Being born in a small European country in 1989, you could say I'm from Playstation era. European video game industry was never as big as the Japanese or North American, so we missed a lot of content here (and still do). However, despite lacking many of their titles, Squaresoft was a constant name in our shops, and was the responsible for my getting into the genre, as is the case with many more RPG enthusiasts. One of my first games, and very first RPG, was Final Fantasy VIII.
I was very young back then, and being completely unfamiliar with such things, I bought this game for the incredible fact that it had 4 CDs! A very irrelevant factor when it comes to the selection of good video games, but what do you want? I was a mesmerized kid by the shining irresistible box! I'm glad that my fantastic selection methods worked like that back in the days, as it was the indirect trigger to my passion for RPGs. FFVIII would then catapult me to the Final Fantasy series, which in turn led me to branch into "similar" games.
Final Fantasy VIII was produced by square in 1999 and published in North America by Square EA at the time, the result of a partnership between Square and Electronic Arts for marketing purposes. Following the smashing success of Final Fantasy VII, Square quickly put out there another game following the main series of their golden franchising, while having Final Fantasy IX already on the works! I guess the guys at Square were full of ideas.
Final Fantasy VIII was financial success, becoming a top seller everywhere, even if it could never achieve the smashing unprecedented success of its predecessor. Despite this reception, the game did receive many complains from fans, since it deviated a lot from the traditional gameplay, being most of this discontentment associated with the Draw and Junction systems of the game.
Delving a little into the mechanics of the game now, contrary to the other titles and the traditional way in which magic works in RPGs, FFVIII didn't rely or mana, nor did it even mention the concept. In this game, magic is drawn from enemies and draw points (like magic sources emanating from the ground), and stocked inside the character that has drawn it! I imagine it as ammunition, but stored in one's mind. Since magic wasn't learned and was stockable and spendable like an item, this infuriated many fans of the series and RPG games in general. It was an offense to the genre! This didn't affect me at all, because being this game my first contact with a RPG, I couldnt' feel the difference.
Following the Draw system, we have the Junction System. This was a very detailed and a complex way to customise your characters and make them stronger, and another part of the game that displeased fans. Some complained for being too complex, some for being completely broken. Both statements are within reason, as this system could really be very intimidating for a beginner starting the game (it was for me), making him stray away from it and face numerous difficulties through the game, as it could completely and utterly take the challenge of the game, since it allowed early configurations that could make the characters strong enough for the end game.
Credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/How did it work? The player would simply junction the stocked magic to the statuses of the character through the Junction Menu. Some types of magic would greatly improve strength, others vitality, and so on. This made levels irrelevant, as the bonuses gained by a well-placed 100 Magic in a certain stat compared to level gains was tremendous. Stocked magic could also be used to add effects to weapons, or to protect your character from status inducing spells or elemental magic. This would be another important factor to the game, as FFVIII does not have equipment that you can buy or loot. The character's weapons would be upgraded with items in Junk Shops instead, while junctioned magic would serve as their armor.
GF (Guardian Forces)
Credit: http://retrofiends.com/Now one of the coolest parts of the game, GFs! GF refers to Guardian Force, part of a group of entities that can be considered to be the summons of this Final Fantasy entry. However, GFs were much more than this, they were your main weapon and the source of your power. Think of them as being part of the character, since your entire party can equip them. In fact, GFs are an integrant part of the game's plot, everyone supposedly could use them, monsters and people alike, and many were trained to use them in battle. The main group of contracted mercenaries that drive the plot forward rely almost solely on the proficiency with GFs. This is the player basically.
Each GF can be used as a summon, but their real purpose is that of giving the character commands, junction abilities, skills and stat upgrades. Without a GF, you have practically nothing, only the ability to attack with your weapon and your levels, almost insignificant parts of your arsenal. The true bulk of one character's power lies in its ability to equip various GFs and make use of their different skills. Although the characters of Final Fantasy don't have an oriented class, the early use of GFs could define their roles in battle, as some GFs are more inclined to Strength, some to Magic, etc.
Credit: http://www.aaerda.net/The number of GFs you can find in FFVIII is quite large! Some of them are given to you as a base to your initial battle arsenal; while others you find through the course of the game by fighting them as sub-bosses to prove your might and ability to have their powers; others are in the possession of story bosses and can be "stolen" by using the Draw command, while more elusive ones can be gotten only by special means. There is no best GF in the game, many of them share common traits, but most provide unique skills or abilities to the character that equips it.
Credit: http://chupakabr.ru/Similar to its legendary predecessor, FFVIII is set in a futuristic world, where nations are driven forward by military power and advanced technologies. Fighting mechas, floating structures, cities in the middle of the ocean and space travel are some examples of what can be found in the game. You start in a small continent island, though, far from the big nations that occupy most of the game world's territory. After the incredible FMV intro of the game, that introduces the main character and his rival, while giving you a glimpse of the epic story, you begin your humble journey in the infirmary of Balamb Garden. This is a tranquil place, where the melancholic music and curious atmosphere give you a true sense of beginning, in a beautifully and interesting scenario that actually makes you want to explore.
The main character is Squall, a revolted teen that could be considered an emo main character, who is also bittersweet and anti-social. He is always being provoked by his rival Seifer, a punk who likes te tease and show-off. Both of them are Gunblade specialists, and are studying in a kind of military school that trains GF specialized mercenaries called SeeDs, an elite unit sent in various missions through out the world. What initially starts with the SeeD exam for Squall and his party, quickly turns into a journey that will take the group through wars between nations, rebellious groups standing for independence and improbable romance. The true purpose of SeeD will ultimately be revealed, and will take them into a battle against the most powerful and dangerous enemy of all, Edea. She is the current era all-powerful Sorceress, and the puppeteer who is behind the main events of the world.