Game Corner: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered (Xbox One)

GameCorner
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Released: September 2019
Originally Released: February 1999
Developer: Square Enix
Original Developer: Square
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4. PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita

The Background:
So, everyone knows about Final Fantasy VII (Square, 1997); it’s one of the definitive role-playing games (RPGs) and one of, if not the, most popular titles in he Final Fantasy series, selling over twelve million copies worldwide and making its way onto many “top ten” lists over the years. But what about the inevitable sequel? Where does Final Fantasy VIII land in the grand scheme of things? Developed during the localisation of its predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII marked the first time that the Japanese and American teams collaborated on a Final Fantasy title. Like pretty much every single numbered Final Fantasy title, Final Fantasy VIII wasn’t a sequel to Final Fantasy VII but, rather, an entirely new title, set in a new world, with new characters and events taking place, which may have been jarring for those whose only experience with the franchise was Final Fantasy VII. I first played Final Fantasy VIII on the PlayStation 3, immediately after finishing Final Fantasy VII on the same system, and found it to be a dramatic step up in terms of graphics, gameplay mechanics, and features. Where Final Fantasy VII felt like Square where just dipping their toes into the world of 3D and polygonal graphics, Final Fantasy VIII featured far more detailed character models, environments, and graphics overall, resembling titles like Resident Evil 2 (Capcom, 19998) and Parasite Eve (Square, 1999). It also helps that I really like the design and characterisation of the game’s protagonist, the stoic loner Squall Leonhart, and enjoy the game’s more science-fiction-inspired aesthetic. Yet, Final Fantasy VIII is often the subject of criticism, whether due to the dramatic visual and gameplay alterations I takes or simply because of how influential Final Fantasy VII was, but is this a fair assessment of the game or is there more on offer in this under-rated classic?

The Plot:
The main plot of Final Fantasy VIII revolves around Squall, who has recently graduated from the Balamb Garden military training program and has become a member of SeeD, the elite mercenaries of this world. When the time-travelling sorceress Ultimecia attempts to possess the gorgeous Rinoa Heartilly and manipulates the characters and events in her quest to “compress time” so that she can become an immortal Goddess, Squall is forced to team up with his fellow SeeD graduates and to reconcile his fractured memories and feelings for Rinoa, all while butting heads with his rival, Seifer Almasy.

Gameplay:
Essentially, Final Fantasy VIII plays very similar to its predecessor and other Final Fantasy titles from this time, being a turn-based RPG with a large overworld populated by innumerable non-playable characters (NPCs) and littered with a varied of monsters to battle to gain experience points (EXP). Players take on the role of Squall, who one of only two party members you can rename this time around, and journey across the world map battling enemies, recruiting Guardian Forces (GFs) to his cause, and engaging in a number of side quests and mini games as he goes.

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Make your choice quickly or you’ll take damage.

When you’re not in one of the game’s towns, many of which incorporate a lot of futuristic technology, you’re travelling across the world map and every other step puts you at risk of being sucked into a random battle encounter. Like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII uses an Active-Time Battle (ATB) system that, unless switched off in the menu, means you’ll take damage from your foes while you select your move. If you choose to attack, you’ll run forwards and deliver a blow, whittling your opponents health points (HP) down until they are defeated and earning you some EXP, items, and Gil (the in-game currency).

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Draw magic from enemies and either stock it for later or cast it right away.

One of the most controversial aspects of Final Fantasy VIII is the way it complex way it handles magic and Summons; the only way to learn new magic and to restore your magic points (MP) outside of resting at an inn or with items is to use the games “Draw” system. Selecting “Draw” (or visiting a “Draw” point) will have your character literally draw magic and MP from their foe and you’ll be given the choice to either cast that magic or stock it for later use. This effectively means that you can never run out of MP as you can keep sucking it out of your enemies, meaning that you’re never running around looking for an inn or shop to buy Ethers and Elixirs to restore your MP. Personally, I love this system because it eliminates this stress; you can have different characters “Draw” and specialise in different magic, effectively allowing you to customise your party as you see fit. Final Fantasy VIII calls its Summons “Guardian Forces” (or “GFs”); you can use “Draw” to acquire new GFs but, for the most part, you’ll have to battle and defeat GFs in order to recruit them and Squall’s first mission is to do just that with Final Fantasy mainstay, Ifrit. Once you have a GF, you have to “Junction” it to a character; this allows you to summon the GF in battle to deal powerful attacks, buff your character’s stats, and gives you access to other magic and benefits.

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Use the “Junction” mechanic to increase your stats and abilities in battle.

Effectively, this system is very similar to the Materia system used in Final Fantasy VII; each GF allows you to increase your character’s stats and inflict or resist certain status effects and they even level-up, unlocking new attacks, attributes, and increasing in power, just like Materia. This is pretty much a mandatory mechanic in Final Fantasy VIII since can’t even use your magic or even items without Junctioning a GF as these are commands you can only assign once a GF has been Junctioned to a character. Furthermore, if you want to gain buffs to your stats (like increased HP, strength, speed, or whatever), you need to win battles to earn AP so that your GFs can learn these techniques; similarly, if you want to gain HP whilst walking, reduce (or eliminate) random battles, or even haggle with the game’s various shops to receive a discount, you’ll need that AP. Some of these techniques take less AP than others but, to access the best abilities, you’ll need to earn a lot of AP and, once you have them, you’ll be switching on the fly between different commands depending on what you’re doing. Now, don’t get me wrong, all these gameplay mechanics are very confusing; it doesn’t help that, for the first hour or so of the game, you’re constantly lectured about each new mechanic, how to use it, what it means, and the best way to get the most out of the “Junction” system. In comparison, it seemed like information abut Materia and levelling up and Summons was spread out much more effectively in Final Fantasy VII but, despite that, it’s not that difficult to wrap your head around the “Junction” system…as long as you think of it as being an altered form of Materia and the “Draw” mechanic means you never have to worry about running out of MP, so don’t stress over nothing.

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Unleash your Limit Break to deal massive damage.

The “Limit Break” system returns, albeit in a slightly altered form; rather than triggering as your party takes damage and a meter builds up, you potentially gain access to your Limit Break when your character’s health drops low enough, making it more of a last-ditch desperation attack. Whereas the Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VII were largely automatic, here you can choose to interact with the Limit Breaks if you wish; for example, pressing R1 at the right time as Squall attacks with his “Renzokuken” Limit Break delivers additional damage and you’ll be required to press different button combinations to perform different attacks when performing Zell Dincht’s “Duel” Limit Break. You can perform additional, more powerful blows and flourishes when performing a Limit Break by equipping different weapons, reading documents, or acquiring certain items. Interestingly, Final Fantasy VIII features a unique twist on the random battle formula in that the enemies you encounter dynamically increase in strength and difficulty as your party levels-up. in addition, you’ll also level-up every time you time you acquire 1000 EXP points, meaning that you can, effectively become massively overpowered in the early portions of the game with very little effort at all. I prefer to play the game as I play every Final Fantasy and RPG, however, progressing the plot and grinding levels in-between towns and around new areas, meaning I never experienced any advantages or issues with this system.

FF8RMiniGames
A few awkward, button-mashing mini games appear during the course of the game’s story.

