Level Up Strategy: Why to wait to level up
Jun 15, 2000 (Updated Jun 27, 2000)
Final Fantasy VIII, definately the best game yet by Squaresoft. I've been playing their RPGs since Mystic Quest and they just keep getting better. FF8 really shines in the plot and graphics departments, it's challenging and begs for replay.
One of the complaints I've heard is that the interaction is too complicated. True, you can't just blip about on the buttons without reading the guide on this one first, but the online tutorial will give you all the info you need and I recommend that you read through all of it before you bounce Squall out for his first battles. Once you get the hang of it and play your first battle out it will become second nature, it's really not that hard. The game also automatically reminds you of certain character specific features and runs you through a couple of tutorials on things that are new in this installment of Final Fantasy. The tutorials remain available on the online tutorial so you can always review.
One of the interesting twists on FF8 is that you actually do better by -not- leveling your characters too early. It's a good idea to have at least a couple of them up to level 30 by the time you finish disc 1, since this will increase the level of the monsters you face and give you a chance at nabbing higher spells and goodies, but try to leave a lot of leveling room until you have all the GFs. Why? Quite a few of the GFs have stat bonus abilities which can increase your character's stats with every level up! One of these, Jumbo Cactuar, comes with a virtual power character potential set of bonuses, so if you can hold out and put him with a low level character, then go on a leveling run against random monsters, you can really get a character with wildly powerful stats to help you through those final battles on disc 4.
But how do you keep from leveling up? Here's the big secret: Card. Card is an ability that the GF Quezacotl picks up. You get Quezacotl right off the bat before Squall even leaves the classroom. Start him off learning Card as soon as you take him out (the online tutorial will show you how to set him to learn a particular ability). Once you have Card, you can pick and choose which battles you will gain experience from. Most people get frustrated because they don't understand how Card works, so here's a brief explanation. Card is a player ability that when used in battle turns the monster you're facing into a card for your deck! It's great, you finish off the monster and build your deck at the same time. Card doesn't work on all monsters, but it works on just about every non-boss and non-human opponent you'll face. Here's the deal though. You can't Card an enemy until you've softened him up. Healthy enemies do not Card. You have to knock down their hit points until they're at around half HP or less. The lower they go, the better chance you have of turning them into a card. When you Card successfully, the battle will end, the characters will gain no experience, and you will still get AP for your GFs to apply to learning their abilities!
Card is such a useful tool for controlling the advancement of your characters that you may want to teach it to other GFs. The way to do this is to play Triple Triad. You'll need a deck of cards, either the one you can pick up for free from a student in Balamb Garden or one you've built by Carding monsters. Once you have at least five cards, you can start playing. The cards you want to win are Shumi Tribes. It's a level 6 card, so you'll need to find someone with a good deck to play. Collect five Shumi Tribes and have Quezacotl use his Card Mod ability. He'll change them into a Gambler Spirit, an item which can be used to give any GF the Card ability.
Once you have Diablos and he's learned Mug, you can grab items from monsters without having to kill them and wait for them to drop something, so now you're equipped to stock up on items and teach your GFs new abilities without topping out your characters' levels before you get those great stat bonus abilities from late in the game GFs. Then, once you've scoured the planet and secured your GFs, you're ready to head over to either The Island Closest to Heaven or The Island Closest to Hell (you can find these by flying over the far eastern and western edges of the world map once you have the Ragnarok). Make sure Encounter None is off and turn your characters and GFs loose on the high experience point monsters there to level them all the way. Now you're ready to take on Ultimecia, Omega, and all the tough bosses with superpower characters and GFs.