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Final Fantasy VIII
Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: CD/4
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Square is the graphics god. They own more SGI machines than anyone else in the planet, and my lord, they put them to good use. FF8 has some of the most gorgeous cutscenes in any game, ever. The dance scene will have your jaw on the floor. The character models themselves are much improved from the anime style of the FF7 characters in terms of both complexity and realism. The areas themselves are of the same quality as FF7, which is superb. This game is pure graphical goodness. The sound effects are quite good, with satisfying clanks and clangs and gorgeous summon, erm, Guardian Force sounds. The music is weak compared to the rest of the Final Fantasy series, but strong on its own merit. Not the best, but certainly miles ahead of most of the video game music out there. The summon graphics, which use the in-game engine, are absolutely, fantabulously gorgeous, and you won't mind seeing them over and over -- the first ten times. Soon, they grow pretty obnoxious, but never so bad as to make you throw the game down.

The Final Fantasy games have always had excellent gameplay, and Final Fantasy 8 is no exception. The game is themed around love, namely, the love between two of the main characters. At times it comes off as a little dopey (well, okay, a LOT dopey), but most of the time Square pulls it off with panache. Sure, the translation could be better, but it could be Xenogears. The plot is terribly convoluted (in a good way), and it will suck you in and not let you out. This is the pinnacle of story over gameplay in the Final Fantasy series, and it shows. FF8's story is superb.

The gameplay itself is great as well, if not the best of the series. Instead of learning magic, you draw it from enemies and store it for later. This sometimes necessitates fighting enemies over and over to get all of their magic, but it generally doesn't take all that long. You also have Guardian Forces, which are effectively super-Summons, that level up and learn new abilities as the game goes along. Even with the overlong animations, the GFs are a great idea that is implemented quite well.

The genius of Final Fantasy 8 comes from the Junction system. Spells can be junctioned to various abilities, determined by the GFs you have Junctioned to each character. When you junction a spell, it raises or lowers that stat accordingly. There are tons of ways to do this, in an attempt to make the optimal character, and different areas require different junctioning. In a fire area, you'll want to junction Ice. Vice versa for snow areas. Excellent idea, beautifully executed.

Oh, yeah. Monsters no longer drop cash. Instead, you get a salary from SeeD (whom you work for) after a certain number of steps. Intriguing.

Once you figure out what you need to do in FF8, and get the Junction system down, the game's not very hard at all. The Final Fantasy games never were, really, with the possible exception of FFIV. You don't play it for the difficulty, though. You play it for the gameplay and story, and FF8 has it in spades.

Game Mechanics:
The controls in FF8 are spot on, with the Analog working even better than the D-Pad. The menus are crisp and understandable, the battles fun, if longish, the storyline engrossing. Despite the few flaws inherent in the system, mainly because of trying to do a whole lot of new things at once, Final Fantasy 8 is an excellent game. Fans of the genre or the series could never go wrong picking FF8 up.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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