You can use magic or items to heal your characters or remove status effects; you also have to heal your GFs as they can also take damage from enemies. Once again, you can only save on the overworld or at specific save points; if you die, you get a game over and have to reload your last save file, so it’s recommended that you save often and heal up at inns whenever you can. You’ll also be tasked with completing a series of awkward mini games; I don’t know what it is about the 3D Final Fantasy titles and having these odd button-mashing sequences shoe-horned in but they can be pretty annoying simply because of how vague the game is about how you’re actually supposed to complete these mini games. Rather than purchasing new weapons, Final Fantasy VIII features a crafting system, of sorts; as you explore the world, you’ll find copies of Weapons Monthly magazine, which contains blueprints that detail the items and gear you’ll need to craft stronger weapons for each character. In order to obtain each character’s most powerful weapon, you’ll need to travel all over the world battling specific monsters and enemies to acquire these items; you can use your GFs abilities to steal these items or increase the odds of them appearing and, once you have them, you can visit a weapon shop to get your upgrade. It’s worth noting, however, that you don’t actually need to read the Weapons Monthly magazines to acquire these upgrades and, with the right amount of patience and a lot of grinding, you can actually acquire Squall’s ultimate weapon, the Lion Heart, on the game’s first disc.

FF8RSquallRinoa
Squall and Rinoa’s relationship forms the core of the game’s story.

As in every Final Fantasy game, narrative and characterisation are the driving force of the game’s complex story. While every main character has an arc of some kind and their own unique characteristics, at its core, Final Fantasy VIII is a love story first and foremost and a battle against a malignant time-travelling sorceress second and it is therefore Squall who undergoes to most dramatic changes as the plot unfolds. Beginning as a stoic loner, he learns to not only emote and open himself up more, but the bulk of the game’s main theme is centred around his growing affection for Rinoa and his acceptance of his love for her and the friendships he has formed. Unfortunately, though, the other playable characters don’t get quite the same focus; none of them have sub-plots or explicit character arcs and, thanks to the game’s emphasis on more realistic character models, the six main playable characters lack a lot of the same aesthetic appeal as those seen in Final Fantasy VII; Squall has a bad-ass look and Zell resembles an anime character but, even though characters like Quistis Trepe have recognisable traits (she struggles with her failure as a teacher), they don’t make an impact in the same way as the likes of Barret Wallace or Vincent Valentine and I struggled to settle on my preferred team. I ended up going with Squall, Irvine, and Rinoa but there were aspects about this line-up that continued to irk me; Irvine’s Limit Break, for example, requires you to buy or craft ammo and Rinoa’s “Angel Wing” Limit Break is useful but only if your swap around her magic and can deal with losing control of her once you select it.

FF8RLaguna
Laguna’s side story fleshes out the game’s world and lore.

Final Fantasy VIII expands upon its world, characters, and narrative by including an entire sub-plot with three additional, playable characters. At various points throughout the game, your party will mysteriously fall asleep and assume to roles of Laguna Loire, Kiros Seagill, and Ward Zabac. These older, more seasoned characters are a battle-tested team and contrast with Squall and his relatively young and untested group. Through their side story, which takes place about seventeen years in the past, we learn about a lot of the events that factor into Squall’s characterisation and the way this world works. The SeeDs are mercenaries trained to perform a wide variety of jobs but, first and foremost, their goal is to assassinate sorceresses before they can become too powerful; this is directly related to the main plot of the game, as the dark sorceress Ultimecia projects her consciousness and manipulates events….completely unaware that she is actually creating her own undoing. Laguna’s side plot serves to further drive the game’s main themes of love and loss; though initially dismissive of Laguna for his foibles and the concept of friendship and relying on others, Squall comes to realise that he is part of a team and a family and progresses from only expressing himself trough his inner monologue to actually opening up to his friends and team mates. Unlike Final Fantasy VII, which gave each of its characters a clear arc and developed them as the story progressed, Final Fantasy VIII pretty much hedges all of its bets on you relating to, and growing to love, Squall, Rinoa, and their relationship and, if you don’t really connect with these characters or their love story, you might struggle to connect with Final Fantasy VIII.

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Final Fantasy VIII‘s map is much better and the game has a fast travel system in place.

Additionally, Final Fantasy VIII is a very complex experience, even for a Final Fantasy title; it’s a slow, atmospheric experience; you can’t skip the cutscenes but, thankfully, you can fast travel in the towns and around the map this time. Luckily, though, the game’s map is a dramatic improvement on Final Fantasy VII’s; areas are actually named and highlighted, making it much easier to know where you have to go…assuming that you paid attention to the dialogue boxes and cutscenes. If you didn’t, you’ll probably have to consult a guide or risk wandering around in circles desperately trying to figure out who to talk to or where to go. As always, I recommend consulting a guide if you need to, over-levelling your party, saving as often as possible, and doing everything you can to simplify the game’s complex mechanics as best you can. It seems daunting but it is possible and, once you have your party set up as you like, all you have to worry about it surviving battles and bosses rather than trying to wrap your head around the intricacies of the “Junction” system.

Graphics and Sound:
There’s no denying that Final Fantasy VIII is a massive step up on it predecessor both in terms of its in-game graphics and cutscenes; rather than replicating Final Fantasy VII’s chibi, anime-style aesthetic, Final Fantasy VIII renders its characters as realistically as possible and the character models remain on model instead of there being several wildly different character models across the overworld, battle screens, and cutscenes.

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In-game cutscenes, models, and backgrounds are vastly improved.

This means that Final Fantasy VIII more closely resembles other 3D, polygonal videogames of the time, like the two Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996) sequels rather than a mish-mash of pre-redendered backgrounds and chubby 3D polygons. While I actually really liked Final Fantasy VII’s artistic style and blend of anime cute and bio-organic sci-fi, and it is annoying that Squall pulls his gunblade out of thin air in cutscenes, Final Fantasy VIII is a clear graphical improvement over its predecessor in every way. You’ll travel to many diverse environments, from caves to towns to ornately-decorated castles and sprawling towns, all of which are an impressive blend of natural landscape, a marriage of steampunk and 1950s technology and aesthetics, and elaborate, futuristic sci-fit. Even the battle screen is cleaner, forgoing the traditional battle dialogue box and incorporating more dynamic camera angles and detailed backgrounds and the Xbox One remaster only emphasises this further by applying a crisp, fresh coat of paint to the original.

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CG cutscenes have dramatically increased in number and quality.

Final Fantasy VIII also features a lot more CG cutscenes and, honestly, every one of these is leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor; the action and camera and character movements is slick and fluid and, while they’re still obviously not on par with today’s graphics and cutscenes, they’re far beyond the limited and stilted cutscenes seen in Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VIII also improves on the placement and use of dialogue boxes for in-game cutscenes; dialogue boxes are now much smaller and clearer and appear in various places around the screen like speech bubbles rather and being a large box that obstructs a sizeable portion of the screen. Final Fantasy VII also includes more of long-time Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu’s greatest work; while none of the game’s tracks are as iconic as “One-Wing Angel”, Final Fantasy VIII still features some fantastic tracks such as “The Man with the Machine Gun”, “The Extreme”, and the awesome “Maybe I’m A Lion”. The game forgoes traditional character themes in favour of its influential main theme ballad, “Eyes On Me”, a pop song performed by Chinese singer Faye Wong that perfectly encapsulates the game’s main themes of love and loss; “Eyes On Me” was so influential that it not only sold over 400,000 copies but it was also the first piece of videogame music to ever win “Song of the Year” at the Japan Gold Disc Awards.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you explore the world of Final Fantasy VIII and resolve Squall’s complex social issues, you’ll take part in a whole bunch of random battles against enemies of all shapes and sizes. Your party will often butt heads with the military force of Galbadia, who are under the influence of Ultimecia’s magic; these battles are generally pretty easy, even when the Galbadian’s attack with magic or in larger groups, and only really become a challenge once you come up against their mechs and robots.

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Final Fantasy VIII‘s monsters come from the Moon!

