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I was torn between the Ragnarok scene between Squall and Rinoa and the Laguna revelation. The Laguna revelation won over. Who is Laguna? Where is he? What is his relation to Squall? Is he real? The wizard finally emerged from behind the curtain when Squall and his friends reached Esthar, a huge, legendary city that kept itself concealed from the rest of the world and played a vital role in the Sorceress Wars of old. There Squall and everybody finds out that Laguna is its president. Laguna told them that he and Kiros and Ward always wondered what made them powerful at certain times--when Squall and his friends possessed them. They attributed it to the faeries. It's pretty much a time paradox. Anyway, it's been widely debated whether Laguna is Squall's father. I believe he is. There were just too many clues about it. Of course, Squall isn't really happy about this. After all, he still holds that Laguna is a colossal moron, and he especially didn't like having to take on Laguna's character during his trances ^_~.

Final Fantasy VIII
Synopsis | Gameplay | Review

*hee* I've had a Final Fantasy section for a while. For the longest time, it was empty. Then I put up my take on FF X-2. And then, for an even longer time, it stayed with just that. Then this site turned two years old. And I got around to thinking I really should do something about my Final Fantasy section. I mean, the media section is steadily growing, while the GaiaOnline section just exploded overnight.

Now the question became which Final Fantasy should I cover first. VII or VIII? FF VIII won because Squall's hot. Hotness beats cartoony cuteness anytime. And FF VIII has a real love story. And did I mention Squall's hot?

I got my first glimpse of FF VIII when my sister sent me a compilation CD of its movies and other eyecandy like wallpapers and screenies. The high-quality videos (well, at the time) emphasized just how hot Squall is. Well, yeah, and Rinoa's cute too. The action storyline didn't intrigue me too much, but the two of them did.

Then my cousins got this FF VIII sampler from Pizza Hut. When I played it, I was sorely disappointed that the actual game graphics are pretty bad, compared to the movies. Jaggies everywhere. No facial structures. Squall's hotness is only hinted at by his pointy hair. As I played the game, I learned to look past all that and focus on the storyline (and look forward to the high-quality movie shots). I was suitably rewarded in the end, with an ending movie almost half an hour long. Hurrah.

Squall Leonhart is a student at Balamb Garden, a training academy for students who want to join SeeD. SeeD is composed of combat specialists. They are commissioned by individuals and groups all over the world to perform various missions that call for their expertise. Not all students get to be SeeD. They have to pass a field exam that involves accompanying SeeDs on a real mission, and their performance is evaluated.

The game opens with Squall embroiled in a gunsword fight against Seifer Almasy. Seifer is another student in the academy, the only person aside from Squall who weilds a gunsword. A gunsword is basically... a child borne to a sword and a gun. Hurrah. Anyway, Squall and Seifer have been rivals for a while, and this particular battle resulted in them giving each other scars between their eyes. Yes. The only flaw in Squall's otherwise perfect visage.

Up until this point, everything has been in high-quality CG. The nasty graphics come when Squall comes to in the school clinic. His teacher, Quistis, visits him. Quistis is only a year older than Squall, but she's already a full SeeD and an instructor to boot. She also has a huge following among her students. She pokes fun at Squall's typically reticent behavior and reminds him to take his preliminary exam before taking the SeeD test.

The preliminary exam is where the player learned the ins and outs of the game. After Squall runs around Balamb Garden and learns basic game things, he and Quistis go to a cave just beyond Balamb Garden to retrieve a Guardian Force, or GF. These are essentially summoned monsters that can perform powerful magic. SeeDs use GFs a lot.

Squall then takes the SeeD test, along with Seifer, Zell Dincht, and Selphie Tilmitt. Zell is a classmate who specializes in hand combat, and he's a little too loud for Squall's taste. Selphie is a visiting student from Trabia Garden, a sister school further up north. Seifer is assigned as their group leader. They were dispatched to Dollet, a town that went under siege by Galbadian Forces. Due to Seifer's cockiness, the group got embroiled in the center of the mission and barely escaped Dollet.

