The World Map
The world map puts you in a third person isometric view with a camera you can rotate (R1/L1 buttons rotate the camera by default), as well as shift the camera perspective (R2 by default). As you move around the map you may randomly encounter enemies, but for now if you stick to the roads you should be safe enough. Not that you necessarily want to avoid enemy encounters right now, but… more on that in a bit. You can also find draw points on the overworld map, but unlike many of the draw points elsewhere, ones on the world map are hidden unless you have a GF with a certain skill. Another matter you can fret over later.
Drawing and Junctioning Spells
Instead of avoiding random encounters and making a bee-line to the Fire Cavern, you should follow Quistis’s advice and stock up on some magic by seeking out enemies on the field. When you get into battle (just run around off the road in the forests, plains or beaches) simply use the "Draw" command and choose to "Stock" the selected magic, which will add said magic to your inventory for future use. You can also immediately cast drawn magic, which may come in handy as you take damage - just draw Cure and cast it to heal injured characters as necessary.
Right now there are four enemies you can encounter in the wilderness around Balamb Garden. Glacial Eyes and Bite Bugs can be found in the plains areas, and you can draw Blizzard, Cure and Scan from the former and Fire and Scan from the latter. In the forests dwell Bite Bugs and and Caterchipillars, the latter of which have the Thunder and Cure magics, while on the beaches you’ll find Fastitocalon-Fs, who possess Blizzard, Sleep and Scan magic. This process can be a bit time-consuming, but once you have 100 of all the aforementioned spells you’ll be in fine form for the challenges that lie ahead. Weighing down the button on your keyboard or using a good old rubber band to do the same for the controller will make this simpler, just make sure you have the cursor set to "Memory" in the config menu.
It’s also worth noting you may not want to actually kill any enemies in combat. In Final Fantasy VIII, enemies level up when you do, and to make the strongest characters (both overall and relatively) you’ll want to keep your levels low. This will be covered in more detail shortly, when you acquire the means to manipulate how much experience you earn in battle (or whether you even fight random encounters!), but for now, just flee from battle (hold both R2+L2 by default) once you have drawn the spells you need.
Once that’s done, go into the menu and pick the "Junction" option, select one of your characters, then select "Magic" instead of GF. This will allow you to junction acquired spell stocks to a character’s attributes, albeit with some limitations. Chiefly, you can only junction spells to stats if your equipped GF has an ability that allows you to do so. In this case Quezacotl starts with the Mag-J ability, allowing you to junction magic to your Magic attribute and can also learn HP-J and Vit-J if you acquire enough AP, while Shiva starts out with Spr-J and can learn Str-J and Vit-J. AP is earned by defeating enemies in combat so long as the GF is equipped to a character in the fight… and wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if you could further expand your own power by acquiring AP from enemies without earning EXP? All in good time, grasshopper, but for now stop getting ahead of yourself.
Note: Equipped GFs will earn AP and EXP whenever the character they’re junctioned to does. AP is gained universally amongst active GFs, while EXP is split between GFs. For example, if a character has two GFs equipped and earns 100 EXP and 2 AP in a battle, each GF will earn 50 EXP and 2 AP. Some GFs must reach certain levels before learning some abilities.
So, whomever has Quezacotl can junction magic to their Magic stat, and whomever has Shiva can junction magic to their Spirit stat. If one character has both GFs equipped, they can junction magic to both stats, but there’s no bonus for over-lapping, so spreading out your GFs so important abilities are on every character is a good idea. Only one spell can be junctions to one attribute at a time, and generally speaking the more powerful (and rarer) the spell is and the more numerous your stock, the greater the effect of junctioning. Spells that are junctioned to stats can be cast normally, although you probably want to avoid this so as to not lower your stats. Right now Cure will give you the most gains when junctioned to your Spirit stat, and Sleep will boost your Magic stat the most, but the numbers overall are rather small, so don’t expect any dramatic changes.
Finally, make sure your GFs are learning useful abilities in case you do earn some AP. To do this select the GF option in the menu, select the GF you wish to learn an ability with (say for sake of example, Quezacotl), then select the "Learn" option to bring up a list of the GF’s abilities. Simply pick one and an arrow icon will appear to the left indicating it’s what the GF is putting any AP it earns towards. To start out, have Quezacotl learn the "Card" ability, while Shiva should learn "Str-J".
