In praise of Final Fantasy VIII

How about a whistlestop tour of my gaming history? I want to give some flavour of my gaming tastes and habits. They’re peculiar in some ways, as today’s post title may suggest…

I’m primarily a console gamer. The only PC gaming I tend to do is on strategy games, with the likes of Civilization III and IV, Hearts of Iron 2, and even older titles like the Combat Mission series being particular favourites.

I entered the next generation of console gaming in August 2007. That was when I finally buckled under the pressure and headed into town and returned with a gleaming new PlayStation3, looking forward to the day—not far off—when PES2008 would arrive and be the Best Football Game Ever. I know that I wasn’t alone in this. How many thousands—or tens of thousands—of consoles were snapped up by PES fans in that period? How naive and trusting we were back then. Sigh. I just don’t like to think about it now.

The next generation is now the current generation. PES seems to be withering on the vine, but that’s another story (one to be revisited as 2009 unfolds). Over the past 18 months I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing PES and FIFA and assorted other football games (hence the blog, natch). But somehow—I don’t know how—I’ve found time to play other games as well. In no particular order, I have completed (or ‘beat’, as American gamers say) Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid 4, Portal, Mirror’s Edge, Uncharted, and no doubt several others that I’ve forgotten about for now.

In addition I have played pieces (bits and bobs; odds and ends) of many, many other games. I played over 30 hours of Oblivion before stopping suddenly. Things came crashing to a halt when I suddenly needed a lot of money to bribe a key character in a crucial mission. I didn’t have the money and it would have taken me an hour or two to get it by playing another few missions. I saved my game and meant to come back, but I kept putting it off and putting it off, and that was over a year ago now.

This is one of the perils of being  a mature gamer with a full-time job and lots of other commitments besides. You end up gaming in fragments, playing bits of games here and there, never settling into one game and just playing that one alone to completion. After a certain amount of time away from a game, you are less likely to go back to it. Which is why I have been—and still am—so attracted to the pick-up-and-play ethos of sports games, in particular football games. There’s no story to remember. No fiddly controls to relearn after a week or two of letting them go rusty. Oh, yes, that button brings up the map. Now, what zooms in? Oh, crap, I’ve accidentally sold the Amulet of Rathgorn. Uh? Who’s this Breenow the Bold fellow, and why have I got to kill him? Oh, where’s my PES2009 disc… So it goes, with me anyway.

The best game I’ve played on the current generation of consoles is, without question, Bioshock. That game still awes me just to think about it, and there are only two or three other games I’d ever say that about. Yes, Bioshock’s last hour is weak in comparison to everything that preceded it. The story twists are predictable. The final boss battle is surprisingly easy. But, oh my God, look at the whole. Look at the package. I have to think back to Metal Gear Solid 3 on the PS2 for a comparable feeling of being immersed in the kind of gaming experience that I play games for.

It’s tempting to go off into some kind of top-5 list of My Best Games Ever, but I won’t. I have peculiar tastes in games. For one example, one of my most favourite-ever games, even more of a favourite than Bioshock, is, wait for it, Final Fantasy VIII.

Yes, I said Final Fantasy EIGHT. You know, that one. The Final Fantasy that people love to hate. Speaking personally, I’d put FFVIII in my top 3 games of all time. I loved it in a way that I never loved FFVII—the one you’re supposed to revere without question. And I did love FFVII, but I loved FFVIII more. I loved the battle system, the magic system, the Triple Triad card game. I even loved the love story. I’m a hard-hearted, unsentimental son of a bitch—but I loved this computer game’s soppy love story.

I replayed Final Fantasy VIII three times in total, each replay lasting about 40-60 hours. I’ve never even considered replaying any of the other Final Fantasy games. I’ve never actually completed either FFX or FFXII, and I’m not looking forward to FFXIII (the phrase ‘action RPG’ makes me feel ill).

After that wander down memory lane, back to my recent gaming history. Over Christmas I completed Mirror’s Edge—a great gaming experience for two-thirds of the time, but a curiously empty-feeling and frustrating one for the other third. It deserved its slew of lukewarm reviews, but it was still well worth playing and I don’t regret paying full price for it on release day. (I also got a free promotional t-shirt that remains in its cellophane wrapper to this day. I doubt it’ll ever come out. I think that if I ever unwrapped it, much less wore it, I would instantly morph into Comic Bookstore Guy from The Simpsons.)

