With the recent release of the Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, many gamers who’ve never experienced the game before will be picking it up for the first time — or, at least, we hope they will be. Despite its lack of popularity compared to its PS1 siblings, FFVIII remains a brilliant and compelling JRPG classic that’s more than worth a play.
However, in classic JRPG fashion, the game is less than successful at explaining some of the most useful mechanics in the game. Lucky for you, we’ve prepared a handy-dandy run-down on some tips and tricks to keep in mind before you load up the game for the first time.
You Don’t Have To Grind!
Well, you don't have to grind for levels, at least. One unique thing about FFVIII is that the level of your opponents scales with yours — more specifically, there’s a mathematic formula that the game uses to determine the level of monsters based on the average level of the active party members. In the gist, enemies will always be around the same level as your characters, with a few exceptions. For example, in the Fire Cavern, where Quistis takes you for a quick tutorial segment, enemy levels are locked at 5, while some story segments in the Lunatic Pandora have the monsters locked at level 1.
Of course, this also means that each monster has many iterations — what abilities it can use and the percentages of what loot it might drop vary on its level. Sometimes, rare loot is locked to higher-level versions of monsters, while other times, the opposite is true and lower-level versions of monsters might have more useful drops. This is where things like the GF Tonberry King’s ability to level enemies up or down comes in handy. Also, speaking of…
GF Junctions - What’s Your Function?
The game’s key mechanic when it comes to powering up your characters — the Junction system — revolves around the acquisition and growth of Guardian Forces, aka GFs, which allow our protagonists to use and junction magic.
However, it’s often more effective to junction your most powerful spells than to use them in combat. Let's say you have 100 Curagas stocked. You can either cast Curaga 100 times in combat or, if you have a GF that knows HP-J, you can junction those 100 Curagas to your HP stat and watch it jump from 700 to over 3000.
This is especially useful because the probability of triggering Limit Breaks — powerful attacks unique to each character — increases the lower your current HP is in relation to your max HP. Ergo, if you junction your HP over 3000 and keep your current HP at around 600-700, you could consistently trigger Limit Breaks even though you won't be anywhere close to being K.O.’d — at least if you have 100 Curagas and HP-J, which brings us to our next tip…
Pay Attention To Your GF
Every GF has a unique set of abilities that they’re able to learn, and do so by earning AP, aka Ability Points. By default, the first abilities that they’re configured to learn are SumMag and GFHP. Both of these bolster the GF’s summoning, which manifests for a short cutscene and unleashes an attack that does a considerable amount of damage.
However, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that a GF’s true power is the augments it provides to a character, and not its summoning. When configuring your GF’s abilities, always make sure they learn SumMag and GFHP last. Their junction abilities and magic refining abilities are much more useful— not to mention the unique and versatile abilities each GF can learn.
Draw And Stock Magic Right Away!
Another key mechanic is the ability to “draw” spells from opponents and either cast or stock them. Often, certain enemies or bosses will carry powerful spells that you won’t get a chance to acquire again until later in the game. When you encounter a new enemy, always check their draw list.
When you see a new spell, try to spend some time stocking as much of it as you can before killing the enemy. Don’t be afraid to abuse the 3x speed boost, either, as trying to draw a full stock before moving on can get tedious— but trust us, it’s well worth your while. A stat junctioned with a full 100 stock of a spell is more powerful than when it is junctioned to only 50 of the same spell.
Get Diablos Right Away
Early in the game, Headmaster Cid will give you a “magical lamp” with an ominous warning not to use it until you’re ready. However, you should ignore him and use it immediately after saving at the nearest save point. Doing so will trigger a battle with the GF Diablos, who will join you upon his defeat.
Yes, it’ll be a tricky battle, as his magic is quite powerful, but remember that enemies' levels are scaled. The sooner you face Diablos, the easier the battle will be. He’s almost unstoppable at higher levels, so it’s really for the best to get him as soon as possible. Besides, he has some of the best abilities in the early game that’ll make many boss battles a breeze.
However, it's important to note that you shouldn't bother healing unless you’re really close to death when you’re fighting him since his attacks take half or a quarter of your current HP. Also, don’t forget to draw a full stock of Demi from him — it’s one of the most powerful spells available early in the game.
The Best Stuff Is Missable Or Optional
That’s not to say that you can’t play or enjoy the game without obtaining items, but they’re optional for a reason. However, if you’re the kind of player who likes to earn the most powerful items and abilities as early as possible before sitting back and obliterating the main game bosses, you’ll want to pay attention.
The two principal types of essential missables are magazines and GFs. Magazines unlock powerful abilities for Rinoa and Zell, as well as weapon upgrades for everyone else. Meanwhile, GFs aren’t technically missable— but if you miss your first chance to draw them from certain bosses, you won't be able get another one until you’re in the Very Final Dungeon After The Point Of No Return. So, they might as well be missable.
If you don’t want to miss out on anything, make sure to consult guides about where to find magazines, loot to unlock Quistis’s Blue magic, and keep an eye out for bosses that are carrying GFs. Not to mention, if you don’t pick up the two old keys and fiddle with the hatch in Laguna’s second dream sequence, you’ll miss out on some powerful items later on in the game. So, don’t be afraid to look things up.
Also, don’t be afraid to explore as much as you can — many of the GFs aren’t missable, but are optional and hidden behind side quests that the main game doesn’t prompt you toward. If you want to experience everything FFVIII has to offer, you gotta get spelunking!