Playing My First Final Fantasy Game - Parts 1-8: Getting Use to Final Fantasy VIII

Parts 9-20 ----->

Part 1: Introductions – Or Why Am I Doing This

As mentioned before I have the noted distinction of having never played a Final Fantasy game before. For this introductory paragraph, I will go ahead and explain why I selected Final Fantasy VIII to end that horrible pox. Firstly, I do not own any Sony based platforms at all which seriously limited my choices. This also meant that I was stuck with whatever games were available on the PC. Luckily for me Steam had its Summer Sale and Final Fantasy VII and VIII where both half off. Now why I selected VIII over VII falls squarely on the shoulders of my “Final Fantasy Sherpa@thatpinguino who rope-a-doped me into doing this. Firstly he indicated that VIII was easier than VII, and secondly he felt it would be funnier to see me react to VIII rather than VII. I guess I have to discover what he means by that latter fact as I play more of this game.

Part 2: Everything I Know About Final Fantasy (the Franchise) Before Starting This

Now of course I have talked to people that have actually played Final Fantasy games before. Surprise suprise wink wink nudge nudge. I have no idea where I was going with that. Not knowing even an infinitesimal amount of Final Fantasy trivia or nomenclature is all but impossible in this day and age. However, I’m not starting out with a lot. So to show you how “dire” my understanding of the beloved Final Fantasy franchise is here’s a list of everything I already know about it:

  • Final Fantasy VIII stars Squall.
  • Final Fantasy VII stars Cloud
  • The villain of Final Fantasy VIII is Ultimecia.
  • Aeries dies in Final Fantasy VII.
  • Kafka is not a modernist author, but an evil clown.
  • Ozma is a really hard boss.
  • I will be using Phoenix Down.
  • Spoony Bard
  • Son of a submariner.
  • People love Final Fantasy Tactics.
  • Cast life on Sin.

List of proper nouns that I know come from Final Fantasy: Golbez, Cid, Aeries, Kafka, Shinra Corp., Tidus, Barrett, Lightning, Squall, Vanilla, and Noel.

Yup that’s it! I am so doomed.

Part 3: First Impressions are Everything – Or I Don't Understand the First Ten Minutes of This Game

Why are the introductory credits introduced with a montage of black and white stock photos of characters I have never seen before? This introductory montage is baffling and incredibly weird especially considering that all of the photos appear to be sequences that I will latter experience in the game. What's the purpose of this, and why would you include this? Worse yet is how most of the photos have been hilarious cropped to remove the faces of the characters in them. If you really needed and introductory credit sequence then just have white text on a black background with orchestral music.

What is the purpose of this?
What is the purpose of this?

Then we have our introductory cutscene which already plows the seeds of confusion into my skull. Firstly, I have to give the game credit where credit is due. The character designs and cut scenes do not look as outdated as I had originally anticipated. This cold open however, featuring who I can only assume is Squall with a yet unnamed antagonist, is a bit too cold for my tastes. Not only do I not have any idea why these two are fighting, or what they are fighting for, but there are these sudden smash cuts to this dark haired female character with zero proper juxtapositioning. This introduction is a rather dizzying ordeal and it is further compounded by the fact that there is no dialogue. Yes I understand what the technological limitations of 1999 are, but holy crap I have no idea what is going on right now. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? WHO AM I? WHY ARE WE FIGHTING? WHERE ARE MY PANTS?

We then transition to Squall waking up in a hospital bed. It is there that the game makes the horrible mistake of allowing me to name Squall to whatever I please. Now I have to let you in on an odd gaming habit that I have. Ever since I started playing games I have always named my characters after California politicians from the 1990s to early 2000s. You can blame SimCity 2000 and 3000 for starting that habit. Anyways the result of this is that Squall is now named “Jerry B,” after California’s most famous octogenarian, and current governor, Jerry Brown. This taskmaster isn’t just going to solve California’s water crisis, but he is also going defeat all of the evil of the world of Final Fantasy VIII. Wait a minute...where is this game taking place?

