89 - Final Fantasy VIII (Playstation)

Well well, what have we here. Probably one of the more controversial entries in the FF series. Coming as it did after the spectacular success and near-universal praise for VII, this one shook up the formula so much that it became very divisive. A few things factor into this: FFVII was a lot of peoples introduction to the series - particularly in Europe - so they tended not to be familiar with the fact that a lot of things change between every FF and always have, right from the start. Out went Materia and in came Junctioning, a system that baffled as much as it impressed. Secondly, cute superdeformed characters were out and replaced with realistic-looking human characters (or as realistic as the PS could manage at the time). The plot was a shambles. An ever-so-slightly mopey main character topped off the concoction, and as Metal Gear Solid 2 discovered, gamers tend to prefer liking their onscreen character.

Enough of that though, because what we have here is a magnificently flawed RPG. One that despite its faults has a heck of a lot going for it in terms of systems and structure. The plot is almost irrelevant - and indeed becomes so convoluted and unfocused that it's barely worth following - and character relationships are handled as clumsily as ever, but let's get to the nitty gritty. I play RPGs for the overwhelming reason that I like to mess about with stats and systems, and FFVIII has a great mechanic lurking beneath its surface. Character abilities and attributes can be customized on the fly and switched around at will, and the Guardian Force abilities allow for a whole extra bunch of nifty tricks. The scope for abuse is massive, and its fair to say that if you have the patience to work out how, you can be pretty much invincible from very early on. Wouldn't that spoil it, though? No... because that's why I play it - to work these things out and exploit them. It's certainly not for the story!

The funny thing is that despite actually achieving the goals of maxing the starts and essentially 'doing all there is to do', I can always happily return to FFVIII and do it again. There are very few 'big' games that I can say that about.

FFVIII was created whan Playstation development was really starting to hit its stride, and as a consequence its one of the more attractive and technically accomplished games for the system. It also features a great soundtrack. In fact it contains my favourite boss tune from the series yet - The Extreme.

The true icing on the cake is the Triple Triad card game. I spent many hours simply wandering around playing cards with NPCs in order to complete the set. I loved it so much I even pondered dropping a few hundred pounds on a real set of cards, before coming to my senses and realising I wouldn't actually have anyone to play with...

No comments: