Final Fantasy VIII, PlayStation

Considered something of a curveball to the hugely successful episode seven, Final Fantasy VIII (eight) is more great level-grinding goodness from Japanese dev Gods, Square. This one released in 1999.

A completely different setting and characters to previous instalments, Final Fantasy VIII features six playable protagonists and five temporarily-playable characters, each of whom make their entrance at key points in the story. The main character – who you begin the game with – is called Squall Leonhart – and Squall is a SeeD cadet. “SeeDs” by the way are elite mercenaries who can “junction” Guardian Forces to create a wide range of special offensive and defensive abilities, and these kind of act as a substitute for armour and accessories. In combat, SeeDs can use weapons and cast magic, and create all manner of colourful lightshows with their spells, and can even activate special power moves with “Limit Breaks” – using a meter that builds up and can be unleashed when full. They must also use “Draw Points” to keep their magic points topped-up for battle.

The aim of the game is to use all the powers and resources at your disposal to defeat the sorceress, Ultimecia, who is attempting to destroy the universe by compressing time. This is spectacular, high brow science fiction fantasy… gobbledegook… Gobbledegook of the highest order, nonetheless…

In terms of presentation, Final Fantasy VIII really pushed the original PlayStation to its limits, with amazing animated cut scenes, beautiful 2D backgrounds, lots of special effects during combat, and much more 3D than the previous game. The menu system in this was a big leap forward too. People often forget how good Final Fantasy VIII was for the time, because it was eclipsed by the gigantic presence of its predecessor.

A long-awaited re-mastered edition of Final Fantasy VIII goes on sale on Steam this week. The 3rd of September to be precise. Will it be worth the £15.99 they’re asking for it? Having very much enjoyed the original, my response is: quite possibly.

Note: These screenshots are from the original PlayStation version.

More: Final Fantasy VIII on Wikipedia
Steam: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered on Steam

Rollcage, PlayStation

Rollcage is a fast, physics-based racing game developed by Attention To Detail and published by Psygnosis in 1999.

The ‘physics’ side of the game involves driving at breakneck speeds, around various twisting tracks that can be driven in a variety of different ways. Namely: on the walls, and on the ceilings! Yes: Rollcage allows you to defy gravity (or at least mess with it) by driving upside-down inside tunnels – that is: if you can turn that into an advantage by retaining control of your buggy, which isn’t easy.

All the courses and vehicles are modelled using fairly simple 3D graphics, but the lighting effects are atmospheric and the explosions spectacular, so Rollcage looks great. It feels great too. Attention To Detail certainly fine-tuned the handling and as a result they managed to create a game that is playable, as well as blindingly-fast.

The soundtrack – with songs from artists such as Fat Boy Slim and EZ Eollers – is also memorable too.

I remember playing Rollcage a lot back in 1999 and it was fun. It still is, surprisingly enough. Especially the split-screen multiplayer mode. It takes a patient and nuanced player to get the best out of Rollcage, but if you have some skill you’ll manage that.

More: Rollcage on Wikipedia

Grandia, PlayStation

Grandia was initially released in 1997 on the Sega Saturn in Japan, and then later in 1999 on the Sony PlayStation.

Only the later PlayStation version received an official English translation (although the Sega Saturn version does have a fan translation, using the same text as the PlayStation version, but was not available in English until the patch was released in March 2019).

Grandia is Game Arts‘ attempt at breaking into the Japanese Role-Playing Game market and it is a very successful one.

It’s a level-grinding adventure starring a young boy called Justin, on a path to uncover a mysterious lost civilisation. The focus of the story is on exploration, technology and magic. The focus of the gameplay is on exploration and combat, based in a simple 3D world populated by 2D characters and enemies.

Visually, Grandia looks a little dated by today’s standards, but the gameplay has definitely lasted. Grinding levels and using magic is a lot of fun, and although Grandia does have a relatively simple story and dialogue the game contains enough charm and content to please both the casual gamer and the hardcore RPG fan.

A HD remake is also due relatively soon. Grandia definitely has a following, and deservedly so.

See also: Grandia II and Grandia III

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandia_(video_game)

Final Fantasy VII, PlayStation

Final Fantasy VII is a legendary level-grinding Role-Playing Game, developed by Square and released for the Sony PlayStation in 1997.

While the Final Fantasy series had grown in stature throughout the 1990s, it was this seventh instalment that broke Japanese CRPGs into the mainstream, with its outstanding mix of 3D, polygonal graphics, Full Motion Video, and pre-rendered backgrounds. But it wasn’t just the graphics that propelled Final Fantasy VII to stratospheric heights – it was both the story, and also the gameplay, that made games-players really sit up and take notice.

The story of a small gang of rebel kids – taking on a sinister fantasy government of the future – Final Fantasy VII is played from the perspective of ‘Cloud’, a young boy with a growing identity crisis and a crush on a young girl he meets called Aerith. Without going into detail about the plot (which is complicated, to say the least), Cloud suddenly finds his friends dying off as he runs from the dark forces that are pursuing him. This fact – that key characters are killed-off at certain points in the story – gives Final Fantasy VII a real emotional edge that other games do not have. Certainly not many games managed to shock you in the way that Final Fantasy VII did back in 1997, and that is testament to the writers, and the dev team, creating likeable characters and a plot that delivers twists and turns at every juncture.

The basis of the game follows the well-established JRPG formula: the ‘world map’, the ‘field’, and the ‘battle screen’. Different areas are linked by the ‘world map’, which is shown from a distance. Exploration and dialogue mostly takes place in the ‘field’ – screens in which you control the main characters and where, in some areas, just walking around will initiate random, turn-based combat. Combat in Final Fantasy VII uses 3D graphics for the action, and 2D panels for the menus and party information. The range of attacks, defences, spells, and graphical special effects, is just mind-blowing. Boss battles are extraordinary too.

The scope of Final Fantasy VII is also one of the reasons it was such a big hit. The game’s designers not only came up with a myriad of huge and visually impressive locations, but they also interwove them into the story very cleverly.

Graphically the game looks a little ragged, by today’s Hi Def standards, but a remake is apparently on the cards. It would be incredible if Square managed to re-render those Standard Def backgrounds into High Def… We can but hope…

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Fantasy_VII

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Jackie Chan Stuntmaster, PlayStation

Jackie Chan himself was involved in the making of this Canadian PlayStation game, and not just in terms of lending his voice talents.

Developed by Radical Entertainment and released in 2000, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is a non-stop kick and punch-a-thon through various 3D environments. The game looks quite basic, but is actually reasonably subtle, like having a breakable environment and extra points for combos and style moves.

The most important thing is that the fighting feels good, and it does. There is a weight of feeling to the blows, like you’d expect from a Jackie Chan game. Jackie‘s fight repertoire is limited to punch, kick and jump though.

Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is a scrolling beat ’em up in the vein of Final Fight or Streets of Rage. Every now and then you might get a special action sequence, like riding on top of – or running away from – a truck. Plus every stage has a boss battle at the end. There are 15 different stages in total.

It’s a pity the game is limited to single-player only. If Radical had included a two-player versus (or cooperative) mode, or more unlockables, the game might feel a bit more complete.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Chan_Stuntmaster