Video game franchises make movie franchises look pathetic. Oh, your sci-fi opera is a trilogy? BFD. There are five Halo games, five GTA games, five Gears of War games, and those are on the smaller side. If you count all his varied appearances Mario is in the triple digits. But when it comes to a true franchise with numbered entries and massive scale, nothing touches Final Fantasy.
With 15 mainline games (and dozens of others under the franchise umbrella) it is an absolute icon in the RPG genre. It also lacks a definitive entry point. Sure, some gamers legit grew up with the franchise and have been on the journey since Final Fantasy first released in 1987, but most of us jumped in at random points, probably missed a few games and are curious about the series history.
Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy IX tend to get the most attention, leaving Final Fantasy VIII overlooked. Here’s why you need to play it ASAP.
The first is timing. Final Fantasy VIII is leaving Xbox Game Pass on November 15. Obviously, this doesn’t mean the game disappears from the face of the Earth, but for any Game Pass subscribers who want to explore the franchise the time to act is now. Final Fantasy VIII is criminally underrated, some even say it’s the best game in the series. Why?
Some reasons you’d expect, some you wouldn’t. Many fans point to the romance between the protagonist Squall Leonhart and Rinoa Heartilly. It’s definitely a bit of a YMMV plotline, and if romance isn’t your bag then this isn’t the selling point for you. But if you love a melodramatic, angsty, deep story with lots of twists then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better love story anywhere in the franchise, let alone anywhere in gaming.
There is near-universal praise for the soundtrack, however. Even in a franchise defined by epic music, the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VIII is a cut above. And while you may not think that music is a big selling point for a game, trust me, when you’re logging dozens of hours on an RPG grind you will 100% appreciate the power of Nobuo Uematsu’s sweeping score.
It’s also chock full of amazing characters. Sure, Squall may not be the BEST protagonist in the series (and absolutely suffered in the shadow of FFVII’s Cloud, arguably the most popular hero in the franchise) but the bench runs deep on this one. Irvine, Selphie, Laguna, the list goes on. If you love building parties and developing intense emotional attachments to characters, FFVIII doesn’t disappoint.
Final Fantasy VIII also offers one of the greatest minigames ever - Triple Triad. This ludicrously addictive card game is the perfect distraction from in-game shenanigans. Unlike a lot of other video game card games (*cough* Gwent *cough*) Triple Triad has a low barrier of entry. The rules are simple, the tutorial superb, and the matches are quick. This is precisely what makes it so addictive. You pick it up quickly and just never stop. So if you like to have a nice meandering journey in your RPGs you’ll find Triple Triad to be exactly what you’re looking for.
Of course, FFVIII is not without its flaws. Like any FF game there can be some head-scratching plot twists and character motivations, the junction system makes combat a bit of a mess, and Squall’s brooding BS can wear thin as the hours rack up. But you shouldn’t play this expecting the best game in the franchise, which will forever and always be an ongoing debate. Instead, FFVIII offers an experience that stands on its own and deserves the attention of anyone who loves a long, weird RPG romp. Oh, and it has frickin’ GUNBLADES. Very cool.
Final Fantasy VIII is available now on Game Pass, and is for sale on PlayStation, Switch and Steam.