A Web of Resources: Character Building in Final Fantasy 8

Final Fantasy 8 is the first game that I ever bought with my own money. At 8 years old (way too young to play that game by the way) I was exposed to one of the most open, complex, and unintuitive combat systems that I have ever seen in a main stream rpg… and I have been toying with it ever since. It seems to me that Final Fantasy 8’s combat and character development systems are pretty fundamentally different from the average rpg on a philosophical level. Final Fantasy 8 rewards clever use of game mechanics like every good game should, but where it differs from other rpgs is its punishment of grinding and the non-linearity of its character development. Almost all rpgs in some way force or reward grinding; they intentionally throw random encounters at you or construct bosses in such a way that they can be beaten with skill or with the brute force approach. Either figure out how to actually beat the boss or level up to the point where the boss is no longer a threat. Levels equal power and your characters fit somewhere on a difficulty curve based on their level. However, in Final Fantasy 8, purely sinking time into your characters by fighting random encounters or hoarding resources is actively punished by the game and early on the player has access to an Enc-None ability that removes random encounters entirely. Thus, from the start of the game, rather than rewarding or forcing grinding, a clever management of magic, items, and time is rewarded in the form of stronger characters, easier battles, and more varied gameplay.

You see character growth in Final Fantasy 8 is almost completely removed from typical rpg design conventions. Things like your character’s level, weapon, and even their identity matter very little in the grand scheme of combat. Each character in the game begins as a largely blank slate, so much so that characters without junctioned GFs can only attack and perform limit breaks, they have no access to magic or summons or items. This design decision forces players to carefully select and assign GFs to each character to maximize their effectiveness. Each GF confers a number of different abilities and bonuses to the character to which it is junctioned; these abilities range from small bonuses like hp +10% and str +20%, to more customization options like the ability to augment a character’s vitality and magic stats by fortifying those stats with magic. Junctioned GFs can also provide a character with combat abilities like Item, Recover, and Revive which cost nothing and prove to be incredibly useful to the player. By providing the player with a bunch of blank canvases for characters and a variety of paints in the form of GFs, Final Fantasy 8 largely allows the player to decide the combat roles of every character in the game from the moment the game starts. How you allocate the game’s finite number of GFs determines the fundamental makeup of your characters and, since GF junctioning and magic acquisition are not permanent, the game encourages tweaking with junctions and party configurations to find interesting and useful combinations.

Final Fantasy 8 also does away with many of the benefits that a traditional leveling system provides. Although, some stat bonuses are applied whenever a character levels up, those bonuses pale in comparison to the stat boosts that the game’s junction system can confer. This is especially true when considering that the game’s monsters scale based on the level of your party, meaning that out leveling your enemies is never an option. If you do not exploit the junction system in some way you will find that the enemies become quite challenging as the game wears on. I thought during one play-through that I would try grinding out some levels early on to see how well the game’s scaling balanced the enemies. I found that even some of the more common enemies became a problem as the game scaled them. I tried to level my way past enemies and it did not work, I started to have party members knocked out by random encounters; bosses that were cake walks became game over screens. I abandoned that play-through at the end of disk 1 as I found that without really diving into the junction system the game really became a slog and a chore. Over-leveling my characters was in fact the worst thing I could have done. Instead, I have found it vastly more rewarding to keep my party members under-leveled and instead use the junction and GF systems to do the work that hours of combat would do in other games.

Now what exactly does junctioning entail? Put simply, junctioning allows for the player to boost the stats of characters by fortifying things like strength, hp, vitality, and elemental resistances with magic to either boost stats or create an elemental or status strength. You see magic is not a series of spells that drain a pool of mp when they are used, rather magic is treated as an accruable resource that can be acquired and spent, much like money is in most games. Every spell can be cast by every character and up to 100 uses of a given spell can be stored up for use in combat and for junctioning. For example, junctioning a spell like Protect to a character’s vitality will provide a substantial boost to that character’s vitality, the more uses of the protect spell that a character has the higher the stat boost. This leads to every spell being valuable not only for their effects when used in combat, but also for their value in character building. Also since many of the most useful spells are also great for junctioning there is always a balance between using spells in combat and hoarding them to keep your character’s stats up. Magic can be moved freely between characters and even entire character load-outs can be exchanged at will. This creates an open system of character development that encourages experimentation at every step of the game: no character is ever too under-leveled to contribute and you never have to worry about a character’s equipment. All it takes to make a character viable is redistributing some magic and GFs and viola.

