Final Fantasy VIII
The eighth instalment of Square-Enix's Final Fantasy role-playing game (RPG) franchise was released in 1999 on the Sony PlayStation platform, and a year later for Windows. It tells the story of a group of students from a military academy that trains mercenaries. The lead character, Squall Leonhart, is a seventeen-year old loner who is in training at Balamb Garden, one of the three Garden military academies in the world.
The series creator, Hironou Sakaguchi, took the role of executive producer of the game, while Yoshinori Kitase directed the game. Unlike previous instalments in the series, the characters in Final Fantasy VIII were proportioned in a realistic manner and were styled in a manner that, costume and role aside, is a lot more like reality than previous games. The game's music was compused by Nobuo Uematsu, who has regularly composed music for the franchise. The theme music, "Eyes on Me", included a English-language vocal part played by Faye Wong, a popular Chinese singer. The character design for the game was given to Tetsuya Nomura, who had done the character design for the seventh game, rather than to Yoshitaka Amano, whose spectacular drawings for the series have reached critical acclaim with exhibitions and monographs. Amano returned for Final Fantasy IX.
Game and world
- Note: reading this section may spoil the enjoyment of the game.
In the game, the player explores a variety of different environments through directing the characters. The in-game world has two main continents - the large Esthar continent on the west, the slightly smaller continent on the East containing the nation of Galbadia and two city states: Timber and Dollet. Between the two, there is a small island with the town of Balamb and it's associated Garden, and to the south of Balamb is a tiny little town balanced precariously on some prefectures in the middle of the sea called Fisherman's Horizon. To the south is the Centra archipelago, a continent now almost totally destroyed but for the house of a sorceress and the ruins of the Centra civilisation.
The Esthar civilisation is technologically advanced, but very isolationist. The Galbadian nation is, during the game, militarily ruthless.
The Gardens, the elite mercenary training academies are based in Balamb, Galbadia and Trabia.
Navigation in this world takes a variety of forms. At the start of the game, you travel primarily by foot, and also by taking trains between cities (including a train which travels undersea from Balamb to Timber). Cars are both used in non-playable cut scenes, and can be hired from cities to rove around the world in. Later, players acquire hovering and then flying vehicles. Like in other Final Fantasy games, Chocobos are also used as a side-plot and a means of transportation.
The battle system in Final Fantasy VIII is quite different from previous instalments of the series or other similar console role-playing games. In other games, magic and abilities usually use a number of magic points ('MP') or ability points ('AP') when performed, and each character only has a limited amount of MP which needs recharging. There is no MP here, but a system of "drawn", "junctioned" magic.
Drawing makes magic like property - rather than 'learning' an ability, one 'draws' magic stocks from another. A character may encounter an enemy, and then choose to 'draw' some Fire spells out of the enemy. The draw action will return some number of the chosen spell and add them to that character's stock. Through the junctioning process, the player can then attach the magic in their stock to their various attributes. Take our Fire spells again - by attaching them to the HP Junction slot, you increase that character's HP by the amount that you junction. More advanced magic gives a bigger boost. The junctions include the standard properties - HP, agility, spirit, defense etc. - as well as attack and defense against elemental and status attacks. The available junctions are determined by the abilities held by a particular character's equipped Guardian Forces (or GF), which are summonable monsters much like those in other Final Fantasy games. Each GF gives the player different abilities, and gains ability points through experience which allow it to learn new abilities. GFs are transferable between characters, but each character has a 'compatibility' score with each GF which specifies the relationship that character has with the GF which determines how quickly that GF will appear when summoned.
- Note: reading this section may spoil the enjoyment of the game.
The game starts with a dramatic video cut-scene of Squall Leonhart fighting his school rival Seifer Almasy in a training session outside Balamb Garden. They are fighting using 'gunswords', large swords which have a pistol built into their handle. They both injure one another during training. Squall finds himself inside the Balamb Garden infirmary.
The final examination for Squall and his fellow students is to take part in a mercenary operation. The Galbadian army has invaded the Dollet Dukedom, which prompts Dollet to hire the services of Balamb Garden. The students travel to Dollet. Squall is teamed with Seifer and Zell Dincht as part of this mission. Seifer disobeys the orders given to him by the Garden and abandons his squad. Another student, Selphie Tilmitt, follows Seifer's group to a communication tower to deliver new orders, but ends up joining with Squall and Zell. Squall, Zell and Selphie all pass the examination for SeeD status, but Seifer fails because of his disobedience.
While at the graduation party, Squall meets and dances with Rinoa Heartilly. The next day, Squall is teamed up with Zell and Selphie to travel to Timber to assist Rinoa and her team of resistance fighters in their plans to liberate Timber from Galbadian rule. They do this by attempting to kidnap the President of Galbadia. They encounter a rather strange scene after this mission where Seifer seems to be under the control of a sorceress called Edea, who, they learn, is behind the increased military aggression from Galbadia. The Garden give the team a new mission: to travel to Deling City and assassinate Edea.
At this point, Squall's instructor, Quistis Trepe, now demoted from being an instructor, joins the party, as does a sharpshooter from Galbadia Garden called Irvine Kinneas. They travel to Deling City, and attempt to pull off this plan, which involves trapping the motorcade containing President Deling and Edea in a set of metal gates, and then shooting her with a sniper rifle. The team is surprised to see Seifer with her, but Seifer states he has decided to become Edea's "knight". Edea uses her magic to shield her from the bullets. The team then attempt to fight Edea, but she overpowers them, and they are imprisoned in a giant prison in the desert region of Galbadia.
After some time and effort, they escape from the prison. They had heard in prison that the Galbadians are going to attack the Gardens. Outside, they see the first set of missiles launch towards Trabia. The team split into two. Selphie leads a team into Galbadia's missile base to try and disable the launch of the missiles (and fails). Squall travels back to the Garden to warn Cid, the principal. He gets in conflict with NORG, the Garden's secretive owner, who had stirred up discontent among students. After wandering around deep in the bowels of the Garden's lower floors, he inadvertently triggers the Garden's transformation into a hovering, mobile fortress. This avoids the missile attack just in time, but nobody can control the Garden. It collides with the town of Fisherman's Horizon.