You may or may not know that I’ve been playing the game Final Fantasy 8 on my PSP handheld fairly intensively for the past couple or months or so. The trouble with it is it’s a darn addictive game that’s impossible to put down. Combining good game play, a interestingly deep story, fantastic music with characters you actually care about the developers really struck a pot of gold (and considering it was first released in 1999 it stands up to the tests of time well).
The story starts with a 17 year old going into his final exams for an elite mercenary organisation (SeeD) which sees him being drafted in to defend a town against the invasion of the military of a larger country. Suceeding in his mission and being promoted to a full SeeD member he is then sent with other graduates on a mission to help a resistance cell in another occupied territory. The story continues and the events build from small to world changing with plenty of twists, turns and the odd impossible choice along the way. At the end of the day though the story is that of a love story between two characters thrown together by circumstance and showing how trust, respect and slowly, love grows between them.
Don’t get me wrong – this is an old game but (with a couple of minor exceptions) its still looking good – while the graphics on newer games blow this out of the water (what do you expect) the scenes and characters all contain a good level of detail, and the game is so involving your not worrying about the quality of what you’re seeing. One of the things I love about the game is that the whole world feels like it has an infrastructure to it – when you get to explore the world map you’ll see trains moving between the towns (a method you can use to move around earlier in the game). When you visit a town it’ll be full of NPCs – some just standing around and chatting, others going out and on chores etc. it’s little details that aren’t really needed but they work together to make the world feel more real. In the same way the creatures that you encounter to battle against also seem to have evolved to suit the environments in which they live (for example more fish based creatures near water) the whole game feels very natural in this regard.
One of the flaws in many RPGs is the battle encounters – in the Final Fantasy series these tend to be done by random encounters, you’ll be walking along then Wham! You’re in a battle. This can get a bit annoying when you’re trying to get somewhere but there are methods of avoiding these should you wish. When you are in the mood for a battle one of the key innovations in the game is that the level of the enemy creatures should scale up with your characters – meaning that there will always be an element of challenge, which just keeps the battle interesting – especially when you’re working later in the game to level up your characters. This especially helps with the bosses meaning you can get through the game by avoiding all but the essential fights (should you wish though this takes away some of the fun of the game…) The controls are the usual simple menu systems – you are limited to 4 battle commands so a whole variety of tactics can be encouraged leading to a range of different ways to play the game.
One of the parts of the game that I find clever and annoying at the same time is the Junction System – this allows you to “Junction” magic to different characters stats, so you could use your magic to boost they’re strength up but if you cast that spell the stat will also be effected – this creates an interesting scenario which is good and bad – the level of customisation it gives you is fantastic – from elemental/status attacks/defences to fine tuning your characters strengths and weaknesses, but on the flip side it discourages you from using magic for fear of lowering the stat you’ve assigned that spell too – I found myself walking a thin line but only using magic when I really needed to extra boost.
As previously mentioned the music for the game is also fantastic – focussing on the themes of the game rather than trying to write a theme for each of the characters, locations, situations etc, it means that music really suits the mood as your play through. Notable tracks include The Oath – powerful and rousing, reflecting on both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” at different moments in the game (it’s very hard to pidgeon hole most the characters into good guys and bad guys, it gets a lot more complex that those simple terms would allow); Man with the Machine Gun provides a very different (which is very appropriate) to the sections it appears in, Force Your Way, the generic battle music is still as rousing and gets your heart racing the 50th time as with the first. Of course I couldn’t get away without mentioning “Eyes On Me”, the main love theme throughout the story. This is a lovely ballad that appears in a couple of different iterations throughout the game finally building up into a burst of song beautifully under pinning one of the key scenes within the game. The song is apparently the best selling song every associated with a video game (and was also played at my friends wedding – he’s never played the game if that gives you an idea of the impact of the song!).
So all in all while it’s an older game Final Fantasy 8 is also one of those games which is really hard to resist as it pulls you into its world. A gripping story, fun game play, a whole range of different strategies, and options to make as your progress through the story, and also give a large amount of replay time with all the different ways of playing the game. Couldn’t be more highly recommended.