Squall, Zell, and Selphie pass the field exam. That evening, they celebrated at their inaugural ball. While standing in a corner with a drink, Squall got accosted by a pretty girl who asked him to dance. She finally hauled him to the dance floor. Squall had no idea how to dance, but he quickly got the hang of it. In the middle of their dance, however, the girl apparently saw someone and immediately excused herself.

The morning after, Squall, Zell, and Selphie promptly got assigned to a mission to help the Forest Owls, a rebel group working against Galbadian Forces. Obviously, this group didn't have much money, so Cid, the Balamb Garden headmaster, assigned the newest SeeDs to help their cause. Along the way, the three of them fall into a trance. Squall dreamt he's a Galbadian soldier named Laguna Loire, and Zell and Selphie dreamt they're Laguna's friends, Kiros and Ward. When they awoke, they don't know what to make of this trance, but do not think more of it. Upon meeting the Forest Owls, Squall discovers that their ringleader is no other than the girl he met last night. Her name is Rinoa Heartilly.

The Forest Owls plan on abducting the Galbadian president, Deling, from his train. This mission, however, goes horribly wrong because the president sent a monster in his place (yeah, he did). Since SeeD's contract with the Forest Owls said they have to help them until they succeed in their battle against Galbadia, Squall and his group had no choice but to follow Rinoa and her people to Timber. There President Deling will give a televised broadcast. Things go from bad to worse when Seifer seizes the president in the middle of his broadcast. He wants to help Rinoa (around this time we also find out that he and Rinoa used to date). Quistis then goes on air and orders Squall and his group to join them in the station.

Seifer's hostage has a powerful ally, the Sorceress Edea. She whisks away Seifer before Squall and the others could rescue him. Their next step involves going to Galbadia Garden to meet up with its headmaster. There they received instructions to assassinate the sorceress using a sniper. They do not have a sniper in their group, so a Galbadian SeeD sniper, by the name of Irvine Kinneas, joins them.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In Squall and his friends' quest to defeat the sorceress, they run afoul of Seifer over and over. The trances continues, which Squall doesn't like because he thinks Laguna is a colossal moron. The group's collective past in an orphanage haunts them. Questions abound. Who is Laguna? What is the sorceress' motives? What is SeeD? Their quest culminates in confronting the true villain behind it all. Of course.

Even though Final Fantasy games are turn-based RPGs, each game is distinctively different. FF VIII is distinctive because of its Draw, Junction, remodeling, and card refinement systems.

To acquire magic, you have to draw them from the enemy. In other words, during battle, you must use up a turn to get whatever magic you can get out of a particular enemy. Usually you can stock a few rounds of that magic with an single draw. Alternatively, you can draw that magic and then cast it at that enemy, or a different enemy, in a single turn. Of course, if an enemy has a particularly rare and desirable magic, you might want to spend a few turns stocking up on them. As long as you don't get knocked out.

There are also draw points throughout the game. These are shiny purple spheres where you can get a particular magic. These draw points, however, get exhausted after only a few draws. Some draw points are visible, while others are hidden. Of course, the good ones are always hidden.

Quistis has the Blue Magic ability, which allows her to use particular enemy attacks. To stock up on her blue magic, she has to draw those from certain enemies as well.

You also have to draw particular GFs from the enemy. It is crucial that you draw a GF when it's available. Only bosses have GFs, and once these bosses are defeated, you can't get the GFs anymore except close to the end of the game. It's much better to get them when they're first available, so you can use them to your full advantage.

When you summon a GF in battle, there is a waiting period for the GF to arrive. The better the compatibility between the GF and the character, the shorter the waiting period. This is important, because during the waiting period, any damages to the summoner is absorbed by the GF. You certainly don't want a GF to get knocked out before it has a chance to deal a blow to the enemy. One cute thing I like about GFs is that they get jealous. The more you summon other GFs, the lower your compatibility with the non-summoned GF. GFs grow if you junction them. As they grow, their stats and range of abilities increase. So don't forget to junction them. You certainly don't want them just sitting around in your inventory, idle and playing cards.