Whew. When all that’s done, save your game and head over to the Fire Cavern.
Through the Fire Cavern
When you arrive, head down a path to reach the entrance to the cave… or attempt to, as Quistis will pester you again with more tutorials. First on junctioning magic to stats (which was covered earlier) and then she’ll try to tell you how to use your gunblade. The nerve! Suffer through these tutorials then head to the entrance to the cave where two Balamb employees await, who will inform you of your mission when you talk to them. Looks like you’re hunting a "low-level GF", which… well, kind of makes sense given how entwined SeeDs are with these things.
Next pick how much time you’ll need for this mission: 10, 20, 30 or 40 minutes. Completing this assignment quickly isn’t the goal so much as picking the correct amount of time is - you’re being graded on your professionalism and sagacity, so the less time you have left on the timer when you’re done, the better you’ll be judged. Of course, you need not worry too much about this, as Gil (the game’s currency) isn’t something you should fret over much. In any case, just pick ten minutes, as the dungeon isn’t very long or dangerous, and there’s a way you can ensure you get a good grade regardless of how much time is left on the clock when you’re done.
That all taken care of, a counter will start on the top right of the screen. Head on into the Fire Cavern and simply follow the linear path through the lava-filled dungeon. Quistis will make the odd comment as you proceed and you may be attacked by enemies including Bombs, Buels and Red Bats, none of which are terribly strong and all can be fled from if you’re concerned about keeping your experience low. Killing Buels and Red Bats is fine, as their EXP-to-AP ratio is pretty good, but Bombs should be avoided. If you acquired plenty of basic magic earlier, none of these foes should have anything you need to draw, either, which is good considering your time constraints.
Eventually you’ll reach a part of the dungeon where the path forks, and while on the fork to the right you’ll find a draw point, you shouldn’t need the Fire magic stocked there. Continue deeper into the cave until you reach the end, where Quistis will comment on the strength you and Seifer possess. You’ll get a chance to prove that strength soon, as at the end of the cave awaits the GF you came to subdue - Ifrit.
Boss - Ifrit
|Weaknesses:||Ice (200% damage)|
|Status Resistances:||Immune to all status effects|
|Draw:||Fire, Cure, Scan|
Ifrit is easily the most difficult foe you’ve faced thus far… even if you haven’t been running away from everything! He’s also one of the few bosses with static stats, so enjoy that while it lasts. That said, he’s got just over 1,000 HP, which is plenty to worry about at this level. He’ll mainly employ two attacks, casing Fire (50~ damage) and less commonly performing a physical attack which can hit for over 100 damage. That being the case, you’ll want to keep all your characters above that range, and fortunately you can draw and cast Cure from him. One should be wary of Ifrit’s high Spirit stat, however, as it can cause some spells drawn from him to be less effective than normal, so if you get a low Cure cast, that’s probably why.
You can also draw Scan and Fire from Ifrit, but considering Ifrit absorbs the latter, you’d do well to avoid fire magics in this fight. On the other hand, ice will deal twice as much damage to Ifrit as normal, so using Blizzard or summoning Shiva are both fine ideas. The latter will cause Ifrit to comment about his rival and will likely do around 150~ damage to the GF, making it a worthy summon.
Keep track of the damage you’re dealing to Ifrit, and when you near 1,000 damage, wait for the timer to run down until it’s under thirty seconds or so. For a perfect score you’ll need to finish the battle, collect treasure and name Ifrit with seven seconds or less on the clock. On the Playstation version, this is as simple as letting the counter hit 00:00 while you’re naming Ifrit (you won’t be able to see the counter after the fight, but it’s still counting down), while on the PC version if you let the timer hit 00:00 while naming Ifrit you’ll get neutral score, which will effect your Seed rank later on. It’s something to strive for, but all your SeeD rank really effects is how much Gil you earn, so you shouldn’t fret over this too much.
