Friday, May 27, 2011

FINAL FANTASY VIII



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Final Fantasy VIII
Developer - Square
Publisher - Square Electronic Arts
Release date - February 11, 1999

Final Fantasy VIII is a 1999 role-playing video game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix). It is the eighth major installment in the Final Fantasy series. The game was the series' second 3D installment and the first to consistently use realistically proportioned characters, and introduced a new magic system to the Final Fantasy franchise which removed magic point-based spell-casting.


Story

Most of Final Fantasy VIII is set on an unnamed fantasy world with one moon. The game primarily consists of modern elements, but does contain some futuristic elements. The planet contains five major landmasses, with Esthar, the largest, covering most of the eastern portion of the map. Galbadia, the second-largest continent, lies to the west, and contains many of the game's locations. The northernmost landmass is Trabia, an Arctic region. Positioned roughly in the middle of the world map lies Balamb, the smallest continent, the island on which the game begins. The remaining landmass is small and mostly desolate, riddled with rough, rocky terrain caused by the impact of a "Lunar Cry", an event where monsters from the moon fall to the planet. The southernmost landmass includes an archipelago of broken sections of land that have drifted apart. Islands and marine structures flesh out the rest of the game world, and a handful of off-world locations round out the game's playable areas.

The six primary protagonists of Final Fantasy VIII are: Squall Leonhart, a loner who keeps his focus on his duty to avoid vulnerability; Rinoa Heartilly, an outspoken and passionate young woman who follows her heart in all situations; Quistis Trepe, an instructor with a serious, patient attitude; Zell Dincht, a martial artist with a passion for hot dogs; Selphie Tilmitt, a cheerful girl who loves trains and pilots the airship Ragnarok; and Irvine Kinneas, a marksman and consummate ladies' man. Temporarily playable characters include Laguna Loire, Kiros Seagill, and Ward Zabac, who appear in "flashback" sequences, and antagonists Seifer Almasy and Edea Kramer.


Gameplay

Like previous games in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VIII consists of three main modes of play: the world map, field map, and battle screen. Like previous titles, players navigate a single character across a small scale rendering of the game world between various towns and dungeons, which is rendered in 3D like Final Fantasy VII. Along with getting around traditionally by foot, by Chocobo, and by airship, Final Fantasy VIII also allows players to travel by car, by train, and via a Mobile Garden. Players must make progress in the game's story to obtain the airship and Mobile Garden, while chocobos can be acquired from special forests on the world map. Cars, which are similar to chocobos in that they can avoid fights, must be rented from cities that offer them and characters must carry reserve fuel with them to prevent them running out, while trains can be only be used by boarding at stations in settlements or on the world map, and paying a fee for the ride. On the field map, players navigate controllable 3D characters around one or more 2D pre-rendered backgrounds, which represent environmental locations such as towns or forests. The battle screen is a 3D model of a location such as a street or room, where turn-based fights between playable characters and CPU-controlled enemies take place when triggered on either the world map or field map.

While common features from previous titles remain, such as the menu-driven interfaces, other elements received extensive changes or were removed, with Final Fantasy VIII including brand new features that are exclusive to it. One such new feature is the Junction system, which relinquishes the need for the typical weapon and armor systems used in previous titles in place of a system that allows for extensive optimization of a character's stats and abilities. Another new feature is the inclusion of a collectible card-based minigame called "Triple Triad".

Final Fantasy VIII uses a unique battle system known as the "Junction System", which acts as a substitute for armour and accessories used in previous titles, allowing a player to enhance the characters' statistics and determine what Commands a character will use in battles. The system is based upon the game's version of the classic summon-able monsters of the Final Fantasy series, referred to in-game as "Guardian Forces" (or "GFs"), wherein assigning at least one GF onto a character via "junctioning" allows for enhancements of stats through magic spells, the allocation of different Character/Party abilities, and the ability to use Battle Commands beyond the default of "Attack"; all GFs can allow a character to use a variety of Commands, with the most common being "Magic", "GF" (to summon the junctioned GF in battle), "Item" and "Draw" (to draw magic spells from a draw point or an enemy). While whatever GF(s) is/are junctioned to a character determine(s) what stats can be enhanced and what commands and abilities can be set, what kind of enhancement is made to each stat available depends on what magic spells are junctioned to it, which the character has acquired. Whereas in previous titles, characters bought or acquired spells on their journeys and used magic points to cast them, characters in Final Fantasy VIII acquire spells by drawing and stocking them from either Draw Points in the game's environments or from enemies, or refining them from items; spells drawn from enemies can be cast, rather than stocked. Each character can stock magic into a quantified inventory, but are limited to carrying around 32 distinct spells, and 100 of each spell.

