Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: The 10th Anniversary of Final Fantasy VIII
Editor's Note: In recognition of the tenth anniversary of one of the most controversial -- and possibly misunderstood -- entries in one of the most significant video game series in history, Silicon Sasquatch will spend the next month examining Final Fantasy VIII and its legacy. Frequent podcast guest Tyler Martin starts us off with a foreword:
How do you produce a follow-up to the biggest RPG of the 20th century? Square had barely any time to answer this question. Development on the seventh sequel to a series that wasn’t expected to outlast its initial outing began shortly after the American localization of Final Fantasy VII, a game that radically altered the perception of the franchise as well as the entire genre. It wouldn’t be enough for Square to maintain the status quo: Final Fantasy VII reinvented the series as one that promised an audiovisual tour-de-force. Final Fantasy VIII needed to be bigger and better to hold the attention of gamers who ordinarily wouldn’t step near a R-P-G that didn’t stand for rocket-propelled grenade. For better or for worse, Square accomplished its goal of creating a larger and technically superior sequel to Final Fantasy VII.
FFVIII carried over many trends from FFVII. It maintained a more modern setting with cars, guns and computers; more physically realistic avatars; an angst-ridden, sword(ish)-wielding protagonist; and a villain’s theme song that features Latin chanting. The intro cinematic alone gave fans, especially those who first encountered the series with Cloud’s epic, a comfortable blanket of familiarity. Almost nothing is static in the Final Fantasy series, however, and Final Fantasy VIII is no different. New to the series were: a junction-based magic system; Guardian Forces, which were essential to combat as more than just summon-spells; and the Triple Triad card minigame, also known as the greatest side attraction in the history of the series -- blitzball, eat your heart out.
It is unfortunate that the primary complaints upon Final Fantasy VIII’s reception were its most original ideas. The battle system was tedious and easily exploited by endgame, and even the generally awe-inducing limit breaks were no longer reliable but seemingly random when the character’s health was in dire straits. Perhaps most vilified was the story, which holds a heavy-handed theme of love -- a bold new direction for games in the late ‘90s but melodramatic nonetheless. The official logo for Final Fantasy VIII features primary protagonists Squall & Rinoa in a loving embrace -- a slightly less marketable image than FFVII’s ominous meteor.
However, Final Fantasy VIII isn't quite the black sheep of the series (that would be FFII with its SaGa-style leveling system.) The game sold phenomenally well, even by Square standards, and gave PlayStation owners an epic, graphically amazing role-playing game that overcame any fears the Dreamcast, released on the same day as FFVIII, would overthrow Sony’s grey box.
Throughout the month of September we’ll be playing through Final Fantasy VIII again. While it may lack the same veneer it held when we were thirteen years old, we’ll be happily discussing any whimsical nostalgia and sighs & grunts exerted from having to get up off the couch to change discs.