Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

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Will
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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by Will » January 7th, 2019, 6:40 pm

Oh, FFVIII, what an ambitious mess you are! Someone more poetic than me once observed that FF and Dragon Quest are like siblings, with DQ as the responsible, stodgy older brother who works in insurance, has 2.5 kids, a golden retriever, and a haircut you can set your watch to while FF is the artsy younger sibling who swings wildly between brilliant epiphanies and absurd stunts that leave everyone baffled. To me, VIII is that younger sibling’s biggest swing of the PS1 era and, unfortunately, it left me shaking my head as the game drunkenly tumbled ass over teakettle off the back of the couch and shattered the family's good china.

Briefly, the good. The graphics are outstanding for the era and the music is exceptional, even by Uematsu’s absurdly high standards. Some of the character designs are also quite lovely, and I’d include Edea in any “best of” list of designs. When those elements come together, as in the opening cinematic, VIII can take your breath away.

Unfortunately, most everything else in the game just doesn’t work for me and the only time I played it through I spent the last half of the game hate-playing out of obligation to drag my underpowered, unloved party across the finish line.

Much has been written about the convoluted story, and, try as I might I could never connect with any of the characters or find any purchase in the plot or thematics. Even in brief tentative moments where I did find a way to grab on to some aspect of the narrative, a new set of seemingly-unrelated, unpleasant characters would quickly intrude with an unexplained [dream sequence? time jump? altogether different game that accidentally got included as the result of a major manufacturing error?]obliterating any momentum and investment I had been able to establish.

Returning to VIII today, the weirdness of the story can seem interesting, rather than just murky and frustrating. Particularly in light of the “Squall is Dead” theory, there’s something intriguing and brave about building an entire game around a sullen, opaque main character who speaks mostly in ellipses. I’m also a sucker for the weirder elements of the series, so NORG, Doomtrain, and the moments where VIII feels like a covert entry in the Silent Hill series have some appeal.

Image

The problem for me is that I just don't enjoy the act of actually playing the game because the core gameplay feels not just different from but openly hostile towards everything I love about FF. At every step, the systems seem designed to lay traps for players raised on previous entries in the series. Weapons aren’t purchased from shops, summons are a dead end for late-game combat, and leveling actually makes the game harder! Instead, progression is almost completely tied to junctioning, but the way that you are explicitly taught to do that is incredibly tedious, requiring hours of mindless drawing from each enemy you meet.

Clever players - or those who ponied up for the strategy guide - will really dive into Triple Triad to gather cards and change them into stat boosts, but doing that quickly makes characters comedically overpowered. Forty hours in, I never found a way to play the game that was actually enjoyable. I very much missed the standard RPG “fight - XP - fight” feedback loop, which seemed to have been replaced by five minute GF boosting sessions and a half-assed card game.

Overall, I appreciate VIII and applaud Square for trying something new. It would have been easy to simply rehash the things that made VII such a critical and commercial success. Like II or XIII, VIII is totally different than what came before. Also like those entries, unfortunately I just can’t find much to love in the game itself. I know some people treasure VIII and I certainly don’t begrudge them this weird little offshoot. But if you ask me my honest opinion of the game all I can say is “. . . Whatever.”

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Sage + Onion Knight
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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by Sage + Onion Knight » January 7th, 2019, 8:09 pm

Will wrote:
January 7th, 2019, 6:40 pm
NORG
This is my last post in this thread, I promise (but not entirely sincerely): this reminds me of the fact that FF8 is responsible for two of my favourite old uni house share memories.

1. Noting that one of the regulars from quizzers was the spitting image of Garden Master NORG, and making my housemate convulse at how audaciously obscure that reference was

2. Annoying that same housemate by insisting with increasing aggression that a stock sound effect of a dog we heard on an advert was definitely sampled from Final Fantasy VIII and that they should pay millions in royalties to Nobuo Uematsu who had painstakingly crafted the sound effect from scratch

Again, yet another reason why this game has such a weirdly nostalgic tone for me. As much as FF7 is the one we're all nostalgic for, FF8's nostalgia is so fittingly odd to me.

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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by TheEmailer » January 8th, 2019, 10:48 am

My first RPG - nostalgia limits my objectivity and brevity

I never clicked with the predecessor, maybe I was too young. I was tempted by the the style and diversity ofart shown in magazines. The graphics have aged, but personally I feel much of the art design holds up well. A bright, vibrant world,with a distinct visual style to the different locales and inhabitants, from the 50s Americana of Galbadia, the futuristic curves of of Esthar and the Shumi.

The storytelling has taken flack in the subsequent years, somewhat deserved. Teenage angst is a fertile topic for storytelling due to its relatibiloity, but if the execution isn't flawless it can come across as whiny and immature. The dialogue in all PlayStation FF entries has real low points, I think the teenage nature of 8 exacerbates this. A moody and terse leading man is a trope that can lead to mysteriousness & charisma, but here isn't often pulled off. Maybe the redemption arc of Seifer would actually have made a better story.
The second half of the plot is a mess. The switch from an engaging villain in Edea to the uninteresting puppet-master and a hokey time travel masterplan doesn't engage. If the story was wrapped up ended at disc 2, it would be much improved.

