By thatpinguino 121 Comments
Hey fellow bomba-deers,
I have spent inordinate amount of time writing about Final Fantasy 8 and 9. I have written at least 5 blogs on Giantbomb on both games and I have played through each game at least 4 times each. At this point I think I am Giantbomb's resident expert on these two games in particular and I would like to provide you with the DEFINITIVE HOT TAKE on which game is the best. But first...
FINAL FANTASY VII IS NOT THE BEST PS1 FINAL FANTASY!!! JUST STOP IT!-- a ton of the writing and story in that game does not hold up. Cloud is a pretty flat character who's defining characteristic is not remembering things. Sephiroth is over-rated; he just goes from ordinary soldier to psycho killer way too abruptly. The materia system is fine but 8 and 9 have combat systems that are equal to or greater than 7's. I'm not a real graphics person, but 8 and 9 look like they were made for a different system in a different generation than 7 (and considering 7 was originally an n64 game, I suppose, they were). In short, 7 is the most iconic Final Fantasy game of the PS1 era largely by virtue of it being the first Final Fantasy of the PS1 era; it is by no means the best and if you think it is the best try to play it again and then see how much your nostalgia holds up.
(Sorry FF Tactics people, but that game is not a numbered member of the series. I know it is good and I know that it is the monkey wrench that people love to throw in this discussion, “Yeah Cloud, Squall, and Zidane are fine… but what about Ramza!” That game is great, but it is the king of its own little FF spin-off hamlet with Chocobo Racing and Chocobo’s Dungeon. Honestly the game is just completely different from a gameplay perspective and from a story perspective from anything else in the main line. If you prefer it to the main line Final Fantasies that is cool, but that means you like turn based strategy games and political dramas more than you like the character driven and turn based games of the main line.)
Now it is time for the main event: 8 vs. 9, reluctant hero vs. a thief with a heart of gold, and future steam punk vs. Elizabethan steam punk. To handle this as scientifically as possible I’m going to dissect each game into its essential parts, judge those parts, and then assign a winner. The game with the most points wins!
Best Story: In 8 we have five amnesiac orphans and one general’s daughter- turned terrorist- turned sorceress fighting against a sorceress from the far-flung-future to prevent the total smushing of all time into a single moment of frozen oblivion. Subtlety and restraint are not FF8’s strong suits, but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in balls-to-the-wall craziness. You get a school that turns into a flying bomb shelter, a half-disc long coma, and an impromptu rock concert. 8 somehow merges the cliché and the absurd into a surprisingly believable love story that moves you one way or another, it’s a real love it or hate it story. The biggest achievement in 8’s story is its use of playable flashbacks to slowly fill in the hidden and forgotten backstories of the games two main characters. Through controlling Laguna Loire and his friends the player is allowed to learn the history of Squall’s father and his failed relationship with Rinoa’s mother, Julia Heartilly. Thus, the player is allowed to play through both the forgotten romance of Laguna and Julia as well as the new love of Squall and Rinoa.
In 9 we have a tailed genome thief and a cavalcade of loveable misfits fighting against the living remains of an advanced alien world that is attempting to consume their planet by siphoning out all of the planet’s souls and injecting alien souls in their place, like changing the jelly filling in a donut. 9 also has its fair share of absurdity what with a princess that is revealed to be the last of a dying race and an underground mine that links two continents, filled with giant aquaphobic bugs. 9 takes its fantasy setting and uses it deal with mature topics like war, weapons of mass destruction, arms dealers, and genocide. Of course, the game deals with these topics by making all of the weapons magical and the victims of genocide rat people. 9’s story does not do anything as crazy as 8’s flashback gameplay, but it does do a great job of diversifying its story. Where 8 had a laser like focus on Squall and Rinoa’s relationship, allowing little breathing room for the rest of the cast, 9 gives the entire cast some moments of story focus to develop. Freya gets to react to the ruins of her home of Burmecia, Amarant rebels at Ispen’s Castle; heck, even Quina has some scenes here and there. It is also worth mentioning that 9 has a bit of a meta-story since it is the last FF game that Hironobu Sakaguchi worked on. 9’s story is as much about celebrating the history of the FF series as it is about the main story of Zidane and his party.