Just in the last week I completed Uncharted. I will talk about this amazing game in its own post, but I just have to say—what a criminally neglected masterpiece this is.

And then in the middle of last year there was Metal Gear Solid 4. Another great but flawed masterpiece. Even I, a dedicated Metal Gear aficionado, grew weary of MGS4’s aimless, rambling cutscenes towards the end, and the boss fights were the weakest in the whole MGS canon. But the game, what there was of it, was excellent.

And that is mostly that. This summing-up post is not the shape of things to come for the blog. I’ve got a backlog of unplayed games like you wouldn’t believe. What I intend is to work my way through them, one by one. I will treat my games-in-progress in much the same way as I treated my PES Master Leagues. I’ll blog about exactly what I’m up to, how I’m enjoying things, and so forth. We’ll see how the PES Chronicles format holds up.

First out of the blocks, naturally, is the game I’m playing at the moment, right now at the end of January 2009. Valkyria Chronicles, half of whose name is shared auspiciously with this blog, has got the PlayStation3 community buzzing. Could this game be the platform exclusive that we have been waiting for? Or, like Uncharted, is it doomed to inhabit the ‘cult classic’ niche?

4 Comments

  1. You dont need to preach to me about “Uncharted”……..wow what a game. Never mind the fact that it looks incredible (i think i stood at the top of that waterfall overlooking the sub for about 20 mins) but the gameplay is easy to pick up and incredibly difficult to master. Great replay value….and looking forward to “Uncharted 2″…….but first Killzone 2.
    Never played new MGS, ive heard the it is 90% cutscene and 10% gameplay…any truth behind that? There were always cutscenes and video sequences in the previous versions but ive been reliably informed that this one borders on the ridiculous.
    I got bored with Mirrors Edge….bit repetitive. I put Assassins Creed in that same block….yawn!!
    Top Blogging….

  2. Looking forward to reading the rest of the blog, blogging about other games will be a welcome change!

  3. anon – All through that early part of Uncharted I couldn’t stop goggling at the scenery either. It’s something I kept doing occasionally all the way through to the end. After finishing the game I went back and read a few of the reviews from around the time it came out. The reviews seemed to have a problem with the game’s frequent shootouts. But I loved the shootouts and always wanted more, not less of them. My only real issue with Uncharted was that a couple of the puzzles felt unfair and a bit ‘random’—something not mentioned in the reviews, so maybe it was just me.

    You know, in many ways I think Uncharted could be the most graphically rich game I’ve ever played. Maybe even more so than MGS4. Which leads me nicely onto…

    The ratio between MGS4 gameplay and cutscenes is about 60:40 in my recollection (not 10:90!). There are some standout moments in the gameplay to make this a worthwhile playthrough if you’re an MGS fan, as I was and am, although like I said in the post I found the boss fights to be the poorest in any instalment. This is another game where my initial awe has been tempered by time (FIFA09, I’m looking at you).

    James – a change really is as good as a rest and I’ll try to fit the ‘other’ games into the same PES Chronicles mould, i.e. I’ll simply relate what I’m up to in each game rather than trying to be all journalistic about things and provide mini-reviews etc. There must be a hundred sites like that on the Internet—maybe a thousand. I would like to do something different. We’ll see how it goes. And I will always come back to PES/FIFA at least once a week.

  4. I’ve put over 4 hours in to Valkyria Chronicles now and I am throughly enjoying it. Feels like its barely got started and for me it might well be the perfect combinatino for me (SRPG as they class it) it does bits of everything well and for me the added touch of experience is great too. Looking forward to a fully kitted out tank. 🙂

    On the game, 4 of my other flat mates own PS3’s and none had heard of it and don’t seem particually interested in it either. I don’t know if thats a fair gauge of popularity or if they’re too swept up in COD5. I never heard of it before I went looking for reviews on new RPG’s.

    Uncharted does look like a very nice game, I bought it for my brother as a christmas present (bargin for a tenner (ty woolies!)). He loves it and I always thought the graphics were good too.

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