Final Fantasy VIII was released on the original PlayStation 1 on…February 11, 1999, meaning it is now twenty years old, almost ready to booze it up, give or take a day or two depending on when I get this post uploaded. Either way–congrats and that’s totally insane to me, but I guess time has always had a way of sneaking up on ourselves. What else came out in February 1999, you ask? Allow me to do some quick research. A few choice answers include Street Sk8er, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Beetle Adventure Racing, and Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, all of which scream instant classic from the mountaintop. This was definitely the cream of the crop at said time.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of Final Fantasy VIII, allow me to tell a story. I never finished the game, but I got real freaking close; see, towards the end, as you prepare to take on Ultimecia, you need to split into multiple parties and I had unfortunately focused on leveling up only three characters for most of the game, not knowing I’d be thrown this curveball. Specifically, Squall Leonhart, Selphie Tilmitt, and Quistis Trepe. So, the other team was certifiably boned, and I couldn’t survive a single fight nor reload to a previous save to grind them up to somewhat more respectable levels. Oh well. Also, afterwards, I was letting a then-friend of mine borrow the game to play, giving him it disc by disc; well, he moved away with Final Fantasy VIII‘s second disc so there’s no way I can replay my original PS1 copy, though it has been released on Steam and as a digital download on the PlayStation 3. Not all hope is lost, if I ever feel the need to dive in again.
All right, on to the plot. If I can summarize it well enough, that is. Final Fantasy VIII is set on an unnamed fantasy world and follows a group of young mercenaries, led by Squall Leonhart, as they are drawn into a conflict sparked by Ultimecia, a sorceress from the future who wishes to compress time. During their quest to defeat Ultimecia, Squall struggles with his role as a leader and develops a romance with one of his comrades, Rinoa Heartilly. Squall is a cadet at SeeD–which I never knew how to pronounce; is it seed or seedy?–a special combat unit of the Balamb Garden Military Academy. The game is a strange mix of high school drama and battling real-life monsters, with a punch of romance and time bending and long pauses. It’s weird, but that never meant it wasn’t interesting and a fresh breath of air after the somewhat traditional-looking Final Fantasy VII.
Now, I remember being initially disappointed with the Draw system. See, in Final Fantasy VIII, magic spells aren’t purchased in shops like in previous games. Instead, the most common way to get spells into your arsenal is by drawing it directly out of enemies. This cost your character a turn, and I hate wasting turns, which is why I’d always prefer to cast an aggressive spell, such as Firaga, instead of a buff spell, like Protect. Also, you could gain magic spells via draw points or by refining magic from items. Still, it felt like an unneeded step in the process; to cast Cure, you first have to draw it from an enemy and then wait your next turn to use it. It’s probably not as big of a deal as I remember it being, but I know many players wanted something a little more straightforward from the battle system.
Perhaps the greatest thing to come from Final Fantasy VIII is its mini-game Triple Triad. This is a digital card game conceived by battle system designer Hiroyuki Ito. In it, two players face off against one another, one side playing as “blue” and the other as “red” on a 3×3 grid. Each player has five cards in their hand, and the aim is to capture your opponent’s cards by turning them into the player’s own color of red or blue. Cards have different levels, with low level cards having low ranks, like 1s, 2s, and 3s, while high level cards have 8s, 9s, and 10s, and some cards are considered “rare,” usually obtained from tough opponents or side quests. I loved playing this minigame so much that I eventually began to draw my own cards and play against invisible opponents just to practice in between grinding sessions. It’s also in Final Fantasy IX.
There’s probably a lot more I could say about the game…if I could remember more. Alas, it’s a wash, having last played the thing in high school. Still, I’ll put this forward. If you think Final Fantasy VIII is the worst entry in the series, I have two things to say to you: 1) you’re wrong, and 2) whatever.
It’s bad enough that there are somewhere in the upward hundreds of games in my never not growing collection that I haven’t touched and probably won’t for a good while, but then there are more than a handful of videogames with smaller games inside them that I have only skimmed the surface of, unable to devote more time to them, with my core focus on seeing the bigger picture draw to a close. I just hit this very moment in Night in the Woods with the game’s small yet mighty pixelated dungeon crawler Demontower, which is clearly taking cues from Dark Souls and requires a lot of focus to be successful in.