Junctioning magic to a stat to enhance it, improves a character and makes them more effective in battles; improving Strength, for example, increases the amount of damage done to an enemy, while improving speed, charges a character's ATB gauge more quickly. How much of an enhancement is made depends on the spell junctioned to a stat, for example, junctioning Fire to Strength garners a better improvement than Cure. Players can also perform Elemental Junctions, which can enhance a character's physical attack with an element type while improving their defences to element types, even nullifying or absorbing elemental damage, as well as performing Status Junctions, which can allow a character to inflict a status ailment on enemies or defend against such ailments being inflicted on them. Such junctions rely on a % value, to determine how effective it is; players can only junction one elemental and status ailment spell to attack, but up to four for defence. Players can either manually assign spells, or have them automatically assigned depending on the type of allocation - Attack will ensure a character makes strong physical attacks, Magic will ensure they inflict stronger magical damage, and Defence ensures they boost the Hit Points more.

The most common use of summoned creatures was always to summon one to perform a single devastating attack during battle and/or action, so expanding their use by providing them additional roles in Final Fantasy VIII was a significant departure for the Final Fantasy series. In the game, a GF serves as not only a powerful ally for the character/party in battles, but also as a potent support asset in and out of battles; in addition to their role in the Junction System, GFs can also earn EXP to increase their levels to improve them when summoned in battles, and can acquire AP to help them learn additional abilities to those they know; by default, a GF acquired either from the field or drawn from certain fights, will usually already have a number of abilities learned and be set at a level close to the active party's average level. Abilities that a GF can use to further assist the player during the game, are divided into five categories - Junction Abilities, Commands Abilities, Character/Party Abilities, GF Abilities & Menu Abilities. Learning new Junctions provides more stats that can be enhanced by magic spells, learning new Commands provide additional battle commands for a character to use, while learning Character/Party abilities provide additional abilities for use during battles and the game's environments.

Learning GF abilities provide enhancements to their HP and to their attack power if they do damaging attacks. Learning Menu abilities provides the means for players to refine items and card into new items or magic spells, along with other useful benefits. A GF can learn a new ability by acquiring AP from battles, though the amount needed varies depending on the ability itself, or can be taught one through an item acquired by players during the game, even if they cannot learn it themselves with AP. All GFs have a limit on the amount of abilities they can learn - upon reaching this limit, they cannot learn a new one without forgetting one they currently know.

GFs work differently to summon-able monsters when used in battles; not only must a character have a GF junctioned to them to use it, but they must also have the "GF" command assigned as well in order to summon them. In battle, when a GF is summoned by a character, the character's name, HP, and ATB gauge is replaced by the GF's name, HP and Summon Gauge, until it is summoned and performs its attack/action. Until the Summon Gauge is emptied completely, the GF takes the place of the character and receives any damage directed to them; if the GF loses all their HP before the gauge is empty, it is KO'ed and cannot be summoned until revived.

Whereas players had to often buy new weapons to replace existing ones for better damage and other improvements in previous titles, each major character in Final Fantasy VIII carries a unique weapon which cannot be replaced, but can be upgraded to a stronger version, affecting its appearance, power, and the % value of landing a hit. In order to upgrade a weapon, players must visit a "Junk Shop" (the game's equivalent of the traditional weapon shop) in any of the world's towns and cities, and not only pay a small fee, but also provide the necessary materials for it which are detailed within a series of in-game weapon magazines. These materials are acquired from either enemies in battle or refining items.