What fuels the junction system is a series of exploitable resources that the player has at their disposal. I use the word resources because I believe that although the resources I’m about to describe are all fairly unique and different entities in other games, in Final Fantasy 8 all of these resources can be converted in some way into either a usable item or magic that can be used in character development. In Final Fantasy 8 things like items, cards, and even enemies can be converted into stat boosts or abilities, largely by being converted into magic.

The first resource I want to investigate is enemies. Magic can be drawn infinitely from enemies, and bosses often have GFs that can be drawn from them. This puts a premium both on knowing your enemies as well as not killing them. Since each character can hold 100 uses of a spell and magic can be drawn infinitely from enemies, it is actually more useful to fight one group of enemies until you can find out what magic they carry, as well as stock up on important spells, than to run through them. Simply killing enemies in Final Fantasy 8 is not hard by and large; however, staying alive against the strongest enemies in the game in order to draw magic from them is. This creates a whole other layer to the combat that is not there in most other rpgs. There are always two goals in Final Fantasy 8, getting to the next fight and mining the current fight as long as possible. This is further emphasized when characters gain the mug and devour abilities; from that point on enemies are not just a source of magic and experience, but they are also a constant source of items and even stat bonuses, if you devour or mug the right enemy. Enemies are less of an obstacle in Final Fantasy 8 and more a renewable resource to be exploited.

Another primary source of magic and items in Final Fantasy 8 is the card game Triple Triad and the refining abilities possessed by many GFs. Many of the GFs that the player can acquire over the course of the game have abilities which refine items into magic or other useful items. The GF Quezacotl also allows players to convert cards from Triple Triad into a variety of useful items, which can then be converted into magic or used. My favorite example of how important this source of magic can be is the card Abyssal Worm; it can be won from several npcs about one hour into the game and there is no limit on how many copies of the card you can win from one opponent (I guess semantically there is a 100 card limit for each card but I have never hit it and to do so would be a huge waste of time). This card can be refined into a windmill, an item that is relatively useless; however, that windmill can be refined into 20 uses of the spell Tornado. Tornado is one of the strongest junctioning spells in the game and with 100 uses of it junctioned to any offensive stat or to the hp stat, less than 3 hours into the game, one of your characters can either be strong enough to one shot most random enemies or have life that is so high that their max hp is 5 or 6 times higher than it would be without junctioning. Every card in the game can be refined in a similar way, and although not all of them have such a dramatic effect on gameplay as this example, the fact that you can acquire the building blocks for your characters (rather than some weapons or special magic) from a mini-game rather than through combat is really remarkable. Truthfully, exploiting the card game and using cards as disposable resources allows you to far outpace the rate of character growth that simply playing through the main story allows.

Even if you do not get into the card game there is still a wealth of items that can be refined into powerful magic in Final Fantasy 8. As I mentioned earlier, items can be obtained by mugging enemies or they can be found as drops after a battle. Items can also be bought and sold using gil; however, even gil does not behave like ordinary currency in this game. Gil is paid to your party at a steady rate over the course of the game in the form of a salary. You do not get any money from killing enemies and the dropped items in the game sell for such small amounts that they are by and large not worth selling. On top of restricting the amount of money the player has available, there are not many stores in Final Fantasy 8 to spend money at. There are a hand full of book stores and pet shops to shop at, as well as some general stores, but most of the goods for sale are either one time purchases like books or utility items like potions and phoenix down. This lack of items as well as the throttling of money available to the player largely makes stores useless or at the very least their importance is greatly reduced compared to the ordinary rpg store. Though money is an asset that can be used, it is just that, an asset. Hoarding huge piles of money does not help you in Final Fantasy 8 any more than huge piles of experience do.

