Game Systems Breakdown

Final Fantasy VIII is one of those games that has its supporters and its haters. I'm generally a big fan of the game, and while I can't stand some parts (like the "romance"), my favorite thing about the game are its unique character advancement systems. They are so flexible that, unfortunately, they are incredibly easy to break. A lot of people seem to hate FFVIII because "all you do is summon," and while that's far from the only strategy (or even the best one), it does work, and it's not very exciting. So let me begin with what not to do if you actually want to enjoy the game.

What Not To Do

The two most frequent complaints I hear about FFVIII (in terms of game mechanics) are that "summoning is boring" and "drawing is boring." These are both true, which is why I try to minimize both. And the truth is that while both strategies are very easy to implement, neither one is actually terribly efficient.

Constant Summoning

GFs are extremely powerful in FFVIII, and with the exception of some of the rarer spells, they're the only way to hit multiple enemies with a single attack. Plus they're free to use and have no real downside aside from the length of their animation. Hell, the game defaults to having GFs learn the SumMag+% abilities first. Most importantly, GFs allow you to make elemental attacks without sacrificing spells, which you need to keep junctioned to your stats.

The real issue here is that watching the same unskippable summon animation hundreds of times is just not fun. Fortunately, there are good reasons not to summon. First and foremost, the damage you deal with a GF isn't based on your stats, so all those nice junctions you have staying pristine don't actually help. You can deal quite a bit of damage with spells with a high Magic stat. Admittedly, nothing is beating the per-hit damage of a tricked-out Eden, but in the minutes the animation takes you can get off a number of powerful single attacks.

Of course, as I mentioned, a lot of people don't like to actually use stocked spells, since they are the basis of your stats. My advice is simple: don't worry about it. You're never going to use so many spells so quickly that it cripples a character. You do want to be careful with hard-to-get spells like Ultima, but the game wouldn't be very interesting if you could just spam the best spell in the game all day, either.

All that said, summoning has its place. If you actually try to differentiate mages from physical attackers, the physical attackers can use summons to deal elemental magic damage, which can be very useful. But summoning constantly isn't worth it in the long run.

Constant Drawing

Draw is a neat ability, but it's just begging to be overused. You can only draw 9 of a given spell at a time (from monsters), yet you can stock 100. That's a minimum of 12 draws per character. And drawing is based on Magic, so actually getting 9 spells from the whole party is unlikely, especially early in the game when drawing is most useful. You can get Mid Mag-RF from one of your first GFs, and then it's tempting to get each character 100 Firas. That takes 5 times as long, 20 if you get all four of the basic spells to upgrade. Clearly this is an extremely time-consuming process. Sure, you can get ridiculous stats without any difficulty, but as they say, time is money.

The problem with drawing and refining spells is that it's hard to know where to draw the line. One thing leads to another and soon you're drawing hundreds of times and the game seems incredibly dull. But you don't need to do all this drawing—far from it, in fact. Not that I'd recommend against drawing at all. Typically I have one character (with high Magic) drawing almost all the time during normal battles, while the other two focus on defeating the monsters. But you'll get a lot more spells much more quickly if you refine items into spells than by drawing them directly.

Party Setup

One of my big issues with Final Fantasy VII was that the materia system makes your actual characters almost entirely irrelevant. FFVIII isn't much better in this regard, but it does at least allow for prototypical job roles. Limit breaks also tend to be more important in FFVIII, so your characters are a bit more differentiated. Stats in FFVIII are based primarily on junctions, and by extension, by GFs. The only game mechanic that directly encourages you to align characters with GFs at all is compatibility (which is, ironically, not that important if you summon as rarely as I do).

With that said, I feel like there are three basic ways to play the game in terms of assigning GFs across the party. The system is flexible enough that you can switch from one to another at any time and the only penalty is a loss of compatibility. I like to stick to one system, but then, I'm a bit OCD about playing Final Fantasy games.

Situational Junctions

If you don't care about compatibility, the best method of junctioning GFs is to completely change your setup based on the situation at hand. If you need magic, split your GFs among current party members so everyone has the best magic bonuses available, and assign the rest to get whatever abilities you need. Doing this is fairly time-consuming, but it's highly effective and is a very good way to learn the ins and outs of the system.

Single Party Junctions

If you want a powerful long-term plan, you might want to split your GFs among three party members, ignoring the other three. The game makes it easy to manage this strategy, since the "Switch" function allows you to switch all junctions (useful for times when you're forced to use certain characters). As long as you're fairly consistent about which characters get which set of GFs, you will even have decent compatibility. By the later portions of the game, every character can have abilities available to junction to every major stat, and the way you assign spells and abilities basically allows you the freedom of the situational junction method. There's no significant downside to this method in terms of power.

