It’s been a while since it released, but even today Final Fantasy VIII is a game worth replaying… if you can get past the Draw-system. For those not in the know, Final Fantasy VIII has a notorious magic-system in which Squaresoft (Now Square-Enix) made the dubious choice to change the commonly used Magic-system based on Magic Points (MP or Mana) and replaced it with something that can be most easily described as an item-based Magic-System. we’ll expain in short.
(If you are familiair with the FFVIII Magic-System, feel free to skip the next paragraph.)
Magic according to Final Fantasy VIII
Instead of using a magical attack and defining a specific resource and amount to using it, Final Fantasy VIII chose a different route. One in which magic is a resource to be stocked and used on will, much like an item. The most obvious way, and to our recollection the only ingame advertised way, to gather magic is by drawing it out of enemies. Other ways of getting magic is by using Draw Points. Lastly, you can use items bought, found or dropped by enemies to refine into magic, to be used in battle later. To make matters a bit more confusing, Magic is not only used to heal friends and destroy foes, you can also us it to junction it to specific abilities. (We’ll try to keep it to the basics in order to keep things a bit easier, the system is difficult enough to explain as it is.) By using Summons, called Guardian Forces (GF), you can junction magic to certain stats. Say for instance you have obtained the Ifrit Summon (GF) and ‘linked’ it to the main protagonist Squall Leonhart you gain the ability to junction magic to the Strength stat. Squall’s basic Strength might be 16, but if you have 50-ish Fire spells junctioned to it, you gain a few points and get a nice 24 Strength. This will result in Squall hitting just a bit harder. If you however use the Fire spell in battle, functionally lowering the amount of Fires junctioned to the Strength stat, Squall’s attackpower is also lowered. Going so far as all the way back to the base value if you managed to use up all Fire spells.
Problems with the Magic-System
The problem with the magic system used in Final Fantasy VIII are easy to see after you get the hang of the game a bit. After just a bit of playing you either forget about the magic-system and find yourself extremely outmatched by the enemies in matter of hours, or you grasp the systems basics and realise that in order to stand up to the increasingly stronger enemies, you need to stock up some Magic and junction it to your stats. The problem in the second thing comes in how time consuming and overall tedious the process is. In order to draw magic from an enemy, you have to engage them in battle, use the draw ability, and stock them up a few at a time. Numbers drawn from a single attempt range from none (yes, it can fail as well) up to 9. Now there is absolutely no reason why not to gather and junction up to the full 100 of a single type of magic, so if you want all 3 of your active characters to have the full stack of magic junctioned, you’re looking up to around 15-20 draws per character, per magic. Again, other then the tediousness of the proces and the time it takes, there is no reason not to bite the bullet and grind it out. The other obvious way to gain a bit of magic is by using Draw Points scattered about in the world. However, depending on the type of magic offered in a Draw Point, the quantity can range from only a few, up to about 15. Although this is a decent way to get some more ‘Cure’ spells, or maybe even the basic elemental spells, the recharge on the more exciting spells are so long they might as well be considered single use.
Refining magic using your Guardian Forces
There is a third, and way better option. This however is not really explained in the game and is easily missed. After getting yourself a Guardian Force, you can teach it Refine abilities. These abilities allow you to refine Magics from specific items. Items like the common ‘Magic Stones’ dropped by many enemies, but also items dropped from specific elemental enemies. After understanding this feature, you can easily get pretty powerfull without the long Draw-grind. Early in the game you can fight enemies located on the beach who give you relatively low Experience Points, but have a decent chance of dropping an item that can easily be changed by Quezacotl using its Refine ability to get 20 Waters. Not only is Water magic pretty rare, it’s also very powerfull at the start of the game easily doubling either your Health or your Strength when junctioned. But before we told you, you didn’t know where to get them…
And there in lies the crux
Your average player will go in, just wanting to enjoy the story and gaining power without much thought. At least for the first parts of the game. Ofcourse we haven’t ran the numbers, and we would be suprised if research will turn up much, but most players probably just grinded some levels to get stronger. Little do they know, they are just digging their graves deeper and deeper. Because in Final Fantasy VIII, the stronger you get, the stronger your enemies grow. Up to a point where bosses are nigh unbeatable because you have little to no Magic junctoned and figured you could use a few extra levels just to be prepared. Having enemies grow alongside with you is a nice idea in theory, it’s just extremely poorly executed in Final Fantasy VIII.
Why Final Fantasy VIII might be the most hardcore of the bunch
Gettng back to the topic at hand. If you have a decent to good understanding of the system and find a work-a-round to it’s flaws you are able to create characters that are both extremely versitile and very strong. Not only can you junction Magics to your primairy stats like Strength, Magic, Speed and Vitality, you can also use it’s properties to defend you to their element or statuseffects. For instance, junctioning 100 Poison Magics to your Status-Defense makes you immune to Poison. Junctioning Blizzard to your Elemental-Attack makes your attacks add Frost-damage, making dungeons like the Fire Cavern in the early game a breeze. This versatility is rare among the main series Final Fantasy games… and just might make Final Fantasy VIII, the most hardcore of them all… (if only there would have been a Hardcore-mode!)