Brave Fencer Musashi is an average game, but I am man enough to say that it has some features that made it fun in very small doses. It has some unique ideas regarding combat, a silly world, and one of the best boss battles (DANCE OR DIE!!) in an action/RPG. But, the best thing about it is the bonus disc included that gives you a chance to check out a playable demo of Final Fantasy VIII. Oh, you were very clever and crafty, Squaresoft! How dare you make a young gamer purchase a yucky game for the sake of a bonus disc! Like most people in the late 1990s, I bought BVM for the demo that left me hungry for more Final Fantasy goodness. Oddly enough, what I eventually got in Final Fantasy VIII was a weird mixture of good and bad. It’s easy to see why this is the other candidate for black sheep of the Final Fantasy family.
One thing that remains true to the FF name is a great look and great soundtrack. For the first time in the series, Final Fantasy VIII has realistically sized characters that push the Playstation’s power to the max and vocally powerful opening theme. The in-game graphics, coupled with nearly an hour of stunning CG movies, make this one of the best looking RPGs on the system. It is also one of the most creative settings that mixes fantasy, reality and a bit of science fiction. As you explore this bizarre world, you’ll be listening to some great compositions by Nobuo Uematsu. My personal favorite of these is Man With The Machine Gun, an intense and in your face boss theme that makes the fight much more exciting. By now, everyone should know what to expect with the music when it comes to a Final Fantasy title. In all my years of playing these, I have never once been let down.
Unfortunately, a good chunk of the aspects in Final Fantasy VIII did let me down. After following Cloud Strife’s epic quest, I was ready to explore something of similar caliber with Squall Leonhardt, the protagonist of our story. To start, I will say that the overall plot in FFVIII is entertaining. It starts with Squall, a mercenary candidate for the group known as SeeD, fighting his rival and overall jerk-face, Seifer Almasy. After they both recover from their wounds, Squall is told to assist the country of Dollet by preventing an invasion from the country of Galbadia. Guiding lone-wolf Squall is the gorgeous, prodigal Quistis Trepe. Squall is joined by other candidates. First, there is Zell Dincht, a martial artist. Then, there is Selphie Tilmitt, the most annoying thing ever to exist. Er…a spunky girl who likes locomotives. Later in the game, Squall meets the sharpshooter, Irvine Kinneas, as well as the heroine of the story, Rinoa Heartilly. This large cast of characters, and then some, make the world of FFVIII so believable. Each character has something to contribute to the quest as they try to put a stop to the misdeeds of an evil sorceress named Edea. The most endearing aspect of the story is the romance that develops between Squall and the lovely Rinoa. Squall is a totally aloof, but that changes as he gets to know the carefree Rinoa.
This is where the fun ends, though. Well, no, that might be a bit harsh. Final Fantasy VIII takes risks and, as expected, not all risks ended up working out in the end. The game is different than what most expect from this legendary franchise. As Squall and his team travel the world, they will find towns and dungeons and other locations to explore. But, don’t go into the shops expecting to buy weapons. Instead, you need to collect raw materials from monsters to craft your weapons. The sad thing is that each character only gets a handful. Speaking of monsters, let’s take a look at this bizarre battle system, shall we? Battles still happen at random and utilize the ATB system. However, characters have more at their disposal than the ability to attack and such. The first thing you’ll notice is that Draw option. This lets you draw magic spells from enemies. That’s right, instead of learning magic from level ups, Espers or Materia, you have to draw magic in quantities from monsters. At times, you’ll find Draw Points throughout the world that have some magic spells, too. Your characters can stock 100 uses of a certain spell at a time.
It’s a unique idea that does away with the typical magic points system, but there are some draw backs. The biggest one is the Junction system. Characters can equip summon spirits, known as Guardian Forces. Guardian Forces come with abilities. Now, as you play the monster mash and battle the beasties in FFVIII, you will earn Ability Points that help “level up” the GFs. These abilities are either passive or active. The active abilities can be used as commands in battle, but you can only have a select amount. With GFs equipped, characters stats gain an increase. You then have the option to junction the spells I just mentioned to your GFs. Thus, the more spells you junction, the more powerful you become. While it sounds like it could lead to unlimited customization, it ends up making each character the exact same. Sure, Squall might deal more physical damage than Selphie or Quistis, but the overall growth of each character means nothing thanks to the Junction system. Another downside is that the Junction system kind of forces you to not use your magic. The less spells you have, the lower the stats. Since Final Fantasy VIII can be a tricky game, you will want to be as strong as possible. Monster strength grows as your characters grow. Furthermore, the traditional leveling system has been replaced. Now, earning 1000 experience points will earn your character a level up. Still, a level up is nothing compared to how ruthless you can potentially become with your GFs and the Junction system. I view it as hit or miss, but some things remain a hit. Limit Breaks have made a splendid return and now call for timed button presses. Watching your characters summon massively powerful spirits like Shiva, Ifrit and Siren is entertaining, as expected.
Truthfully, Final Fantasy VIII is a fun game. My problem with it is that the Junction system makes the game either mindlessly easy or mind-bogglingly hard. Also, if you were to exploit the card mini-game Trial Triad, you could break the game while still in the beginning. Creativity is not lacking in Final Fantasy VIII. Sometimes, the creativity shines thanks to a gorgeous look, a gorgeous soundtrack, and a story with characters you can care about. Other times, the creativity appears dull due to random battles and the fact that you have to craft your weapons. And then there are times when the creativity didn’t pan out as planned due to the Guardian Forces and the Junction system. All that said, I still recommend Final Fantasy VIII. Despite my gripes with it, I enjoyed it thoroughly and will give Squaresoft kudos for taking a chance to try new things.