I almost made it halfway through, but I couldn’t stand it anymore. One year ago, I made a challenge to myself: Play all the numbered Final Fantasy games. No time limit, just play them. One year later, I’ve failed; and all because of Final Fantasy VIII being so awful.
Events leading up to this pledge started in 2002 with the release of Kingdom Hearts. At the time, the only thing I knew about Final Fantasy was that guys tended to have spiky hair for some reason. By brother gave me the game as a Christmas present, fully expecting me to return it and get something I would actually play. Instead, I gave it a shot and played through the game without paying much attention. The most I got out of the game was being amused that the main characters were a perfect meld of spiky haired, stereotypical Final Fantasy characters and big shoe’d Disney cartoons.
Jump ahead 3 years and a friend of mine started getting giddy about the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XII. He’s been playing Final Fanasty games for years and won’t stop talking about it. So I finally get interested enough to get a used copy of Final Fantasy X. It was interesting enough - the first time I’ve watched a movie with the occasional game-like interaction. I stopped playing near the end of the game since I kept dying.
Well, it got me interested in Kingdom Hearts again. So I started playing through again, but this time I start paying attention. I was absorbed by the story and the characters. It felt like a completely different game, and I was amused by seeing a young Tidus and Wakka in the first area. From then on, I tried playing through Final Fantasy XII, but only made it a dozen hours in, but I played every Kingdom Hearts game I could since then.
Now, as I anxiously await some news of Kingdom Hearts 3, I think to myself, “Maybe I should play through those Final Fantasy games.” With a PSP and a GBA, I have access to all of the numbered games (well, except for III, but that was eventually released on iPhone). Over the course of a year I managed to play (not necessarily in order) I, II, IV, VI, VII and IX - even XIII, and that isn’t easy on a console with a new kid in the house (took about 11 months). I loved all of them (VII was so-so, but still playable), so I start up VIII with high expectations, but now I’ve quit.
Where to start? The boring, yet inexplicable story; the impossible to understand battle system; how about the dungeons which literally repeat the same room multiple times? No, I think I’ll start with the annoying characters and their dialog.
I don’t expect much from the dialog in a Final Fantasy games. Just enough to explain your next location with maybe a dumb joke thrown in occasionally. For some reason, the lead character Squall rarely speaks aloud; instead, we are treated to his innermost thoughts for half the conversation. Most of the time he thinks about “Why am I here?”, “What is he talking about”, and of course, the riveting “…”, “……”, and “………”.
Squall is also surrounded by clingy women, ditsy goof offs and annoying frenemies. At no time do I care about any of these people, nor do I ever understand their motivations. Seifer, the rival, decides to disobey orders and join with the baddies early on while he drags his friends along, reluctantly; Quistis, the teacher-turned-coworker starts off apparently attracted to Squall, but that gets dropped suddenly and without explanation; and Selphie and Irvine are just impossible to stand.
Eventually we learn that our rag-tag, randomly assembled from across the continent, spunky group of youngsters just happened (with only Irvine having any recollection of) to have been raised together in the same orphanage with Squall’s rival and being taught right from wrong by the eventual semi-antagonist. I say semi-antagonist, because she is apparently possessed by a sorceress from the future. I won’t get into the random jumping time jumping by the main characters that apparently happens “just because”.
By the time I quit, I had to play through two dungeons: a maze where each screen is nearly the same as the last, and a prison, where each floor is identical (and that you need to climb up and down repeatedly. At least with the maze it made some sense to confuse the player, but the prison was painful and tedious. You start at the top and need to fight your way down about 10 floors, only to to find out that the exit is at the top of the prison, so you have to go all the way back up with nothing to differentiate or hold your interest.
Then the battle system. In most Final Fantasy games, the characters have specific classes: mages are the only ones casting magic, one character has the highest strength and can focus on attacks. Other games have the characters starting off fairly similar, but let you focus each character on a specific role. FFVIII however uses the “Junction” system. Each summon that you collect throughout the game grants increased abilities (link increase attack) by junctioning the summon to a character. You then junction magic (like water) to the abilities. The more magic spells you junction to the ability, the more the ability increases.
But, how do you acquire the magic spells. In other games, you level up or purchase the spells. In order to cast the spell, you use up MP. In FFVIII however, enemies have the spells, and you must “draw” the spells out instead of using your turn to actually attack the monsters trying to kill you. Now, each battle consists of inspecting the spells that the enemy has, comparing them with your stock as you can only carry 99 of each spell type, then drawing.
This sets up a certain dynamic for each battle. Instead of focusing on fighting, the typical fight starts with casting sleep spells to stop the enemies from attacking, then spending 10 minutes drawing as many spells as possible from the enemy. The more spells you have, the higher your stats become, so you want to draw as much as possible. Once you’ve drawn as much as possible, the actual fighting can begin, but you don’t want to cast any of that magic you just obtained. Casting magic that is junctioned to an ability will lower your stats.
Battles are tedious, repetitive and boring. Maybe that describes every Final Fantasy, but other games feel like accomplishing something while this seems like work. All stat increases happen via junctioning; this makes leveling up and gathering experience points - um - pointless. Even when you level up and increase your stats by junctioning, the enemies level up with you. You can’t go out and grind to make your life a little easier because your life will be just as difficult. My typical Final Fantasy experience involves a few hours of being lost and not knowing where to go next. By the time I get to the next narrative location, I’ve battled enough to make the dungeon a bit easier than it would have otherwise. Not with FFVIII.
And now I’ve stopped, given up, failed. I must admit that this is an emotional blow. I thought I could commit, but not in the face of this game. In time, I’ll play FFV and maybe have a good time; I hear that it has an excellent job system.