These are commonly called minigames, and some of them certainly dance on the edge of mini and major. I’m not here to argue semantics, nor am I referencing those slivers of gameplay in the Mario Party series. I’m here to dream a little dream, one where I get to dive oh-so-deep into these things, as many of them are definitely large enough to lose a good chunk of life and time into.
So here’s a bunch of minigames that truly deserved more of my precious hours, and I don’t know if they’ll ultimately ever get that pleasure. Spoilers and no surprises from me on this reveal: two of them are card-based.
“XENOCard” from Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht
Sometimes I think I want to write about Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht simply so I can use its full title. It really is a beautiful thing. The sequels, which I alas do not own and probably never will due to their steep prices on Amazon, up the ante immensely. Really, look now: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. My oh my oh my.
Anyways, in Xenosaga Episode I, besides getting hot e-mails and a robot lady to battle by your turn-based side, you can play a card game called, as far as I can tell, Xenocard. The goal is to achieve victory by forcing your opponent to run through his or her entire deck, leaving them with no remaining cards. You can attack your opponent’s deck in a number of ways, forcing him to lose cards. At the same time, you must take protective measures for guarding your own deck from quick depletion.
It’s surprisingly complex–I mean, just look at the interface layout above–and not too different from things like Magic: The Gathering though I never got too far into the game to play a whole bunch because, for those that don’t know, there’s a lot of long cutscenes to sit and watch and not interact with, and so I most likely put this aside for something a little more engaging. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of…Lost Jerusalem (Earth). Maybe.
“Insectron” from Rogue Galaxy
Man, did I love Rogue Galaxy. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s a Level-5 JRPG from the PlayStation 2 days that does all the Level-5 things you now come to expect of the company, and it’s a fun, often silly, sometimes serious, take on all things Star Wars. However, I spent far more time feeding items and weapons to a magical frog-thing to make better gear and creating Rube Goldberg machines in the factory than I did with the game’s “Insectron” minigame. Insectors are small insects that you can catch at various places throughout the galaxy. Basically, this universe’s version of Pokemon, but buggier. The purpose for catching them is to make a team that can win battles against other opponents at the Insectron Stadium.
There are two parts to this massive sinkhole. First, you have to collect the insects. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an Insector is random. You have to find a good location, place traps or cages, fill them with bait, and then wait until you hear a specific sound indicating something’s happening. If you want even better Insectors, you’ll need to invest serious time into breeding. Next, you can begin to raise your collection, upping their ranks and feeding them special items to grow specific attributes. You can see the seeds of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s familiars here.
Once you are satisfied with your team of Insectors, you can start battling. The battles at the Insectron Championship are done tournament-style. Win five matches to advance through one rank, then rinse and repeat. Insectron matches are 5-on-5 battles, and one of your team’s five Insectors is labeled the King. If you defeat your opponent’s King, you win. However, the Insector designated as the King is limited to only moving one space at a time. I think I attempted a few battles, but, having only used a sliver of the untrained Insectors I did manage to catch, did not get very far in the tournament and left the whole thing behind to see Jasper Rogue’s story draw to conclusion.
“Triple Triad” from Final Fantasy VIII
2016 was the year that I finally saw Final Fantasy IXfrom beginning to end. To do this, I had to sacrifice the desire to go after every side quest, as well as the dream of being the legendary best Tetra Master player in the world. This meant I mostly just collected the cards and moved on with the adventure. I also ignored other minigames in Final Fantasy IX, such as Chocobo Hot and Cold and finding all those medallion coins. It’s fine; I’m fine. That all said, of the handful of Final Fantasy games I’ve played, I think I’d prefer to go back to Final Fantasy VIII and study up on all things Triple Triad, if given the time.
In Final Fantasy VIII, you could go up to a random NPC, press the square button, and maybe find yourself in a card game. As always, the goal is simple: capture as many of your opponent’s cards as possible by making sure you place higher-ranked cards adjacent to an enemy card. Easy enough, but the rules are what make this game deceptively tough and addicting, especially considering those rules can change depending where you are geographically in the game. More or less, it’s a modified version of Tic-Tac-Toe, played on a 3×3 grid. Players take turns placing a card down, and each card contains a “compass rose” of four different numbers (1-9, with “A” representing 10). Higher levels contain higher numbers, and these stats determine whether you’ll take the adjacent enemy card as your own or lose to its strength.
