Final Fantasy VIII - Demo Impressions - Part 2

RPGamer gets down and delves deeply into the demo's details

By Brian Glick, RPGamer Writer

Square Preview 3
Choose your Dose-'O-Squaresoft

   Final Fantasy VII's first demo was something to get actively excited about. With the first real glimpse at the PlayStation's first Final Fantasy, gamers and the media were sampled with a treat of what the game would essentially feel like. And when the final release hit the shelves in Japan, players discovered how the demo was just that; a demonstration, with the actual title being far above expectations.

   If history repeats itself, Final Fantasy VIII is something to get very excited about. The demo is a tour de force of amazing visuals, immersive gameplay, and from what we've read so far, the storyline shows a remarkable amount of promise, despite seeming cliched at times.

   The demo opens with a large, pale moon filling the screen, accompanied by a low, hesitating melody. What appears to be a formation of jet fighters fill the screen, and the "Final Fantasy VIII - Trial Version" logo flashes by. As the screen fades away with undulating ripples, a fleet of small battle ships comes into view. This may seem to indicate that the "jets" were actually the boats viewed from overhead, and the moon was a reflection hovering in the water.

   On one of the boats is our hero, Squall. He looks down at a map containing the battle plans for the shoreline he is quickly approaching. He narrows his eyes, and either seems to remember some sort of battle in his past, or manages to see the war in progress at his destination. The boat smashes through a wall surrounding the beach at their destination, the hamlet of Dollet, and lands on shore. The door opens up, and Squall and his party dash out.

   The first time I observed this scene, with the characters dashing from the boat, I thought that they were rather poorly rendered. Only when they started talking did I realize that they were polygons, and that the scene has transitioned from a CG movie to regular gameplay so seamlessly I hadn't even noticed it. Throughout the demo, the characters move fluidly, with exaggerated expressions and nuances of movement that reveal just how much time the artistic designers and programmers of the game must have spent observing everyday body language (Answer: a lot). This can be seen particularly during CG scenes with the characters fully rendered: attention to detail is so minute that you find yourself watching the way Squall's necklace swings in the air as he jumps for safety, and even the dog in Dollet's plaza moves so realistically that dog lovers will doubtlessly take a liking for the nameless pooch.

Draw in action
The draw command steals magic from foes

   Getting down to gameplay, Final Fantasy VIII excels. At the meat and bones of any RPG is the battle system. Just as every previous Final Fantasy game in the series has done, FF VIII's system has been tweaked and changed. The most dynamic and controversial change is the "draw" system. Characters no longer learn a spell they can cast ad nausem until their magic points dry out -- in fact, FF VIII doesn't have any magic points at all. Magic must be stolen, or "drawn" from your enemies. In the menu, you first select the "draw" command. Choose your enemy, and you're presented with a list of the drawable magic spells. After choosing your spell, you must choose between "Use" (or "Release"), and "Stock." By choosing Use, you immediately cast the spell, using your foe's magical strength. By selecting Stock, however, your turn is used to pull a random number of spells from your enemy, which you can then use later in your typical "Magic" menu option. By choosing to stock magic instead of using it right away, you lose a turn, but you stand the chance of gaining more than one spell which you can then cast with your own potentially greater magical strength than the enemy's. While the demo seemed to have no limitation to the amount of magic you could draw, the final version will most likely have a set amount of magical spells per enemy.

   Keeping the tradition of previous games, summoned monsters are back in the FF VIII demo. Just like in FF VII's demo, you are able to call the twisting, devastating Leviathan, who brings waves and waves of water crashing down upon your foes from a spontaneously created mountain. Since there is no magic point system in the game, by selecting a Guardian Force monster (the term by which summoned monsters are known), your character's speed bar in battle fills with blue and begins decreasing in the opposite direction of the typical speed bar. When the blue bar disappears, your summoner calls the beast. Presumably, stronger summoned monsters will take a longer time to call. Additionally, summoned monsters are expected to gain experience with each summon in the final version, although evidence of that was not found in the demo.

   Final Fantasy VIII seems to keep the "limit break" system of Final Fantasy VII. After a non-visible amount of damage is dealt to a character, an arrow appears beside the typical "fight" command on their next turn, allowing you to select a special attack. If the attack is not used, however, or even if you switch to another character temporarily, the limit break is lost. Additionally, with Squall's unique gunblade, you might think that Squall is a fairly weak character until you discover that by hitting the R1 button just as he begins his downward stroke of the blade, Squall pulls the trigger, releasing extra energy into the blade that deals a great deal more damage.

   Further detail has also been paid to the characters in battle. Character models used are identical to the models outside of battle, meaning high detail. When casting spells, the camera shifts angles quickly, zooming in on the characters at twisting angles and quickly changing shots. While the camera may stay stationary at other times, it seems to move around randomly at times, quickly panning in one moment and offering a totally different perspective at another. When the battle has been won, a variety of different camera paths are followed each time as the focus shifts to the characters. If Squall finished off the enemy, the view might even focus solely on him, ignoring the other two characters' celebrating.

Run, run away!
Dash to escape in the climatic finale

   Getting to the characters themselves, the more realistic character designs are a refreshing change of pace. They are tall and thin (perhaps, too thin), but manage to keep the same type of extreme emotional mannerisms found in FF VII that helped led to its friendly appeal and environment. Zell, for example, is an energetic young man that parallels Sabin from FF VI not only in looks, but also in brashness and wit. Squall exudes a coolness which can't fail to intrigue the player.

   The storyline flows well in the demo. Squall and his companions seem to be on a mission to the town in order to gain entrance to the elite group of the Garden academy known as "SeeD." Throughout the demo, though, a tension-filled rivalry exists between Squall, and the man who seems to be the leader of the mission, Seifer. Seifer's arrogance appears to be fabricated and directed towards Squall, who can barely maintain his tolerance of Seifer. It will be interesting to see what kind of role Seifer plays in the game, in addition to the already promising plot that awaits the player.

   Nobuo Uematsu's music in the demo is varied, although sparse. What's there, however, contains and builds upon the range of emotions, from the mysterious melody at the beginning of the demo to the fast paced, climatic finale at the end. Together with the music, the finale of the demo leaves a very favorable impression upon the player, craftily designed to create even greater anticipation (and higher sales) of the final game.

   Finally, Final Fantasy 8 takes advantage of the Dual Shock controller from Sony. The controller is a must-have for anyone that fully wants to experience the game. While the analog controller only offers you two different movement speeds (walking, and running), you are able to turn and move far more fluidly. Far more importantly, though, is the vibration in the controller. The vibration is handled flawlessly, with extreme detail to magnitude and frequency. Not only does it shake when major spells are cast, and when explosions and rumblings occur during CG scenes, but it also provides vibration to complement the visual feedback when you successfully hit the R1 button at the right time in battle. One annoyance about the controller, however, is that the analog pad is not suited for battles. It should become second nature to simply switch between the D-pad when a battle ensues, and to move back to the analog pad afterwards, though.

   For now, all we can do is sit back and wait until sometime in 1999 for Final Fantasy VIII to reach North America. Will it be worth the wait? Yes. Will it be easy? Most certainly not.

Back to Part 1

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