In addition to a unique weapon, each character also has a unique special attack, or "Limit Break", which operate in a similar manner to the Desperation Attacks of Final Fantasy VI. Unlike in Final Fantasy VII, where a character had to receive sufficient damage to trigger a limit, Limit Breaks are triggered when a character's health is low or the character is under the influence of the spell Aura, can be prevented from triggering if the player is under certain status afflictions, and is merely an option besides attack when available. For one character, Rinoa, most of her Limit Breaks activate randomly under certain conditions and are not triggered by low health or Aura.

Final Fantasy VIII is the first game in the series to introduce interactive elements to complement some characters Limit Break animations. These interactive elements range from selecting a target and making simple button presses, to well-timed button inputs or performing button combos, with successful application resulting in more damage being done. For other characters, even temporary additions, their Limit Breaks either require simple activation or making choice of what to use. For the main characters, their Limit Breaks are influenced or improved in certain ways - Squall learns a new finishing move by upgrading his weapon; Quistis learns new abilities by using certain items acquired; Irvine needs ammo to use his, but can use different types; Zell and Rinoa learn new moves from certain in-game magazines, though the latter must have her dog learn it while being part of the active party.

Final Fantasy VIII uses a levelling-up system that is quite different from the traditional one used in previous games in the series. While the system has similarities to those in previous games, in which characters are awarded EXP after battling and defeating enemies, who are predominantly encountered randomly, and which contribute to the continued strengthening and level-gaining of the characters, the system used in the games has major differences. Whereas gaining new levels required ever-increasing amounts of EXP to achieve (e.g., getting to level 2 might require 200 experience points, level 3 might require 400, etc.), in Final Fantasy VIII a level is earned after accumulating 1000 EXP, while improvements to stats through level-gain is minimal at best, emphasizing the need to rely on the game's Junction System instead for better stats. The amount of EXP earned in a battle is the same for each character, except the one who inflicts the final blow that wins it; that character receives a small bonus to the EXP that they earned. Furthermore, Bosses do not give any EXP, but do give significant amounts of AP.

Just as the characters level up and become stronger, so too do the enemies around the game world. Most enemies are scaled up in level to the average level of the active party, making them tougher in battles, which is in direct contrast to previous titles in the Final Fantasy series, in fact most RPGs, where enemies from previously visited locations in the game are often weak and easily defeated. However, some enemies do not receive level-scaling, and as such remain at static levels; some can be at weaker levels, others at higher, stronger levels. Enemies at higher levels become capable of inflicting and withstanding significantly more damage, may have additional special attacks, and will often carry either additional or new levels of magic spells on them.


Development

Development of Final Fantasy VIII began in 1997, during the English-language translation of Final Fantasy VII. As with much of the production of Final Fantasy VII, series creator and veteran Hironobu Sakaguchi served as the executive producer, working primarily on the development of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and leaving direction of Final Fantasy VIII to Yoshinori Kitase. Shinji Hashimoto was assigned to be the producer in Sakaguchi's place, while the game and battle system were designed by Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito, respectively. The card game Triple Triad was conceived and implemented by programmer Kentarow Yasui. The concept was derived from trading cards which is a popular hobby in some parts of Japan. Triple Triad was meant to keep the player's interest during long stretches without cutscenes. Originally, it was simply about collecting cards but Yasui considered this too disconnected from the main game and "begged" for the inclusion of an ability to transform cards into items. The game's total development costs approximately ¥3 billion, with a crew of about 180 people, many of whom had previously worked on VII.

From the beginning, Kitase knew he wanted a thematic combination of fantasy and realism. To this end, he aimed to include a cast of characters who appeared to be ordinary people. Character designer and battle visual director Tetsuya Nomura and art director Yusuke Naora strove to achieve this impression through the inclusion of realistically proportioned characters—a departure from the super deformed designs used in the previous title. Additionally, Naora attempted to enhance the realism of the world through predominantly bright lighting effects with shadows distributed as appropriate. Other measures taken included implementing rental cars for travel in-game, and the use of motion capture technology to give the game's characters lifelike movements in the game's full motion video sequences. The FMV sequences were created by a team of roughly 35 people, with the total cinematic run-time being estimated at over an hour, approximately 20 minutes longer than the FMV sequences in VII.

