The eighth installment of Square’s popular role-playing franchise arrived 20 years ago this week, on February 11, 1999 – Final Fantasy VIII. With slick character designs and a story that spanned time, FF8 was able to carve out a niche for itself within the series and remains one of the most popular (if divisive) entries to date.
The game’s primary protagonist was Squall Leonhart, who begins the game in a scrap with his rival, Seifer. Squall is a quiet, reserved, almost cold character, especially when compared to the rest of the cast. At the outset of the game, Squall is in training to become a SeeD member, an elite military force; he is soon promoted to SeeD status, though Seifer doesn’t make the cut. After the Republic of Galbadia attacks and invades neighboring countries, Squall joins up with his allies – teacher Quistis, fellow student Zell, the outgoing Selphie, the marksman Irvine, and the outspoken Rinoa – in order to fight back. Galbadia’s hostilities are being led by the sorceress Edea, and Squall and the party attempt to assassinate her in order to bring an end to the violence – but fail to do so.
Squall is also sent into flashbacks to events 17 years prior, in an attempt by someone else to change the course of history. He learns that he and his friends were all raised in an orphanage by Edea, but all eventually lost memories of their childhood due to interference by other forces. Edea had also worked to establish SeeD on her own in order to take down corrupted sorceresses, but ended up as an unwilling host for a greater power, called Ultimecia. Ultimecia has been using Edea as her host (and planned on taking over others, as well) in order to achieve time compression; this would merge all times to merge, killing all life but her own, making her an all-powerful goddess.
Final Fantasy VIII entered development in 1997, while FF7 was finishing the translation process into English. Major differences from the previous entry included a desire to make the characters more realistically-proportioned (compared to the cartoonish character depictions in FF7) and to make it more “bright and fresh” compared to the “dark and weird” story of its predecessor.
The game was critically acclaimed upon release, picking up various awards such as Game of the Year and Best RPG from publications like IGN and Electronic Gaming Monthly; the opening scene in particular, featuring the duel between Squall and Seifer, received praise and still remains one of the most iconic moments in any Final Fantasy title to date.
The title was the fastest-selling Final Fantasy entry when it released, earning more than $50 million in its first 13 weeks on the market (this would be broken by Final Fantasy XIII). It has sold more than 8.5 million copies worldwide.