Final Fantasy VIII is a role-playing video game developed and published by Square for the PlayStation console. Released in 1999, it is the eighth main installment in the Final Fantasy series. Set on an unnamed fantasy world with science fiction elements, the game follows a group of young mercenaries, led by Squall Leonhart, as they are drawn into a conflict sparked by Ultimecia, a sorceress from the future who wishes to compress time. During the quest to defeat Ultimecia, Squall struggles with his role as leader and develops a romance with one of his comrades, Rinoa Heartilly.
Development began in 1997, during the English localization of Final Fantasy VII. The game builds on the visual changes brought to the series by Final Fantasy VII, including the use of 3D graphics and pre-rendered backgrounds, while also departing from many Final Fantasy traditions. It is the first Final Fantasy to use realistically proportioned characters consistently, feature a vocal piece as its theme music, and forgo the use of magic points for spellcasting.
Final Fantasy VIII was mostly well received by critics, who praised its originality and visuals while criticizing some of its gameplay elements. It was voted the 22nd-best game of all time in 2006 by readers of the Japanese magazine Famitsu. The game was a commercial success, grossing $151 million in its first day of release in Japan, and more than $50 million during its first 13 weeks in North America, making it the fastest-selling Final Fantasy title until Final Fantasy XIII, a multi-platform release. A Microsoft Windows port followed in 2000, with the addition of the Chocobo World minigame. Final Fantasy VIII was re-released worldwide as a PSOne Classic on the PlayStation Store in 2009, for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable, with support for PlayStation Vita in 2012. It was re-released via Steam in 2013. By August 2019, it had sold more than 9.6 million copies worldwide. A remastered version was released for Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in September 2019, and iOS, and Android in March 2021.
Like the Final Fantasy games before it, Final Fantasy VIII consists of three main modes of play: the world map, the field map, and the battle screen. The world map is a 3D display in which the player may navigate freely across a small-scale rendering of the game world. Characters travel across the world map in a variety of ways, including by foot, car, Chocobo, train, and airship. The field map consists of controllable 3D characters overlaid on 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. The interface is menu-driven, as in previous titles, but with the typical weapon and armor systems removed and new features present, such as the Junction system. Also featured is a collectible card-based minigame called “Triple Triad”.
For Final Fantasy VIII, Hiroyuki Ito designed a battle system based on summoned monsters, called “Guardian Forces”, abbreviated in-game as “GF”. Assigning (“junctioning”) a GF onto a character allows the player to use battle commands beyond Attack with the main weapon, such as Magic, GF (to have a junctioned GF perform an action), and Item. Previous Final Fantasy titles provided each character with a limited pool of magic points that were consumed by each spell; in Final Fantasy VIII, spells are acquired (“drawn”) either from enemies in battle, Draw Points distributed throughout the environments, or by refining items and cards. Spells are then stocked on characters as quantified inventory (up to 100 per spell and limited to 32 distinct spells per character) and are consumed one by one when used. Characters can also junction (equip) these spells onto their statistics—such as Strength, Vitality, and Luck—for various bonuses, provided the character has junctioned a Guardian Force. The junction system’s flexibility affords the player a wide range of customization.
These expanded mechanics for summons were a departure for the series; in previous titles, summons were relegated to a single action during battle. The junction system also acts as a substitute for armor and accessories, which were used in earlier games to modify character statistics. Moreover, where earlier titles required weapons to be equipped and tailored to the character, each major character in Final Fantasy VIII features a unique weapon which can be upgraded, affecting its appearance, power, and Limit Break.
As in Final Fantasy VII, characters in Final Fantasy VIII have unique abilities called “Limit Breaks”, which range from powerful attacks to support spells. While the characters in Final Fantasy VII receive Limit Breaks after incurring significant damage, in Final Fantasy VIII, Limit Breaks become available only at low health (hit points) under normal circumstances. The magic spell Aura increases the probability of Limit Breaks appearing, regardless of a character’s remaining hit points, while various status afflictions can prevent Limit Breaks. They are similar to the Desperation Attacks of Final Fantasy VI, albeit more frequent. Final Fantasy VIII also introduced interactive elements to complement Limit Break animations. These interactive sequences, which vary between character, weapon, and Limit Break, range from randomly selected magic spells to precisely timed button inputs. Successfully completing an interactive sequence increases the potency of the Limit Break.
Final Fantasy VIII features an experience point (EXP) system quite different from previous titles. The essentials remain unchanged: characters gain EXP after defeating enemies, which are typically encountered randomly throughout the game’s environments. Earning a set amount of EXP causes the character to gain a level, which increases their overall statistics. While previous titles feature an EXP curve that increases with each level (e.g. getting to level 2 requires 200 EXP, level 3 requires 400, etc.), characters in Final Fantasy VIII gain a level after accumulating a flat rate of 1000 points. Enemy levels are based on the party’s average level; in most RPGs, enemy levels remain stagnant. Some bosses have level caps to prevent the main quest from becoming too difficult. Higher-level enemies are capable of inflicting and withstanding significantly more damage, may have additional special attacks, and carry additional magic spells, allowing for Junctioning bonuses which themselves far exceed the bonuses imparted by level-gain. The game’s unique EXP and level system allows a player to grind to maximum Level 100 before even beginning the plot, though this will result in far more powerful enemies.
In addition to gaining levels, Guardian Forces earn Ability Points (AP) after battles, which are automatically allocated to special abilities that Guardian Forces can learn. When a Guardian Force has learned an ability, that ability becomes available for any character or the character party, as is the case with field abilities. These abilities allow characters to attack more efficiently, refine magic spells from items, receive stat bonuses upon leveling up, access shops remotely, and use additional battle commands.