Final Fantasy 8 is so interesting to me because it turns many of the ordinary rpg conventions on their heads. It creates a situation where mindlessly bashing your head against mobs of enemies to accrue larger sacks of gold and shinier loot largely means nothing. To hoard in Final Fantasy 8 is to waste resources and to waste time. At the end of the day, piles of experience only makes enemies harder, piles of money can only be spent on useless items, even piles of items can only be refined so many times. Each character can only have 100 uses of a given spell, and since there are only 3 characters in your party at a given time you really only ever need 300 uses of a spell. If you have hoarded 30 windmills with the hope of making your party invincible then you wasted your time, 15 windmills would have been enough to max out all three members of your party and now the other 15 are virtually useless. Final Fantasy 8 is a game of resources and a game of balance, every resource is incredibly valuable to a point, but, once you cross a certain threshold, excess resources become useless. Have more than 300 uses of a spell? Well then everything in excess of 300 is not being utilized. Have 4 str junction abilities? Well then one character has the same junction ability twice, making it irrelevant. Have 1000000 gil after buying all of the books in the game? Well unless you want to buy 1000000 gil worth of potions and phoenix downs there is nothing worth buying. Have level 100 characters? Well level 20 characters with the same junction setup would be more relatively powerful compared against their enemies. Final Fantasy 8 gives you a web of resources to manage and evaluate and 6 characters to design and develop as you choose. It is incredibly rewarding in its freedom, as long as you can accept that the best way to progress is not always to spend more time. 50 hours of grinding cannot do what a modicum of understanding can.

27 Comments
28 Comments
Posted by thatpinguino

Final Fantasy 8 is the first game that I ever bought with my own money. At 8 years old (way too young to play that game by the way) I was exposed to one of the most open, complex, and unintuitive combat systems that I have ever seen in a main stream rpg… and I have been toying with it ever since. It seems to me that Final Fantasy 8’s combat and character development systems are pretty fundamentally different from the average rpg on a philosophical level. Final Fantasy 8 rewards clever use of game mechanics like every good game should, but where it differs from other rpgs is its punishment of grinding and the non-linearity of its character development. Almost all rpgs in some way force or reward grinding; they intentionally throw random encounters at you or construct bosses in such a way that they can be beaten with skill or with the brute force approach. Either figure out how to actually beat the boss or level up to the point where the boss is no longer a threat. Levels equal power and your characters fit somewhere on a difficulty curve based on their level. However, in Final Fantasy 8, purely sinking time into your characters by fighting random encounters or hoarding resources is actively punished by the game and early on the player has access to an Enc-None ability that removes random encounters entirely. Thus, from the start of the game, rather than rewarding or forcing grinding, a clever management of magic, items, and time is rewarded in the form of stronger characters, easier battles, and more varied gameplay.

You see character growth in Final Fantasy 8 is almost completely removed from typical rpg design conventions. Things like your character’s level, weapon, and even their identity matter very little in the grand scheme of combat. Each character in the game begins as a largely blank slate, so much so that characters without junctioned GFs can only attack and perform limit breaks, they have no access to magic or summons or items. This design decision forces players to carefully select and assign GFs to each character to maximize their effectiveness. Each GF confers a number of different abilities and bonuses to the character to which it is junctioned; these abilities range from small bonuses like hp +10% and str +20%, to more customization options like the ability to augment a character’s vitality and magic stats by fortifying those stats with magic. Junctioned GFs can also provide a character with combat abilities like Item, Recover, and Revive which cost nothing and prove to be incredibly useful to the player. By providing the player with a bunch of blank canvases for characters and a variety of paints in the form of GFs, Final Fantasy 8 largely allows the player to decide the combat roles of every character in the game from the moment the game starts. How you allocate the game’s finite number of GFs determines the fundamental makeup of your characters and, since GF junctioning and magic acquisition are not permanent, the game encourages tweaking with junctions and party configurations to find interesting and useful combinations.