I'm not joking about how I named Squall
I'm not joking about how I named Squall

Once I’m done naming Squall I am already asking myself a myriad of question like the one above. Most of them are absolutely inane. Like, what is going on in this world where teenagers are trusted with giant swords with guns on them? That and if the introductory cutscene is to believed then I got into a huge fight with giant swords, why have I not been suspended.? What’s up with the discipline in this school?

You want to know which post-apocalyptic future I wouldn’t want to be in? The one where teenagers are smacking each other in the face with giant swords with guns built into them. That’s even bellow Fallout 3 for me.

Part 5: The Moment I Realized I Was in Trouble

Alright, let’s roll this one back because I can already anticipate what one of the biggest issues with this game is going to be. The default keyboard controls for this game are MAD WHACK! Sorry that was my attempt to try and talk like it was 1999. Anyways take a gander at the default key bindings for Final Fantasy VIII on the PC:

[insert fart sound noises]
[insert fart sound noises]

No WASD, no mouse control, and I still have no idea what the “HOME” button is. Oh, and by the way you have to use the arrow keys to move around in the world. I am going to have to change these key bindings or else I am going to die.

Anyways at this point Squall is now under the careful ward of Quistis, who I assume is a teacher otherwise Squall’s permissiveness with how he follows her without question is rather troubling. In fact before this I took a deck of playing cards from a random dude so maybe abductions and kidnappings aren't a thing in this world. Anyways let’s talk about the importance of “place.” So this is like a school for teenagers that can cast magic? It’s kind of like Starfleet Academy but Final Fantasy? Even if you responded with “no” in regards to that last analogy I’m still going to pretend that this game is secretly set in the Star Trek universe otherwise I will lose my fleeting grasp over what is going on right now. Rather than hit me up with tutorial after tutorial the game should have just paused for a bit and explain what is going on with the world, even if that meant a ten minute talking sequence with no gameplay.

I like the look of the world which is why I wished the game actually took the time to establish the importance of "the Garden". It is a fantastical and beautiful environment to look at even today, but I wanted it to be a character in and of itself earlier. I guess what I am trying to get at is that I hope that the designer’s intent was to have me, the player, feel as out of water and bewildered as Squall. If not then I find it hard already to be enamored with this world.

Part 6: Junctioning – Or: OH GOD PLEASE HELP ME I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS WORKS!!!!!!!

I mean don’t even understand how to "junction" abilities to my command list. Here’s the screen when I junction:

OH GOD what is this screen?
OH GOD what is this screen?

You see that “Command” list where I am supposed to assign abilities like draw or summon? How do I put stuff in that? I finally was able to put stuff into that list after randomly hitting buttons on my keyboard, but I don’t actually understand how I did that. In conjunction with that, do you want to know what I think is a major jerk move? Having a tutorial that shows you how to junction abilities and not have any of the junctions shown during that tutorial stick permanently. Here I was thinking that Squall was all set up for battle when a neon rib cage decided to attack me only to discover that the only thing I can do is "attack".

I didn't actually realize that something was wrong until I reached the “Educational Lava Cave of Doom.” Which I might say I couldn’t find because the game didn’t give me a way point and I accidentally went to the town with the train station instead. Thanks game. Anyways I finally realized the importance of having actual junctions while in the Educational Lava Cave of Doom, but only after I had engaged the first timed mission. One more thing and ties into the fact that Squall is named "Jerry B." I have named have named all of the junctions after political terms. Right now Quistis has been junctioned with “Veto,” and Squall has been junctioned with “Fillibust-(er).”

This is not a place for a field trip!
This is not a place for a field trip!

Don’t actually answer this question, but why are all of the summons in this game named after major and minor deities in Western and Eastern religions? I get that it is kind of awesome to be able to summon “Shiva” to fight for you, but why are Hindu based Gods in a world that, at least from inference, is not on Earth? I guess I can chalk that one up as an anachronism.