What the story does have, again mainly in the first half, is some very compelling set pieces . I'm thinking Dollet, Vinzer Deling's train, the Edea Assassination, the battle of the two gardens. I was particularly taken by the side by side narratives of the two teams post the prison escape, giving players a reason not to neglect their whole parties level. If I could replay just these set pieces, I would do it every year!

At the time I really liked the Draw and GF systems, acquiring magic to strategically buff stats and building affinity with the GFs. Acquiring a new GF feels like a satisfying reward to defeating either the GF or its master.
The systems suggest to having 3 defined load-outs, shared between two character. However, in 2019 with less time to grind than as an eleven year old, I am less taken by the idea of the having to grind through repeated drawing magic from standard enemies to build a store of 300 in every spell.

I believe the Limit Break system here stands out for a delicate risk and reward balance. I prefer a situational trigger for a limit break to a gradually filling meter, as it tempts the player* to risk sustained low HP in order to do more damage.
* before Aura becomes commonplace late game.

The enemies levelling with the player is a nice idea to keep grinding fresh, particularly as they begin to have new spells. Although in reality going back to areas from earlier in the game, the enemies are higher level but still relatively easy.

A note here for Triple Triad. I believe part of the appeal of Triple Triad is the simplicity, allowing the "collect them all" aspect to come to the fore. I also like the idea that a mopey, monosyllabic teenage soldier is really keen to play cards with anyone he meets.

Finally, as an 11 year old, I found the idea of the military school that can also fly really cool. As an adult the idea of funnelling orphans into commandos by giving them powers that will sap their memory an authoritarian nightmare. Letting one of them go into battle with just fists against gun wielding soldiers, tanks et al would lead to some disagreements with OFSTEAD.

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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by duskvstweak » January 8th, 2019, 4:18 pm

I think most of my affection for Final Fantasy VIII comes from the first disc. Balamb Garden seemed like a school I wanted to go to, the first dungeon with Ifrit had that amazing soundtrack, the first SeeD missions, the big assassination plot, it was all so cool to my teenage sensibilities. After that, my memory of the game gets a little fuzzy, I remember big moments but not in walkthrough detail like I have with that first disc.

I still love the game dearly, I love watching people play VIII on Twitch, I find ways to play the card game whenever I get the itch. I don't "miss" the junction system in other games, but I didn't mind it at all in my playthrough. I don't think the full cast of characters is as dynamic or memorable as VI or VII, but I remember being in the minority of people who liked Squall and felt like I understood his character arc. And the soundtrack is another Uematsu masterpiece, no ifs, ands or buts.

I understand the black sheep reputation this game has, but it will always be in my top five Final Fantasy games and, I think, it's a showcase of what the Playstation could do.

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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by DavidBagguetta » January 10th, 2019, 2:13 pm

Here we go, first time contributor!

Listening to your FF7 podcast recently I realised why that game was so influential to me, yes it’s absolutely fantastic in its own right but as a late comer to that game I happened to own the platinum edition which you may remember came with the demo for FF8. It was the first SeeD mission to Dollet in which you embark on an extraordinarily cinematic “mission” to repair the radio tower and assist Dollet with the ever increasing threat from the Galbaldian army.

A divisive title, there can be no doubt, but FF8 for me is the best of that holy trinity found on the PS1. I played that demo hundreds of times and never tired, my anticipation for the release had reached fever pitch after it was appearing in magazines, that demo still a mainstay in my play time as I waited. To this day it is the only special edition game I’ve ever owned, how on earth I managed to convince my dad to buy me the huge box with such frivolous extras in at the age of 10 I do not know, the key item inside was a large adult t-shirt. God bless my dads prioritisation to get me to be quiet.

The game itself was more experimental than square have ever dared to go since, the junctioning and draw system was bizarre, so bizarre in fact that I somehow managed to get all the way to the Ragnarok spaceship without junctioning a single spell against my stats. I felt like a very foolish, but now overpowered, god once I realised why I wasn’t able to defeat the weird aliens on board.

Where the game really shines more than any other in the series for me is the cinematic presentation, that opening FMV is so iconic to me now, grown men going hell for leather with two crazy looking gun blades, actual real blood and scars to boot, and the transition to the game itself as I was introduced to real looking, life sized people was like Final Fantasy had come of age. Before you even have the chance to get settled you’re taken though another magnificent FMV sequence and I was able to walk around as it all unfolded around me in graphical quality I hadn’t seen before.

I’ve replayed this game so many times and am still impressed with the way everything looked whilst in FMV, hard to believe this was from 1999.

Also hard to believe despite the many replays I’ve never actually finished this game, if I was to be critical of anything here it would be that ultimecias castle is utterly ridiculous. I just haven’t been able to find the skill or patience to get all of the party abilities in order to defeat the final bosses, and with FF8 looking like the only one we’ll never see new versions of I dare say I never will.