Final Fantasy 8 also does away with many of the benefits that a traditional leveling system provides. Although, some stat bonuses are applied whenever a character levels up, those bonuses pale in comparison to the stat boosts that the game’s junction system can confer. This is especially true when considering that the game’s monsters scale based on the level of your party, meaning that out leveling your enemies is never an option. If you do not exploit the junction system in some way you will find that the enemies become quite challenging as the game wears on. I thought during one play-through that I would try grinding out some levels early on to see how well the game’s scaling balanced the enemies. I found that even some of the more common enemies became a problem as the game scaled them. I tried to level my way past enemies and it did not work, I started to have party members knocked out by random encounters; bosses that were cake walks became game over screens. I abandoned that play-through at the end of disk 1 as I found that without really diving into the junction system the game really became a slog and a chore. Over-leveling my characters was in fact the worst thing I could have done. Instead, I have found it vastly more rewarding to keep my party members under-leveled and instead use the junction and GF systems to do the work that hours of combat would do in other games.

Now what exactly does junctioning entail? Put simply, junctioning allows for the player to boost the stats of characters by fortifying things like strength, hp, vitality, and elemental resistances with magic to either boost stats or create an elemental or status strength. You see magic is not a series of spells that drain a pool of mp when they are used, rather magic is treated as an accruable resource that can be acquired and spent, much like money is in most games. Every spell can be cast by every character and up to 100 uses of a given spell can be stored up for use in combat and for junctioning. For example, junctioning a spell like Protect to a character’s vitality will provide a substantial boost to that character’s vitality, the more uses of the protect spell that a character has the higher the stat boost. This leads to every spell being valuable not only for their effects when used in combat, but also for their value in character building. Also since many of the most useful spells are also great for junctioning there is always a balance between using spells in combat and hoarding them to keep your character’s stats up. Magic can be moved freely between characters and even entire character load-outs can be exchanged at will. This creates an open system of character development that encourages experimentation at every step of the game: no character is ever too under-leveled to contribute and you never have to worry about a character’s equipment. All it takes to make a character viable is redistributing some magic and GFs and viola.

What fuels the junction system is a series of exploitable resources that the player has at their disposal. I use the word resources because I believe that although the resources I’m about to describe are all fairly unique and different entities in other games, in Final Fantasy 8 all of these resources can be converted in some way into either a usable item or magic that can be used in character development. In Final Fantasy 8 things like items, cards, and even enemies can be converted into stat boosts or abilities, largely by being converted into magic.

The first resource I want to investigate is enemies. Magic can be drawn infinitely from enemies, and bosses often have GFs that can be drawn from them. This puts a premium both on knowing your enemies as well as not killing them. Since each character can hold 100 uses of a spell and magic can be drawn infinitely from enemies, it is actually more useful to fight one group of enemies until you can find out what magic they carry, as well as stock up on important spells, than to run through them. Simply killing enemies in Final Fantasy 8 is not hard by and large; however, staying alive against the strongest enemies in the game in order to draw magic from them is. This creates a whole other layer to the combat that is not there in most other rpgs. There are always two goals in Final Fantasy 8, getting to the next fight and mining the current fight as long as possible. This is further emphasized when characters gain the mug and devour abilities; from that point on enemies are not just a source of magic and experience, but they are also a constant source of items and even stat bonuses, if you devour or mug the right enemy. Enemies are less of an obstacle in Final Fantasy 8 and more a renewable resource to be exploited.

Another primary source of magic and items in Final Fantasy 8 is the card game Triple Triad and the refining abilities possessed by many GFs. Many of the GFs that the player can acquire over the course of the game have abilities which refine items into magic or other useful items. The GF Quezacotl also allows players to convert cards from Triple Triad into a variety of useful items, which can then be converted into magic or used. My favorite example of how important this source of magic can be is the card Abyssal Worm; it can be won from several npcs about one hour into the game and there is no limit on how many copies of the card you can win from one opponent (I guess semantically there is a 100 card limit for each card but I have never hit it and to do so would be a huge waste of time). This card can be refined into a windmill, an item that is relatively useless; however, that windmill can be refined into 20 uses of the spell Tornado. Tornado is one of the strongest junctioning spells in the game and with 100 uses of it junctioned to any offensive stat or to the hp stat, less than 3 hours into the game, one of your characters can either be strong enough to one shot most random enemies or have life that is so high that their max hp is 5 or 6 times higher than it would be without junctioning. Every card in the game can be refined in a similar way, and although not all of them have such a dramatic effect on gameplay as this example, the fact that you can acquire the building blocks for your characters (rather than some weapons or special magic) from a mini-game rather than through combat is really remarkable. Truthfully, exploiting the card game and using cards as disposable resources allows you to far outpace the rate of character growth that simply playing through the main story allows.