After you defeat Ifrit you’ll obtain some G-Returner items (between three and six, with the lower numbers being drastically more common) and the Ifrit card. This item will significantly improve your chances of winning games of Triple Triad when you get back to Balamb Garden. You’ll also earn 20 AP and no experience, which is a feature most bosses share. When you get to the GF naming screen, leave the game idle until you’re sure the clock has run down, then confirm the name (we’ll use the default name Ifrit) to ensure you finish the trial with no time left on the clock. Kind of makes the whole timer point moot, but… it is what it is.
Note: When used in combat, GFs take time to arrive. The summoning time depends on how much compatibility the user and the GF have. At very low compatibility, a GF can take around 16 seconds to summon, while at the base compatibility (around 600) that GF will take 10 seconds, dropping down to around 3 seconds when compatibility is nearly maxed (at 1000). During this summoning time, attacks that strike the summoner will deal damage to the GF instead, and some enemies will explicitly target summoning characters to prevent their GF from arriving. Compatibility can be boosted by casting spells of a related element (ice for Shiva, for example), using compatibility-boosting items, and most importantly by summoning the GF in battle. Other GFs may lose compatibility if you use magics they dislike or summon other GFs, but you tend to gain more than you lose.
After naming Ifrit, Quistis will decide that now is a fine time for another tutorial, this time explaining the "Elem-J" ability Ifrit has as well as elements in general. Simply put, with the Elem-J ability you can junction elemental magic to your normal attack, which will imbue that attack with said element. This is potentially a good thing and a bad thing, as if an enemy is weak to an element, your weapon will deal more damage, but if it’s resistant, immune or it absorbs that element, your weapon will do less damage, no damage, or will outright heal the enemy. Would have been nice to have Blizzard junctioned for this last fight, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. Elemental resistances are less worrisome, just so long as you know what you’re likely to come up against, you can equip the correct spells and increase your resistances.
Go put Quistis’s advice to practice and equip Ifrit to Squall, then go to the magic junction menu and assign any element to Strength. Press left on the left analog to move over to the elemental junctioning screen, then equip Blizzard to your elemental attack slot. Or not, you probably won’t be staying in here long anyways, but it’s worth going through the motions to see how this works so you’ll be prepared to do it later. While you’re fiddling around in your menu, make sure Ifrit is learning something useful - the HP-J ability will be a fine place to start for now.
With all that out of the way, start the trek back to the cave entrance. Be sure to kill enough Red Bats and Buels on the way to learn the Card ability with Quezacotl, as that ability will unlock the "Card Mod" ability, which is where some real power-gamey stuff becomes possible… It’s recommended that everybody spend at least a little time grinding to learn Card Mod and a few other abilities, as it’ll make your characters vastly more powerful for relatively little effort. This process will be discussed below under the header "Learning Card Mod", but if you can’t be bothered skip to the next section, Triple Triad Before the Field Exam.
Learning Card Mod
Pick your battles with Buels and Red Bats and avoid Bombs and you should learn the Card ability without even the indignity of leveling up… not that you need to be overly concerned if you do, a level here or there won’t hurt you much. Once you learn the Card ability, make sure to set it as one of your battle commands (you can probably do without GF at this juncture) then start Quezacotl learning Card Mod, which should now appear that Card has been learned.
With that done, leave the Fire Cavern and head to the beach southwest of Balamb Garden and save your game… you know, just in case something goes awry. On beaches you should only encounter Fastitocalon-F enemies, which are attractive targets for your new Card ability for a variety of reasons. First, having a guaranteed enemy spawn means less time wasted on enemies you don’t care to fight. Second, they’re strong enough to withstand a few hits, having around 300 HP at low levels. This is a good thing, as the Card ability has a chance to work depending on how injured the target is. If the enemy is too weak, they might just die from a single hit, if the enemy is too strong… well, that’s not really a concern right now. Third, Fastitocalon-Fs give 3 AP each, and tend to appear in pairs. 6 AP a battle isn’t a bad bit of business. Finally, they also drop Fish Fins, which will come in handy shortly.
