Game Retrospective: Final Fantasy VIII

Warren Leigh
We The Players
Published in
5 min readApr 12, 2020

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Fianl Fantasy 8 Box Art

On the 11th of February 1999, Final Fantasy VIII was first released for the Sony PlayStation in Japan, with a North American and European release following several months later.

Developed by Square, Final Fantasy VIII was crafted by a team of approximately 180 people on a budget of around ¥3 billion (roughly $16 million). The game was directed by Yoshinori Kitase, director of Final Fantasy VII. As series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi was busy with the development of the Final Fantasy movie, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Shinji Hashimoto, who had previously held the position of publicity producer for Final Fantasy VII, was appointed as the game’s producer. Nobuo Uematsu, the composer responsible for the musical scores to every prior Final Fantasy title, returned to work on Final Fantasy VIII’s soundtrack.

Development of Final Fantasy VIII began just as Final Fantasy VII was being translated for Western audiences

Featuring a combination of fantasy and sci-fi elements, Final Fantasy VIII follows military cadet Squall Leonhart, a student of the SeeD mercenary training school, Balamb Garden. Soon after being tasked with assisting the resistance leader Rinoa Heartilly, Squall and his band of mercenaries find themselves caught in a full-scale conflict against the army of Galbadia, a nation under the influence of the tyrannical sorceress, Edea. The game departed from several established series gameplay mechanics, such as abandoning a magic-points based system for casting spells, as well as overhauling the character levelling mechanic.

The game’s creators wanted a lighter story when compared to Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VIII would begin development in 1997, the same time Final Fantasy VII was being translated for Western audiences. From the very beginning, the development team expressed a desire to move away from the heavy plot and dark nature of Final Fantasy VII, and craft a comparatively lighter follow-up. As they began gathering ideas, the team reportedly found themselves reminiscing about their student days. In a 2019 interview with Eurogamer, director Kitase explained, “When I sat down with [Tetsuya] Nomura-san to hash [the game’s story] out, we thought, “Actually, yeah, a story about kids in school would be a nice, cheerful story to go with.” This soon led to the game’s core concept involving a school that trained mercenaries.

The team also wanted to create a game that centred upon the relationship between two key characters. Previous entries in the series had regularly featuring large ensemble casts that would each receive their own narrative exploration, typically via a dedicated chapter within the story. In contrast, it was decided to focus solely upon the characters of Squall and Rinoa, with the game’s secondary characters acting in support of this central hero and heroine story.

The game would be the first title in the series to feature realistically proportioned characters throughout; a departure from the deformed, somewhat cartoon-esque, characters of Final Fantasy VII. Not only did this support Kitase’s desire for the game to feature ‘ordinary people’, but the team felt that it also allowed the characters to maintain a consistent look across both the rendered in-game visuals and FMV cutscenes.

The game would be the first to abandon the tradition Final Fantasy blue menu system

To modernise and refine the look of the series, the development team also redesigned the game’s menu system and UI. Speaking with Famitsu, director Kitase explained, “There was such a huge jump in character and art design from FF6 to FF7, so we thought we’d try to give the UI the same treatment this time.” He would go to explain that the development team were inspired by the UI of Final Fantasy Tactics, as well as several other Square releases. Final Fantasy VIII would subsequently drop the traditional blue menus and dialogue boxes of previous Final Fantasy instalments, instead, adopting a silver/grey design; a design which would continue in Final Fantasy IX.

Chocobo World could be played on the PocketStation peripheral

The game features support for the Sony PocketStation, a miniature handheld games console and PlayStation memory card hybrid peripheral, that had released a month before Final Fantasy VIII. The minigame, Chocobo World, can be unlocked for download to the PocketStation via the player’s save data upon capturing their first Chocobo in the game. Although the PocketStation would not be released outside of Japan, functionality with peripheral is still coded into every localised version of the game, theoretically allowing Western users to unlock the game using an imported PocketStation. While the later PC release would include Chocobo World as a separate, accessible game, later versions removed it altogether.

Upon release, Final Fantasy VIII quickly became the fastest-selling title in the series. The game promptly became a bestseller across Japan, North America and the UK with sales reaching 6 million copies by the end of the year. A PC port would release a year later. While many critics praised numerous aspects of the game, such as its refined visuals, character development, engrossing story and breathtaking ending, other elements divided opinion with some highlighting the game’s battle system, for example, although innovative, as being overly complicated.

After Squall, Selphie was the second character Tetsuya Nomura designed for Final Fantasy VIII.

Although Final Fantasy VII and IX would receive numerous ports and remasters across several platforms such as iOS, Android and PlayStation 4, no such re-release of Final Fantasy VIII would emerge, except for a slightly tweaked re-release of the PC version in 2013. Despite fan demand for such a remaster, reports began to suggest that the game’s source code had been lost; casting doubt on any such project. However, to the surprise of many fans, the game would eventually receive a long-overdue HD remaster, releasing in 2019.

🕹Are you a fan of Final Fantasy VIII?

🕹Did you enjoy the 2019 remaster?

🕹Which has been your favourite instalment in the series so far?

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