Even if you do not get into the card game there is still a wealth of items that can be refined into powerful magic in Final Fantasy 8. As I mentioned earlier, items can be obtained by mugging enemies or they can be found as drops after a battle. Items can also be bought and sold using gil; however, even gil does not behave like ordinary currency in this game. Gil is paid to your party at a steady rate over the course of the game in the form of a salary. You do not get any money from killing enemies and the dropped items in the game sell for such small amounts that they are by and large not worth selling. On top of restricting the amount of money the player has available, there are not many stores in Final Fantasy 8 to spend money at. There are a hand full of book stores and pet shops to shop at, as well as some general stores, but most of the goods for sale are either one time purchases like books or utility items like potions and phoenix down. This lack of items as well as the throttling of money available to the player largely makes stores useless or at the very least their importance is greatly reduced compared to the ordinary rpg store. Though money is an asset that can be used, it is just that, an asset. Hoarding huge piles of money does not help you in Final Fantasy 8 any more than huge piles of experience do.

Final Fantasy 8 is so interesting to me because it turns many of the ordinary rpg conventions on their heads. It creates a situation where mindlessly bashing your head against mobs of enemies to accrue larger sacks of gold and shinier loot largely means nothing. To hoard in Final Fantasy 8 is to waste resources and to waste time. At the end of the day, piles of experience only makes enemies harder, piles of money can only be spent on useless items, even piles of items can only be refined so many times. Each character can only have 100 uses of a given spell, and since there are only 3 characters in your party at a given time you really only ever need 300 uses of a spell. If you have hoarded 30 windmills with the hope of making your party invincible then you wasted your time, 15 windmills would have been enough to max out all three members of your party and now the other 15 are virtually useless. Final Fantasy 8 is a game of resources and a game of balance, every resource is incredibly valuable to a point, but, once you cross a certain threshold, excess resources become useless. Have more than 300 uses of a spell? Well then everything in excess of 300 is not being utilized. Have 4 str junction abilities? Well then one character has the same junction ability twice, making it irrelevant. Have 1000000 gil after buying all of the books in the game? Well unless you want to buy 1000000 gil worth of potions and phoenix downs there is nothing worth buying. Have level 100 characters? Well level 20 characters with the same junction setup would be more relatively powerful compared against their enemies. Final Fantasy 8 gives you a web of resources to manage and evaluate and 6 characters to design and develop as you choose. It is incredibly rewarding in its freedom, as long as you can accept that the best way to progress is not always to spend more time. 50 hours of grinding cannot do what a modicum of understanding can.

Posted by Daneian

As much as I love FF8's junction system and this is a great recap of it, I cant help but take the same issue I have with materia in 7: it makes the spells and summons the most important element in combat and relegates each character to an empty vessel for them. The only practical difference between Squall and Zell are their limit breaks and, far less importantly, their weapons. Say what you will about the combat system and progression in 9, at least it made you think about which characters to build your party with.

Great essay.

Posted by Ravenlight

FFVIII is my favorite Final Fantasy. For all its flaws, I love the Junction System. But those looooong-ass summon animations? Damn.

You probably only needed to link the first instance of "Final Fantasy 8," though :P

Posted by thatpinguino

@Daneian: I agree that the more focused character progression and skill delineation in other games makes party construction more important. However, it also restricts how much freedom and creativity is available in combat and in character construction. For example, Steiner in Final Fantasy 9 is a physical damage dealer if you are creative, if you are lazy, if you are smart about how to use him, or if you have no idea how to use him Steiner is what he is and no matter how you build him over the course of the game he will always be a physical attacker. Now while this lends more definition to the character it also detracts from the amount of personal expression the player can exert. This is the constant struggle in rpg system design and character design. I tend to side with giving the player more freedom because it is always more interesting to provide people with tools and see how they use them rather than handing out blue prints and waiting for people to follow them.

Posted by mandude

I wish more games would take a page from the junction system. Final Fantasy VIII had the best system of any FF by far...

