I ended up deciding not to reload from a previous save in order to farm up the items needed to beat Omega Weapon. Instead I just pushed forward to Ultimecia who I took out on the first try. She has an interesting mechanic I'd forgotten about. Like in Final Fantasy VI they put in a way to use all of your characters in the boss fight, not just one party's worth. In FFVIII the way that works is you get given 3 characters at random. When one of them dies you have a short window of time to bring them back to life or they get lost in time and replaced by a different character. I hadn't set up for this, so I had 3 worthless characters and 3 awesome ones. I ended up losing all 3 worthless characters in time, and 2 of the awesome ones, but Squall managed to finish her off. It was an interesting final boss fight for sure, and I could have easily lost with the no-prep I put in. With a save point right outside the fight I like it.
The game ends with a pretty fantastic FMV cutscene. Switching to the PlayStation really was a great deal for the series as the extra room for movies like this is a big boost. I've linked it below. One great thing about the movie is they use the full song "Eyes on Me" which was apparently the first video game song to win a mainstream music award in Japan.
I like how the ending cutscene ties into the intro cutscene. At the start of the game you really don't know why the pretty dark haired girl is standing alone in a field of flowers saying she'll be waiting there. But the final dungeon of the game takes place in a time compressed area. Once you kill Ultimecia time goes back to being a normal continuum but the characters in the party need to find their way back to the right time. Most of them have no problem with this, since they have actual ties to their time. Squall does not. He's a perpetual outsider, emotionally detached from his world. So how would he find his way to the right time? He wants to go to the right time. He wants to be with Rinoa. But he can't figure out a way to do it. They tried to set up the flower field as the place to go, but he fails. She ends up having to leave the field and find him lost in the desert, but once together they end up in the field after all.
It's the sort of thing that gets me thinking. If I was lost in time, where would I end up? Would I end up back here? Sometime random? Or just lost in the void because I have nowhere specific to go? Throughout the game I always felt like Squall was doing things just like I would do them and this is no different. I would be lost. Probably forever, as I have no field to go to and no Rinoa to force me to go there. On the plus side I doubt I'm going to actually get lost in time!
As for the game itself, I had a lot of fun playing it. Playing without gaining levels didn't make the game any harder at all. It made a couple points trickier in terms of needing to run/card/stone enemies but it didn't make things harder. Overall it probably made things easier. Except Omega Weapon, anyway!
I'm still not a huge fan of the spell draw system. I hate consumable items and turning spells into consumable items is not appreciated. The plus side is it tends to be really easy to get more copies of the spells so that it turns the consumable issue from one of hoarding precious resources to one of wasting time hitting the draw command every fight. I actually like the junction system. Especially when you have one spell that's much better than the others, so you have to make a choice between getting lots of strength, intelligence, or maximum health. I like the GF system too, where you choose what skills you gain as time goes by.
The music and graphics are incredible. The FMVs are miles ahead of the ones in FFVII, and those were pretty great too. The sound track for this game is my favourite of all the games. I used to listen to the full OSTs for the different games at work and FFVIII was the best.
I like the story and the characters a lot. Quistis doesn't have much going for her but I like the interactions between Selphie and Irvine. Zell is crazy in a good way. Even the bad guys are pretty great. Seifer is a jerk and a bully and I hate him, but he actually seems like a sensible jerk and bully. It's not like Sephiroth or Kefka who just seem crazy and evil. Seifer feels like he could easily be a real person. The same with most of the sorceresses. I mean, super magic powers aren't real so I guess that's a strike against them acting like real people, but if you take as an axiom that magic is real the way they behave seems to follow. Cid reminds me of Robin Williams for some reason.
The card game is the best mini game in any game I've ever played.
Final Fantasy VIII is tops in practically every category I care about among all the games I've played thus far in this marathon. Music, graphics, cutscenes, minigames, characters, plot... It falls behind in terms of leveling system thanks to the whole draw system. Leveling systems tend to be the meat of an RPG, so is that failing enough to drop this game down in the overall list? No. I can understand how many people would feel that way, but I don't. Welcome to the #1 spot, FFVIII.