The Verdict: 9 definitely has the more mature story and the more varied story, but the singular focus of 8 on the relationship of Squall and Rinoa definitely has its own appeal. In the eternal struggle between soap opera and pure drama I am going to have to go with 9’s mature story by committee over 8’s love novella.
Best Cast: 8 has 6 main party members and really only 2 of them develop: Squall and Rinoa. Selphie stays a bubbly caricature. Irvine stays a lecherous ladies man. Zell stays a spaz. Quistis stays a bookish big sister. Laguna is more developed than any of the main cast members not named Squall or Rinoa and he is definitely my favorite character in the entire game for his mixture of a bumbling personality with strange political competence. At the end of the day 8’s cast isn’t great and its villains are not that compelling. The cardboard cutout cast fits the soap opera story well, but they don’t hold up when examined seprately.
Look, Vivi all by himself is a more compelling and endearing character than anyone in FF8. Vivi is the youngest character in FF9 and he is forced to grapple with his mortality and being created to kill. Spoiler Alert: 9 actually has the stones to kill off its youngest and most vulnerable character at the end of the game AND SHOW YOU HIS DYING THOUGHTS AS A PORTION OF THE EPILOG! Vivi is so well developed that he might even be the main character of the game. As I mentioned in the story portion, the cast of 9 is very well developed and each of the characters shows some form of growth over the course of the game; they make mistakes and actually grow from them, unlike the majority of 8’s cast. Kuja is a much more compelling villain than Seifer or Ultimecia and Queen Brahne is a much more compelling villain than Edea.
The Verdict: 9 in a land slide. It’s not close. Squall is cool and all, but let’s be real.
Best Gameplay: This is probably the toughest category of all because each game has a great combat system, but they are each trying to achieve drastically different things. 8’s junction system is easily the most exploitable and flexible character building system in the FF series. A knowledgeable player can easily have a party with over 4000 hp per character before even fighting a single battle if they so choose. This is because levels have almost no value in FF8, all enemies scale based on Squall’s level and character stats do not grow as fast as enemy stats do. Character growth is instead dictated by the ability to gather and “junction” magic to stats. Since magic can be acquired a number of ways, FF8 is one of the only FF games where character strength has almost no correlation to the amount of battles a player completes. The wide open junction system gives FF8 a ton of replay-ability since your party configuration can be so different and so weird, it makes for fun speed runs and challenge builds like beating the game with your party at level 1.
While 8 chooses to have a system that makes the characters largely interchangeable, 9 uses its combat system to further develop its characters. 9 has a strict class based character building system where only two characters have any overlapping active abilities (the two white mage/ summoners). Each character has a defined role in combat that is tied back to the classes created in games like FF1, 3, 4, and 5. However, 9 uses active and passive abilities as tools to develop its characters. For example, Zidane is a thief with largely traditional thief abilities like Steal and Flee; however, he also learns the passive ability Protect Girls early in the game. Protect Girls allows Zidane to take damage in the place of another character, like a paladin or a knight, but he will only do so to protect a woman. This shows that Zidane will put himself in harm’s way to protect others, but it also says that he is a bit of a flirt since he will only do so for a lady. FF9 has a number of abilities that similarly help to define its characters. Now aside of these interesting story implications, 9 has a fairly vanilla combat system when compared to 8.
The Verdict: I love how 9 uses abilities to character build, but 8’s gameplay is so unique and so special that I have to give it the nod.
Best Card Game: Triple Triad is one of the many keys to breaking the combat system of FF8. The cards in FF8 can be converted into items that can be used to create broken weapons and magic that makes the combat system trivial. Triple Triad also happens to be really, really fun and addictive, at least a quarter of my play time in any FF8 playthrough is spent playing Triple Triad. Not only is the base card game really good, there are a ton of rule sets and different ways to play. If only this game had some kind of online Triple Triad multiplayer, GET ON IT SQUARE.
FF9’s card game, Tetra Master is fine. It is a serviceable card game and playing it well can earn you a good accessory at one point in the game. But it is nowhere near the game that Triple Triad is.