@Ravenlight said:

FFVIII is my favorite Final Fantasy. For all its flaws, I love the Junction System. But those looooong-ass summon animations? Damn.

I seem to recall an option to make them shorter in the menus. I also recall this being an absolute necessity if you planned on using Eden.

Posted by thatpinguino

@Ravenlight said:

FFVIII is my favorite Final Fantasy. For all its flaws, I love the Junction System. But those looooong-ass summon animations? Damn.

I actually never use the summons anymore when I play through 8 except diablos to kill tonberries to get the tonberry gf. The animations were so long I always junction my characters to have max speed and strength to physically attack enemies to death as quickly as possible.

Posted by EpochError

I love FF8 and the junction system, even though you can get game-breakingly powerful if you do the right things. Maybe that's part of the appeal? The idea that if you put in the time drawing, exploring what can be refined into what with the GF abilities, finding hidden draw points, etc. that the reward is very tangible. Triple Triad is great on its own and the integration into main game with card mod and the various refining abilities you can get is really exceptional. It always feels like you have a ton of options at your disposal, in terms of how you're getting magic and what stats you're boosting with it.

Posted by thatpinguino

@EpochError: I think what you said reminded me of something I really should have said more clearly in my blog post. The junction system is the one system you have to exploit in ff8, rather than having to juggle several. In ff7 there is the materia system and the various equipment; in ff9 there are the various abilities and the equipment load-outs; in ff10 there is the sphere grid and the weapon system. Although these other games do have some overlap between systems, in ff8 amost every aspect of character building is part of the same robust system. There is one deep system to master rather than several shallower ones.

Posted by thatpinguino

@Daneian: Though it does make the actual characters basically empty vessels, the junction system does allow the player the freedom to mix and match characters as he/she pleases. Also it allows the characters to be a full expression of the player. No matter how creative you are in FFIX, Steiner will always be a physical damage dealer; Quina will always be a blue mage. In FFVIII the player can make any character into any combination of combat roles and abilities he or she chooses. The character development, as far as combat is concerned, is left entirely up to the player. It is certainly a different way of designing a combat system, and it may devalue the value of specific characters, but I think there is something really interesting about the characters in FFVIII being true blank slates.

Posted by Daneian
@thatpinguino

@Daneian: Though it does make the actual characters basically empty vessels, the junction system does allow the player the freedom to mix and match characters as he/she pleases. Also it allows the characters to be a full expression of the player. No matter how creative you are in FFIX, Steiner will always be a physical damage dealer; Quina will always be a blue mage. In FFVIII the player can make any character into any combination of combat roles and abilities he or she chooses. The character development, as far as combat is concerned, is left entirely up to the player. It is certainly a different way of designing a combat system, and it may devalue the value of specific characters, but I think there is something really interesting about the characters in FFVIII being true blank slates.

Then theres no reason to have any more characters than the the three or four that would be in your party. If memory srves, Final Fantasy 3s Job System allowed anyone to be anything so stripped it down to four players.
Posted by thatpinguino

@Daneian: But the six characters do have differences in their limit breaks and their aesthetics. The difference between character's limit breaks can lead to different play styles or party choices, especially considering that characters in FFVIII can use their limit breaks repeatedly so long as their hp is low.

However I am more interested in your idea that payable characters must have a statistical or tactical difference, or else they do not need to exist. Though it is true that there may be no functional difference between a party of Squall, Selphie, and Quistis and a party of Squall, Zell, and Irvine, I do think that the ability to freely choose the characters you like best is a reason to have each character be a blank slate. For example, in FFIX I really like the character Quina, but Quina is one of the most obtuse and difficult to use characters in the game to use effectively. Thus, when I play FFIX I almost never use one of the characters who's design I find most interesting because the gameplay mechanics associated with that character keep me away. I think that it is a rather interesting choice to keep the characters relatively blank and let the player choose who to use based on which character they prefer, be it the personality of the character or the visual design. I think that the blank slate decision puts more emphasis on the differences between the character's personalities, rather than their mechanical differences.