I remember wanting to simply collect all the character-specific cards, but then realizing I’d have to risk a lot of my collection to get them. Big ol’ boo to that. Also, the fact remains that disc 3 from my PlayStation 1 retail copy is still gone, given to a “friend” to borrow and then move away with, so I’ll never acquire that full digital collection of friendly faces like Selphie Tilmitt and…well, really, there’s only room for Selphie in my heart. Maybe Quistis Trepe. Evidently, you can play Triple Traid on some smartphones, but probably shouldn’t.
“Spheda” from Dark Cloud 2
I think about this fact from time to time: despite getting to the last chapter, I have not yet beaten Dark Cloud 2. This probably needs to be remedied at some point, but I don’t know what is more daunting–loading up my years-old save and having a forgetful go at it or starting over fresh. I mean, yeah, I did miss a few photo opportunities early on during some boss battles. Well, I’m not here to talk about that, though it is just one of a few minigames or side activities you can take on in Dark Cloud 2, brushing shoulders with fishing and rebuilding towns, as well as Spheda.
What is Spheda? Glad you asked. It’s basically playing golf to repair time distortions. Mmm-hmm. You read that correctly. In short, the only way to fix these time distortions is to get a colored sphere back into the distortion hole, and you do that by whacking it around a cleared-out dungeon like you are playing mini-golf at the boardwalk during the summer. Except you do want to go off the main path and bounce the ball around corners. Each time a distortion is successfully closed, you’ll get a treasure chest containing valuable items. In addition, the player receives a medal, which can be traded to Mayor Need for, you guessed it, other items. Yay for items.
I’d have to load up my save to confirm this, but I think I was successful on one–and only one–round of Spheda. It’s hard. You only have so many shots to get it into the time distortion, and the dungeons are long and windy, with many sharp turns. I remember hitting the ball to be no easy task either, considering this is a JRPG and not a golf simulator. I wonder if I’d have more patience now to learn the ins and outs of this or if the loot is even worth all the effort.
“Cops and Robbers” from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
I believe I played “Cops and Robbers” exactly once, with an ex, while waiting for my father to arrive for a visit. Because I used to document my life extensively, I can tell you it was around the time of this comic strip. The objective of this minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is simple: get five points. One player controls Inspector Carmelita Fox, and the other steers that sneaky devil Sly Cooper. There’s only one map to play on, in Venice. Basically, Carmelita gets a single point every time she takes out Sly, and Sly gets one point every time he takes out Carmelita, as well as one point for every piece of loot he retrieves and takes to a designated drop-off area. Clearly, Sly has more options, but all Carmelita has to focus on is zapping him with her shock pistol.
To mix up the fleeing and pursuing, floating stars are sprinkled around the main section of the city. These provide either character with a power-up that can be used one to five times before a meter depletes. Each player has access to a compass that reveals where your opponent is. I remember it working well, though I have stronger memories tied to the mode where you are flying biplanes around. Oh well.
There’s also a whole treasure map aspect to eat up, which allows Sly to utilize clues, such as “stand before the statue’s gaze, to begin your walk along the treasure’s maze,” that eventually lead to the objective, which in most occasions is treasure. It’s fun and gives me confidence that I could probably star in a remake of The Goonies if asked. No one’s going to ask.
Well, that’s all I can come up with at the moment though I guarantee I’m missing other standout examples. Like “Feitas” from Suikoden V. And “Tombstones” and “Rage Frenzy” from Rage. Grrr. See, told you there’s plenty more.
Anyways, what minigames did you only barely touch and regret not fully experiencing? Well, maybe regret is too strong a word. Either way, tell me about them in the comments below. I want to know.
Here’s something rather amusing: I was playingSuikoden II as it was announced over the weekend at Sony’s PlayStation Experience event that it was finally, at long last, coming to North America via the PlayStation Network. Take that, outrageously high eBay prices. Instead of dropping over $100, you can now download the epic JRPG for a sliver of that. I’ve read two different reported prices so far: $10.00 and $6.99. Either is a fantastic price for Konami’s sparkly, well-kept gem, one that many might not have gotten to play due to its rareness, as well as it being out-shadowed during its release by Final Fantasy VIII. Yeah, the one with the floating garden school and Junction/Draw system.
