While the release of Rebirth is fast approaching, the Final Fantasy saga is celebrating on February 11, 2024 the 25th anniversary of the launch of its eighth opus in Japan. A major episode for the license since it is one of the first to have divided the fans so much, between those who adore it and those who hate it. Back to this section like no other.
Contrary to what my profile picture might suggest, I’m not a big fan of Final Fantasy VIII. And yet, despite this, it is difficult not to recognize the importance of this crucial episode for the saga in so many respects. On February 11, 2024, FFVIII celebrates twenty-five years since its Japanese release and it is an opportunity for me to look back on this adventure that is so unforgettable for so many players..
Final Fantasy VIII, the first FF without its creator
It may seem obvious, but Final Fantasy VIII was released after Final Fantasy VII and already that puts some pressure on the shoulders of the project. In 1997, FFVII revolutionized the saga, even the world of video games, to the point that we are still talking about it today, as proven by its remake project. Obviously, moving on is quite a challenge, but fortunately, we find the same team to take on this challenge… with one major exception. Since the first episode in 1986, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, has always been involved in each opus. If he is director on the first five FF, he becomes producer on VI and VII, while being at the origin of the story. If it’s a role as important as director, Sakaguchi is particularly invested in the development of the titles he produces.
However, after becoming vice president of Squaresoft in the late 1990s, he feels real weariness from the teams who have the feeling of only working on Final Fantasy over and over again. So, to break this routine, he decides to give carte blanche to the young guard of developers so that they can create the next Final Fantasy, namely VIII. On this episode, he only occupies the role of Executive Producer, which means that he has almost no creative involvement in the project. In other words, Final Fantasy VIII is the first episode of the saga on which its creator did not directly work. And that explains a lot of things.
A young generation to breathe a breath of fresh air
At the head of the project, we find Yoshinori Kitase as Director, as he was on VI and VII, then later on X. In place of Sakaguchi, it is Shinji Hashimoto who occupies the position of producer for the first time in his career and who will subsequently become a strong man in the license. For the artistic part, we find Tetsuya Nomura, the legendary character designer of the series, who was particularly invested in the project. In terms of scenario, Kazushige Nojima makes his comeback after having signed the script of the previous episode. Finally, one of the only members present since the first FF is none other than Hiroyuki Ito, the creator of the ATB gauge, who is therefore at the origin of the very particular combat system of FFVIII. Aside from him and Nobuo Uematsu, the franchise’s famous composer, most of the development team is made up of juniors, determined to express their vision of Final Fantasy through this episode more focused on realism and science fiction than ever.
With Final Fantasy VIII, the juniors of the FF development team have the desire to work on something new by not following someone else’s directives, as was the case when Sakaguchi was producer. For example, if Tetsuya Nomura made his name with the characters of FFVII, it was on Final Fantasy VIII that he felt the most free and that he had the feeling that his creativity was not restricted. . Same thing for the graphics: Yoshinori Kitase and his team preferred a realistic rendering, while for Sakaguchi, the protagonists must have a distorted appearance because that is in the essence of the series. So, the creator of the saga was not a fan of many ideas of this young team, but since he had given them carte blanche, he could not tell them anything.
After the dark tone of FFVII, the teams want to work on something lighter and that’s why the school setting was chosen. For Kitase and Nomura, it’s a joyous time in life that inspired the high-school drama aspect of this episode. Once again, Sakaguchi was not up for it. On the storyline side, the screenwriter Kazushige Nojima had read on the internet that the story of FFVII was too complicated, so he wanted to do something simpler with this opus (something not necessarily successful in my opinion). It is therefore with the desire to do something new and all the know-how accumulated in the development of FFVII that Final Fantasy VIII as we know it was born.
An episode marked by realism and love
If Final Fantasy VIII first struck millions of players, it was obviously because its cult and spectacular introduction to the era thanks to its computer-generated images, all accompanied by the song Liberi Fatali composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Then, this episode takes many of the elements that made FFVII successful to go even further with, for example, more CGI cutscenes, more impressive summons, but also greater realism. If Sakaguchi preferred a more exaggerated and almost cartoon style, Kitase and his team opted for a style closer to reality, which would be the hallmark of the episodes they worked on later. : FFX, the FFXIII trilogy, FFVII Remake…
One of the elements on which FFVIII stands out the most compared to other episodes of the saga, it is above all by its very particular game system. From the start, the characters use invocations which allow them to benefit from certain bonuses, but also to attribute magic to certain characteristics. In addition, spells are recovered in a surprising way because you have to steal them from enemies in order to use them. A very particular system which has put off more than one person, but which is very satisfying once you know what to steal and what not.
Beyond its unique system, Final Fantasy VIII departs from previous FFs by focusing more on its characters than its story. Very clearly, the entire plot revolves around Squall and his romance with Rinoa which will evolve throughout the adventure. If this is not the first time that love is one of the themes addressed by a Final Fantasy, it has never been so central. The whole point of the plot is to see how Squall opens up throughout the adventure., going from a loner withdrawn into himself to a young man who learns to attach himself to others. If the evolution is interesting, we cannot say that it worked for everyone and this is one of the many points which divides the appreciation of FFVIII.
But why is Final Fantasy VIII so divisive?
Among the many elements that make FFVIII not unanimous among Final Fantasy fans, it is clear that Squall occupies a central role. If his openness to the world is at the heart of the plot, his casual and nonchalant attitude which makes him the archetype of the solitary and introverted brunette has put off more than one. The same goes for his romance with Rinoa, which is not to everyone’s taste as it goes through all the clichés of the genre. Besides, we can criticize the title for focusing on this love story to the detriment of the rest of the cast which is poorly developed and much less striking than in other episodes. This even applies to this episode’s antagonist whose motivations are never really made clear other than to serve as the big bad. Too bad given its incredible design.
Due to its particular game system, Final Fantasy VIII also does not please everyone. With its principle of stealing magic to use it, the title requires a certain knowledge of the game to really enjoy it.. Unfortunately, this can leave many players at the entrance who won’t know how to take advantage of its mechanics effectively. Same thing for the central idea of this system, namely the invocations, it ends up being redundant because their animations are so long. If Final Fantasy changes its formula with each episode, that of Final Fantasy VIII is particularly confusing and this explains why it is so divisive, even today.
Twenty-five years later, Final Fantasy VIII retains a special place in the hearts of FF fans. Whether for its cult introduction, its spectacular cutscenes, its central romance or its original system, all these elements make this title a unique experience as much adored by some as hated by others. Recently, Yoshinori Kitase said that if there were to be a remake, it would completely change the game mechanics. Any hope of discovering the title in a new light? Nothing is less certain after the producer declared that a remake of Final Fantasy VI would take twenty years. But who knows, we can always dream?