Edited by Hunter5024

You don't really even need GF's or magic or any of that noise. Just keep squall at yellow, junction automatically for str, and spam renzokuken and you'll defeat nearly every boss in the game. Equip Auto Haste once you get it too.

Edit: Great post by the way, I'm always thinking about stuff like this. Especially where to draw the line between player expression and game expression. Personally I feel like there should be tree's of growth that are specific to each character so that the player can still be creative, but without betraying the spirit of the character.

Posted by Alkaiser

@Daneian said:

As much as I love FF8's junction system and this is a great recap of it, I cant help but take the same issue I have with materia in 7: it makes the spells and summons the most important element in combat and relegates each character to an empty vessel for them. The only practical difference between Squall and Zell are their limit breaks and, far less importantly, their weapons. Say what you will about the combat system and progression in 9, at least it made you think about which characters to build your party with.

Great essay.

To be honest, I kind of prefer the idea of blank slates characters that you're free to choose from and mold to your liking then the opposite. Especially when its done poorly, such as in FF13 imo. I probably would've been able to play through that game if Sazh hadn't been garbage and the game didn't basically force you to use Shinji Ikari 2.0.

Then again, 9 was awesome and I didn't feel restrained or that I was being shoehorned into using a character I disliked because they were good combatants. So I guess its just a matter of execution.

Edited by doosmacleod

I loved the fundamental idea behind FF8's stat system. However, for me it always involved spending half of the game suppressing character levels by Carding every mob (until you get Enc-None). I reach a point where my characters can be around level 10-ish, and have the entire party with 100 Full-Life, 100 Meltdown, 100 Pain and 100 Tornado. I (and, in retrospect, it may be due to my time playing Anarchy Online, twinking the hell out of tons of characters) turned the game into a math problem. farm up Gayla cards, Card Mod, Status Magic, Meltdown. Squall is now immune to physical attacks.

It all felt so easy to game. And while I loved being able to do that, it ... it sort of felt like it took away from the experience. Like I was playing the game poorly.

@Alkaiser said:

Then again, 9 was awesome and I didn't feel restrained or that I was being shoehorned into using a character I disliked because they were good combatants. So I guess its just a matter of execution.

Really? I thought you were pretty much forced to have Zidane and Steiner in your party just due to how incredible they were in battle (opinions of them being a more personal matter -- I loved Steiner and loathed Zidane).

Posted by thatpinguino

@Hunter5024: I think the character tree is a great middle ground between giving the player completely blank slates and giving them no choice. I do find the more open character development systems more interesting because I have a great interest in rpg systems that do not simply reward players for over-leveling and grinding, and it would seem that the more open systems do a better job of mitigating grind.

@doosmacleod:

@doosmacleod said:

Really? I thought you were pretty much forced to have Zidane and Steiner in your party just due to how incredible they were in battle (opinions of them being a more personal matter -- I loved Steiner and loathed Zidane).

You do have to have Zidane for much of the game because the game forces him into your party; however, I have done some play-throughs without using Steiner. Steiner is one of the most powerful characters in the game and one of the most straight forward; but, you can get by without him.

Posted by Alkaiser

@doosmacleod said:

@Alkaiser said:

Then again, 9 was awesome and I didn't feel restrained or that I was being shoehorned into using a character I disliked because they were good combatants. So I guess its just a matter of execution.

Really? I thought you were pretty much forced to have Zidane and Steiner in your party just due to how incredible they were in battle (opinions of them being a more personal matter -- I loved Steiner and loathed Zidane).

I guess I'm kinda used to games where you have to have the main character in your party. And I liked Steiner and Vivi a bunch, so that helped I guess.

Posted by Daneian
Posted by thatpinguino

@Daneian: It is an odd thing, I tend to like the gameplay more when I have full control of character development; but, I think the story is made stronger when character's roles in combat are based on their personalities. I'm sure there is a way to blend the two even more than they have been in the past. Perhaps the Persona way where one character is completely open and the rest are predetermined.

Posted by doosmacleod

Yeah. If memory serves me correctly (and it's been like over a decade, so it might be a bit fuzzy), once you get to Memoria, you actually have the ability make a party sans-Zidane. Which actually made for a different playstyle, given he was just an unstoppable powerhouse, much moreso when in Trance.