Final Fantasy VIII is, of course, absolutely infested with monsters. These range from the dinosaur-like T-Rexaur (one of the most difficult enemies you’ll battle against in the game’s early moments), gigantic dragons, demonic shadows, poison-spewing, man-eating plants, monstrous turtles, weird-ass, floaty face…things, and even these horrific alien creatures who have overrun the game’s Airship and will continually regenerate if you don’t destroy them in coloured pairs. The majority of these monsters fall to the planet in a constant cycle based on the correct alignment of the Moon and even originate from the surface of the Moon; later in the game, you get to see this in motion which, as far as I know, is the first time a Final Fantasy game directly explained where all these weird and wacky monsters actually come from.

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GFs act as the majority of the game’s boss encounters.

It took me a little while to realise that Final Fantasy VIII seems to be lacking in boss battles; most of the time, you’ll fight against a GF as a boss (or mini boss), which doesn’t really feel like a boss battle as it’s more like proving you’re worthy enough to use the GFs power. By that logic, Ifrit acts as the game’s first boss and, as you progress, you’ll come across other GFs in various areas; most of the time, like with Cerberus, you can choose not to engage with these GFs but, if you do, you’ll have to go out of your way to “Draw” the GF from a later, more challenging boss in Ultimecia’s Castle.

FF8RSFRBosses
You’ll battle Seifer, Fujin, and Rajin a few times during the game’s story.

When you’re not fighting GFs, you’ll battle against Galbadia’s finest giant robots; the first one you face, the spider-like X-ATM092, can’t actually be defeated and, instead, must be damaged enough so you can make your escape and then either avoided or disabled long enough for you to run. Other times, you’ll butt heads with the main character’s rivals, Seifer and his buddies, Fujin and Raijin. Although Seifer eventually upgrades to becoming a penultimate mini boss as he is manipulated to act as Ultimecia’s “Knight”, you never battle all three at once, which is a bit of a missed opportunity but, essentially, they’re very similar to the battles against the Turks from Final Fantasy VII.

FF8RCastleBosses
Ultimecia’s Castle is full of powerful superbosses.

Once you reach Ultimecia’s Castle, you’ll be stripped of your abilities and forced to take on the enemies within without your GFs and magic…that is until you defeat one of her eight superbosses. Fittingly, these creatures represent the game’s toughest challenge yet (although the Ruby Dragon can be a pain in the ass thanks to its high HP and “Breath” attack) but, by this point, you should be well levelled-up and full at ease with the game’s various mechanics and controls. Nevertheless, each of these superbosses has a unique design, character traits, and requires specific strategies; Sphinxaur takes on a second form after enough damage is done, the Red Giant can absorb a huge amount of punishment (and spouts a crazed response every time he’s attacked), and Trauma can only be spawned after solving a puzzle and is protected by smaller machines, for example.

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Tiamat and Omega Weapon offer perhaps the game’s greatest challenge.

Easily the most challenging bosses in Ultimecia’s castle are Tiamat and Omega Weapon, both of which are optional battles (though Omega Weapon involves splitting into two teams, ringing a bell, and running to a specific point to trigger the battle). Like many of the superbosses in Ultimecia’s Castle, you can “Draw” GFs from these bosses if you missed them earlier in the game but you’ll be more concerned with setting up your party to endue their powerful attacks. Both of which can deal massive damage, absorb elemental attacks, and have huge amounts of HP but it is Omega Weapon that offers the greatest challenge. With HP in the millions and capable of casting both “Death” and ending your party with “Light Pillar” (which deals 9999 damage and thus results in a one-hit KO), Omega Weapon offers such a tough challenge that, upon defeat, you’ll earn a special “Proof of Omega” award so you can prove to your friends that you got past this absolute tank of a superboss.

FF8RSorceresses
As a SeeD, it’s your duty to destroy sorceresses.

In addition, you’ll have to face-off with a few sorceresses during a playthrough of Final Fantasy VIII; being as she prefers to possess and manipulate sorceresses from the far future, Ultimecia doesn’t actually physically appear until right at the final parts of the game meaning that, before you confront her in her ominous castle, you’ll mostly be battling the current-day sorceress, Edea, who has been possessed by Ultimecia. As her chosen “knight”, you’ll usually have to dispose of Seifer before you can properly get your hands on Edea, which can make these battles a bit tougher. Later, when the malevolent sorceress Adel literally falls from the sky, she/he/it is leeching off of Rinoa so you have to be sure to target only Adel and not use attacks that hit more than one target or else you’ll risk injuring or killing Rinoa and losing the battle.

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Griever’s ability to blast away your magic and GFs is a serious threat.

Once you finally fight your way through Ultimecia’s Castle and unlock all of your abilities, your party falls victim to Ultimecia’s “Time Compression” ability and ends up stranded in the far future, where Ultimecia rules unopposed. This final battle has multiple stages, each with their own concerns; initially, you battle Ultimecia one-on-one but she randomly decides which of your three party members she wants to battle against and, during the battle, will erratically KO or remove one of your party from the battle screen. This means that, if you don’t revive your strongest party members, you could be stuck facing Ultimecia with characters you’ve chosen to ignore up until this point. Once she is defeated, Ultimecia summons the most powerful GF in the Final Fantasy VIII world, Griever, a monstrous lion-like creature inspired by Squall’s lion iconography. Griever’s threat mainly comes from its ability to completely drain your MP, blast away entire stocks of your magic, and one-shot your GFs with “Lethal Strike”. However, once defeated, Ultimecia “Junctions” herself to Griever and the two form a monstrous combined form that can do everything both previous bosses could, meaning the longer the battle lasts, the more likely it is you’re going to lose your magic stocks, GFs, or party members and also deal massive damage through your defences with “Great Attractor”.

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Ultimecia’s final form shows her on the cusp of immortality!

Once you manage to defeat this monstrosity, Ultimecia will ascend to her God-like final form; rather than the resplendent grandeur of Safer∙Sephiroth. Ultimecia’s final form is a grotesque eyesore that is halfway between human, monster, and eldritch horror. In this form, she can again destroy your magic stocks, remove any positive buffs you cast on your party, one-shot your GFs, reduce your HP to one point, and cast “Apocalypse” on the party for up to 8000 points of damage. Destroying different halves of Ultimecia’s body results in her using different spells and attacks but, once she starts narrating, it means she’s all out of HP and all you have to do is keep attacking her until the battle ends and Ultimecia is finally defeated. When I first fought Ultimecia when playing Final Fantasy VIII on the PlayStation 3, I found this battle to be particularly difficult; unlike Sephiroth’s final forms, which increase in difficulty depending on your level, characters, and tactics, Ultimecia can completely ruin any strategy you have by wiping away your most powerful party members or dispelling your magic. It’s hard to revive characters if Griever wipes out your stock of “Life” and your GFs won’t be much use if Ultimecia kills them in one move, meaning you’re constantly having to think on your feet and adapt to the battle; add to that the multiple forms that you must face one after the other and you’re left with a far more challenging final boss than in the previous game.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just like in the Xbox One port of Final Fantasy VII, the remastered version of Final Fantasy VIII allows you to alter the game’s mechanics and difficult by pressing in the analogue sticks: press them both in and you’ll turn off the random battles, press in the left stick and you’ll increase the game’s speed by three times, while the right stick powers up your party, giving them constant access to their Limit Breaks and effectively granting them infinite HP and MP. As I only found out about these latter two options right at the end of Final Fantasy VII, I decided to activate them right from the start for the sequel, dramatically speeding up my playtime.

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Use the Remaster‘s boosters and you’ll obliterate everything that stand sin your way!

It’s worth noting that, even with these activated, your party is still susceptible to status effects (confusion, poison, etc) and can still be killed by the likes of Omega and Ultima Weapon but, still, activating these boosters basically means you never have to worry about wasting Gil in inns or expending MP healing during battle and makes reaching level 100 an absolute breeze. Not only that, if you switch the battle style to “Wait”, you can end up completely obliterating every enemy and superboss you face by spamming your character’s Limit Breaks and ensuring that they never even get the chance to land a single hit!

