In the world of RPGs, few names are bigger than Final Fantasy VII, but it has never been my favourite entry in the series.
At the risk of causing a heated argument in our Discord, I firmly believe that the best Final Fantasy entry since the series made the jump from sprites to polygons is Final Fantasy VIII. No other game in Final Fantasy feels quite like it — and I always enjoy the courage it takes to try something new so far into a series.
What makes Final Fantasy VIII my favourite? Why does it succeed where the original VII fell flat for me? Read on!
A unique magic system
Unlike most RPGs out there, Final Fantasy VIII doesn’t use a magic point system to limit the number of spells you can cast before finding an inn to rest. Instead, it uses its Draw system to fuel spell usage. Characters can pull spells from monsters, from items found throughout the world, or from Draw Points found in the environment. These spells can be equipped and used by any character, allowing a great deal of customisation between playthroughs of the game.
Spells can also be linked to a character’s stats, such as strength or vitality. Doing so boosts that stat depending on how many of the spells the character has drawn and the overall base power of the spell. This can result in stats that turn characters into physical powerhouses so long as they don’t use too many of the spells they’ve linked to their stats. This degree of customisation makes Final Fantasy VIII stand out among other entries in the series.
Fun and deep characters
There is a playfulness to Final Fantasy VIII’s characters. Sure, its main character is the oppressively broody Squall, but he is also joined by a hot dog-loving martial artist and a woman who fires a dog from a wrist cannon as her ultimate attack. The absurdity around him only makes Squall’s moodiness feel more like a front and a parody of that archetype. It is hard to take his tough guy persona too seriously when his teacher is running around in a catsuit and hitting people with a whip.
Final Fantasy is at its best when it isn’t taking itself too seriously. When it gives a wink and a nod that it is, in fact, in on the joke it is telling. In Final Fantasy VIII, this tongue-in-cheek approach works even better as you get to know the characters and how they’re all bound together by a shared past. By letting the characters be silly at times, the game allows them room to grow in any direction. Because Squall has more of a distinct personality than Cloud did in VII, we get to see his reaction to some of the revelations that get thrown his way.
Final Fantasy VIII’s plots within plots
Final Fantasy stories always follow a certain trajectory. They start out feeling like very straightforward and simple “good versus evil”, plots only to take a hard turn for the weird in the final act. IX throws parallel universes at you, X hits you right in the daddy issues, and XV decides that everyone needs to die. (This has been a thing since the very first Final Fantasy — time loops, anyone? – Ed.) Final Fantasy VIII is similar, in that it feels fairly simple at the beginning and gradually escalates to the point where “time kompression” [sic] is a valid plot device.
Final Fantasy VIII has a plot that spans time and space, with threads that feel disconnected until they come together at the very end. It’s an effective, fun way to tell the story the game is trying to tell — and is a great reason why the game holds up better than some of the earlier entries in the series.
What do you think of Final Fantasy VIII? Be sure to let us know in the comments or via the usual social channels. Nicely.
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