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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by idontpuzzles » January 11th, 2019, 11:22 am

(First Time) FF8 is the only game in the series that I have started multiple times through my life, and have never finished. I remember when the game first released being enamored by the cut-scenes, and being floored by the leap in in-game graphical fidelity.
That being said the game was never able to grab me. I've gotten 20+ hours in on many occasions but always lose interest. It's difficult to pin point what it is about the game that loses me, whether it be the pacing, the story, or the aesthetic. For me though, that could very well be the issue, nothing about this game stood out to me.
I don't hate the game though, and absolutely plan on finally sitting down and beating this unique Final Fantasy one day. Just not today.

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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by Ben77000000 » January 14th, 2019, 9:29 am

FFVIII is as bizarre a hodge-podge as any game I've played, and though it pulls off an admirable amount of bold ideas with aplomb, I feel my experience with VIII was ultimately defined by the game's missteps. The narrative's backbone revolving around a time loop that begins with a group of mercenaries arriving from the future and inadvertently kickstarting a cycle of prejudice that gives birth to the very tyrant that they came to warn everyone about makes for a brilliant statement on the futile and cyclical nature of hate, but this core thread of the story is all but buried beneath a naff romance.

Squall makes for a superb protagonist, and one boasting a striking design that's atypically restrained for Nomura,but his relationship with Rinoa wasn't executed well enough for me to root for them. As great as it was to see Squall develop from taciturn teen to responsible leader, I struggle to buy that the advances of a character as blandly pleasant as Rinoa would catalyse such changes. The franchise is otherwise rife with women whose presence and personality endear them to the player, but VIII drops the ball with its main love interest and the emotional impact of the game is dampened as a result. This blandness is not limited to Rinoa however, the supporting party are also a far less colourful bunch than FF casts had been before and have been since. Making the six party members peers would not have been an issue had the writing imbued them with personality enough to leave lasting impressions, but I find the party ultimately lacks the camaraderie that would have made adventuring with them that much more involving.

The game's prioritising Squall and Rinoa's relationship over lucid storytelling has the inadvertent effect of shining a spotlight on the game's clumsiest aspect and leaving the story's intricacies for the player to discover themselves. As such, the world is full of small details that add colour to its people, locations, and history.
Even Seifer's battle stance offers character depth; with its being the same as Laguna's stance implying that the inspiration for Seifer's bizarre 'ROMANTIC dream' to become a sorceress' knight came from the very film that Laguna starred in.
Meanwhile, the endlessly repeating text reading 'I am still alive', 'I will never let you forget about me' and 'bring me back there' on the big video screen in Timber offers a reason for the absence of wireless communication in the game world: Adel whad been telepathically hijacking all the airwaves from space in order to spam angry messages. This detail reveals a lot about sorceresses and the impact they have on everyday life, but is hidden quite literally in the background of a single screen.
Likewise, a common complaint raised against VIII's story is that the GF memory loss twist involving the party having grown up together seems very out of left field. However, many conversations can be had in Balamb Garden with student NPCs appearing to suffer from amnesia, foreshadowing the coming plot point. These minor details illustrate how elaborately the world was constructed, but the delivery of them is subtle to a fault, and the narrative they contribute to is left on the back-burner in favour of a central relationship that was bettered in both IX and X. Two games boasting a more engaging harmony between narrative and romantic development.

Aforementioned flaws aside, I really did like Final Fantasy VIII! Its art design is consistently terrific, its set-pieces exciting and its music superb. I just wish the characters around Squall, and their relationships with him, had been as richly drawn as the intricate world they inhabit.

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Re: Our next Final Fantasy podcast recording (16.2.19) - Issue 357: Final Fantasy VIII

Post by Mr Ixolite » January 16th, 2019, 9:17 pm

The world of FFVIII was interesting, and the story was fine, with some memorable setpieces. The problem is just that I didn't care about the characters experiencing the story. I found Squall unlikeable, which in turn made me annoyed at Rinoa, for finding him charming. Considering their love is a focal point of the game, this was not optimal. The rest of the main cast doesn't fare much better in terms of memorability, and the decision to ground the game with more realistic, high-school- evoking character designs only made it seem blander. The only standout in the party was Zell, specifically because he was the most colorful and animated of the bunch.

Gameplay-wise, I bounced pretty hard off the junctioning system. Coming off FFVII there were too many things to accumulate and manage. Having everything tied to spells meant that I almost never used magic for fear of damaging my stats, but since enemies leveled with me, physical attacks never did much for me either. Instead, what I did for almost the entire game, was spam GFs. They did a ton of damage, shielded you, could be summoned instantaneously and used indefinetely. This carried me all the way until Sorceress Adel, at which point I shifted to the brilliant strategy of spamming Aura on Squall and Zell. I then proceeded to beat the game like that.
You can break pretty much any FF game with enough tinkering with the mechanics, but when you can break it so easily that you barely have to engage with its mechanics, its just boring.

I do remember some things from FFVIII fondly, though they are not directly associated to the main story. Hanging out with Laguna was way more fun than hanging out with Squall, and recruiting GFs such as giant Cactuars and Tonberris gave the game some spice. Ultimecias castle was also a fun challenge, that broke up the monotony of my gameplay. But ultimately, my memories of FFVIII are so drab that I've never been compelled to replay it.

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