FF8RRoaming GFs
A few roaming GFs may randomly appear to aid you in battle.

While you’ll gain access to most of the game’s GFs by Drawing them from certain bosses or battling them head-on in specific areas, some are only accessible by using certain items. Additionally, you can complete a side quest (made difficult thanks to the presence of the deadly Tonberry enemies) to battle Odin; upon defeat, Odin will randomly appear during any of your battles and deliver a one-shot KO to your opposition, which can be an extremely useful feature. That is until Odin tries this against Seifer and is cut cleanly in two; luckily, Gilgamesh fills very much the same role but his attacks cause a random amount of damage to your enemies, meaning he’s often more of a hindrance. Similarly, you can acquire the Phoenix Pinion after a side quest which, upon use, calls forth the Phoenix GF, which will randomly arrive to resurrect your entire party if you’re lucky.

FF8RTransport
There’s a few means of transportation on offer in Final Fantasy VIII.

As usual, you are afforded a few vehicles and means to explore Final Fantasy VIII’s expansive world; if you manage to call forth a Chocobo in one of the game’s many Chocobo forests, you can ride one of the birds across the land but you’ll lose it as soon as you dismount. In a change of pace, you can hire out a car to traverse the map but this costs you Gil and the car’s can run out of fuel. You even get to control the Balamb Garden itself for a while as it conveniently has a mobile form that allows it to float across the sea and land when you’re able to come ashore at a beach front. Eventually, you’ll gain control of the Airship, the Ragnarok, which allows you to travel pretty much anywhere but, as good and diverse as all these options are, the game’s camera when on the overworld is needlessly obtrusive and I struggled to find an angle that actually allowed me to properly see where I was going and enough of my surroundings.

Additional Features:
Whereas a great deal of your time and energy was devoted to the capturing, breeding, and racing of Chocobos in Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII instead features the card game Triple Triad as its primary mini game. While you can acquire and ride Chocobos to reach new areas and speed up your traversal across the world map, Triple Triad is a feature in pretty much every town of the game and involves most of the game’s NPCs.

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Triple Triad is everywhere but I couldn’t really get on with it.

The game takes place on a 3x3x3 grid, with each player having at least five cards; ten cards are played, each with a different number and element associated with it, and the goal is to capture all of the opponent’s cards. At least, that’s how I understand it; I’m not very good at card games at the best of times and rushing through the dense, seemingly never-ending tutorial, so I never really had much interest in Triple Triad. You can acquire new cards after defeating enemies or using the GF Quezacotl’s “Card” ability to turn certain enemies into cards but, outside of acquiring every card and a few Achievements, I never saw any real need to get too involved in Triple Triad and played through Final Fantasy VIII perfectly fine without playing more than one game (though, if you want to earn every Achievement, you’ll have to play at least one game and complete a whole side quest involving challenging NPCs to a game of cards so…good luck with that).

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You’ll need to acquire some rare items to craft the most powerful weapons.

While it’s not a requirement to play Triple Triad to access the best weapons and items, it is one of two time-consuming options available to you; the other is to battle specific enemies in the hopes that they drop the item you require or use Quezacotl’s “Card” ability to transform the monster into a card and then use the “Card Mod” ability to transform the card into that item. This can be a bit of a hassle as these enemies are rare, meaning you’ll have to wade through a great deal of random battles to track them down and, to use the “Card” ability, you need to deal enough damage to the monster first, which can be difficult when you’re at a higher level. Once you acquire the Ragnarok, travel across the overworld is much easier than before, allowing you to better access some difficult-to-reach areas of the map and acquire more GFs. The Airship is also the only way to access the unmarked Island Closest to Heaven and Island Closest to Hell, which are teeming with tough enemies and hidden “Draw” points to help you level-up and gain more AP, and the Deep Sea Research Center. Here, you’ll have to walk slowly towards a pulsating piece of machinery to avoid being thrown into random battles and then you’ll be forced to battle two Ruby Dragons back-to-back before you can take on Bahamut.

FF8RDeepSea
Explore the Deep Sea Research Center and you’ll eventually battle another superboss!

After defeating Bahamut (which is easier said than done), you’ll be acquire it as a GF and, when you leave and return, you can access a new area of the Deep Sea Research Center. After diverting power to open a series of doors, you can then travel down several floors filled with the game’s most powerful enemies on your way to confronting the game’s option superboss, Ultima Weapon. You can “Draw” the GF Eden from Ultima Weapon, as well as the powerful “Ultima” magic, but you’ll have to endure the same problems as when fighting Omega Weapon (meaning your party can be decimated in one hit it you aren’t properly prepared for the battle). As you travel around, winning battles, completing quests, and taking steps, you’ll be awarded with a SeeD salary. To increase your SeeD rank and, thus, your salary, you can enter the “Tutorial” menu and take a written test. There are thirty tests, each with ten questions and, every time you complete a test, you’ll gain a rank and earn more Gil to spend on items and upgrades. Luckily, you don’t need to worry about actually knowing the answers as you can just consult an online guide and cheese it, ensuring that you earn the associated Achievement and the maximum amount of Gil.

FF8RAchievements
Achievements are awarded for completing a variety of in-game tasks.

Speaking of Achievements, there’s quite a few on offer here and they’re pretty easy to achieve. You get an Achievement every time to acquire a new GF, ensuring you’ll get the majority of the Achievements even without a guide, one for finishing the game, and one for completing certain side quests. These can be trickier to unlock considering how complex and time-consuming the side quests can be (such as the PuPu side quest that sees you tracking down UFOs and aliens) but they’re generally far easier than the ones seen in Final Fantasy VII. Like in Final Fantasy VII, though, I did encounter some issues in getting the Achievements to pop or my Xbox One to acknowledge that I had completed the Achievement; the only advice I can really give if this happens to make sure you save beforehand and try it again, perhaps after logging out or performing a hard restart on your machine.

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The Summary:
For me, trying to pick between Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII is like trying to pick between The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998) and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (ibid, 2000); in fact, this analogy is strikingly fitting as one is generally universally revered and the other is usually divisive, at the very least. However, I really don’t feel like the game deserves the hate or disdain it often unfairly attracts; the “Junction” system is functionally no different to the Materia system, the “Draw” mechanic means you never have to worry about running out of MP and are free to customise your party as you see fit, and the game as a really slick presentation. Seriously, it blows my mind how much of an improvement Final Fantasy VIII is compared to Final Fantasy VII in terms of graphics and you have to believe that, if Final Fantasy VII had been rendered in the same style as its sequel, no one would have anything bad to say about Final Fantasy VII ever again.

FF8RRemaster
The Remaster only highlights Final Fantasy VIII‘s aesthetic quality.

It’s not just the aesthetics that make Final Fantasy VIII an enjoyable experience in and of itself; the game’s pacing is far better than its predecessor meaning that, while you miss out on truly fleshing out and exploring each party member like in Final Fantasy VII, it’s far easier to stay on track and focused on the game’s core narrative. Plus, Final Fantasy VIII doubles down on Squall’s characterisation and development to have him evolve from a stoic, closed-off loner to a confident, inspiring leader. Not only that, the game puts full focus on his love story with Rinoa, making their relationship the central focus of the game and crucial to squall’s development as a character. Is it perfect? Well…no, but (and here’s a controversial statement) no game is; even Final Fantasy VII had some issues! Newcomers may struggle to come to grips with the game’s new mechanics thanks to the influx of obtrusive tutorials and the unintuitive menus and gameplay mechanics, the overworld camera is disappointingly janky, and game goes way overboard with its random encounters (seriously, these happen almost every other step!) but there’s still a lot to like about this game. Once you simplify the “Junction” system and get your party setup how you want, it’s simple to concentrate on “Drawing” magic, winning battles, and levelling-up your party and their GFs; the map is easy to navigate thanks to the much-appreciated fast travel system and areas being clearly marked; the game’s system of increasing enemy levels as your own level increases means you’re always able to earn the EXP and AP you need to grow stronger; and the game’s story is very engaging. Beyond the exploration and development of Squall and Rinoa’s relationship, we’ve got a story that not only transcends time and space and leads you to battling a truly mental multi-form final boss but also questioning concepts such as life, death, love, and loss, making for a truly enjoyable and unique experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

And breathe! So, what did you think about Final Fantasy VIII? Did you struggle with the Junction, Draw, and GF system or, like me, do you find it to not bad as bad as people make it out to be? Where does Final Fantasy VIII rank in your hierarchy or Final Fantasy titles? Who was in your party in Final Fantasy VIII and how did you set up your GFs? Did you like the more science-fiction-orientated approach that the game took or do think that the series strayed too far from the traditional fantasy-inspired aesthetics of the franchise? Do you subscribe to the theory that Squall died at the end of disc one? Did you use the boosters implemented into this Remaster or did you go it old school? Whatever your thoughts on Final Fantasy VIII, and the Final Fantasy series, drop a comment below.

