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SummaryLike any true work of art...It only gets better with age.
The GoodFirst off...anyone who watches the intro to this game will be hooked.The combination of the groundbreaking (for 1999) cgi effects and Nobuo Uematsu's intense score creates a cinematic experience that was unmatched in it's day. Even today, with 6 years of hardware and software evolution, few games can match the passion, excitement and mystery inherent in the INTRO of this game.
When the game actually begins, you are thrust into the role of Squall Lionhart, one of the most complex characters ever to appear in a video game. Squall is training to become a mercenary at an elite academy, and the story is centered on him and the group of soldiers that he leads. Squall is a pretty deep guy, with the type of complex personality that is more common in novels than in video games. On the surface he is a pretty uncaring dude, but as the game progresses you find out that most of his affect is due to a pretty crummy childhood (i.e. the boy has some abandonment issues to say the least.)
In fact the characterization inherent in this game is actually, for me, one of the best features of this game. Unlike FF-7 (or 5, or 3, or 1...what is it with these odd numbered FF games....) the characters in this game have real motivations, fears, etc. they are not interchangeable cardboard cut-outs. To put it simply, each character in the game has a reason to be the way they are, and the game delves into each character's psyche enough to make them all three dimensional characters. This is truly a character driven game, which is a bit of a departure from games like FF-7.
Another great feature of this game is the Junction system. This tends to be a "love it or leave it" feature of the game, and as a veteran of EVERY Final Fantasy game (except XI) I would have to say it lives up the expectations of fans of the series. The system if flexible, and powerful, without ever being too munchkin-y. It also tends to be the type of system that is really re-playable, since you can drastically alter stat progression and power levels for your characters when you know how to really use the system. Granted, some people will not like the junction system at first glance (I have a buddy who's a FF fanatic who WILL NOT play this game because of it) but I assure that when you spend some time with it you will find that it is one of the most flexible systems within the FF family of games.
Another feature that I really like is the fact that money is not as important in this game as in most RPGs, and monsters don't drop gil when they die. Money is normally only gained through your paycheck from SEED (the mercenary company your team works for.) Personally I feel that this adds a bit of needed realism to the standard RPG formula, I know that complaining about realism in a game populated with man-eating, magic-using monsters is kinda silly, but it's one of those RPG-isms that tends to bug me. (I mean where do these monsters get all their cash....stealing lunch money from school kids?) Instead, money is only used for things that tend to be "extras", like healing items, and car rentals.
Another great feature of this game is the Triple Triad card game. Your character can play this game against NPCs and build up a collection of rare cards that can be modded into rare items. If you delve into Triple Triad, you will find yourself ahead of the curve quite often in this game, as you will have access to spells and weapons that you would normally have to wait to get.
In closing I would have to say, this is a BIG game, bigger than FF-7. That being said though, it tends to be a bit more quaint than 7 in it's general scale, most of the conflict early in the game revolves around inter-city disputes, as opposed to the constant "save the world" vibe of 7. This scale helps center the story on the characters, as opposed to the world, which makes it all the more identifiable.
The BadI'm a pretty big fan of this game, so it's fairly hard for me to find points to criticize, but here goes.
I would have to say that the complexities of the junction system is something that took more than one play through to really learn. As this is about a 40 hour game, playing through once just to learn the ins and outs of the junction system is an investment of time that some people just will not make. While I like the system, I would have to say that more documentation on it from Square would have been nice. Granted, now you can just grab a FAQ and learn it, but still, a couple of extra pages in the manual or a better tutorial would have been nice.
Another feature that I do not really like it the in-game tutorial system. On your first playthrough it's essential, as it explains processes that are not examined in the game manual. On your second and subsequent playthroughs it can be a bit of a time waster, I really think it would have been nice it Square would give you the option of turning the tutorials off.
I guess the last thing I will mention is that, on my first playthrough, the lack of armor and the weapon modification system kinda bothered me. Granted once I learned the system better (i.e. your Strength stat determines how much damage you do with physical attacks; Vitality reduces physical damage like armor) I never had a problem again, but it's worth mentioning.