Junctioning GFs and magic to your character boost your stats and can give you special abilities in battle. The range of customizations are endless, but for the ones weary of it, there's the automatic optimal junctioning option.

To have new weapons, you have to upgrade your old ones. Before you can do this, however, you must gather the materials. These materials can be stolen from enemies, or they are dropped by enemies when they are defeated, or they are found lying around. Materials for better weapons are often hard to find. *grumbles about power generators and Malboro tentacles*

FF VIII also has the Triple Triad, which is a game of cards. You can challenge card-playing NPCs to a game, and if you win, you can get one, two, or even all of your opponent's cards. Certain regions have certain Triple Triad rules, and you can bring or abolish rules when you start playing in a new region. You can also acquire cards when you defeat enemies or by using the Card Mod ability to turn enemies into cards during battle. Cards can be refined into items and magic, and of course, rare items and magic require rare cards, such as player and GF cards. Triple Triad is a little addictive, and it's fun to try and get all cards available.

Have I mentioned that Squall's hot? I just want to get that established before anything else. He's probably the sexiest Final Fantasy character so far. You can argue that Cloud is hot too, but I must point out that even though he's hot in the Advent Children movie, he's cartoony in the game. No, Squall is the first, real, sexy Final Fantasy guy that Square (now Square-Enix) created.

The second thing I must bring up is that Iots of people suspect that Irvine is named after Irvine, California. I certainly believe this. I suspected it myself way before I found that other people suspected it as well. Square has an office in Costa Mesa, which is right next to Irvine (I did think about applying for a job there, but more promising careers beckoned to me. Right). Also, Irvine has a street called Kinneas. How do I know? I went to school there. I lived around that area for four years. Bahahahahaha. I was driving from Santa Ana to Irvine one day when I passed Kinneas street. Of course, I was all like, "A-ha! I knew it!" Because even back then, I was already a huge Final Fantasy fan. And that's my little connection to Final Fantasy.

I rarely play games more than once, and FF VIII is one of them. It combines my two loves: romance and Final Fantasy. It's the perfect match! :o Seriously, lots of people debunk FF VIII and argue that it's full of mooshy, gooshy stuff. In other words, it's not a real Final Fantasy game. To this I have to disagree with a resounding nay. I really think those people are just grouching about FF VIII largely because it's so popular. It's like being an anime fan and hating Inu Yasha because everybody and their brother likes it. I hear the same crap about FF VII also. Now, I have to admit, FF VIII is not as powerful as FF VII. But just because they're immensely popular compared to older Final Fantasy games doesn't mean they're crap. Damn purists. Others go into the characters and grouch about how Rinoa's a flirt and Squall's unpleasant, but these are mere quibbles. These just show that those grouchers are really into the game.

My main beef with FF VIII is fairly common. The draw system is tedious. And the GF entrance sequences are long. During the entrance sequence, you can boost the GF's power through careful buttonwork, which makes them a bigger advantage when it comes to big bosses. But during routine battles, it's just tedious to watch Ifrit make his grand entrance for the two hundredth time. Oh, and of course, there are the jaggies. I understand that the techonology at the time wasn't that advanced to make everything gorgeous, but I was really disappointed with the jaggies. Lastly, when I played the game for the first time, I was totally disoriented over Ultimecia's role. Throughout the game, and even in ads, Edea's built up to be the main villain. But she's actually just a pawn. The real mover and shaker is this time travelling sorceress named Edea.

Those grouses aside, FF VIII is a great game. The storyline is engrossing and entertaining. I suppose girls in particular will like it, and there's enough stuff in it to keep guys happy as well. It's definitely one of my favorite videogames of all time.

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