Development of Final Fantasy VIII began in 1997, during the English-language translation of Final Fantasy VII. As with much of the production of Final Fantasy VII, series creator and veteran Hironobu Sakaguchi served as the executive producer, working primarily on the development of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and leaving direction of Final Fantasy VIII to Yoshinori Kitase. Shinji Hashimoto was assigned to be the producer in Sakaguchi's place, while the game and battle system were designed by Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito, respectively. One of the development difficulties encountered was having three real-time characters exploring an environment at the same time. The card game Triple Triad was conceived and implemented by programmer Kentarow Yasui. The concept was derived from trading cards which is a popular hobby in some parts of Japan. Triple Triad was meant to keep the player's interest during long stretches without cutscenes. Originally, it was simply about collecting cards but Yasui considered this too disconnected from the main game and "begged" for the inclusion of an ability to transform cards into items. The game's total development costs were approximately ¥3 billion, which equated to around $16 million without inflation. The staff consisted of about 180 people. American localization specialist Alexander O. Smith stated due to a lack of communication with the development team, they were surprised that an IT employee used a GameShark to access text files for localizing to Western audiences.
From left, Tetsuya Nomura's designs of Selphie, Rinoa and Quistis
From the beginning, Kitase knew he wanted a thematic combination of fantasy and realism. To this end, he aimed to include a cast of characters who appeared to be ordinary people. Character designer and battle visual director Tetsuya Nomura and art director Yusuke Naora strove to achieve this impression through the inclusion of realistically proportioned characters—a departure from the super deformed designs used in the previous title. Additionally, Naora attempted to enhance the realism of the world through predominantly bright lighting effects with shadows distributed as appropriate. Other measures taken included implementing rental cars for travel in-game, and the use of motion capture technology to give the game's characters lifelike movements in the game's full motion video sequences. The FMV sequences were created by a team of roughly 35 people, with the total cinematic run-time being estimated at over an hour, approximately 20 minutes longer than the FMV sequences in VII. Motion capture was used to give a general realism to character movement, but the team favored manual animation over relying on motion capture. A major challenge was the technical advances made since the release of VII, and the aim for more realistic characters. A major issue with the cutscenes was having real-time character models moving across environments within an FMV.
In an interview with Famitsu, Naora described that the game was generally designed to be a "bright, fresh Final Fantasy." The main reason was that the team had dealt extensively with dark and "weird" imagery with VII. The designers felt a need to invert the atmosphere of previous games in the series, which had feelings of "light emerging from darkness". This decision was easy for the developers to make, because most of them had worked on Final Fantasy VII and felt that a new direction was acceptable. The world designs were also developed with the knowledge that most of the staff were now used to computer graphics, which was not the case with Final Fantasy VII. The developers also noted that with Final Fantasy VIII, they attempted to "mix future, real life and fantasy." As part of a theme desired by Kitase to give the game a foreign atmosphere, various designs were given to its locations using the style of internationally familiar places, while also maintaining a fantasy atmosphere. Inspiration ranged from ancient Egyptian and Greek architecture, to the city of Paris, France, to an idealized futuristic European society. Flags were also given to some factions, their designs based on the group's history and culture.
To maintain a foreign atmosphere, the characters of the game were designed to have predominantly European appearances. The first Final Fantasy VIII character created was Squall. Desiring to add a unique angle to Squall's appearance and emphasize his role as the central character, Nomura gave him a scar across his brow and the bridge of his nose. As there was not yet a detailed history conceived for the character, Nomura left the explanation for Squall's scar to scenario writer Kazushige Nojima. Squall was given a gunblade, a fictional revolver–sword hybrid that functions primarily as a sword, with an added damaging vibration feature activated by use of its gun mechanism, similar to a vibroblade. His character design was complemented by a fur lining along the collar of his jacket, incorporated by Nomura as a challenge for the game's full motion video designers. Additionally, some designs Nomura had previously drawn, but had not yet used in a Final Fantasy game, were incorporated into Final Fantasy VIII. These were the designs of Edea, Fujin and Raijin. The latter two had originally been designed for use in Final Fantasy VII, but with the inclusion of the Turks characters in that game, it was felt that Fujin and Raijin were unnecessary. Nomura had designed Edea before the development of Final Fantasy VII, based on the style of Yoshitaka Amano. For the Guardian Forces, Nomura felt they should be unique beings, without clothes or other human-like concepts. This was problematic, as he did not want them to "become the actual monsters", so he took great care in their design. Leviathan was the first GF, created as a test and included in a game demo. After it received a positive reaction from players, Nomura decided to create the remaining sequences in a similar fashion.