Game Corner: Final Fantasy VII (Xbox One)

GameCorner
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Released: March 2019
Originally Released: January 1997
Developer: Square Enix
Original Developer: Square
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
It’s hard to talk about Sony’s PlayStation without talking about Final Fantasy VII. Traditionally released on Nintendo’s 8-bit and 16-bit titles prior to Square’s move to the PlayStation, Final Fantasy VII was released at a time when every recognisable videogame franchise worth a damn was making the jump from 2D to 3D. For many, Final Fantasy VII was not only their first Final Fantasy videogame but also their first experience of a role-playing game (RPG).

FF7Legacy
Final Fantasy VII has an enduring legacy in games and other media.

Lauded upon release, the game went on to not only win numerous awards but also to sell over ten million copies on the PlayStation alone. So influential was Final Fantasy VII that it inspired a whole host of additional spin-off media from Square Enix, including the fantastic computer-generated movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (Nomura, 2005) and the under-rated RPG/action shooter Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (Square Enix/Monolith Soft, 2006). Ironically, my experiences of Final Fantasy VII were quite limited at the time; I was knee-deep in my Nintendo 64 phase and still playing Mega Drive titles when it released, so I’m pretty sure it passed me by completely at the time. I had dabbled in a few previous Final Fantasy titles, however, thanks to emulators but I didn’t really become aware of the series until Final Fantasy VIII (Square, 1999) and even watched Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children before I first played Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation 3. However, with Xbox One owners like myself unable to play the recently-released Final Fantasy VII Remake (Square Enix, 2020) thanks to Sony’s current strangehold on that title, I was fortunate enough to be gifted the Xbox One port of the PlayStation original which, thanks to the coronavirus lockdown, I was able to play through quite recently.

The Plot:
Okay…so…in a nutshell: The Shinra Electric Power Company has been harvesting Mako energy, destroying natural habitats, draining the Lifestream of the Planet, and generally making life miserable for the lower classes. Cloud Strife, a former member of SOLDIER, Shinra’s military branch, reluctantly joins forces with members of the eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE in their efforts to oppose Shinara, only to find himself caught up in defending the fate of the Planet itself when Sephiroth, SOLDIER’s most lauded recruit, begins a mad plot to absorb the Lifestream and become a God.

Gameplay:
Final Fantasy VII is a traditional, turn-based RPG that emphasises exploration, strategic combat, item and party management, and has a heavy prominence placed on its complex and dense narrative. Players primarily take control of Cloud and form a party of up to three members (each of whom you can re-name, if you want) to engage in random battles across the game’s extensive overworld and many dungeons and locales, encountering a variety of non-playable characters (NPCs), enemies, obstacles, and mini games along the way.

FF7World
Final Fantasy VII‘s world is expansive, to say the least!

Players navigate numerous fantastically varied, pre-rendered environments in their quest; as you explore, you’ll find chests to open, items to pick up, buildings to enter, and innumerable numbers of NPCs to talk to. It’s through conversations with NPCs and your party members that you’ll learn more about Final Fantasy VII’s world, its dense lore, and the different cultures and societies that dwell within it. As a Final Fantasy title, you’ll easily sink over eighty hours of playtime into Final Fantasy VII, most of it watching cutscenes and engaging with the complex narrative.

FF7Battle
Turn-based battles are the order of the day here.

The rest of the time, you’ll most likely be battling and levelling up. As you explore the overworld, you’ll walk over fields, through forests, explore caves, dungeons, high-tech facilities, and even journey to the centre of the Planet itself. When not in a town, every step you take puts you at risk of entering into a random battle against a number of enemies; when a random battle occurs, you can try to run if you wish but, if you turn and fight, you’ll be presented with a number of options. Each character has strengths and weaknesses; some have higher hit points (HP) or magic points (MP); some can take more damage, or deal out more attack power, or are faster or slower. Having a diverse party is the first step towards winning battles, which take place using the game’s Active Time Battle (ATB) system. When a battle begins, the enemy and the player’s party exchange moves until the battle is ended in a constant cycle; take too long selecting your next move and you’ll leave yourself open to an attack. You can, however, alter this system in the game’s “Config” menu, which allows you to both increase the speed of in-game battles and reduce them to a more manageable, turn-based structure. Either way, when battling, you can choose to defend yourself to reduce incoming damage, select which enemy to target, or use an item to heal a character or otherwise turn the tide in your favourite.

FF7LimitBreak
Unleash your Limit Break to deal massive damage.

When battling, once the “Time” meter is full, you can choose how to engage the enemy. If you choose to attack, your character will rush forwards and deliver an attack to deal damage. When hit with an opposing attack, your party’s “Limit” meter will fill; once full, you can perform a powerful Limit Break, which will deal greater damage to your opponents and sometimes provide beneficial aids to your party.

FF7Magic
Magic can be used offensively and defensively.

When using magic, keep in mind that some enemies will have their HP restored if you use elemental magic against them. Characters use magic when you assign them Materia, which is a kind of crystallised form of Mako energy; Materia allows characters to heal or revive each other, erect protective barriers, cast elemental spells (Fire, Thunder, etc), poison foes, turn them to frogs, and a whole slew of other benefits.

FF7Summons
Summon powerful beasts to aid you in battle.

The most powerful and useful Materia you can acquire allows you to call upon the powers of a Summon to aid you in battle; these bestial creatures can deliver heavy damage to bosses and groups of enemies and even resurrect your fallen comrades, but Summons drain a lot of your MP to use and some of them can only be used once per battle unless you link their Materia to another Materia to allow consecutive use or added effects upon their summoning.

FF7LevelUp
Level up to get stronger and learn new abilities.

If all of your party is defeated in battle, the game is over and you must reload from your last save point; if you win, though, you’ll earn experience points (EXP). When you earn enough EXP, your characters will level up, increasing their stats and learning new, more powerful Limit Breaks. You also earn Ability Points (AP), which allow your Materia to level up as well and allow access to more powerful spells (Cure 2, Quake 3, etc); sometimes you’ll get items from victories as well and, of course, you’ll earn Gil.

FF7MiniGames
There are numerous mini games to distract you.