That said, after a logged forty-nine hours and change and with my main party of characters all just under level 60, I can safely say that I have playedSuikoden II. Again. The last time was definitely back in the 1990s. Hot off the heels of replaying Suikoden, I found my revisit to Suikoden II even more enjoyable, as well as at least seventy-five percent less goofy. This is a game about darkness and dark things, like betrayal, wavering confidence, murder, sacrifice, and rape. Sure, there’s still a good amount of silliness to balance out the grim, but all in all, this is a serious adventure in the same vein as current mega-RPGs like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Diablo III, with conflicting opinions and difficult choices all around.
Here, let me sum up the plot once more. Suikoden II‘s protagonist, who I named Hodor, goes from being a member of a youth brigade in the Highland Kingdom to being the leader of its opposition. Hodor and his best friend Jowy Atreides each end up acquiring one half of the Rune of the Beginning, both destined to become leaders. Luca Blight is heir to the throne of Highland, as well as a bloodthirsty madman who developed a strong hatred for Jowston early on after witnessing his mother’s rape by thugs hired by City-State capital Muse. Hodor will eventually find himself fighting against Luca and his best friend, for safety, for civility.
The six-party, turn-based combat from the first game returns, with visual upgrades for rune spells, but not many mechanical changes. Yup, there are more Unite attacks to use, as well as the ability to switch between rows during a fight, but I found using “auto” attack to work out well enough in most situations save for boss fights. Since the point is to recruit a bunch of different people for the war, the Suikoden series is one of the few–Chrono Cross is another–that really does encourage you to mix things up and try out new team members. You can’t go wrong with who you select so long as you have a good S/M/L range mix, keep them armored, sharpen their weapons, and give them strong runes. My mainstays throughout the campaign were Flik, Viktor, Nanami, Millie, Futch, Georg Prime, and Valeria, with Hodor acting more as a healer than anything else since his speed allowed him to act first in most fights.
Massive battles and duels are thankfully kept to a minimum, which is fine considering they still require a lot of guesswork or well-hardened knowledge of how rock, paper, scissors works. The massive battles are a little different in that you have to move units around for better positioning like in a strategy RPG, but it’s still a matter of attacking horses with bow and arrows and knowing when to charge with soldiers. If you want, Apple can take over your actions on autopilot. For every duel, I ended up using a wiki guide because, more often than not, these pixelated duels take place after a big boss fight, and I didn’t want to lose any progress. It’s just a matter of selecting the correct choice of defend, attack, or wild attack based on what your enemy says.
By Suikoden II‘s close, I did end up recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny, but not in time to get the “good” ending, though I still like the ending I saw. Many refer to it as the “tragic” ending, but seeing as I myself recently went through a tragic ending this year, it is rather apropos. Plus, it does that thing from A Link to the Past, where you check in with everyone after the war’s over to see what they are up to. Well, not everyone. Sorry, [redacted] and [redacted]. I missed/skipped out on a few other elements, like Clive’s timed side quest, recruiting the additional squirrel warriors, doing every Richmond investigation, unlocking the hidden bath scenes, and so on. There’s so much small, side stuff in Suikoden II that it can feel very overwhelming; most of it has no effect on the plot, but provides cool little moments or bits of backstory to a game already oozing story from every orifice. Still, after nearly fifty hours, I saw plenty.
If you thought the castle headquarters in Suikoden was neat and fulfilling to explore, just wait until you begin seeing it grow in Suikoden II. I mean, you could spend a good hour just running around the place, examining things, talking to people, seeing where they go when the place upgrades. There’s also mini-games to tackle, like fishing, cooking, and even whacking moles, but I might touch upon those more in a separate post. My regiment was that, every time I popped back to HQ, I’d check the suggestion box for new notes, start/complete an investigation with Richmond, make a pitstop at the warehouse, and then run over to the cafe to do the latest cook-off challenge before using Viki to teleport wherever I needed to go to next. There is legitimate excitement in my heart after recruiting a new member for the group and then scouring the castle for where they reside.
Right. Fun times. I’m going to take a wee breather before moving on to (and starting over) Suikoden III, but I think closing out a less-than-stellar year with one of my absolute favorite gaming experiences next to A Link to the Past is a good thing. Very good. Now, in the wise words of Viktor: “Oi!!!!! Let’s end this damn thing!!!”
Over at SlickGaming, every Sunday or so, Jason Jasicki lists the games he acquired across the week, whether they were provided to him for review purposes or he hit up a yard sale or–and more power to him–he ventured into GameStop during a “buy-2-get-1-free” promotional event and dropped some loose change on the counter. I’m not as deep into collecting as he is–though I still want to have everySuikoden title out there, even if I can’t play them–but it’s interesting to see what he picks up, for how much, and whether or not he’s actually interested in playing these games.