Run around the beaches until you encounter some Fastitocalon-Fs, then attack them and keep rough track of the damage you deal. Aim to do around 200 HP of damage to them, at which time have the character Quezacotl is junctioned to attempt to use Card on them. It may take a few tries, especially if the monster isn’t quite as injured as you like, but the Fastitocalon-F should eventually turn into a card. Not only will this earn you a Fastitocalon-F card, but if you defeat all enemies this way you’ll earn AP and acquire items without earning EXP. Very, very good if you want to boost your power while keeping your level low… further boosting your power by keeping your enemies low level, too. When you win a battle, save your game and if you get injured just cast Cure spells from your stock - you can always restock later. Also be wary of the fact that Fastitocalon-Fs take less damage while they’re burrowed than they do when they’re exposed.
Note: You may find yourself wanting to reload the game if you accidentally kill an enemy. If not, it’ll certainly come up at some point - a miscast spell, a bad game of Triple Triad… whatever the case. While FInal Fantasy VIII sadly doesn’t have a load option, but it does have a soft reset, which is far easier to do than restarting the entire application or getting up to reset it. On the Playstation you can soft reset by simultaneously pressing L1, R1, R2, L2, Select and Start. The PC’s controls are somewhat less rigorous, just hold down Ctrl+R.
As you defeat Fastitocalon-Fs and accumulate AP, your GFs will learn new abilities. You’re not here to learn everything, just a few choice abilities. For Quezacotl you’ll obviously want to learn Card Mod, which is your top priority here, after which you can pick up T Mag-RF. Similarly Shiva should finish learning Str-J, then switch to I Mag-RF and finally Vit-J, while Ifrit should learn F Mag-RF before moving on to Elem-Def-J.
The Mag-RF abilities allow you to turn items into spells, and the Card Mod ability allows you to turn cards into items. See where this is going? You’ll be able to win cards shortly (courtesy of your Ifrit Card) and turn them into items, then turn those items into spells, which will greatly increase your stats when junctioned. To get an early taste of this, when Shiva learns I Mag-RF go into the menu and select the "Ability" option, then "I Mag-RF". All those Fish Fins you’ve been finding can be turned into Water spells, a mid-level offensive spell. One Fish Fin will net you twenty Water spells, and Water, when junctioned to your Strength stat out-competes anything else you have right now. Just be wary when you go back into battle against Fastitocalon-Fs, as the damage boost is readily apparent and it can be easy to accidentally kill your enemies.
Once you’ve learned Card Mod and T Mag-RF with Quezacotl, save your game then return to Balamb Garden.
The Case for the Low-Level Run
One of the big departures in Final Fantasy VIII from previous (and later) Final Fantasy games is that enemies level up with you. As their levels increase, their stats grow, and they may drop more valuable items and possess more potent magics for you to draw. So, all things considered as you grow stronger, enemies grow stronger, but the gains are greater so it’s all good, right? Well… this mostly holds true until levels thirty to forty (it varies by monster), at which point enemies stop gaining better magics and drops and just keep getting stronger. In fact, when it comes to enemy drops and draws there are often three distinct categories: levels 1-19, levels 20-29 and levels 30+. That said, there is very little incentive for you to increase your level above the mid-forties, and since higher-end enemies tend to have potent magics and rare items even at lower levels, a case can be made that there’s no reason to level up any time it’s not strictly necessary.
In fact, let’s compare a powerful monster that can rarely be found in the forests of Balamb - the T-Rexaur - at various levels so you can get a grasp on how drastic this scaling can be.