Gil is the currency of Final Fantasy VII; with this, you can purchase items and weapons and pay to restore your HP and MP at the various inns located in the game’s many towns and cities. Each character can be equipped a weapon, an arm band, and an accessory; these have slots that allow them to use Materia, protect them from certain attacks (or types of attack), and raise their stats. To obtain the most powerful weapons and Materia, you’ll have to not only battle some of the game’s toughest enemies and bosses but you’ll also have to complete a number of mini games and side quests. As you explore Final Fantasy VII, you’ll come across numerous side quests, mini games, and distractions from your main quest; there’s a side quest where Cloud most pose as a girl, for example, or a section where you must chase weird creatures through an ancient, maze-like city, defend a mountain from invading forces, snowboard down a mountain, and explore the depths of the ocean in a submarine. Visit the Gold Saucer and you’ll be provided with a wealth of mini games for you to waste your time on while the Planet looms moments from destruction. You can visit the arcade and throw basketballs into hoops, replay the somewhat-clunky motorcycle pursuit (wherein Cloud makes a dramatic escape, swiping at pursuers with his hefty Buster Sword), take on progressively difficult enemies one after another in the Battle Square in hopes of purchasing rare items and upgrades, or take a member of your party on a date.

FF7SideQuests
Every area adds a new wrinkle to the plot and has a quest to fulfill.

Additionally, if you choose to acquire the game’s two extra characters, you’ll get sucked into their side stories and side quests, one of which sees you first forced to do battle without your Materia and, later, battle progressively-difficult enemies in a pagoda, while the other involves a tough boss battle and a lot of dialogue. After Sephiroth summons Meteor and the Planet edges closer and closer to destruction, you’ll travel the world without Cloud to acquire the Huge Materia; getting this involves a lot of mini games, like button mashing in perfect harmony to speed up and slow down a train, chasing down and destroying an enemy submarine, or strategically placing troops to defend a giant condor egg.

FF7Chocobos
Capture, race, and breed Chocobos.

One of the game’s biggest side quests involves the capturing, breeding, and racing of Chocobos. These ostrich-like creatures can be found on the overworld when you have a Chocobo Lure Materia equipped and walk over their tracks but, unless your powerful enough to one-shot the enemies they are often accompanied by, you’ll need to shell out for some “greens” to distract them. Once you’ve caught a Chocobo, you can ride them around the overworld but, eventually, you’ll get the chance to buy up to six stables to keep your Chocobos in. You can then feed them to raise their stats and attributes and race them at the Gold Saucer; even when you allow the computer to race for you, though, this can be a time-consuming task as, to breed better, different-coloured Chocobos, you’ll need to win a lot of races and take part in a few battle sin the interim, all to breed the ultimate Chocobo, a Gold Chocobo, which can run over land, sea, and mountains to reach the game’s most powerful Materia. None of this is especially difficult but it is very time-consuming and I can’t say I was happy to have to do it all over again after doing it on the PlayStation 3 but, now that I’ve gotten a Gold Chocobo, I can rest easy in the knowledge that I won’t have to do that again.

FF7Distractions
You’re asked to perform a lot of different actions to advance the game’s plot.

Final Fantasy VII loves to throw a curveball at the player; just as you think you’ve mastered the game’s ATB system, you’ll be asked to press buttons at the right moment to perform a march or provide CPR. These little distractions and varieties in the gameplay can be fun when they’re optional but many of them are required to advance the plot, as well as netting you more EXP, more Gil, better items and Materia, and even a couple of extra party members. At times, they can feel like unnecessary padding as it seems like every time the team visits a town, you spend an hour or so running around doing some kind of arbitrary task that seems contradictory to the game’s otherwise ominous plot. Later in the game, such button-mashing sections are crucial to the game’s plot and failing them can cost you an Achievement or two or cause you to either miss certain rewards and Materia or have to earn them some other way through another side quest or at a high Gil cost.

FF7GameChange
Spoilers…for a game over twenty years old…

Similarly, just when it seems like you’ve gotten a grip on the game’s quirky nature, the entire complexion changes when Sephiroth murders Aerith, forever removing her from your party and as a playable character, summons Meteor to destroy the Planet, and the kaiju-like WEAPON emerge from the ground and go on a rampage. After this point, Cloud leaves the party for a time and you’re forced to fly around in the Airship with different party members collecting the Huge Materia all while a massive glowing sphere hover sin the sky. Even the overworld theme changes at this point, becoming more ominous; different WEAPON wander around the map and must be battled and Cloud is forced to confront the truth about himself and his path before rallying the team to confront Sephiroth.

FF7Characters
Each character has a story arc, a backstory, and nuance to them.

Characterisation is a large part of Final Fantasy VII’s narrative; each party member has a unique backstory and their own personality quirks and, as you progress, you’ll learn more about them and what makes them tick. Characters are surprisingly layered as well; Cloud has a reputation for being an edgy loner but he has some amusing moments, like when he’s forced to act in a play with Aerith (or Aeris, whatever you prefer) Gainsborough, or the way he shrugs dumbfounded whenever talking to Yuffie Kisaragi or Cait Sith. Barret Wallace, too, has a lot of layers to his character; he’s a passionate eco-warrior with a quick temper but also a doting father and carries a dark secret that the game forces him to confront, and this is true of each of the characters, in a way.

FF7Sephiroth
Even Sephiroth has a tragic backstory.

Final Fantasy VII’s ability to flesh out each of its characters really increases your emotional investment in the game’s plot; even Sephiroth, who kills without a thought and is more than happy to crack the Planet open on a whim, is a tragic figure affected by the machinations of Shinra. Which characters you engage the most with will undoubtedly affect how you arrange and organise your party, though the narrative is structured in such a way that you are forced to have each member of the team in your party at least once (with the obvious exception of the optional characters).

FF7Map
The game’s map isn’t very clear, making navigation tricky at times.

With all that said, Final Fantasy VII can be a stressful experience; like all Final Fantasy titles at that point, Final Fantasy VII is quite a slow, measured experience. Cutscenes can’t be skipped, meaning if you die after a lengthy section of dialogue you have to sit through it all over again; random battles can take place every couple of steps, which can be frustrating when you’re low on HP and/or MP (you can turn them off by pushing in the analogue sticks but then you won’t gain EXP or AP), and there’s no fast travel system. This last is especially annoying thanks to the game’s map; while it’s useful, it’s not very clear. Towns and areas of interest are marked by small dots rather than names and, if you want to travel there, you’ll have to do so manually; I have to say that, once the Highwind upgrades to rocket boosters, it would have been nice to implement a fast travel mechanic. Similarly, as was the tradition at the time, you can only save the game at designated save spots or on the overworld, meaning that if you haven’t saved for a while and make a massive mistake, you’re in for a lot of backtracking. As a result, it’s wise to save often and consult one of the many comprehensive guides to be sure that you haven’t missed anything and are fully prepared for what’s ahead. I favour over-levelling my party so that I don’t have to worry too much about healing during a battle but, even then, you’ll encounter bosses and enemies that decimate your party in just a few hits.

Graphics and Sound:
As the franchise’s first foray into 3D, and being an early PlayStation title, Final Fantasy VII favours pre-rendered backgrounds, sprite work, and polygonal graphics, resulting in a game that, it could be argued, has a contradictory tone. On the one hand, you have these dank, desolate, steampunk-like industrial backgrounds or an apocalyptic calamity hanging overhead but, on the other, you have these super cute, chibi-style character models.

FF7Graphics
No matter the environment, you can always spot your character.

While Square went on to perfect the graphical presentation of the series in subsequent sequels, I actually really like the blocky, polygonal character models. Not only are they full of charm, appeal, and character, they are more than capable of conveying the character’s emotions (whether that is anger, stress, sadness, or confusion). Plus, it helps them to stand out against the game’s myriad of different environments; whether you’re stuck in a sandstorm, infiltrating a Mako Reactor, or exploring an ominous cave, you’ll always be able to spot Cloud and his cohorts.

FF7Cutscenes
The cutscenes often mix the in-game models with higher quality CG elements.