Man, I'm nostalgiaing hard for the PSX Final Fantasy games.

Posted by thatpinguino

@doosmacleod: I know you could make a party without Zidane for the final battle, but by that point the members of the team that I did not regularly use were so under-leveled that I couldn't use them. My favorite party is definitely Freya, Amarant, Zidane, and either Eiko or Dagger.

Posted by Daneian

@thatpinguino: Whats great about those games implementation is that the gameplay and story aren't disingenuous as a total package. By having a mute protagonist, the design was allowed to have a blank slate character while making the games heavily story based. Similarly, you don't have much control over your friends development so they are characters that grow complementary to the story.

Posted by Hailinel

@Daneian said:

@thatpinguino

@Daneian: Though it does make the actual characters basically empty vessels, the junction system does allow the player the freedom to mix and match characters as he/she pleases. Also it allows the characters to be a full expression of the player. No matter how creative you are in FFIX, Steiner will always be a physical damage dealer; Quina will always be a blue mage. In FFVIII the player can make any character into any combination of combat roles and abilities he or she chooses. The character development, as far as combat is concerned, is left entirely up to the player. It is certainly a different way of designing a combat system, and it may devalue the value of specific characters, but I think there is something really interesting about the characters in FFVIII being true blank slates.

Then theres no reason to have any more characters than the the three or four that would be in your party. If memory srves, Final Fantasy 3s Job System allowed anyone to be anything so stripped it down to four players.

The characters in FFIII could have any job, but they didn't have much character, particularly in the original Famicom version. ("Hi! We are a quartet of nameless people with zero personality out to save the world!")

Posted by Hunter5024

@thatpinguino said:

@Hunter5024: I think the character tree is a great middle ground between giving the player completely blank slates and giving them no choice. I do find the more open character development systems more interesting because I have a great interest in rpg systems that do not simply reward players for over-leveling and grinding, and it would seem that the more open systems do a better job of mitigating grind.

You're right about the more open ended systems mitigating grinding, but they introduce a whole set of other problems, most noticeably Power Creep. When the systems are less open ended that allows the designer to know generally how strong someone is going to be at any given part, and that allows them to craft encounters that are suited to that level of difficulty. When it's open ended players almost always find the most effective builds possible and that essentially makes the rest of the game easy mode.

Posted by thatpinguino

@Hunter5024: You can work to control power creep by keeping track of when abilities become available to the player and throttling how much exp they can actually earn. The new Penny Arcade game is a good example of this. In that game the player is given free reign to assign character classes to each of the characters, but they start with only one class slot before expanding to two, thus limiting the actual range of possibilities. Also that game has a finite number of enemy encounters; this allows the developers to have a general idea of what level players will be if they don't grind. That game is not perfectly balanced, but I can say that there is no single obvious build for each of the characters.

Posted by Hunter5024

@thatpinguino said:

@Hunter5024: You can work to control power creep by keeping track of when abilities become available to the player and throttling how much exp they can actually earn. The new Penny Arcade game is a good example of this. In that game the player is given free reign to assign character classes to each of the characters, but they start with only one class slot before expanding to two, thus limiting the actual range of possibilities. Also that game has a finite number of enemy encounters; this allows the developers to have a general idea of what level players will be if they don't grind. That game is not perfectly balanced, but I can say that there is no single obvious build for each of the characters.

That's interesting. I intend to play that when I get the chance. Personally I don't really believe in limiting the amount of experience a player gets in an RPG though because progression is such an important mechanic in the genre, that it doesn't feel right when the player isn't in control of it. But it's definitely better than having everything be really easy.

Posted by thatpinguino

@Hunter5024: There is a Colosseum area where you can grind; but, I found that on normal you don't need to, and hard doesn't seem to be much harder. Though I have died a few times playing on hard so i think real strategy might be necessary on hard.

Posted by Hunter5024

@thatpinguino: They thought of everything. Gotta play that game.

Posted by kerse

I built my party around just having aura on squall or keeping him at low life to just pound bosses to death very quickly last boss was tricky but by then you probably have like 20 aura stones and 100 megalixirs. FF8 is still my favorite ff not by much though.