Although FFVII was by no means less than an epic, Square plans to double the gameplay length (we are talking 5 full-to-the-brim CDs here!), to make the characters much more deep, to add a much more enjoyable soundtrack, and to totally redo the graphical engine. Of course all the more simple for the warlocks at Square, who just cant seem to be happy with perfection; they have to go through the roof.
FFVIII (from the information that has been made available to me as of now) follows the quest of one, Squall Leonheart, who is a part of a high ranking military academy that is now being called The Garden. Squall wishes desperately to join the highly decorated military sector referred to as "SeeD" (think of it as SOLIDER), but in order to do so, he has to prove himself. How he will have to do so is out of my grasp, but knowing Square SeeD ends up being corrupt and it will be part of Squall's many tasks to destroy it (that is totally my opinion and has no official relevance whatsoever). Along the way, our hero is sure to meet allies and foes a'many, and if he is anything like Cloud he will have some serious mental battles to overcome (lets hope its not quite as sloppy as it was in FFVII). Another revealed lead role in the game is Laguna Loire, a mysterious (as of now) man from a different dimension (presumably). Also sure to make cameos are Vicks and Wedge, everyone's favorite inter-fantasy crossovers. Square officially promises that the translation to English will be top notch stuff, so we will not be seeing any strange gibberish on the screen at key moments in the game.
The next main feature (and probably the biggest sell point to newcomers) is the incredibly fluid and vivid graphics. FFVII had some outstanding backgrounds and nice animations, but the character models were pretty bad, and at some points hideous. FFVIII on the other hand uses extremely high-res full scale character polygons that can be described as none other than perfection at its peak. The characters are detailed, tall, and very well animated. And naturally the backgrounds are just as beautiful as before if not more so. The game's FMV is up to par with Namco's greatest, and frankly, life on Playstation has never looked so great.
The battle system will not receive too much of a face lift, but that's a good thing. Square has stuck to primarily the same battle system throughout the FF saga and it works rather well. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. What the epic's magic system is like is still to be determined, but it looks to be the same turn based mayhem. Not to be left out of innovation, Square has invented an all new weapon for their lead man. Called the gunblade, it is basically a sword on a revolver handle. Squall can pull the trigger, therefore affecting the power of the blow. Interesting....
But not as interesting is the official Square statement that the game is being themed as a love story. There has always been deep romance throughout the series, but it looks like this time, a sweet love will be at the very core of the epic storyline. Great by me, as the most soul stirring moments in Square's long running history have been on the heels of romance.
With a Christmas '98 release overseas and a spring '99 release on our shores, I'd say its time to start saving your pennies, because next year when FFVIII hits stores, it is my prediction that it will change the face of the way we see role playing for years to come. Stay tuned to Game Elite Online for updates on this epic masterpiece.
~Andrew the Game Master