Full Party Junctions

This is by far the weakest method of the three, but despite that it's the one I prefer. Maybe I'm a bit of a masochist, but I like to think I enjoy it because there's more strategy involved. The idea here is to split your GFs among all six party members and rarely, if ever, move them. Generally you'll end up with three magic-focused characters and three physical-focused characters. (Optimally you want the women to be mages and the men to be physical attackers. It's not sexism—at least not by me—but rather a way to optimize limit breaks.) There are a lot of downsides to this method, such as a general lack of GFs with Abilityx3 and Abilityx4 for most of the game. Generally speaking you can bring in whichever characters fit the situation, but when your characters are preset this can be problematic. Not only that, but a particularly useful character will end up leveling more, unbalancing the party. You'll also slow the development of GF abilities with this method, since GFs the active party is not using will not earn AP.

So what's the upside? Mechanically, there isn't one, but this method does give you a clearer picture of exactly what each GF does. You can ignore a lot of the GF ability items using the other methods, but they'll be extremely useful in this case. Customizing characters to the nth degree is just plain fun (for me, at least). You'll be low on basic junctions, but by the end of the game you can buy them and shore up any weaknesses. And this method ensures maximized compatibility if you like to summon. Best of all, you'll be prepared for the final dungeon without having to constantly switch junctions. It may not be much, but it's something, dammit!

Managing Levels

If there's one mechanic in FFVIII that really bothers me, it's the leveling mechanic. I'm fine with monsters being your level, and every level being 1000 experience and all that—what annoys me is that Squall always ends up much higher level than anyone else, since he's always in the party. Sure, using the same characters at all times will alleviate this somewhat, but having the other party members catch up later is a huge pain. If you have two level 30 characters with a level 100 Squall, the enemies are going to wipe the floor with the other characters. In the end I tend to abuse Degenerator on the Islands Closest to Heaven and Hell because I just don't want to deal with leveling.

Unfortunately there's no really good method to deal with this issue. You can keep Squall dead or use Enc-None to not level at all, but that's about it. Managing your GF's levels is a bit easier. GF's need half as much experience to level, but experience is split among multiple GFs. Thus, having two GFs per character should result in them leveling fairly evenly with that character. With 16 GFs and 6 characters, it's unavoidable that some of them will level a bit more slowly at some point, but level 100 GFs no longer earn experience so it's not a big deal. While having all your GFs junctioned to one party will slow their leveling, splitting them among the full party isn't any better since the unused GFs don't gain any experience. (And beyond that, they'll earn less AP that way.) In general you don't need to worry about GFs, but if you want to focus on a single GF's level, try junctioning them alone to a character. Every GF's summon skill becomes more powerful with level, but some (like Diablos) are especially interesting at high levels, while non-damaging GFs like Cerberus aren't.

Limit Breaks

One of the more abusable systems in FFVIII is the limit break system. Between Lion Heart and Degenerator, you can basically guarantee a quick kill on any single enemy if you enter the battle nearly dead. While I don't necessarily recommend doing that, it is useful to understand how the limit break system actually works.

In short, each time a character's turn starts, there is a chance of a limit break being available. You can use Triangle to pass on a character's turn to get another chance at one, which can be useful in desperate situations. There are a number of factors that go into not only whether a limit break is available, but how powerful it is. Being low on hit points is the single most important factor, but there are plenty of others. Having dead characters in the party offers a big bonus, as does the Aura effect. Status ailments also offer bonuses. Doom is the most powerful of these, and Slow the least powerful, with Poison, Darkness, Silence, and Petrifying having a moderate effect.

You only know if you have a limit break, not how powerful it will be. There are four potential power levels for a limit break, which affect how powerful the subsequent attack is. You may get more hits, more time, more status effects, or more options. The limit breaks of temporary characters do not increase in power, however.

Card Collecting

Trying to get every card in the game can be stressful, but it's much easier than you might think. Every card of level 8 and above is unique in that there is a specific person (sometimes several of them) in the world who has it, but it is possible to earn any of these cards you don't have on disc 4. If you finish the CC group quest, they will have unique cards you're missing, as will the Card Queen. This means you can safely miss a card or two and not have to worry about it, which is great for avoiding the brutal Card Queen creation side quest.

However, there is one important exception to this: the level 5 PuPu. The only way to get this is to give PuPu five Elixir during the UFO sidequest. While you can get some nice rewards for killing or devouring the little guy, this card is unique. Don't miss it!

Two aspects of card collection are worth noting. First, if you've ever had a card, it will appear in your Card list on the menu. Having had every card at least once will get you a star on the menu, even if you've lost some. Second, if you Card Mod a unique card, you can immediately win it back on disc 4. Some of the items you can get in this way are pretty game-breaking.

Learning GF Abilities

For the most part you can safely just choose to learn whichever GF ability you want and you probably won't run into any problems. However, once you start using GF ability items and Amnesia Greens, things can get a bit complicated. Here's a rundown of the considerations you have to take into account when modifying GF ability lists.

