The start of the affair: Final Fantasy VIII

[Editor’s note: Count Grishnack talks about Final Fantasy VIII for his Monthly Musing piece. — CTZ]

Many of the entries in this month’s Monthly Musings have been colorful and entertaining tales of youth – of unwrapping their first NES and being throughly enthralled with an awesome old-school game or scrimping and saving allowance money to buy that new game that kicked off their love affair with gaming.

Not that these haven’t been great reads (the Earthbound one, by Dexter345 especially) or in theme, but my story is a bit different. It doesn’t start with my first (or even second) console or a story of eight-year-old me playing these new fangled Nintendos. It’s the story of the first game that made me realize that I’m a gamer. 

The Sony PlayStation was the third or fourth console in my gaming career. I had already loved the NES, SNES and Genesis at this point – playing titles like Mario, Sonic, The Star Wars games and many others with my friends. I genuinely loved videogames. But one game took that love to the next level.

I don’t remember how I got a PS, what the first game I played on it was or any of that. I do remember that it was a kickass machine. One of my best friends had a PlayStation as well and a bunch of awesome games. One of those games was Final Fantasy VII.

Regarded as one of the best games ever, FFVII is a game, still to this day, I have yet to beat (I know, my RPG gamer card should be revoked). But the next installment in the Final Fantasy series kicked off what can only be called an obsession with RPGs and videogames for me.

The thing that first struck me about FFVIII was that it was four freakin discs. I remember on the car ride back from the mall after getting the game, flipping through the manual and just being amazed that a game could be this … epic – and that was before playing it.

After popping disc one into my PS, the opening cut scene started. The music, the amazing graphics, the introduction to the hero and villain before even playing one second – it all seemed like a movie to me. After playing the game three or four times through, I still get goosebumps after watching that intro.

I had played a few other RPGs before, so FFVIII was familiar, gameplay-wise. I loved the summons – five minute animations and all. I loved tinkering with the junction system, trying to find the perfect combination to beef my stats. I loved flying the Ragnarok around, looking for tougher enemies to throwdown with and power leveling on Cactuar Island. I loved the card game – Triple Triad – so much that I wondered what it would take to make a real-world version of it.

Doomtrain was the man.

I logged over 100 hours on my first play through, making damn sure I exhausted nearly every side quest before taking on the multi-staged and ridiculously epic final boss.

But then I did something I had never done with a game before – I bought a strategy guide. The thing was a tome – it was thicker than most of the books I had read up to that point as a kid – and I did everything in it. From unlocking the myriad of Guardian Forces, to hunting for the rare items to make the best weapons, to bending over backwards to beat Ultima Weapon – I did it all.

In today’s age, strategy guides are a thing of the past. But after FFVIII, I usually dropped some coin on a strategy guide to go with my RPGs, mainly for that OCD induced sense of completeness. Call me a cheater, but I miss the days of brightly pictured, glossy strat guides giving my detailed maps and telling me “this guy is weak to Ice” right before a big fight.

Shhhh, secret tech.

FFVIII showed me what it’s like to be throughly engrossed in a make-believe world. But what’s more, is that it showed me what an obsessive and crazy gamer I am. I still love finding hidden things in games – collecting heart containers, finding cog tags or leaping for those last agility spheres. I think I have FFVIII to thank for that.

FFVIII, to me, will always be regarded as the red-headed stepchild to FFVII. FFVII has Sepiroth, it has Aeris’ death, it is one of the elite “best game ever?” candidates. But FFVIII shaped me into the gamer I am today. Without it, I don’t think I would be nearly as passionate about playing games as I am today.

I played through FFVIII recently – in a time when funds were low and boredom was high – and loved every minute of it. I blew through enemies with my superior knowledge of the junction system, memorized the weaknesses for nearly every boss battle and taught the final boss a lesson for making me sweat gallons years ago wondering “is this the last form of this motherfucker?!”

Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite game of all-time and the game that started a life-long love for games that I don’t envision going away anytime soon.

Squall over Cloud for life.

Count Grishnack