There's no shortage of opinion on Final Fantasy VIII, a fact that surfaced in a big way when Square Enix gave the game a PC release via Steam last week. It was great to see people passionately discussing the game's virtues and ills still in 2013. It seems like the excitement around its release is greater than mere discussion, though: as of this writing, Final Fantasy VIII – a game originally released just over 14 years ago – is the number two best-seller on Steam. It's beating out the likes of Assassin's Creed IV and Call of Duty: Ghosts. Surely a lot of those buyers are and have been fans of the game since the PS1 days, but it made me wonder about the inevitable percentage who are completely new to the adventure too. Final Fantasy VIII is an amazing game, but not without its rough edges. To that end, I wrote up some things those about to play the game through Steam should think about. It's no game guide, but keeping these tips in mind during the early hours will set you up for a maximally enjoyable FFVIII experience. Take it from someone who has played it, like, a billion times.
1. Consider using the Magic Booster in the game's launcher.
Getting a decent stock of spells early on in FFVIII used to take some early-game grinding, but Square Enix has added a “Magic Booster” option that will load up your party members with a full stock of some of the game's basic spells. A bit of a cheat from the original experience, but one that will get you to the good stuff in better time.
2. Get into Triple Triad early on.
After leaving the classroom at the very beginning of the game, make sure to talk to the man standing near the elevator. He'll give you a starter deck for Triple Triad, a popular card game in the world of Final Fantasy VIII. Aside from being a terrific meta sidequest in its own right, rare cards you collect can eventually be modded into extremely powerful items.
3. Don't just summon your GFs in battle...
Your GF attacks are powerful, and it's tempting to summon them constantly at the outset. Most down regular enemies in one strike, and the process of summoning a GF creates an HP barrier for whoever has it equipped. After a few hours into the game, though, you can deal more damage faster with many other, less repetitive strategies.
4. ...and make sure you babysit their skills!
GF s have a ton of abilities to learn, but most default to learning four increasingly expensive boosts to their attack power. Investing that heavily into summon magic eventually feeds into the “re-watching a lot of long attacks again and again” trap this game can be infamous for. Manually select more worthwhile skills from the menu – ones that let you junction magic to more stats, or unique abilities like Death or Treatment. Battles and by extension the whole game will flow and be a lot more fun if you play around within the system.
5. Always Be Junctioning
It's tough to describe Junctioning, but here goes. In FFVIII, spells aren't learned by characters. They're drawn out of enemies you battle, and each party member can stock 100 of a given spell. These stocks can then be applied to different stats – HP, Strength, Magic, and so on – to improve them. Higher-tier spells usually have a better return, but the game makes some logical connections between types of magic and the stats you're boosting as well. Restorative magic has a more profound impact on a character's HP stat than, say, Blizzard spells. Once you're able to Junction status magic to your attacks, setting up your party with Sleep, Silence and Poison strikes is a great way to keep mobs perpetually shut down. The game shows you how a stat will change before you alter it, so survey your new magic regularly and see what sort of gains you can make.
6. Draw from each new enemy you encounter, especially bosses.
Using the Magic Booster removes a lot of need to grind early on, but don't forget to equip your Draw command and try it out on any new enemies you encounter. Being persistent will net you powerful spells earlier than you could otherwise get them. Bosses sometimes house entire new GFs in their stock, so don't forget!
7. Defeat Diablos as soon as possible.
Before the party heads to Timber, Headmaster Cid gives Squall a Magic Lamp item. Inside lives Diablos, one of the most useful GFs in the entire game. You can obtain him easily by drawing and using his magic against him, and he keeps on giving from there. He has abilities that will let you half or entirely eliminate random battles on a toggle, steal rare materials from enemies, and refine useful time magic from your inventory items.
8. Use the “Switch” on the menu when you change party members.
Inside is the Junction Exchange option which, as the game puts it, “exchanges all that is junctioned.” Lots of needless and potentially confusing re-junctioning is prevented with this option. I'm not sure why the game itself waits until you reach Deling City to really explain it.
9. Consider getting a fan-configured soundtrack.
This is a polarizing game, but most Final Fantasy fans will at least concede that VIII's soundtrack is terrific. I agree, but the Steam version's music sounds a little...off. That's because FFVIII's music files aren't audio recordings, but instructions for your sound card's MIDI player. Since the tracks are removed from the PS1's MIDI chip, arrangements sound tinny and empty. This happened with Final Fantasy VII's Steam release last year, and the soundtrack was eventually patched. Until VIII gets a similar treatment, take a quick look through the game's Steam forum for a fan-configured MIDI map. Not perfect, but very close to the real deal.