Default Learning Order

Left to their own devices, GFs learn abilities in a certain order. This order is probably not what you want, since they concentrate on summoning enhancements first, and true unique abilities last. For reference, here is the general order in which GFs will learn abilities on their own:

  1. GF Abilities
  2. Menu Abilities
  3. Juncton Abilities, followed by Character Abilities that enhance those stats
  4. Party Abilities
  5. Command Abilities
  6. Character Abilities (other than stat enhancements)

Redundant Abilities

A GF who has learned all of its abilities has no room for extra abilities learned from GF medicine. Typically you would make room for new abilities with Amnesia Greens. But what abilities should you remove? There are generally two targets: useless abilities and redundant abilities.

Useless abilities are nice because there's no danger in getting rid of them. Unfortunately, truly useless abilities are fairly limited. The most common type are GFHP+% abilities that don't matter at level 100. For example, Leviathan has 7,050 HP at level 100, and access to the GFHP+10%, GFHP+20%, and GFHP+30% abilities. At that point, a 50% bonus to HP is enough to reach the maximum of 9,999 HP, so GFHP+10% has no effect and can be safely removed. Many GFs, especially the later ones that have more HP, have at least one redundant GFHP+% ability.

Another good set of useless abilities are the elemental and status defense abilities that serve as prerequisites for better versions of themselves. For instance, Cerberus has the ST-Def-J, ST-Def-Jx2, and ST-Def-Jx4 abilities, each leading to the next in line. However, the lesser versions are made obsolete by the later ones, so there is no harm in removing them (once you've learned the better versions, of course).

If you need more slots, you'll have to do a bit more thinking. Since you have more GFs than characters, each character will usually have more than one GF assigned. When two GFs share an ability, it still only applies once. The easiest targets for redundancy are the Magic, GF, Draw, and Item abilities that every GF has. While these are certainly important abilities, you only have six characters so you certainly don't need 16 copies of each of them. There is little danger in erasing these abilities since, even if you reshuffle your GFs later, you can always buy new scrolls of these basic abilities for 5,000 gil at the Timber Pet Shop.

The next obvious set of redundant abilities are the basic junctions. These are also available for sale, for 7,500 gil each, though you'll need to visit the Esthar Pet Shop or have the Familiar ability to buy them. Still, HP-J, Str-J, Vit-J, Mag-J, and Spr-J are all good targets for Amnesia Greens.

The only issue with removing redundant abilities is that they are only redundant for a given GF setup. If you move your GFs around, you may find there are now gaps in their ability sets. As a result, you probably want to have a solid setup for your GFs by the end of the game. The Junction Workshop can help you to arrange one, even counting redundant abilities for you.

Ability Chains

Left to their own devices, every GF will eventually learn a full complement of 22 abilities. If you use GF medicine to give them extra abilities before they've learned all 22, you can lose access to new abilities. If a GF has no open ability slots and learns an ability that leads to another ability, the new ability will not appear on the list. However, if you use Amnesia Greens to clear up space later, that ability will immediately take its place. Therefore, you don't need to worry about losing abilities by having learned too many other abilities—though it might take some work to get that ability later.

Take care not to remove abilities that lead to other abilities. Once learned, you can safely remove any ability, but if you use Amnesia Greens on an ability in progress, you will lose not only that ability but any that follow after it. However, if you find GF medicine that teaches the ability you forgot, the original ability chain will be restored. Also note that, if you're just impatient, you can use GF medicine to learn an ability that a GF can learn on their own, whether it's in progress or not. You can even skip ahead in a chain—for example if Ifrit has yet to learn GFHP+10% but you teach it GFHP+20%, GFHP+30% will become available.

One final interesting aspect of ability chains is that if you forget a prerequisite ability before learning its follow-up ability, you will lose access to both. If you later re-learn the prerequisite ability with GF medicine, your AP progress in the follow-up ability is retained. You will be warned that you are losing multiple abilities when you use the Amnesia Greens.

GF Compatibility

Compatibility allows you to summon GFs much faster, so if you like to summon (or are just generally impatient), it helps to keep compatibility with your favorite GFs high. Each character has their own compatibility with each GF, so in general keeping GFs to a single character will optimize compatibility. There are three ways to raise compatibility: summoning the GF, casting elemental spells, and using compatibility items.

Summoning GF

Summoning any GF will increase the summoners' compatibility with that GF significantly. However, doing so will also slightly drop their compatibility with all other GF, and significantly with the opposed GF (if any). As such, for compatibility purposes it pays not to junction opposed GFs to the same character. Eden is the exception to this rule. When summoned, you will actually slightly gain compatibility for all other GF, but you don't gain a large amount of compatibility for Eden.

Here is the list of opposed GFs (GFs not listed have no opposed GF):

Casting Elemental Spells

Casting certain spells can slightly raise compatibility with some GF and slightly reduce compatibility with other GF. For the most part these relationships are fairly obvious—casting elemental spells favors the GF of the same element and opposes that GF of the opposed element. However, these effects are widespread and subtle, so just use common sense when choosing which spells to have characters use. It's unlikely that spellcasting will seriously affect compatibility either way.

Using Compatibility Items

There is no downside to using compatibility items as far as negatively affecting other GFs. In fact, the LuvLuv G item gives a nice increase to the compatibility of all GFs for a given character.