Fancy a flight of fantasy down memory lane? Download PS one Classic FINAL FANTASY VIII to PlayStation 3, PSP or PlayStation Vita.
Revolutionised and revitalised on PS one, the massive Final Fantasy series had reached an all-time high in popularity by the time FINAL FANTASY VIII originally launched in 1999. The success of its predecessor FFVII gave role-playing games a massive profile boost, with the swords and sorcery flavoured genre on everyone's lips as players wondered what sort of dish its creative developer would serve up next. The answer was a bit of a surprise.
"A bold step"
Rather than using the cute and exaggerated styles of previous Final Fantasy titles, FFVIII's design took an unusual step for the series at the time, and created a cast of realistically proportioned characters. And while the plot continued to dabble in war, revenge and epic battles, there was a more tender concept at the game's heart: the young love between the stand-offish Squall Leonhart and warm Rinoa Heartilly.
"The entire story was centred on the feelings of [these two characters] which connected more to me than any game of its day," says Stuart Barnett, a PlayStation Home designer. "It was a relationship that developed from annoying strangers to an inseparable couple, the sort of character development missing from most games."
"FFVIII was a really bold step," agrees Simon Barlow, design manager at Evolution Studios. "Following the massive success of VII was never going to be easy. The more realistic look of the characters, coupled with a lead who was difficult to identify with didn't help, but in hindsight it was a genuinely excellent game, and perhaps ultimately the right move after all. It has aged very well."
Dances with death
Along with a new approach, FINAL FANTASY VIII came with Square's typically grand production values, especially noticeable in its orchestral soundtrack which kicked off proceedings in fine style. "It belts into an opening cutscene more reminiscent of a film trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster than a role-playing game," recalls PlayStation Network user holmesy1968. "That opening stands up as one of videogames' finest introductions. At the time it was simply unsurpassed."
This majestic presentation slotted right at home with the story, resulting in one of its most memorable scenes - an enchanting dance sequence between Squall and Rinoa. "What I love is how clumsy Squall is, and the fact that up until now he's been so miserable, and Rinoa just laughs at him and drags him on to the floor anyway," says Barlow. "It's a lovely scene, and one that lets you pause to consider them as people rather than having them always framed against the backdrop of conflict."
Not to say there wasn't a fair share of breathtaking instances from the action, too. "The moment I remember the most was the missile attack on Balamb Garden," says Jon Wills, field application engineer of PlayStation Home. "It ends up with the missiles hitting an empty crater because the Garden has raised itself from the ground and becomes a mobile platform. Looking back, I'm not sure if it was ingenious or just absurd, but the idea of the Garden literally moving out of the way was something I didn't expect."
"I didn't know videogames could do that"
While each fan of FINAL FANTASY VIII has their favourite moment, most agree that it helped change the way videogames were perceived, as well as define PS one as a system that could offer different gaming experiences. "The game was a big step away from the established," says Wills. "That helped set the idea that PlayStation wasn't for making the same game again and again, and more about taking a risk and doing something new."
"It was a declaration that rival platforms couldn't compete with: a mature, action-packed, cinematic, emotional experience with the best graphics, characters and gameplay that entertained for hundreds of hours," agrees Barnett. "Oh, and it let you do damage over 9,999... which was awesome."
Even the final parts of the game, which could take over 40 hours to see, left a lasting impression on those who didn't play videogames. "The ending itself stopped those around me in their tracks," says holmesy1968. "'I didn't know videogames could do that' responded one rather surprised family member. That is why FINAL FANTASY VIII is simply so important, because before it arrived: I didn't know videogames could do that either."
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If you haven't yet embarked on the unforgettable adventure that is FINAL FANTASY VIII, there's no excuse to miss out now. Buy this PS one Classic from PlayStation Store for your PlayStation 3, PSP and PlayStation Vita now, and begin a journey that will have you talking for years to come.
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