In denial and still heartbroken over what I saw as Square’s betrayal of Nintendo, I never really got into Final Fantasy VII. I had also never had the funds before to dabble in video-game-system-polygamy, and I had already opted for a Nintendo 64, for better or worse, with Final Fantasy or without, ’til GameCube do us part. But time heals all wounds and bagging groceries on Camp Pendleton was a fairly lucrative job so I wound up in possession of a PlayStation sometime in the fall of 1999.
The events of my life in 1999-2000 were a perfect storm for falling in love with the angsty, teenage-soap-opera that is Final Fantasy VIII. To recap, it was my senior year of high school so there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel that could lead to almost anywhere, and the possibilities were intoxicating; in order to woo a certain young lady, I had begun watching Dawson’s Creek, then airing season 3, which to this day is a masterful mix of nostalgia, heartache, angst, and wanting, not to mention the best slow-burn love triangle in TV history (seriously, watch it); as a young Mormon guy, I was getting ready to serve a mission, which can involve two years of service in a foreign country. All of this created a fertile field for the story of two star-crossed lovers and their team of teenage diplomats/warriors who crisscross the globe to battle a time-compressing future-wizard and her cronies.
Aside from loving the story, and the real or imagined parallels in my own life, Final Fantasy VIII also featured a host of features and changes that I still think are great. For example:
- Gunblades: amazingly, awesomely stupid. What a dumb, fun weapon.
- Junction System: easy to learn, difficult to master, I had so much fun playing around with it.
- Triple Triad: still my favorite Final Fantasy mini-game and second place isn’t even close.
- “Realistic” character models – this was the first Final Fantasy to feature proportionate character models and I still think it was a great shake-up. An HD remake would be nice, though. The jaggies!
- Charging summons: you could now button mash to charge up your summons, so instead of skipping the cutscene you had a reason to stay engaged.
In conclusion, Final Fantasy VIII was absolutely great, although why they chose to name the female lead “Rinoa” is beyond me. That’s like the name most evocative of a rhino that I’ve ever seen in any game. But I digress. As the 30th anniversary of Final Fantasy rolls around, may I humbly suggest that you boot up your PS3 or Vita and indulge your inner sixteen year old. Trust me, you won’t regret it.