Part 7: Victory Amidst Despair - Beating My First Final Fantasy Boss

Or how I used spam to defeat the first boss. I completely forgot that you want to grind in JRPGs, so when Quistis told me that I had to report to the Educational Lava Cave of Doom I interpreted that literally. I booked it to the cave, and the game decided to let me set my own countdown for defeating the first boss. After consulting my Final Fantasy Sherpa I elected to go with thirty minutes in hopes that I can use the extra time to finally figure out how to junction my executive powers.

TWELVE MINUTES LATER!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!

I managed to junction Quistis and Squall, but only as a result of me randomly pressing all of the buttons on my keyboard. Anyways at this point the timer ticked down to the eighteen minute mark and I had not even made any progress whatsoever with the Educational Lava Cave of Doom. Now about that, I just want to say that as a high school teacher that I would revoke the accreditation of this school for having this be a required field trip for their students. Firstly it’s a FREAKING LAVA CAVE! Secondly, what happens when you have a student accidentally trip? They fall into a pit of lava. HOw do you insure that? Alternatively, what if you have a tenured teacher that does not give a shit because they are only two years away from retirement? All I am saying is that this looks like a school designed by assholes that want to see fewer teenagers in the world.

By the time I reach what I can only assume is the boss I am down to the sixteen-minute mark. During that battle I realized that my lack of grinding really is coming to bite me in the ass as my regular attacks are only doing maybe thirty points of damage each. After consulting my Sherpa, I decided to employ my only reliable weapon against this boss…summoning spam.

Have fun back in committee!
Have fun back in committee!

I just started spamming my summons repeatedly until the boss was defeated, and this strategy worked perfectly. On one hand I beat my first Final Fantasy boss; on the other hand, I got some BIG ISSUES to deal with if I want to survive battles that are more difficult in the future. Also, after getting back to the Garden rather than call it a day Quistis decides to teach me another important and convoluted game mechanic, “elemental junction abilities.” I have to be honest…I totally blew through this tutorial and did not pay attention to what she was saying. I was exhausted and wanted to call it a day, and can you blame me? That and I should probably figure out how to junction stuff into my command list first.

Lastly, can I just say that this boss battle makes no thematic sense whatsoever? So if going into the Educational Lava Cave of Doom is a required rite of passage for all students at the Garden then does that mean that everyone experiences this exact boss battle and has Ifrit as a possible junction? On the flipside, is there a rotating cast of minor deities that have been given the shitty job of eventually being enslaved by plucky teenagers? Like if I encountered another student would they have Ifrit as a junction, or a completely different deity from the lava cave? I think I’m asking way too many questions at this point, but I’m a nitpicker at heart and what can I say?

Part 8: Finishing My First Hour - I HAVE SO MANY MORE QUESTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alright so when you attack with Squall you can actually time your physical attacks in order to maximize damage when attacking. So far I have been just mashing on “G” in order to activate the Gunblade. Unless one of you can inform me why I should not do this I am going to stick with this strategy. If there’s one thing I lack it giving a damn right now.
  • One other thing, while I was conducting the journey back to the Garden Squall ended up with low health and started crouching on the ground like he was constipated. It is at this point that I discovered what a “Limit Break” was. As an outsider let me just provide my possibly incorrect opinion pertaining to Limit Breaks…these seem totally broken. Not only do they deal a ridiculous amount of damage they appear to encourage players to get down to low health rather than defend their health. Secondly, why does the game never take the time to explain what a limit break is if it is huge damage dealer? I would have preferred learning about Limit Breaks, which are tangible and easy to understand, than freaking elemental junctions!

Anyways I have completed the first hour to my first Final Fantasy game. So far so good. While I do recognize that I have a long way to go before I even veer close to being competent at the game it still feels doable to see through it all the way. That said if there is one thing I really hope for it is that that was the last timed mission that I will have to experience. The last thing I need while dealing with crippling key bindings is a time limit.

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