Super Retroid: Final Fantasy VIII

Who doesn’t love a nice stroll down memory lane? TGR does, so we’re bringing you our Super Retroid feature, where our staff members wax nostalgic as they discuss some of the games that have most affected them throughout their gaming careers. From discovery to comradery to emotional impact, each of these games have been uniquely significant and hold a special place in our hearts.

You select "New Game" and are almost immediately met with a vision of a sandy beach. The tide is rolling in and out while a cloudless sky lights the landscape. A chorus of women begin to sing quietly, "Ethos. Lusec. Wecos. Venosec." The music peaks and the frantic playing of a symphony triggers a shift; the view slides away from the beach, across the ocean, and moves to a grassy plain where a young woman in blue stands amongst the wildflowers. Snippets of dialog flash by along the way, beginning with the cryptic message, "I’ll be here." All the while the music is blaring in a symphonic overload that hints at the drama to come.

For many fans of role playing games, the defining moment of their gaming life was the death of Aeris (or is it Aerith now, who knows?). I had a friend who had a similar experience. He would come in each day ranting and raving about how awesome Final Fantasy VII was. One time in seventh grade English class, we were assigned to write a short story and he, betting correctly that our teacher knew nothing about video games, rewrote the bombing mission from the beginning of the game.

Final Fantasy VIII

I, on the other hand, would have to wait a while for a game to get me into RPGs. I was a Nintendo man in youth, raised on the NES and SNES. The biggest moment of my childhood was getting an N64, and when I was finally drawn into RPGs and the Final Fantasy series, it wasn’t Cloud and Sephiroth who caught my attention. I picked up Final Fantasy VIII on a whim. I had just inherited my brother’s PS2 and was paying a visit to the EB Games. I liked to browse the PS1 games back then because I had little money and the PS2 games were too expensive. I came across FFVIII, and remembering how my friend had raved about FFVII, I decided to give it a shot.

Looking at the game today, it’s hard not to consider its flaws. The battle system, the enemies that level up with you, and of course that wretched plot twist wherein all the main characters somehow knew each other from the same orphanage but then up and forgot about it. That being said, from the first time I played, through today when I have had many, many game experiences to compare it to, it is still one of my favorite games. There are some elements of it that have just never been tarnished for me, despite its notable problems. Being a bit of a sap, the central romance still strikes home with me. Many have criticized the game for its close focus on Squall, and the way it leaves many of the characters as mere archetypes to fill your party ranks. That said, I always appreciated that centralized view, and enjoyed the way it gave us a front row seat to Squall’s development–albeit clumsy at times–from a strong, silent stereotype to an open and caring leader.

Final Fantasy VIII - Squall Leonheart

And while a game certainly can’t survive off of the quality of a few individual moments and set pieces, FFVIII has some pretty spectacular ones. The opening, the assassination attempt, the battle between the two gardens; there are just so many exhilaratingly well done moments to choose from in this game. The ending is probably, despite it’s age, still one of the most beautiful uses of full motion video ever featured in a video game. Even the summons, a typical part of the Final Fantasy repertoire for years before FFVIII came along, are spectacles, themselves.

When most people think of Final Fantasy, the first things that often come to mind are busters swords, busty Tifa, and young women being impaled by white-haired dudes. For me it’s always been gunblades. Final Fantasy VIII isn’t the pinnacle of gaming for me. I have played better games since, even within the Final Fantasy series itself–we’ll discuss FFVI another day–but it is essentially the game that cemented me as a lifelong, hardcore gamer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pay YouTube a visit. I need my fix.

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