Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Challenge Reviews: Final Fantasy VIII / Gex 3

Chronological Challenge Reviews: Final Fantasy VIII / Gex 3

Hello! Welcome to this week’s edition of Chronological Challenge Reviews, where we continue into 1999 with two very different games. Enjoy!

The first is Final Fantasy VIII, which took me months to get through as I spent most of my time playing cards, and Gex: Deep Cover Gecko, which took me less time because…well, you’ll see.

Also, in a complete coincidence, the companies who made these two games eventually merged and now make modern Tomb Raider games. Let that sink in for a second.

Final Fantasy VIII
Publisher: Square Co. | Developer: Squaresoft | Year: 1999
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS2 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Get all GFs, all cards, all ultimate weapons, defeat Omega Weapon and beat Ultimecia

Actual Outcome: Level 100 Squall stabs sorceress in the face after brutally murdering her pet Omega Weapon

Opinion: I have an interesting relationship with Final Fantasy VIII. At the time of its release, I was not too keen on the idea of turn-based RPGs, and when the Official UK PlayStation Magazine went on and on about how great this game would be, I scoffed. That said, the message got through, and when they released a special edition of the magazine with a playable demo, I decided to pick up and find out what all the fuss was about.

I ended up getting FF7 a few months later because I enjoyed that demo so much I wanted to see what I’d previously missed.

But FF8 stuck with me a little more than FF7 for some reason. Maybe because it’s the Final Fantasy that got me into Final Fantasy. Maybe because of its weird, seemingly nonsensical storyline. Maybe it’s because the battle mechanics were fairly easy to get to grips with for someone as clueless about stats as I was at the time. Whatever the reason, coming back to FF8 for the challenge was like returning to an old childhood home where it turned out all my current friends grew up together and I’d completely forgotten.

This is an interesting entry in the series. It’s the point where Square started seriously deviating from a lot of the core aspects of what makes a game a Final Fantasy game. It dropped Job Classes. You couldn’t equip armour. It was even more futuristic than its predecessor. The Junction system was a bit of a departure that focused heavily on summons. It was…weird.

And yes, it’s an easily exploitable combat system. There are ways to game the system to get yourself high-level magic on disc 1 and increase your strength to an absurd degree that early-game enemies are crushed beneath your mighty toes with ease. By the end of the game you can become such a powerhouse that the final boss barely poses a threat. And once you have Aura and access to the Holy War item, then you’re basically unstoppable.

Sure, the story is a weird amalgamation of sci-fi tropes and political drama, focusing on child soldiers and sorceresses and monsters from the moon. It’s a story that on first glance makes no sense and is making it up as it goes along. A story that some people dislike so much they decided that the final three-quarters of the game are a dying dream that explains away all the weird moon logic.

But I genuinely, unironically love FF8. I can’t fault it. And it’s not just nostalgia goggles. I’ve just finished playing it (I mean that, it took me the first three months of this year to beat), and it’s every bit as weird and quirky as I remember it, but I love it for all of that. You cannot accuse FF8 of being unimaginative. You cannot accuse it of being derivative. And, surprisingly, the more I look at it, the more I realise just how good FF8’s story actually is. I intend to bring back Losing the Plot at some point to discuss this further, but replaying it with hindsight has opened my eyes to a bunch of stuff I never considered before. Unlike a certain other sci-fi themed Final Fantasy game I won’t name but has the number thirteen in it, this is a plot that makes more sense the more you look at it. It has an internal logic and it sticks with it at all times.

I actually like the Junction system despite (or perhaps because of) its easy exploits. It’s a fairly fluid, easy to manage system that didn’t make me feel overly anxious about making the “wrong” decision like in other RPGs’ skill and stat management. The lack of explicit levels for enemies mean that grinding has largely been removed (GF abilities excluded), and progress never feels artificially hindered by a sudden leap in enemy levels (flashbacks of Shining Force incoming).

And I liked the world and the characters (except Zell). The world was an interesting blend of familiar modern things and fanciful future fantasy things, and the party was filled with likeable teens (except Zell).

What I’m saying is that Final Fantasy 8 is probably one of my favourite Final Fantasy games. Probably not THE favourite, as it’s far too weird for that, but it holds a place in my heart, and it’ll most likely stay there forever.

Gex: Deep Cover Gecko
Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Year: 1999
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: See how far I can get in a single session

Actual Outcome: I don’t even remember now

Earlier this year, I went to MCM Comic Con Birmingham and met two of the main cast of British sci-fi comedy series, Red Dwarf – Robert Llewellyn, who played neurotic robot servant Kryten, and Danny John-Jules, who played a stupid yet fashionable creature known as The Cat. They were lovely guys, with Llewellyn clearly pleased that someone wanted to hear about his written work, and John-Jules being the chilliest motherfucker in the world.

I bring this up because what I am about to say is especially difficult now I’ve met the guy and deemed him to be a thoroughly nice gent I’d be happy to go to a pub with. But Gex: Deep Cover Gecko is a fundamentally worse game than its predecessor, and a big part of this lies in the UK voice, changed from Leslie Phillips to…Danny John-Jules.

Every flaw that plagued Gex 3D is still present in Deep Cover Gecko, with the unfunny ever-repeating jokes now looking dated and cringeworthy, the level design being rather uninspired, and the camera system being an uncontrollable mess of a thing.

But things are made worse in the fact Gex’s voice is so much more annoying this time. Delivered in the same voice as The Cat on Red Dwarf, Gex reels off yet more pop culture references but coming off much less sophisticated than Phillips, and seemingly repeating his jokes a lot more often than before. The fairy tale level, in particular, has exactly two lines of jokes. Yes, two. It’s hard not to notice when you hear them looped forever.

But then nothing else has improved. The camera is still awkward, the levels are still largely built on a single idea – “LOL POP CULTURE REFERENCES” – and the hub world is even more of a nightmare to navigate now.

Oh, and there’s a Playboy model in a key role because we’re marketing this to horny teenage boys now. And yes, it’s about as awkward as you’d expect a grown woman flirting with a CGI lizard to be.

Gex: Deep Cover Gecko elicits the same reaction from me as its predecessor – why is this still in my collection? It’s dated, it’s bland, and much better 3D platformers exist from the same time period.

  1. June 1, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    I feel like FF8 went through a long period of derision, where everyone lamented it’s strange battle system. Now, I feel people are appreciating it’s uniqueness on second look. I got the PC rerelease to try at it again.

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