Well, let’s see what else I can find in my collection that I nearly played to completion but, for some reason or another, walked away from. Dangerously, I might have to even load up a few of these to refresh my memory. On to the list!
Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
All right. Just loaded up this DS cart on my 3DS for the first time in a very long time. Seems like I’ve rescued 90 slimes (out of 100), and my save slot says I’ve played Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for 12 hours and 57 minutes (also of note: 0 multiplayer wins). I’m definitely at the last level of the game, also known as the Flying Clawtress, but I don’t know if it is actually the last tank battle or not as I previously suspected. I’ve wandered around the town map for a bit to get a feel again for the main slime’s powers and relearn the lay of the land. Maybe later I’ll see just how much more work I need to do to save the rest of the slimes and take down the final tank(s). That jaunty, head-boppin’ Boingburg town music already has a strong hold of my heart again.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Out comes Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, in goes The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. My 3DS is very confused. Looking at my save slot, there’s no logged time, and I truly don’t recall that last time I drew a line across the ocean and had Link sailing to and fro. Here’s what I can tell you: I have 11 hearts, three butterfly thingies (red, blue, and yellow), and three gemstones (red, blue, and green), though it looks like there is room for a fourth. I’m on some island, and I suspect I need to head back to wherever that one main ever-expanding singular dungeon is and see how far down it goes. Brace yourselves: I’m glancing at an online walkthrough. Ahh…yeah. Nothing even looks a sliver familiar, so I really don’t know where I am at this point. Maybe not 95%, more like 75% complete. Heck, I could just forget about the story and focus entirely on getting every single fish in the ocean…
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
According to my Achievements list, I have 31 of 60 unlocked for Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. It’s a bit difficult to tell, but it looks like I maybe only have a handful left related to story stuff, like defeating that mean ol’ witch and collecting a bunch more Jiggies. Jiggles? Er, I don’t remember. I think the problem I ran into was struggling to be creative enough with my vehicle creations and lacking the parts to do anything considerably cool, as well as some of the level design just being frustrating, especially when you are trying to ascend vertically. I know I did complete the game within the game, which was some strange auto-scrolling runner amusingly called Hero Klungo Sssavesss Teh World.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked
If you’ll recall, I sucked so horribly at this SJRPG that I hit the “Early Bad Ending” and put the blasted thing aside, eventually forgetting about it altogether, especially once Shin Megami Tensei IV entered my collection. Which is a major bummer, because I really enjoyed Devil Summoner Overclocked‘s story and characters, even if every other word out of their mouths is “demons” or “government.” If I’m going to successfully get past this one fight where you need to battle demons and angels and attack the humans to break their COMPs, but then also protect them from the previously mentioned angels and demons, with no civilians dying…I’m going to need help. Mega help. And by that, I might not to watch someone else play it on YouTube and try to mimic their every move. Yeah, I’m not happy with this.
Final Fantasy VIII
Yup, digging deep on this one. Back to the PS1 days and my PSM sticker-covered console that sat proudly on my bedroom’s floor. I have never beaten Final Fantasy VIII, and given that one of the game’s discs is missing from its jewel case, I most likely never will. That’s okay. It definitely is not one of my more favorite Final Fantasy titles, though I did find something strangely interesting with the Junction system. Plus, this is where Triple Triad got its start, but was better refined in Final Fantasy IX. Anyways, I do remember hitting the end-game area, back when I had the disc still, but–and no, I’m not looking this up to confirm–you had to split your group into two teams to progress, and one group of characters was much higher in levels and gear than the other. I was not prepared for such a scenario and walked away from it entirely. Oh well.
Well, that’s all I got for now. Whew. Between this list and that other one with the six unfinished PS2 games on it, I have plenty in the backlog waiting to be polished off. Waiting and wishing and wanting. That is if I ever make a dang effort to do so. We’ll see. My gaming habits are constantly in flux, and I just end up playing what I want, when I want, and for how long I want. If something goes unfinished or untouched for a good while, perhaps that’s how it was meant to be. Yeah, yeah, I see you, Game of Thrones, eye-balling me from across the room. I see you.
Tell me, dear readers. What games in your collection hover right on the edge of completion? And why did you stop playing?