A Complete Materpiece
Final Fantasy VII certainly cast a large shadow, being considered widely to be the best video game ever created, and it's unfortunate that whatever game followed was all-but doomed to obscurity. But for those who saw it in it's uniqueness and weren't attempting futilely to compare it to other titles, there was a large and beautiful story to be experienced.
The story focuses on Squall, a student at a military academy who is incredibly anti-social, but also very talented. You'll notice quickly that you get a better look at your protagonist than normal through his thought bubbles. They appear throughout the game, allowing you to know what he's thinking without him breaking character and speaking out. From the cover of the game you can presume that there is also a romantic aspect to the plot, which makes the character more interesting, as he appears early on as though he would resent the idea of a relationship. The other characters who gradually join the team have very distinct personalities also, and provide their own input on the goings-on depending on who is in your party.
One of the shining aspects of this game is it's soudtrack. The opening cutscene is very operatic, at that sets the tone for much of the game's score. Some battle themes are more electronic sounding, but are very upbeat and exciting, namely Force Your Way, the boss theme. Dungeons have very fitting music with Find Your Way, a very eerie sounding song. The main theme of the game appears to be the melody you'll first hear at your school, a bright sounding tune that will have a few variations throughout the game that help tie the epic story back to the innocent times at the school in the beginning.
Ofcourse this is Final Fantasy we're talking about, and battling huge monsters is the name of the game, right? The turn-based battle system common in most FF titles is in place, as is the large amount of customizability. The main change that has occurred is the magic system. Magic spells, like Fire or Confuse, are now kept in an inventory-style system. Magic is 'drawn' from enemies in the game that carry unlimited amounts for you to take from and add to your stock. The spells can then be cast from your menu or attatched to equipment to give you various benefits (eg. resistance to fire, or confuse on hit). It's a complex system that can keep you busy for hours tweaking your character, or can be done in seconds automatically.
Another significant aspect of combat are summons, called Guardian Forces (GFs). In earlier FF installments, summons were a smaller option, but they play a large role in FF8. GF's, like magic, are equipped to characters, not just for summoning in battle, but to give you passive benefits or new command options that the GFs learn by gaining AP. At the end of each battle, you earn experience and your GFs gain AP which helps you learn their skills. Summoning a GF in battle requires no kind of mana cost, just time for the summon to appear, while your character waits. GFs have their own health meters and take damage while being summoned, instead of the character themselves if hit.
With many hours of gameplay, including sidequests, minigames and the main story, you will not be disappointed in the least by Final Fantasy 8 if you're an RPG enthusiast and aren't expecting FF7-2. Prepare to be swept away.