After reading countless reviews and talking to many other FF fans in person at conventions and all, I feel compelled to say this first.
To those who write off this game to worship Final Fantasy VII, as sad as it is to say, FF7 was more of a disappointment (OMG!! I must be a heathen in the world of FF Fans). While FF7 did bring about an interesting story with one of the most bad ass villains ever known, I can't understand why there was and still is so much hype that there is. The music wasn't anything special to me, and many of the playable characters seemed...well, boring. Clouds amnesia and mistaken identity was about the only real interesting thing about any of the playable characters. Also, there was only a two year difference in the games, yet why was FF7's so cheesy? But I will admit, it was a complete revelation in the franchise and managed to provide unforgettable twists in the story that many FF fans will forever remember.
Now on to what I have to say about this game. Personally, this is by far my favorite Final Fantasy title. Saying this though, I can see why others might have disliked it, I do feel it is simply a matter os perspective and in many ways, Final Fantasy VIII was a revelation in its own rights.
First of all, I can understand the complains with the characters. I myself was surprised at first of how much of a dick the main character was. Yet at the same time, part of me was relieved to take a break from the typical character that was designed so every player can like him. Squall on the other hand, was seemed to be designed for the very purpose for everyone to DISLIKE him, be it the characters in the game of the players themselves. Interesting, and a bit refreshing, though sometimes annoying to play as he was so incredibly rude. The rest of the characters were interesting in many ways in their own respect: Quistis struggling to maintain her professionalism as well as sorting out her feelings about some of the others; Zell and his need to be approved of (which many teenagers can relate to); Selphie, who plays the upbeat and loveable character (Yuffie and Rikku anyone?) who can be disturbingly violent (and scary) at times; Irvine, the cocky and flirtatious sharpshooter who has problems with pressure (another imperfect character that is easy to relate to); Edea (in my opinion, on the the most wonderful villains in the series), an evil sorceress that brings a mysticism that is hard to put a label on and that I feel too many villains lack; And Seifer, a rival that is exactly similar and opposite to Squall himself in personality and even appearance.
As for Squall himself, I had a lot of trouble liking him at first, but the more you play through the game, the more his character gradually evolves into a more likable character. Also, learning about his history, you can kind of understand his reasons for being guarded, and you realize that there is a bit more to him than being a self centered ass (though for some reason many people can ONLY see him as such (do they even pay attention to the characters?)). And ahh yes, alas there is Rinoa, the heroin who captures the heart of our protagonist and players. She herself has a few surprising twists in the story and her relationship with Squall is something that can only be described as fate as it nearly picks up where their parents left off (opps, did I say too much?).
Filled with rich and interesting characters, some of whom purposely break free of some FF stereo types, the story itself is wonderfully character driven. Placing us in an environment that seems ancient yet futuristic, it takes us back to the fantasies of witches and sorcery which we feared and loved as children. The music is probably the best I've heard in the series, even shadowing that of FF7 with it's opening of Liberi Fatale, the first ever FF song with lyrics that is non-MIDI, providing a dark and dramatic setting, and also providing us with the love theme Eyes on Me which was second only to Suteki Da Ne. Nobuo Uematsu was simply flawless at instilling the feelings of dark mysticism and anxiety in the presence of Sorceress Edea or the calm and subtle moments shared with party members/friends. Well done!!
Now, for the game play...I have to say it was far from perfect. The Junction System was hard to figure out at first, but once you actually get a grasp of it, it's pretty simple. Though it felt odd at first, it was kind of interesting battle system that doesn't rely on MP, but the JS and seeking spells from enemies (instead of typically handing them to you on a silver platter by "achieving" them at some point in the game). Kind of puts some strategy in. It was a bit annoying at times how reliant you are on Juncioning with the Guardian Forces, but this also is meant to incorporate more strategy as you must be careful when using GFs, cause if they get knocked out, you could be in serious trouble. Interesting how it encourages yet discouraged GF use. Also the amount of random encounters can be enough to make me rip my hair out at times. Also, the parts as Laguna, Ward, and Kiros was wonderful as it providing you with new and interesting characters and providing you with priceless information of the story's background, but it was kind of annoying at how randomly you would play as them in the game, especially when something interesting is going on with the others.
Speeding up a bit now cause I know I've been writing too much, I have to agree that the ultimate villain of the game, Ultimecia was kind of a let down (Edea was soo much more bad ass). But at least it didn't revert to some of the more stereotypical versions, some former hero or knight turned bad (no to offense Sephiroth and Garland) as one of the themes of the game is the "Succession of Witches." The games cinematic were the best they have ever been which weren't outdone until FFX which were always a joy to watch.
Ultimately you'll either love or hate this game, and even more ironically, FF veterans are more likely to hate it as it tends to break away from some of the classic settings and traditions that the series has become known for. Unlike many FF's, this game is very character driven instead of relying on situation. To enjoy this game, it would be best to look past those differences and enjoy it for what it is, not hate it for what FF7 was. Then again, maybe I'm just a black sheep of FF fans as I personally didn't "love" FF7 as so many do. Anyways, I love this game as it provides a new and rich feel to the Final Fantasy Franchise. If you've actually bothered reading this review all he way through, I thank you for reading all of this and am sorry for writing too much. I welcome and comments be them agreements or criticism.