In an interview with Famitsu, Naora described that the game was generally designed to be a "bright, fresh Final Fantasy. The designers felt a need to invert the atmosphere of previous games in the series, which had feelings of "light emerging from darkness". This decision was easy for the developers to make, because most of them had worked on Final Fantasy VII and felt that a new direction was acceptable. The world designs were also developed with the knowledge that most of the staff were now used to computer graphics, which was not the case with Final Fantasy VII. The developers also noted that with Final Fantasy VIII, they attempted to "mix future, real life and fantasy. As part of a theme desired by Kitase to give the game a foreign atmosphere, various designs were given to its locations using the style of internationally familiar places, while also maintaining a fantasy atmosphere. Inspiration ranged from ancient Egyptian and Greek architecture, to the city of Paris, France, to an idealized futuristic European society. Flags were also given to some factions, their designs based on the group's history and culture.

To maintain a foreign atmosphere, the characters of the game were designed to have predominantly European appearances. The first Final Fantasy VIII character created was Squall. Desiring to add a unique angle to Squall's appearance and emphasize his role as the central character, Nomura gave him a scar across his brow and the bridge of his nose. As there was not yet a detailed history conceived for the character, Nomura left the explanation for Squall's scar to scenario writer Kazushige Nojima. Squall was given a gunblade, a fictional revolver–sword hybrid that functions primarily as a sword, with an added damaging vibration feature activated by use of its gun mechanism, similar to a vibroblade. His character design was complemented by a fur lining along the collar of his jacket, incorporated by Nomura as a challenge for the game's full motion video designers. Additionally, some designs Nomura had previously drawn, but had not yet used in a Final Fantasy game, were incorporated into Final Fantasy VIII. These were the designs of Edea, Fujin and Raijin. The latter two had originally been designed for use in Final Fantasy VII, but with the inclusion of the Turks characters in that game, it was felt that Fujin and Raijin were unnecessary. Nomura had designed Edea before the development of Final Fantasy VII, based on the style of Yoshitaka Amano. For the Guardian Forces, Nomura felt they should be unique beings, without clothes or other human-like concepts. This was problematic, as he did not want them to "become the actual monsters", so he took great care in their design. Leviathan was the first GF, created as a test and included in a game demo. After it received a positive reaction from players, Nomura decided to create the remaining sequences in a similar fashion.

The plot of Final Fantasy VIII was conceived by Kitase, with the stories for the characters provided by Nomura and the actual scenario written by Nojima. During the game's pre-production, Nomura suggested the game be given a "school days" feel. Nojima already had a story in mind in which the main characters were the same age; their ideas meshed, taking form as the "Garden" military academies. Nojima planned that the two playable parties featured in the game (Squall's present day group and Laguna's group from the past) would be highly contrasted with one another. This idea was conveyed through the age and experience of Laguna's group, versus the youth and naïveté of Squall's group. Nojima has expressed that the dynamic of players' relationships with the protagonist is important to him. Both Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII feature reserved, quiet protagonists in the form of Cloud Strife and Squall. With Final Fantasy VIII, however, Nojima worked to give players actual insight into what the character was thinking; a direct contrast with his handling of Final Fantasy VII, which encouraged the player to speculate.


Music

Regular series composer Nobuo Uematsu wrote the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VIII. He tried to base the songs off of the emotional content of when they would be played, asserting that expressing the emotions he desires is more important than improving skills: "I think it will be a shame if we won't be able to cry as we play our own game". He could not determine a character's emotions solely based on the plot, instead using images of appearance and attire—"It's important to know when their emotions are at their height, but it usually takes until a month before release for them to finish the ending dialog...! In response to a question by IGN music stating that the music of Final Fantasy VIII was very dark and perhaps influenced by the plot of the game, Uematsu stated "the atmosphere of music varies depending on story line, of course, but it's also my intention to put various types of music into one game". The absence of character themes found in the previous two games was due to Uematsu finding those of Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII ineffective. Uematsu considers it reasonable to have character themes if each character has a "highlight" in the game, but he found Final Fantasy VIII only focused on Squall Leonhart and Rinoa Heartilly as a couple, resulting in the "Eyes on Me" theme.

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