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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Squaresoft & EA

Ups: Great story, Lots of great FMV's, Huge game world 

Downs:  Poor graphics, Lots of micro-managment, Linear plot

System Reqs: P200,  32MB RAM, 8MB 3D graphics card, 8XCD-ROM

Much has been debated about the validity of console games ported to the PC platform. Most that I have run across suffer from serious deficiencies in gameplay, graphic quality, and a general haphazardness in their conversion, mostly leading to artifacts in graphics and sound. It is interesting to note that when the switch is the other way around many of the same problems abound, specifically critical differences in gameplay, i.e. Quake II and Starcraft multi-play where there is no choice but to share the same screen with your opponent, destroying all of the surprise value that is so critical in the multi-play of those games. Titles without multi-play options can also suffer from the transition from one platform to another, for example, Final Fantasy VIII's second showing on the PC platform. A lot has apparently been improved since the seventh installment's debut on PC, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make it worthy of competing against the stack of great RPG titles that have emerged in the PC world in the last year, and the bigger stack yet to come.

FFVIII looks, well . . . crappy. Its not the worst I've come across, but I still get miffed when I see gameplay graphics this poor on the PC. The worst part of it is that there is almost nothing you can do about it-your choice in screen resolutions is 640X480 16bpp full screen or 640X480 16bpp quarter screen, what kind of flippin' choice is that?  C'mon here, work with me! And the performance options offer little improvement; to be honest I noticed no difference in gameplay or graphics with all of the tabs on or all off.

On top of that, the most noticeable problem is the abundance of artifacts that assault you on your screen, even more glaring if you are using a high-end machine and a large monitor. Artifacts are those little graphical or audio bits and pieces that stick out like a sore, bloody thumb where they really don't look or sound like they belong. FFVIII presents a never-ending game of Awhich one of these things is not like the other.  I was also plagued by numerous thin horizontal discolored lines on the Field Screen and Battle Screen, which I was never able to remedy through any method I tried. The way I managed to beat all the graphical problems, to a certain small degree, was to go out and buy a gamepad and sit as far away from the screen as the length of its chord would permit.

Thankfully the FMV's don't suffer these problems and made it through  the transition well enough, though at times they chugged along with some noticeable loss in framerates (even on a 750MHz machine with 128MG RAM and a GeForce, what more can they ask for?!)

Despite all these near-blinding problems, FFVIII still manages to capture a gamer's imagination, which says something about the longevity of the series. This serial has gone through an evolution arguably as significant as that of Ultima or Heroes of Might and Magic, following the growth of technology with a handful of great games along the way. If you can manage to come to terms with the visual problems, you'll be treated to an ever-expanding well-thought-out world of fantasy and magic,  presented in the unique aesthetic that is the trademark of the Final Fantasy series. The conventions for gameplay may seem a little foreign to Final Fantasy first-timers or those that have never played console RPGs. For instance, all of the in-game dialog is handled in boxes, where you have to scroll through entire conversations as fast as you can read them to get to the exciting stuff. There is also a lot of very repetitive wandering and searching for clues between battles. This brings me to the Junctioning system that makes this installment different from previous Final Fantasy games. The new way of fighting is a micro-management nightmare, cool when it works, though a pain to learn and use. Don't expect anyone to explain it to you coherently, you just have to mess with it a bunch until you get the idea.

You play the part of Squall Leonhart, a senior cadet in SeeD, a military collage of some sort. As Squall you will advance through the story counteracting with equally well-named characters. The story is in the typical fashion of other Final Fantasy games; exploration and dialog highlighted by a good turn-based fight or two.  I've been continually disappointed with linear RPG's I've played since Grim Fandango; expectations of complex branching plots and subplots are now the rule and I hope it will soon be the exception to find such linear games.

FFVIII comes with five disks including a separate install disc, although the FMV's probably take up half of the space on each disk.  This still leaves you with at least two disks of gameplay, which is still rather large, especially in the PC arena. Don't expect to easily rush through the game; it remains challenging and the gameworld is on par in size with last year's big PC RPG Outcast, though still not as large as any of the online fantasy games.

It was difficult to write a review of FFVIII without it coming off as a list of improvements that would make the next installment of this series a better as well as more commercially viable product in the PC gaming world.  With so many great choices out there I don't feel that FFVIII is even near the top of my list; in fact, the advice I'd give is to either play it on the Playstation, or wait for the next conversion of this long-heralded mainstay of gaming. By the way, the Playstation version of FFVIII's graphics easily exceeds the competition and ensures its continued reign as one of the most respected series in console gaming.  Don't expect the same on your PC.

 --Thomas Hoff