The Verdict: Triple Triad > Tetra Master
Best World: The world of FF8 is crazily detailed for how little the game forces you to explore. There are multiple towns, like the Shumi Village and Winhill, that you literally never have to see, several of which are homes to cool side quests and people. There are awesome side quests that are available on the world map like the creature in Obel Lake and Cactuar Island. The cities of FF8 are very imaginative and cool to see, such as Fisherman’s Horizon, Esthar, and Deling City. Even the Garden and the Ragnarok are really cool vehicles. 8 does not have the thematic consistency of 9, but it more than makes up for it in scope and creativity.
The world of FF9 is just as detailed as the world of FF8, but it does not have the sense of exploration or the variety that 8 has. 9’s towns and cities are all some variety of steam punk or ren-fair. There is no location as crazy as Esthar or the Cetra Ruins of FF8, but there is a consistency of tone and aesthetic that lends a real sense of cohesion to the world of 9. For example, the kingdoms of the Mist Continent have similar technology and cultures that make each kingdom feel distinct, but not out of place. Whereas Esthar and Galbadia seem like they are on entirely different planets. The peoples of Gaia are more interesting than the people of FF8, with civilizations like the dwarves of Conde Petit, the black mages of the Black Mage Village, and the rat people of Burmecia and Clyra. Each civilization is distinct, but they are not so different that they feel thematically inconsistent like Esthar does.
The Verdict: This is another tough, tough call but I’m gonna have to go with the world of 8. The visual creativity and the sense of exploration in 8 is just something special. Secret places like the Island Closest to Heaven and the Island Closest to Hell just are not around in FF9.
Best Side Quest: 8 has a bunch of good side quests, but no single side quest that stands above. There is the creature in Obel Lake and it’s missions. There is the Deep Sea Research Facility and the monsters there. There is the Cetra Ruins and its optional bosses. There is the Shumi Village and its strange people. All good and interesting but none as good as…
The chocobo side quest in FF9! This side quest is great, it unlocks a bunch of great equipment, it unlocks the hardest boss in the game, and it ties into the Mognet sidequest. It even has a guest appearance from Chubby Chocobo aka. Fat Chocobo aka Fats Choco. This side quest is how you unlock most of the game’s best weapons and it prompts the player to explore every inch of the world of FF9. IT EVEN HAS TREASURE MAPS!!
The Verdict: TREASURE MAPS!!!
Best Protagonist: It all comes down to this… Squall vs… Vivi? Yeah that’s right. You remember how I said you can make the argument that Vivi is the main character of 9? Well I’m gonna make that argument. Vivi is introduced not five minutes after Zidane is and he is an original party member. Vivi is as much the game’s focus in the first two discs as Zidane, with the entirety of Brahne’s war exposing Vivi to the horror that he is an artificially created tool of war. He is forced to see the slaughter his enslaved brethren enact in Bermecia, Lindblum, and Clyra. He is the focus of the entire Black Mage Village scene in the second disc. Even Zidane’s time on Terra parallel’s Vivi’s experience with Black Mages. Vivi isn’t the focus of the game’s main romantic plot, so what? Vivi isn’t the character who the player controls, so what? Vivi doesn’t get the most screen time, so what? FF9 encompasses Vivi’s entire maturation, from childhood to adulthood to death; the game begins with Vivi’s first exposure to society and ends at the end of his life. If Zidane has to be the main protagonist then Vivi is 1a. The game is as much Vivi’s game as Zidane’s.
So now that I got that off my chest I guess we can talk about Squall. Squall is a reluctant hero of the highest order and his whininess has put of plenty of people from finishing FF8. I don’t find him especially detestable, but I think that is because his brand of whininess is largely adolescent angst, and I was an adolescent when I first played FF8. He gets more melodramatic every time I play through FF8 and that isn’t a good thing. He is not a terrible character but…
The Verdict: FF9 wins, it’s over. Call it. Just to be clear Zidane is better than Squall too, but Vivi is just so much more likeable and believable.
The Final Verdict: FF9 wins by a hair 4-3. The science proves it. You can’t argue with science. In the battle between great games someone had to win. Sorry if you don’t like the outcome, but life is hard sometimes. Love 8 too, but 9 is the superior game.