Saturday, May 24, 2014

TEXT PLAY: Final Fantasy VIII (SquareSoft, 1999; Playstation): Issue #001: Ninety Minutes To Start...

I remembered all the tutorials at the beginning of the game, but I'll be god damned if I'd remembered how tedious they were.

I understand the necessity of it all, of course. This game is actually very different from any of the others in the series I've played, and the first time I took a shot at this game, it was very helpful to have it explained. The reminders are usually good, too, because it tends to be quite a while between attempts. The thing is, though, most of them are unskippable and have an unfortunate way of interrupting the flow of the story. I can't recall them being much less tedious the first time through the game, even if they were necessary.

But on to the game itself. The opening cutscene reminds me of one of the few things I really do like about this game: the music. For as much as I tend to be ambivalent about most of the rest of the game, the music is amongst the best, if not the best, in the series. The graphics have held up better than my 16-bit games have, too, now that I'm seeing them on a modern flatscreen, if not HD, screen. Granted, the fact that they're fifteen years old now does show, but that's to be expected.

In this first cutscene, we're introduced to our main protagonist, a dude named Squall; his love interest, a chick named Rinoa; and Squall's main rival, some other guy called Seifer. Those first two names are easy enough to figure out how to say, but that last one's always been a little difficult. I've always gone with “safer”, like what you are when you use the seatbelt in your car, but I've heard some people go with “seefer”, like Kiefer Sutherland. Either way is legitimate, I suppose.

Seifer and Squall are dueling with funny looking swords called gunblades, which actually take some getting used to in actual battles in the game. You'd think it would be over Rinoa, since they're both supposed to be interested in her, but not really, since it's later established that they're just doing a little sparring, as part of training, and wind up giving each other rather nasty cuts on their faces. Squall has the good sense to at least go to the infirmary afterwards, but Seifer doesn't seem to have quite so much going on upstairs. Meanwhile, we also get to see that there's some connection between Rinoa and some hot chick with a big chest and a dragoon helmet and like a backrest from a giant chair strapped to her dress. This is the Sorceress, the game's main villain. I'd try to explain her, but really, I can't, in part because they never really get into it, and what little I do know about it, I can't really make sense of.

While Squall's getting the wound on his face checked out by the doctor in the infirmary at what turns out to be the military school he goes to, some lady in a fancy dress comes by and says she's happy to see Squall again. This is another character that they take for-god-damned-ever to explain, and I can't recall if I've ever made it to the part of the game where they say who she is and what she does.

By the time they finally give us some marginal control over Squall, we're a good fifteen minutes into this, and trust me, it feels half again as long as that. We're asked to give him a name. I'll just go with the defaults here, because I'm lazy like that. As he's headed off to class with his instructor, a young lady named Quistis, he starts to remind me of all the worst things I see in myself. I'm not much of a talker either, for reasons made apparent in the video intro I made for this series, but at least I try not to be a dick to people when I do talk to them.

When they get to the classroom, we find out that it's finals day for some of the students, including Squall. That would be a good thing, but it turns out that Squall hasn't done his midterm yet, and he has to do that before he can take the final test. I procrastinate something awful, too, but god damn, ya know? So, Quistis has to take Squall off to a nearby fire cave to fight the fire elemental Ifrit. I guess it's possible to just beat the crap out of Ifrit with regular weapons, but we need to get our first Guardian Forces, what amounts to the summoned monsters in this game, from Squall's computer terminal in the classroom. These are Quetzacotl and Shiva. We'll kind of need them to use basic battle commands like “item”, “magic”, and even the “draw” command we need to get most of the magic in the game.

And so begin the endless unskippable tutorials that plague this part of the game. Yeah, they're handy if you're relatively new to the game, but I'm familiar enough with the game that I'd prefer not to sit through them. We can do most of these at Squall's desk, but there's really no point, since Quistis is going to make us go through them anyway as we proceed through these first few quests. We're given the option of skipping the one about the gunblade, which I'll gladly do. Just gotta hit the R1 button on the front of the controller just as Squall's about to strike to make his attack a little stronger.

We're asked to select a time limit to pull off this test. That'll factor in down the road a bit, but it doesn't make me any more fond of timed quests. I usually go for the 20 minute time limit, just because I don't want to spend a lot of time dicking around in the cave, but I also want to actually get this done well. Squall takes to being flirted with less well than I do, and it makes getting through the first part of the fire cave a little more difficult than it needs to be.

Of course, on his way out, Squall does bump into a future party member in the form of a young lady who says she's transferred into Balam Garden, this place we're in right now, to take the final field exam to get into the mercenary organization that runs a network of these schools, called “Gardens”. This does lead to a skippable tutorial on the school's map, which can be used to physically run around the place to get to wherever it is you need to go there. I usually take it, though, because I kind of like the idea of Squall being a halfway decent guy.

Anyway, the fire cave. I mentioned the timer on this part of the game, and how it affects something later on. The 20 minutes is plenty of time for me to get done what I need to get done without shooting myself in the foot, but it'll be good to let it run down to a minute or less before beating Ifrit. It's one of a few things that will factor into part of what makes playing this game more frustrating than it needs to be, but I'll get into that later on.

Since I'm almost at two full pages for this, I'll just end this here, with just a mention of another tutorial about junctioning and magic, which is the third, I believe, at this point, and I think there's at least one more to come, and that we've been instructed to go back to Squall's quarters to have him change into his school uniform and rest up before reporting to the main lobby for his team assignment for the upcoming final test to become a company mercenary.

If it seems like I've kind of glossed over a lot of this stuff, I must admit that I probably have more than I realize, but that's because I know there's already been a lot said about this game, most famously in Spoony's review, done partly in 2007 and finished in 2009, and in an early Passing Thoughts piece I wrote before I started this blog. They do get into things a little better than I do here.

And if I'm going to mention that other article of mine, I suppose I should say here that this is likely the only one of these Text Play things I do where I'm going in reasonably sure that I'm not actually going to finish the game. While there are other examples of aborted games in this series, I'd actually intended to finish Breath of Fire and Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, circumstances beyond my control prevented such.

But with that in mind, I really had better wrap this up. It's getting late, I've gone on about this longer than I'd intended to, and I've got things I need to do that I really should sleep before doing. I'll see you again soon, friends.

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