My first experience with FF series started with FF8 and then went through the following episodes and the recovery of the previous games.
Why should you play Final Fantasy VIII?
Personally I think FF8 is a great game (its biggest flaw is to be after FF7, considered by many the best of the series) and for me it acquires further meaning as it was the first to introduce me to the series, to get me hooked on the JRPG genre and teached me how to maximize the characters.
Among the things that most fascinated me in FF8 we can find the Junction system connected with GF and the "Triple Triad" card game.
One thing that surprised me in 1999 was that the level of the monsters followed the medium level of the characters in the team, it was not simply fixed, as it happened in other games where it was enough to grind to make the rest of the game just a walk in the park.
FF8 was the second title for Playstation and for the time it was an incredible leap forward in terms of Graphics and CGI cutscenes. Nothing comparable with today's graphics but they have allowed the game to age better than other games of the same generation. The 3d models move on pre-rendered backgrounds, a technique used very often by other Japanese games such as the first Resident Evil games.
Unlike other titles in the series (even the most famous ones) FF8 allows you to build powerful characters already within the first CD (or rather in the early stages of the game).
The way to create these powerful characters does not happen by wasting many hours grinding (as often happens in many video games) but with a wise use of the skills of the GF and of the card game.
It is indeed possible to remain underleveled (and for that reason also the enemies will be underleveled) but being really OP because of Junction with the right GF and the right Spell.
Learning Card + Card Mod
Immediately after taking possession of the character, we go to our desk and download our first GFs: Quezacotl and Shiva.
Quezacotl is central to this strategy as it will provide us with the fundamental core skills. The first skill to learn will be "Card".
Talk with the guy near the elevator in order to receive some free cards.
After leaving school with Quistis and hearing her first Junction tutorial, we equip the GFs to the characters and we can wander around Balamb to become familiar with the commands, Draw+Stock the basic spells (FF8 is the first game not to rely on the PMs for the launch of the spells as they are assimilated by enemies or created by GF abilities) and we earn AP (Ability Points) by defeating enemies.
For this strategy the APs will be more useful than the EXP and therefore the best place to learn the skills will be the beach.
On the beach we will find monsters that will give us 6 AP every time we defeat them and we will learn Card in no time.
After learning "Card", Quezacotl will be able to learn a new skill: "Card Mod"
Select it and go back to the beach to learn this too.
Card allows us to transform weakened enemies into cards and Card Mod allows us to transform these cards into objects of various kinds.
You understand why, right?
If you want to maintain your level below the average convert to cards most of the monster you will face, in some cases we can find a rare card than the normal monster, that will be really useful in the next steps.
Draw+Stock as many spells from monsters (max 99 of each spell) and turn them into cards, then head to the Fire Cavern for the third GF: Ifrit
In this case we have to defeat Ifrit, the Fire alligned GF, located at the end of the Fire Cavern.
The best strategy against Ifrit is summoning Shiva a couple of times and casting Blizzard with the second character (using MAG-J from Quezacotl you can increase your input damage with offensive spells). 20 min should be enough for everyone, 10 min it's ok if you already know Ifrit location and how to manage the fight.
After defeating Ifrit we will have an additional GF to equip, new skills to try and his (very strong) card.
Now we are free to explore the Fire Cavern, figure out how to use the Elem-Atk-J from Ifrit (hint: Blizzard) and convert in cards some of the monsters in the cavern (Hint:Piros).
Quick explanation of how to use GFs:
Quezacotl is perfect with this MAG-J (and HP-J as we progress in the game) as an aggressive spellcaster / healer build (MAG-J can also increase the recovery from Healing spell).
Ifrit is perfect with this "SRT-J" (increasing the Strength) and "Elem-Atk-J" (elemental attack based on the spell's element) for an attaker build.
Shiva can help increase the Spirit with "SPR-J" (Magic Resistance) and can also learn "SRT-J" and "Elem-Atk-J" (requires some time).
Fight for the cards!
At this point we can save the game and enter the city of Balamb to fight with the Queen of Cards (near the train station).
It won't be particularly strong once you learn the rudiments of the card game and have cards like Ifrit and Piros. Reload the game save if she wins. ;P
Do not play against her when she proposes the Direct rules (each player gets the cards he turned over from the other) to avoid losing important cards.
The Queen of Cards also affects the other players of Balamb so pay attention to the active trading roles.
Take as many cards as possible from the Queen (and then by the other Balamb players) by saving from time to time and then converting the less useful cards (or multiple) into items.
Some items can be useful for upgrading characters' weapons in the nearby armory shop, they can teach GF new skills, or they can be converted into spells with some GF skills (T Mag-RF, etc.) .
Quezacotl can convert items into thunder and wind spells, Shiva into ice and water spells and Ifrit into fire spells.
Now you are free to explore the Junction system and find the perfect match for your game style.
For this game the max HP is capped at 9999 and the other parameters are capped at 255.
Feel Free to mix and match different parameters with different spells because the improvement is not fixed but it may vary based on the affinity between the parameter and the spell.
Haste is good with the Speed parameter but is not really good with other parameters. Life mattering spells are perfect for HP Junction and so on.
The more spells means more opportunities.
At this point of the game, usually my character can reach quite easilly 3000-4000 HP (from the initial 700-800) and can kill every single monster on Balamb on a couple of attacks.
Even Archeosaurus can be killed quite easilly with the right Elem-Atk (Hint: Blizzara-Blizzaga)
During the game you will face and collecting new GF, new spells and new parameters will be unlocked for Junction.
If this is not enough for you, you can find hidden quest, Ultimate bosses, Complete the Triple Triad collection and so on.
I will close the hub with some extra hint:
There is a way to get Squall's ultimate weapon early enough in the game.
Tornadoes and earthquakes can have big effects in Junctions.
Magic lamps don't always contain what you expect ...
Always check the spells that can be assimilated by the bosses.
I hope you enjoy FF8 as much as it has with me for the past 20 years! :)