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Japanese culture is weird. The proof? Vending machines that sell used underwear to ageing businessmen and ultra-violent cartoons featuring schoolgirls with huge eyes and misogynistic predators. It’s not all bad, though.
Final Fantasy VII was responsible for bringing RPGs to the masses and now the sequel to the game that sold millions on the PlayStation and a couple of hundred on the PC is back to swallow your spare time. Unless you’re particularly good or especially bad at these games, you can expect to complete it in about 50 hours.
And, in those 50 hours you can expect to be gobsmacked by the visuals which have been sharpened up for the PC release this time round , gripped by the amazing storyline, and left cold by the feeling that you’re not actually having to do a great deal to progress.
A few things have changed since the last outing. As well as providing x visuals, the graphics are more conventional and Western in style and there’s a distinct lack of cutesy surreal Japanese-ness, which is going to be good news for some us included and a source of distinct discomfort for other, may we say younger, players.
Also, there’s a new Junction system that provides access to magic and the extremely powerful Guardian Forces. Squaresoft has tried to make this seem as complicated as possible, and if you can get a solid handle on the concept by sitting through the on-screen tutorials, then you’re better men than us. It took us about an hour of solid head scratching before we realised that there wasn’t actually anything to it.
The process goes as follows: obtain a Guardian Force and you get the option to Junction various abilities such as Magic, Draw used to obtain magic spells from either a Draw Point or an enemy in battle , Item and GF summon the beastie itself. As you move through the game you’re given access to more powerful magic, and as well as the characters levelling-up, your GFs do as well, learning new abilities in the process and improving their hit point tally for they can suffer the humiliating KO as well.
The fact that your GFs can take damage instead of you, when their summon-bar is charging down, adds another tactical element to the fights. That’s about it though. If you’re looking for a radical overhaul, you won’t find it here. It’s still blatantly obvious that Final Fantasy VIII has originated from a console and anyone who says otherwise is talking from the wrong end.
The peculiar control system is still present and correct, and the dialogue boxes look like they’ve been ported across from the SNES.
It doesn’t affect the quality of the game itself, but it’s lazy programming and completely at odds with the cut-scenes that are by far the best we’ve seen on the PC, ever. And we mean ever. Square must have commandeered every single workstation in Japan and had them running 24×7 for a couple of years to end up with as much quality footage as they have here.
Then there’s the story. It starts off as wet as a puddle, with too much slop and sentiment, but you just know it’s going to improve. Flashbacks mix with dream sequences and character betrayals to provide more plot twists than the entire archive of Tales Of The Unexpected.
You genuinely care about the characters you’re playing and although Squall, the central hero, is a bit of an arse, you still get attached to him. And, if you don’t get out much – and you won’t once you start playing this game – then Rinoa and Selphie should provide fuel for your fantasies. Although admitting attraction to animated characters is not something we approve of.
We’re not giving away the plot. If you want to know what happens, you’re going to have to be prepared to invest 50 hours of your valuable time repeatedly hitting the ‘x’ key on your keyboard. Are we being a bit harsh on the gameplay? For the first ten hours of the game you can’t put a foot wrong. Battles are too easy and it’s impossible to wander away from the all-important storyline. Progress through the second CD and fights start to level out and you’re likely to see the ‘Game Over’ legend appear on your screen a few times.
This uproots another problem: if you’ve played FFVII you will know that the summon spells take a long time to brew. Fight someone powerful and you’re likely to spend half an hour watching the most OTT spells that the Japanese have ever invented. We’d have to repeat the line “it gets repetitive” about 1, times to get the point across properly. Please: if you code a Final Fantasy IX, and we think you will, then let us escape from these time-wasters with a hot-key.
If you want to sit through a minute batde that consists of 37 minutes of the same animation playing over and over again, then that’s your business, but we’ve got better things to do with our time.
Also gone are the humorous and surreal sub-games, such as the motorbike chase and the Chocobo race. Throughout the whole of the first two COs, the best we got was a quick round of ‘turn the wheel to open the hatch’.
To win you have to hit the ‘a’ key repeatedly for ten seconds. Talk about dumbing down. And these are two words that you’re going to be muttering under your breath if you’ve played any of the respected RPGs from the Black Isle stable – Planescape.
Torment in particular. However, we’re well aware that there are a lot of people who like linear adventures and if this is you, then you cant do better than this. And despite all the criticisms that we’ve levelled at the game, we were still strangely addicted from the moment the first risible strains of music started spewing from our speakers.
The quality of the graphics which are better than sex in places and the amazing storyline are the chief culprits, but Final Fantasy VIII goes beyond that. The best analogy we can use is the elder relative that comes to stay at Christmas: you’re always willing to ignore the embarrassing bits because you love what’s underneath. With a cohesive, engrossing story line and graphics that raise the bar higher than ever before, Pinal Fantasy VIII will immerse gamers in the promised land of role-playing nirvana.
