothing at all. In VIII they’re all from the same school but they had other locations and family and friends. I thought of them as more adventure games than dungeon crawlers.

    In terms of saying what is the best FF? None of them have particularly outstanding battle gameplay, they’re all a mix of good and bad but all about the same except 12 & 13. 13 is rubbish and you basically just watch the battles. 12 you can run around which is nice, and I love the gambit system more than any other, but some think it’s too uninvolving. VIII is the most broken (except II?), but I’ve only played it once so didn’t notice and drawing is a chore, but it’s an appreciated attempt at something different. VII, IX & X are safe and consistent.

    Graphics? I think VII-IX have great 2d backgrounds that are better and more “real” than any of the graphics from X-XIII. The character models have improved but I think the graphical increase has been a huge detriment to the quality of the series. It’s taking 5 months just to create some rocks, and far too expensive now to create what counts, what you really remember fondly. The locations. You can instantly think to midgar and the golden saucer and other iconic locales. Can you really instantly think to any location from XIII with a fond memory? VIII had the gardens, IX has some castles and interesting villages. The battle graphics haven’t improved much really, spells still look crap and monsters only get temporarily affected. No lacerations or burn marks. Would be cool if you could set flans on fire and they melt for e.g. Items are used telepathically and they’ve become frustratingly reliant on 2d geometric patterns to indicate magic instead of something graphically appealing.

    Outside of battles, FFVII has by far the most gameplay. I-VI have nothing really, except in remakes. VIII and X have world encompassing games where you can met people in other towns and play with them (cards, blitzball), and that is a really great concept that they abandoned for some reason. IX has a crap card game but some other things like skipping. XII has forgettable fishing and racing and XIII has nothing at all. So VII wins but VIII had the best single side game.

    Characters? I-VI they’re underdeveloped. VII all are interesting on some level. VIII-XIII trying too hard to make them unique and outlandish, dont have much personality, with a few like vivi and balthier being interesting in otherwise bland games.

    Story? I-VI mostly forgettable cliches barely above Mario quality. VII has lots of great quest based adventures and meaningful objectives like cross dressing and taking part in the parade and defending mt. corel. All these events that matter to the world and build up your interest in exploring it. VIII & IX are not great with bad villains and random plot but they’re definitely passable. X is just a silly fantasy love story. XII is politics zzzz. XIII it’s just destiny, crystals & gods did it all. So VII is easily the best, and I don’t really think any of the others are worth ordering.

    The creators of FF are just not adept at making a compelling story filled with human insight but they keep trying. So it’s rather obvious that they should stick to creating a large world with great locations and gameplay variety instead of trying to imitate a movie. FFVIII was the beginning of that trend. FFVII had hardly any cutscenes and they weren’t gratuitous, they established things that were hard to do in the game engine. But anything that could be done in gameplay was. Swimming with a dolphin and giving CPR to a little girl? Part of the game. A motorbike chase away from Shinra HQ? Not a meaningless cutscene but a fun bit of interactivity that all added up to a wonderfully varied adventure. Now it seems we’re lucky if the battles are interactive, everything else is a cutscene.

    I think Squall is far too associated with emo-ness, I really don’t see it. I am amazed you say you know the game is crap, what games aren’t then? There’s only a few games that exceed FFVIII’s depth and quality. Games like Mario never ever get called crap and they’re nowhere near the careful creation of a FF. Comparing it to twilight is darn out of order! It’s teenage angst, you no longer like it because you’re not a teenager anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. He’s a reticent person and so are most protagonists in video games. It makes sense, if they speak too much then you better have assured the writing was top quality or it will just harm the game (see: FFXIII where all they do is speak but they barely have anything worth hearing from their empty uncultured personalities). Isn’t Cloud just as emo? The only difference is he doesn’t have black hair and clothing and a scar on his face.

    I’m sure the orphanage was planned from the start, I don’t know why it’s become so infamous it’s not that bad an idea. The whole game is a bit inconsistent but there are plenty of other cringeworthy moments in FF history but at least they try to create something meaningful. Nintendo dont bother doing story at all because they know they’d be rubbish at it so they just stick with inane kiddy gameplay.

    I think VIII was rushed out after the success of VII. It only took 2 years to make compared to the 3 of VII, and that’s with IX being developed concurrently with it and releasing a year later. If it had been given a bit more time they could have fixed the gameplay a bit and made the story more interesting.

    I so badly wish they would go back and create an rpg focusing on good society locations, varied gameplay, adventure and have a modern realistic style with a logical twisting story rather than fantasy and nonsense story. VII and VIII have more of a sci-fi feel to them which is why they’re my favourite… the futuristic fantasy is getting tired, and medieval fantasy is way past being overdone. Time for a more realistic FF again.

    • Stew Shearer says:

      Thank you for taking the time to respond in such length. I agree with you on many points but I appreciate that you took the time to do more than just call me an ass and leave it at that.

      I feel my feelings on FFVIII are pretty well laid out. When it comes to FFVII which you talk about quite a bit, it’s not my favorite either. I would probably actually write about it at some point, but I’ve only played it once and don’t remember many of the finer points of the story. I just remember not being as impressed with it back in its day than everyone else was and still is.

      As for Final Fantasy XIII, I’ll pass judgement on that when I finish it. That said, my impressions at the moment are already somewhat negative. It’s the first Final Fantasy I haven’t completed because I lost interest in it. I plan on pushing forward sometime in the near future, especially since I’m near where the game is supposed to get interesting (15+ hours in) but that said, it tries too hard to be complex and the characters have yet to be too interesting or likable.

      As for your comparisons to Nintendo. I think Mario gets away with having a trash story because it is a franchise based in inherent ridiculousness. And yes, the gameplay is largely the same as it was back on the N64, but it’s still fun which for many people is enough.

      Again, thank you for your lengthy response!

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