By Kenneth Shipp
I’ve never liked the idea that I should like something simply because it’s expected or that the majority prefers it. When I tell people I prefer VIII over VII, you would think I killed someone’s dog. I have played VII over and over again; I love the characters and the story is amazing. But it doesn’t hold a candle to VIII, at least to me, here’s why…
I fully admit that the plot to VII is much easier to follow than VIII. The dynamics of Cloud’s arc are complex however the story doesn’t further complicate this understanding. VIII’s major issue comes from the plot getting a bit heavy towards the middle. We begin to understand Edea’s motivations and the true backstory driving the conflict, but it comes at the cost of too many plot points not converging at the right time, leaving some people feeling disjointed.
The other most commonly critiqued issue with VIII is the Junction system. I rather enjoyed learning how to maximize this system’s potential. Other friends griped about not understanding or hated using it; I wore my knowledge and expertise like a badge of honor. This was during a time where the internet was still rather crappy, Gamefaqs was barely a thing, and buying Prima strategy guides were your only hope.
Despite those two issues, I love VIII. I identify with Squall quite a bit, his awkwardness, his reluctance to lead, his lack of confidence in himself. But over the course of the game, we start to see this change dramatically. We see him fighting not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because he also has someone to fight for. His relationship with Rinoa is what brings him out of his shell and out into the forefront. By the end of the game, he’s still the same awkward character we met in the opening scenes, but his calm-mannered and cool demeanor have more meaning to them now. Instead of being an aloof adolescent, we see that his passion is much more reserved, and we know he’ll display it when it’s necessary.
VIII gives us opportunities to read what Squall is thinking as opposed to Cloud in VII. With Cloud, we are left to speculate what he’s thinking based off this words and actions. We are introduced a bit more intimately with Squall and especially those moments were he keep thoughts to himself. Neither approach is wrong, it simply depends on what you prefer. I love that Kazushige Nojima, the writer for VIII, gives us those moments of insight because they really allow us to grow closer to Squall.
Even with the heavy sections of the story, I loved the twists and turns that we were presented. Whether it was the flashbacks to Laguna and his crew, Edea really being a pawn of Ultimecia, Rinoa gaining Ultimecia’s powers, Squall leading SeeD, or that most of the gang being actually raised by Edea, these moments kept the story fresh and interesting. These also involved constantly changing locales and battle spaces, each one more unique or “timeless” than the rest. I wouldn’t have expected the introduction of time-travel to a Final Fantasy game, but if I had played some of the previous titles, I would have been properly prepared way back in 1999.
Visually, VIII was very eye-catching for me as well. It showed off the power of the original PlayStation in amazing ways. Every cut-scene had me eagerly staring at my old Magnavox TV trying to soak in every awesome detail. The initial fight between Squall and Seifer quickly had me hooked and made me look forward to every advancement in the story. That opening fight also showcased a great song that was an indicator of how good the soundtrack was going to be. It helped drive home the mix of imaginative realms and reality that Director Yoshinori Kitase strove for. He wanted to aim for a mix of fantasy and realism and they did a great job with the tools of 1999. The music was definitely a setup from the games before which were limited in what they could produce along with the visuals.
Being my first experience with the Final Fantasy series, VIII drove me to play many of the older games and kept me looking forward to each new entry in the universe. Other Fantasy fans may not agree with me, but that’s honestly not the point. Whichever character, cast, or story captured your attention will most likely by the Fantasy that makes the top of your list. When it comes to your favorite RPG, that’s really the only reason you need to follow.
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