Many a year ago, I sat down to play Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t play the game the instant it was released, I was but a poor college student and had to wait for a price drop before plunking down the cash. I thoroughly enjoyed every instant of the game, it wasn’t the first FF title I had played, but it may have been – outside of the original game – the best. I liked it so much that I went out and bought Final Fantasy VIII upon completing VII. Yes, I knew that it wasn’t a sequel that Final Fantasy games – at least at that point – didn’t do sequels, but I had so enjoyed my time with VII that I instantly wanted to immerse myself in a new Final Fantasy world. That proved to be a mistake.
As, I think happened to so many others, playing VIII on the heels of VII didn’t go particularly well. VII was such a great game that unless VIII surpassed it in every way, it was almost certain to be a letdown. I slogged through the entire four discs, and while I ended up liking the game, I never had remotely the same good feelings for it that I did for VII.
Happily, we now all have that wonder of wonder known as downloadable content, or DLC. Final Fantasy VIII, a game I always wanted to click with but never quite did – and have actually lamented through the years that I didn’t spend more time exploring its universe – is now available for download from the PlayStation Store.
Rather than rehashing the entire story and gameplay of a 10-year-old title, let me say that the game plays out exactly as it did before, same group of SeeD candidates, same evil sorceress, same odd Guardian Force junctioning system (which I could still do without), and same graphics. Perhaps this last aspect is the most impressive. When played on a high definition screen, Final Fantasy VIII’s main gameplay graphics do appear somewhat pixilated and fuzzy, but the cinematic cutscenes, while not up to today’s high-end, are absolutely more than passable. That certainly is a testament to the amount of effort and energy that went into creating the game for its original release and just how far ahead the graphics were at the time.
In short, the game currently available for download is the old title, not a gussied up version thereof. Beyond that, playing the game now – just over 10 years after its initial release – it is still a compelling, exciting, fun adventure. Though gaming may have changed significantly in the past 10 years (that is a debate for another time and place), if this title had somewhat better graphics and you hadn’t seen it before, you could easily be convinced that this is a wholly new game. The experience, though not immersive visually, is immersive in terms of its story and the world it and the player inhabit. Rather than this simply being a function of RPGs being unchanged through the years, it seems more likely that Square and the team behind FFVIII (and all the other FF games) are just great at what they do.
The one issue I did encounter with this downloadable version of the game was a random shutting off of the analog control sticks. Despite their seeming to be active according to the menus, one more than occasion playing the game, they simply stopped functioning. It is annoying glitch, but certainly not a game-killer.
As I gear up for the March release of Final Fantasy XIII, it actually feels that much more enjoyable to be going back and revisiting an earlier entry into the franchise. Final Fantasy VIII is still not my favorite member of the series, but it is certainly better than I remember it.