|Weaknesses:||Ice (250% damage)|
|Resistances:||Poison (half damage)|
|Status Resistances:||Berserk 40% -- Card 0% -- Confuse 60% -- Darkness 20% -- Death 70% -- Doom 90% -- Drain 0% -- Eject 20% -- Float 30% -- Haste 0% -- Lv Down 0% -- Lv Up 0% -- Petrify 60% -- Poison 20% -- Reflect 0% -- Regen 0% -- Silence 20% -- Sleep 50% -- Slow 10% -- Slow-Petrify 50% -- Stop 80% -- The End 0% -- Zombie 30%|
|EXP:||160 - 1,150|
|Draw: (lv1-19)||Fire, Thunder|
|Draw: (lv20-29)||Fira, Thundara|
|Draw: (lv30+)||Firaga, Thundaga, Quake|
|Mug: (lv1-19)||Dino Bone x1-2|
|Mug: (lv20-29)||Dino Bone x3-4|
|Mug: (lv30+)||Dino Bone x8-10|
|Drop: (lv1-19)||Dino Bone x1-2, M-Stone Piece x8, Magic Stone x4|
|Drop: (lv20-29)||Dino Bone x2-4, Dragon Fang x6|
|Drop: (lv30+)||Dino Bone x6-8, Star Fragment x2-6|
Keep in mind that the max damage you can do with most attacks is 9,999, and you can boost yourself to that point whether your level is low or high and that should help put these stats into better context. Against a low-level, high-powered party, the T-Rexaur will die in two or three hits, ideally, and will boast a relatively low Strength score (38 at Lv10, 61 at Lv20, 83 at Lv30 and a whopping 239 at Lv100). The difference in power between a low-level party with the same magics, abilities and weapons as a high-level party is fairly marginal even under the best possible circumstances for the high-level party, while the difference in enemy strength is huge. Relatively speaking, then, the low-level party can be safely said to be more powerful… at least compared to what they’re fighting.
Now, you might be wondering if or how the low-level party gets access to the same magics, weapons and abilities as the high-level party, considering they’ll be avoiding most regular battles to keep their levels low… and how exactly they manage to keep their levels low without fleeing like a coward the whole time?! The answer is simple - there are plenty of ways to get high-level magics without needing to directly draw them from normal enemies. You can obtain them via Card Mod and item refining (as you’ll soon see), by drawing from bosses (you still have to fight those!) or by simply engaging in fights with lesser monsters voluntarily and using another GF’s ability to raise said monster’s level so you can draw what you want from them. See? Best of both worlds. As for avoiding encounters, another GF (presently not acquired) can learn the Enc-None ability which eliminates most non-boss encounters, which you can have on when you don’t want to be bothered, or disable when you want to fight.
As you can see, there’s really little downside to the low-level run. That’s not to say it’s the only viable way to play, and if you just play normally and level up, you won’t permanently cripple your party or ruin your game. Even if you hit, say, level 50-60 by the time you hit the late-game content, you can still permanently boost your stats by using a variety of GF abilities, but it’ll take a good bit of grinding to make serious gains. In fact, it’s an easy assertion to make that a moderate amount of grinding in the early game for the low-level run will spare you potentially a huge amount of grinding late game if you find yourself desiring to boost your stats via a high-level party.
There’s also an argument to be made for a mid-level run where you play the game… more or less normally, but avoid over-grinding for experience where possible and shoot to keep your party’s level in the generous range of 40-60. By this point you could easily have learned abilities like Enc-None and Card, which will allow you to control exactly how much experience you earn as you play and halt further level progression without having to do anything but play the game normally along the way… well, normally with a heavy dose of Triple Triad every now and again. It can’t be over-stated how much that boosts your characters, as you’ll see soon enough! In any event, the low-level run might make the most powerful party (relatively) but the mid-level run is probably the most beginner-friendly, allowing you to satisfyingly clear the majority of the game without being overly burdened by technical details while also allowing you to pivot mid-to-late-game and keep your party relatively strong.
There’s a bit more nuance to the low-level run, as there are actually two end-game goals for it. First is simply keeping your party level low throughout the game in order to maintain the strongest (again, relative to the monsters you’ll face) party possible. The second is the ultimate min-max run, where you keep your level low until you get a certain GF that has numerous ability that permanently boost your stats when you level up. Once this is acquired, you can drop the veneer of the low-level run and grind each character up one at a time (boosting their stats significantly as you go) to end up with a character with very, very high stats before junctioning any magic. This ultimately makes for a weaker party than simply keeping your stats low, but if you want to see big numbers on your party and fight the biggest versions enemies in the game… well, there you go.
Again, it’s worth pointing out that whether you do a low-level run, mid-level run or… even a high-level run, you can boost your stats at the end via a variety of means. It can constitute a huge grind, however, and at the end of the day you’re probably better off mitigating enemy gains than you are facilitating your own. That is, if you’re not inclined to do both. Keep all this in mind as you continue with the next few sections, as the type of run you’re doing will largely be set up by the actions you take (or rather, don’t take) there. Most importantly of all, play the way that suits you the best! We’ll get you through this, regardless!