Why This Game Ended Up Here
Now we (finally) arrive and why this game ended up rather low on the list. There is no doubt this game has a ridiculous amount of depth. The story section alone shows that this game had one of the most in-depth stories out of any in the series. Even the junction system allowed for customization that no Final Fantasy game has even come close to matching. Despite all this though, this game doesn’t even make it past the halfway point of my countdown. I have three main reasons for this.
First is the story itself. While I love a story with a lot of twists and turns, along with massive detail and superb character development, Final Fantasy VIII gave me too much of a good thing. It wasn’t until another reading in depth about the story thanks to the wonder of the Internet that I finally “got it” and figured out just what the hell was going on. Sure, the love story between Squall and Rinoa makes sense and is very well done. I even got that Ultimecia was basically controlling other sorceresses at will. Hell, the game even explains how monsters exist on the Earth (Lunar Cry).
However, the whole concept of Time Compression, along with Ellone’s ability to send minds back in time really starts mucking up the entire story. Introducing time travel in general to any story makes things go very screwy unless you are extremely careful (just ask the creators of the TV show, Heroes). As I said before, in the end, you are basically playing as a part of a gigantic time loop that Ultimecia creates, which is really depressing. The only way around this loop is if Dr. Odine decides to not create the “Junction Machine Ellone”, thus not allowing Ultimecia to take over the minds of the past; however, you have to consider if he doesn’t do that, then the “legendary SeeD” who are Squall and company, will never have the chance to kill her as it is Time Compression itself that allows for them to travel to Ultimecia’s time to even have the chance to do so.
It’s enough to make my head hurt, as well as ruin the seemingly happy ending because Ultimecia will be born again, raise hell in her time, and jack with the past again just as she did before. You may have stopped the world from ending due to Time Compression, but there’s still a whole lot of things that can’t be solved (see: all the dead bodies outside Ultimecia’s castle in her time). Remember, the SeeDs fought Ultimecia for generations, that hardship simply was not adverted.
Even better, people have come up with some rather awful and misguided theories about the game (disproved directly by the canon SE has deemed official). This includes theories such as Squall being dead and Rinoa being Ultimecia.
Secondly, the Junction System and leveling system, while brilliant in its own right, is completely broken. While monsters would level up along with you, this could be abused very easily. In fact, the easiest way to beat Final Fantasy VIII is to not level at all. All that needs to be done is level enough to get some basic GF abilities that allow for the transformations of items and cards into spells. This allows you to refine your items and cards into high level magic that you would otherwise never see in the game without leveling. Since all the monsters are staying at your same gimpy level, their stats are unbelievably weak while yours are super-powered by high level magic.
In short, something is seriously wrong with a system that can be easily broken by playing a card game and not leveling (hell, you can actually get off to a big start by just refining a bunch of items as well).
Finally, the limit break system was implemented in awful fashion. In this game, being at low health would give you a random chance at being able to perform a limit break. So basically, you could continuously skip over a character that was at low health (but keeping their ATB meter full and ready to attack again) until you saw the option to limit. Even worse, there is a spell obtainable late in the game called Aura that puts your characters in a constant limit break state for as long as the spell lasts, allowing you to use these very powerful attacks at will.
There are some other issues I have as well, but not as major that end up making the game far easier. Basically, the game has a lot of great things going for it, but it is hard to ignore the various types of shortcuts that can be taken. Combine that, along with the fact the act of drawing/collecting magic itself is quite annoying on its own, I can’t place the game any higher than this spot in the countdown. While it is clearly superior to the other games I’ve gone over, these issues keep it from being better. Where some people may see different ways to play the game, I see it as making the game far easier than it needed to be and very short-sighted planning by Square Enix.
Make no mistake, Final Fantasy VIII is a great game, and the only reason I give it so much criticism is to clearly point out what is holding it back in this countdown. While I do personally enjoy seeing how many ways I can break the game and make it laughably easy, it don’t consider that option an advantage while doing a ranking such as this one.