Add to that the fact that the game has some impressive CG cutscenes and, quite often, segues seamlessly from the standard in-game environment to a CG cutscene, incorporating the block characters alongside these striking cinematics. You’ll also be treated to quite a few higher quality CG cutscenes that render the characters in a more visually appealing manner; from the game’s breathtaking introduction, to the awakening of WEAPON, to the tour around the Gold Saucer, Final Fantasy VII is always a visual treat thanks to its distinct visual style. Without question, Final Fantasy VII features some of the best work from long-time series composer Nobuo Uematsu; this game features probably my favourite rendition of the traditional Final Fantasy theme and victory fanfare as well as the super catchy song that plays at the Gold Saucer (I could seriously listen to that all day, every day, and never get sick of it) and what has to be not only the best boss battle theme but also the greatest Final Fantasy theme of all time, “One-Winged Angel”. Even without that, though, that game’s orchestral soundtrack is extremely catchy and diverse, being epic and sombre when required and infusing each area with even more life and character.

Enemies and Bosses:
Final Fantasy VII’s world is filled with all manner of strange creatures; we’ve got weird little cacti, giant snakes, dragons, frogs, sentient masks, ghosts, bugs, horrible little lantern-carrying, hooded amphibians who are more than happy to shiv you to death, biomechanical monstrosities, toxic flytraps, laser-shooting fungi, and even sentient houses!

FF7Enemies
Enemies range from the bizarre to the ordinary, each requiring unique strategies.

Every new area has new enemies to contend with and I swear they get as incomprehensible as the game’s plot at times. All of these weird, obscure creatures exist side-by-side with more human-looking foes; you’ll battle a slew of Shinra flunkies, mechanical creations, and their covert arm, the Turks. Each battle requires slightly different strategies; even though I prefer to simply plough ahead, dealing as much damage as possible, even I will concede that it’s sometimes better to battle smart and use an enemy’s weakness against them. When you fight Reno and Rude of the Turks, for example, Rude won’t attack Tifa Lockheart because, as a smart man, he is infatuated with her; therefore, it can make battles against them much easier to have her in your party. Other times, it may be best to equip items and accessories that nullify status ailments or absorb elemental attacks, keeping your party safe and healed when they’re being attacked.

FF7MechBosses
Mechs and robots are plentiful in Final Fantasy VII.

You’ll also come up against some powerful mechs, often piloted or commanded by high-ranking Shinra officials. These mechanical monstrosities often have multiple parts to them, some which exclusively deal certain types of damage or cast certain spells. By the time you confront Shinra’s toughest mechs, you’ll most likely be well versed in casting Big Guard, Regen, and the likes of Comet and Ultima, which can vastly improve your odds in these battles as Final Fantasy VII’s biggest and baddest bosses often end up being a test of your endurance thanks to their high HP.

FF7WEAPONBosses
Battle the monstrous WEAPON to save lives and earn rewards.

You’ll also battle some truly monstrous bosses as you progress through the game’s story; some of these are simply creatures that you have disturbed in your travels or unleashed upon you by Shinra but you’ll also have to do battle the Planet’s defenders, the gigantic WEAPON. The story directs you to oppose Diamond WEAPON as it marches against Midgar but, to battle Ultimate WEAPON, you need to chase it down on the world map and survive a number of encounters with it, causing it to flee until you’re finally able to keep it in one place. The effort is worth it to acquire Cloud’s most powerful weapon, though.

FF7JenovaBosses
Whatever form it takes, Jenova means bad news for your party.

And then there’s the extraterrestrial calamity known as Jenova, whose cells are responsible for Sephiroth’s uncanny power and resulting madness. You’ll battle this creature in various different forms over the course of the game; mostly, it’ll be this mass of alien tentacles and amorphous lumps but you’ll also battled a mutated form of Shinra scientist Professor Hojo after he infuses himself with Jenova’s cells. Whatever its form, Jenova is a formidable foe that often requires you to attack its different, regenerating parts in specific ways.

FF7Bosses2
How you fight Jenova∙SYNTHESIS determines the threat of Bizarro∙Sephiroth.

This comes to a head when you make it through the Northern Cave and to the planet’s core, where you’ll battle Jenova∙SYNTHESIS; how you battle this boss, and which characters you have, will determine the strength of the subsequent boss, Bizarro-Sephiroth. This chrysalis-like shell can have HP in the 180-thousands and is often battled with two or three parties at once, making for an extremely challenging ordeal, especially as it heals itself quite regularly.

FF7SaferSephiroth
Safer∙Sephiroth’s ultimate attack destroys the solar system!

Once you best it, though, you’ll finally go one-on-one with Sephiroth, who by this point has used the Lifestream to transform into the God-like Safer∙Sephiroth, a multi-winged eyesore whose ultimate attack literally destroys the entire solar system! If you’ve over-levelled, acquired the ultimate weapons for your team, unlocked the most powerful Limit Breaks, and acquired the strongest Summons, this boss isn’t too much of a challenge though. When I battled Safer∙Sephiroth in this playthrough, I cast Regen and Wall so that my party’s health would constantly regenerate and incoming attack and magic damage would be reduced, cast DeBarrier on Safer∙Sephiroth to allow my attacks to hit at full force, and put him down with one use of Knights of the Round. In actuality, Safer∙Sephiroth’s health and difficulty increases depending on the average level of your party and how you fought the bosses immediately prior to him, so you may have more difficult against him depending on the choices you make, but, generally speaking, I had more trouble with Ultimecia’s final form in Final Fantasy VIII.

FF7DefeatSephiroth
There’s no way to lose this final confrontation with Sephiroth.

As if to reward you for all your hard work and the trials you have endured, Final Fantasy VII presents you with one final confrontation with Sephiroth. Thankfully, though, this is a battle you absolutely cannot lose and is more of a scripted event. Here, Cloud and Sephiroth go face-to-face within the Lifestream itself and, with a simple press of a button, you unleash Cloud’s ultimate Limit Break, the always-cool Omnislash, finally defeating Sephiroth once and for all with both ease and grace,

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
The only way to truly master Final Fantasy VII is to grind, grind, and grind some more. Winning battles gains that all-important EXP and AP, both of which are required to strengthen your characters and their magic. Some characters won’t even learn their best Limit Breaks unless you defeat a certain amount of enemies with them, all-but-forcing you to use characters like Aerith and Cait Sith if you want to fully power them up and unlock all of the game’s Achievements. The same is true for Materia; levelling it up not only allows access to more powerful magic, it also duplicates the Materia for others to use and leads you towards acquiring the all-powerful Master Materia, items which are essential to taking on the game’s optional bosses.

FF7Weapons
Open chests to acquire new weapons and items.

In nearly every town or city you visit, there will be a weapons shop; here, you can purchase new weapons, arm bands, and accessories for your characters. These can be pricey, though, necessitating a lot of grinding or exploration for extra Gil and it’s worth noting that, while you might get a significant buff by buying a new weapon, you can just as easily find a more powerful one in a chest shortly after spending your hard-earned Gil. To acquire a character’s ultimate weapon, you may be required to complete a side quest or specific task; to get Vincent’s, for example, you first need to acquire him by completing a side quest, then either get a hold of the submarine or breed a coloured Chocobo to access a hidden cave behind a waterfall, then read some dialogue, and then you need to win ten random battles before returning to the cave to acquire the Death Penalty…but, to get Cid Highwind’s, you simply talk to the right NPC three times in a row. Sure, this is quite late into the game and you have to first travel to and from space but it’s a lot simpler.

FF7Transport
The game’s map, and modes of transport, open progressively, getting bigger and better as you go.

As mentioned, your Gold Chocobo will allow you to travel anywhere and acquire the most powerful Summon, Knights of the Round, but they’re not the only way to traverse Final Fantasy VII’s extensive overworld. You’ll acquire in a buggy, a little sea-based aeroplane, a submarine, and, eventually, upgrade to the comfort of Cid’s Airship, the Highwind; given how much of your time is spent travelling on foot, you’ll really appreciate the convenience of the Highwind allowing you to heal for free and travel at high speeds.