What’s new? Aside from hand-to-hand fighting capabilities, FFVIII introduces Guardian Force GF Cards, or spells, to give you an edge in your quest Also new for FFVIII are vehicles and trains that provide travel options other than your characters feet– but at a cost Furthermore, you’ll marvel at the daytime and nighttime settings that lend a long-absent note of realism to the Final Fantasy fantasy realm.
Just like FFVII, you’re allowed only three characters in your battle party, and each are armed with a unique weapon. FFVIII introduces a new combat system, however–you don’t have to mess with weapon, armor, or equipment menus.
Instead, nearly every initial character-attribute is modified through the GF Card Junction system, which lets you tie magic stocks to your statistics. The GF Cards must be equipped for your character to have any options during battle besides attack. These cards also give your characters various special abilities, which are built up using AP points as in Final Fantasy Tactics. The only drawback is that the Cards are far too powerful early in the game, making it easy to win battles.
During gameplay, the polygonal characters are almost completely integrated into the CG surroundings with only a slight drop in graphical detail. Although the backgrounds are pre-rendered, they’re filled with excellent details and moving elements that make them more realistic-looking. Another cool touch the character weapons that visually change every time your attack level is upgraded.
Plus, the music fits the action perfectly, from the rousing battle overtures to the beautiful melodies that underscore the dramatic dialogue. Of course, we were right there to snag one of the first copies of the demo, and now we’re back with an updated preview of Square’s incredible new RPG sequel. First, some background on the story. Not much has been revealed yet, but here’s what we do know. There’s a strangely shaped building in the game that serves as a school for soldiers sort of like West Point–see issue , page The school is called Garden.
Squall Leonhart, one of the game’s main characters and main character in the demo version is one of the trainees of the school. It’s a private school for students between six and 19 years of age. If a student doesn’t pass the graduation exam at some point between the ages of 15 and 19, he or she will be expelled from Garden. Garden graduates are exceptional people, and possess the ability to use magic. An even harder goal than merely passing the graduation exam, however, is to become a member of SeeD, a special force that’s known around the world of FFVIII.
Highly capable trainees have a chance to try out for SeeD, and that’s exactly what Squall is hoping for. The demo itself titled “Escape from Dollet” contains only a very small portion of Final Fantasy Vlll’s gamepiay–no more than an hour or so at most.
The demo involves Squall and two new characters, Zell Dincht and Rinoa Heartilly–all SeeD candidates–taking part in a mission from Garden with their squad leader, the mysterious Seifer Almasy. Toward the end of the demo, they receive orders to withdraw from their mission and meet at the coast, which is when the timer kicks in just like in the FFVII demo , and they’re given 15 minutes to get the hell outta Dollet.
Even though it’s rather short, the demo makes for a great teaser. The world graphics are beautiful, the animation is even better than it was in FFVII, and the game’s integration with FMV is remarkable–it’s nearly flawless. The ending in particular is awesome.
The in-game characters look much more realistic this time, though the texture mapping makes for some pixelization when viewed up close. As we said in our last preview, you now see all party members at all times during the game instead of them just coming out during event scenes, as was the case in all previous FF games. Since the game supports Sony’s Dual Shock analog controller, you can adjust your characters’ walking speeds from a subtle tip-toe to a full-on dash, depending on how hard you press the analog stick.
Vibration is supported too, both in and out of battle scenes you can turn it off if you wish, of course. Even the music is excellent, though there’s not too much of it in the demo. Gameplay-wise, there are two new battle commands that have been revealed in the demo.
Here’s how it works: In the demo, you have three party members the entire time who go into battle: Squall, Zell and Rinoa. Squall and Zell both have a “Draw” command in their Command Menu.
This allows them to “Draw” magic from their enemies and either “Use” it immediately, or “Stock” it for later use. In the demo, you can Draw as often as you wish, and there doesn’t seem to be any limit to how much magic you can carry or steal. This isn’t exactly a good thing, as you could just run around getting into random encounters to massively build up your stock of magic spells; but then again, this is only a demo. We’re sure the final game will have some sort of limit to how this works to keep the gameplay balanced.
Rinoa, on the other hand, has a command called “G. This seems to be the replacement for Summoning Magic, which has always been a staple of the FF series. Guardian Force acts much like a Summon spell did in FFVII–you select the command, choose a monster the demo version lets you choose Leviathan , and the monster comes and wreaks havoc on your opposition in an intense animation filled with blinding flashes of light and all sorts of incredible special effects.
You’ll be able to evolve your Guardian Force monsters as they gain experience, so they can grow and become more powerful throughout play. In the demo, Squall and Zell both get special attacks that become available after they take a certain amount of damage.
Zell’s is called Meteo Bullet, and it’s a pretty cool attack that does a huge amount of damage. Squall’s is called Renzokuken Sequential Sword Attack , and there are three different forms of it–each has its own special Limit Meter. On the meter are little triangles; as the meter fills up during the attack, you can increase the damage done by pressing Ri every time the bar crosses over one of the triangles.