Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a fun game. It is a joy to run and fly and punch with these old familiar characters. The game is also steeped in Final Fantasy fan service. And as much as it makes me want to keep playing, it just as often makes me want to go back and replay these older games. This is the double-edged blade of nostalgia. By evoking it Dissidia pushes me away as much as it pulls me in.
A couple of days ago I stopped fighting this impulse and dug out Final Fantasy VIII. Somewhat serendipitously, yesterday marked the ten year anniversary of its North American release.
I’ve always been a FF VIII apologist (and a II apologist, and a V apologist, and a X apologist… really, the only game in the series I don’t care for is XI.). People love to pick on VIII for its broken gameplay and ridiculous plot. It seems most people either get hung up on the orphanage scene or Ultimecia’s tangential importance to the story. I’ve argued that both these aren’t as bad as they first seem. It’s stated many times in the game that using Guardian Forces is dangerous and may cause long term memory loss. In fact, Balamb Garden is the only entity in the world that approves of their use. It shouldn’t come as a shock that all the main characters forgot about growing up together in an orphanage. The fact that they all randomly end up together again does require a bit of suspended disbelief. But this is a fantasy! If the moon can cry monsters is it really so hard to get past the orphanage thing? I’ve always found the scene where the characters discover their connection to each other very touching. As for Ultimecia: I have my own theory about her connection to the plot (protip: she’s Rinoa) but it is not confirmed in game or by Square. I’ll spare you the details of my crazy speculations for now.
I’ve always agreed with the criticisms of the gameplay but replaying the game now I’m surprised at how much fun I’m having. Sure, the game’s various systems are broken and easy to abuse. However, doing so is good times. I have set a few parameters to cut the tedium which is a large contributing factor in this. First, I’m only drawing spells once or twice in a battle. No grinding for 100 of a spell each time a new one shows up. Second, I’m not using the Guardian Force summons at all. Not having to sit through all those animations is reason enough for this but it also frees me up to explore more interesting and varied strategies.
I’m discovering that juctioning magic to stats is a neat way to control character development, and that leveling up guardian force abilities unlocks all sorts of potential options. Using the card ability (which before I had ignored as useless) has netted me strong cards that I’ve used to start winning Triple Triad duels (another part of the game I’ve never explored). I’m looking forward to how the game will really blow open once I’ve learned Card-Refine.
I’ve always liked and defended Final Fantasy VIII. And I’m discovering that I like it even more than I remembered. Its status as series black sheep is more than a little unfair. The past decade has not been kind to VIII. This anniversary is the perfect time to give it a second chance.