FF7SecretCharacters
It’s worth your time to recruit these two.

Furthermore, there are two optional characters you can acquire at various points throughout the game; the hyperactive ninja Yuffie will randomly ambush you in forests and only joins you after you defeat her and then pick specific dialogue options, while the stern and stoic Vincent is locked away in a Shinra mansion and can only be acquired by battling a particularly challenging mini boss. There are some benefits to taking the time to get these characters though; not only do you get an Achievement for each, but having Yuffie in your party later on allows you to acquire the Leviathan Materia and Vincent is one of the more useful characters thanks to his powerful Limit Breaks (he also looks awesome).

FF7SecretBosses
You’ll need to be at the top of your game to battle these two.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are also two optional superbosses: Emerald WEAPON at the bottom of the sea and Ruby WEAPON in a sandy region. To fight Emerald WEAPON, you need a special Materia to eliminate the time limit imposed by being underwater and, to fight Ruby WEAPON, you have to be out of your mind! Seriously, these two are no joke; Ruby WEAPON can blast one of your party out of the battle entirely and both deal massive damage while sporting tank-like HP. In all my attempts at battling them the only one I came close to dealing any real damage to was Emerald WEAPON and even then it wiped the floor with me. To best these two, you absolutely have to have top-tier party members, Materia, and Limit Breaks along with a lot of luck and a well-thought-out strategy. Defeat Emerald WEAPON, and you’ll not only earn a whole bunch of EXP, AP, and Gil, you’ll also get the Earth Harp, which you can take a seemingly-innocuous NPC in the town of Kalm to earn three Master Materia: Master Summon, Master Command, and Master Magic. Not only does this net you an Achievement, it means that you have full access to every Summon, spell, and command in the game, which can not only massively overpower your party but also free up your weapon and armour’s Materia slots to add further buffs. If you visit this NPC prior to fighting Emerald WEAPON, you can trade him another item to earn the Underwater Materia, which can make the battle against Emerald WEAPON a bit easier by eliminating the threat of your party drowning. Defeat Ruby WEAPON, and you’ll get the Desert Rose, which Kalm’s generous NPC will trade you a Gold Chocobo for (though, in my experience, it’s far easier to breed your own Gold Chocobo).

Additional Features:
As you might expect, Final Fantasy VII comes with a bunch of Achievements, most of which are tied to some of the game’s more difficult and time-consuming mechanics. There’s one for reaching Level 99, for example, one for acquiring the maximum amount of Gil, one for mastering every Limit Break, one for having Cloud’s drag disguise being more appealing than Aerith or the delectable Tifa, and one each for defeating Emerald and Ruby WEAPON.

FF7Achievements
Some Achievements are easier than others…

It’s worth noting that some of the game’s weapons, accessories, and Achievements are dependant on you doing certain actions at various points in the game; you won’t be able to get the “See the Light” Achievement if Aerith is dead, for example, and you’ll have manipulate events early on if you want to take Barret on a date at the Gold Saucer. Similarly, if you don’t properly explore Nibelheim during a flashback, you can’t get Tifa’s last Limit Break. Another thing to note that this game sometimes struggles to register your Achievements; I had to beat the game three times and remove and re-upload my Xbox profile just to get the “A Feat of Meteoric Proportions” and “Wheel of Fortune” Achievements to register and there was a significant delay in the “The Slash to End All Slashes” and “Roundtable Destruction” Achievements popping, too. Apparently, this is a common issue with this game so I’d recommend saving frequently and making sure you have a strong and stable connection to Xbox Live.

FF7Boosters
Activate these boosters to cheese the game in no time at all!

If you’re finding the game difficult and struggling against these superbosses, the Xbox One version of Final Fantasy VII includes a feature that absolute breaks the game in half. I only found out about this feature after defeating Safer∙Sephiroth but it would have really helped to speed up my play time if I’d known about it beforehand. So, if you press in the left and right analogue sticks, two icons appear on the left-hand side of the screen: a fist and a “X3”. The fist grants you super-regenerating HP and MP and fills your “Limit” meter so fast that your Limit Breaks are constantly available; while can still be defeated with this activated, it’s massively unlikely and allows you to absolutely tank any enemies you encounter. This is made even more advantageous when you pair it with the “X3” booster which, as you might guess, speeds the game up to three times its usual speed. It was only by having both of these activated that I finally bested Emerald and Ruby WEAPON but, had I known they were an option, I would have used them the entire time as they’re absolutely game-breaking and would have really sped up all that Chocobo breeding!

FF7Conclusion

The Summary:
Final Fantasy VII is, by no stretch of the imagination, a master piece. It is an exhaustive, massively engaging experience filled with action, humour, despair, and hope; while the plot can get side-tracked with delving into each character’s backstory, every event and occurrence in the game is specifically designed to flesh out the lore of game and the characters within it. It doesn’t take long before you’re hooked on not only the game’s distinct and charming visual style but also the deeply nuanced nature of these characters and the world-ending plot that get wrapped up in. Despite a few of the more annoying trappings of the series at the time, the game is pretty much perfect from start to finish; it does a pretty decent job of easing you into its mechanics and eccentricities (unlike Final Fantasy VIII which, as much as I love it, loves to dump information, training, and exposition onto you within the first half an hour) to the point that, after a while, you don’t even realise that you’ve gotten the hang of the game’s core gameplay. The mini games and button-mashing sequences don’t last long and you’re not often penalised if you fail them, however if you play smart and save often (making liberal use of the save slots available), you can always load up an earlier save to better prepare yourself for whatever lies ahead.

FF7Story
Final Fantasy VII is dense with story, demanding your attention.

If you’ve never played an RPG before though, and prefer much more action-orientated titles, than I obviously wouldn’t recommend Final Fantasy VII; when I first played the PlayStation 3 version, I had the official Brady Games guide with me at all times. This time around, I went on memory and instinct for the first chunk of the game and was surprised at how well I did without at guide and how accessible the game can be at times. Sure, there are often moments where you’ll have no idea where to go or what to do but that’s because you probably weren’t paying attention to the dialogue in the cutscenes. However, once I realised that I had missed out on Tifa’s Limit Break (and after Meteor was cast into the sky), I went back to a guide to make sure I didn’t miss anything that would improve my chances in the endgame; a guide is also pretty much mandatory to breed a Gold Chocobo, as well. However, if you’re playing the Xbox One version of Final Fantasy VII, you can absolute cheese it with the analogue-stick boosters activated, making it more than accessible even for casual or first-time players. If you take the time to play at a more appropriate speed, you’ll be required to invest a lot of your time, effort, concentration, and commitment but it’s well worth it. Even characters I don’t really use, like Red XIII and Cat Sith, have layers and nuances to their characters and I found their input to be useful even when the game forces me to deviate from my part of Cloud, Barret, and Vincent. Once you allow yourself to become engrossed in this deep, detailed world with is rich lore of genocide and strife, you’ll find a story rife with themes of alienation, persecution, and betrayal; a story that teaches us to value the life we have now and work with the planet, rather than against it. At the same time, you’ll battle some kick-ass monsters and go toe-to-toe with a literal God…and that’s always cool

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Phew, so…Final Fantasy VII, eh? What did you think of this much-lauded title? Where does it rank in your list of Final Fantasy games, or RPGs? Who was in your party when you played the game? Did you have a favourite section, Summon, or character? Did you know that you could cheese this version of the game of do you prefer to play at the original pace? Is the knowledge of Aerith’s news to you and are you now enraged because I spoiled a game over twenty years old? Have you been playing the recent remake and, if so, how does it hold up compared to the original? Did you enjoy the other Final Fantasy VII games and media released over the years? Whatever you think, whatever your thoughts, feel free to talk about them in the comments below.