The plot of Final Fantasy VIII was conceived by Kitase, with the stories for the characters provided by Nomura and the actual scenario written by Nojima. During the game's pre-production, Nomura suggested the game be given a "school days" feel. Nojima already had a story in mind in which the main characters were the same age; their ideas meshed, taking form as the "Garden" military academies. Nojima planned that the two playable parties featured in the game (Squall's present day group and Laguna's group from the past) would be highly contrasted with one another. This idea was conveyed through the age and experience of Laguna's group, versus the youth and naïveté of Squall's group. Nojima has expressed that the dynamic of players' relationships with the protagonist is important to him. Both Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII feature reserved, quiet protagonists in the form of Cloud Strife and Squall. With Final Fantasy VIII, however, Nojima worked to give players actual insight into what the character was thinking; a direct contrast with his handling of Final Fantasy VII, which encouraged the player to speculate.
In March 1999, one month after the game's release, Final Fantasy VIII Ultimania was published, a book that features an in-depth guide to Final Fantasy VIII and interviews with the developers. An origami book was released in November 1999. On September 22, 1999, a CD-ROM titled Final Fantasy VIII Desktop Accessories was released. It contains desktop icons, computer wallpapers, screensavers, and an e-mail application. It additionally features a stand-alone edition of the Triple Triad minigame, which allowed players to compete against one another via a local area network.
Also in 1999, the ballroom dance scene of Final Fantasy VIII was featured as a technical demo for the PlayStation 2. In 2000, a PC version was released for Windows. This port featured smoother graphics, enhanced audio, and the inclusion of Chocobo World, a minigame starring Boko, a Chocobo featured in one of the side-quests in Final Fantasy VIII. For most North American and European players, the PC version of the game was the only means of playing Chocobo World, as the game was originally designed to be played via the PocketStation, a handheld console never released outside Japan. In 2009, Final Fantasy VIII was added to the PlayStation Store on the PlayStation Network.
On December 18, 2012, the game was re-released as part of the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Ultimate Box Japanese package. An upscaled PC version was announced May 17, 2013, and was released on Steam December 5, 2013.
Regular series composer Nobuo Uematsu wrote the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VIII. He tried to base the songs on the emotional content of the scenes in which they would be played, asserting that expressing the emotions he desired was more important than improving skills: "I think it will be a shame if we won't be able to cry as we play our own game". He could not determine a character's emotions solely based on the plot, instead using images of appearance and attire—"It's important to know when their emotions are at their height, but it usually takes until a month before release for them to finish the ending dialog...!" When IGN Music stated that the music of Final Fantasy VIII was very dark and perhaps influenced by the plot of the game, Uematsu said "the atmosphere of music varies depending on story line, of course, but it's also my intention to put various types of music into one game". The absence of character themes found in the previous two games was due to Uematsu finding those of Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII ineffective. Uematsu considers it reasonable to have character themes if each character has a "highlight" in the game, but he found Final Fantasy VIII only focused on Squall Leonhart and Rinoa Heartilly as a couple, resulting in the "Eyes on Me" theme.
The original soundtrack was released on four compact discs by DigiCube in Japan on March 10, 1999, and by Square EA in North America as Final Fantasy VIII Music Collection in January 2000. It was republished worldwide by Square Enix on May 10, 2004. An album of orchestral arrangements of selected tracks from the game was released under the title Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec Final Fantasy VIII on November 19, 1999, by DigiCube, and subsequently published on July 22, 2004, by Square Enix. The pieces were arranged and conducted by Shirō Hamaguchi for a live orchestra. A collection of piano arrangements performed by Shinko Ogata was released under the title Piano Collections: Final Fantasy VIII by DigiCube on January 21, 2000, and subsequently re-published by Square Enix on July 22, 2004.
The score is best known for two songs: "Liberi Fatali", a Latin choral piece that is played during the introduction to the game, and "Eyes On Me", a pop song serving as the game's theme, performed by Chinese singer Faye Wong. Near the end of the production of Final Fantasy VII, the developers suggested to use a singer, but abandoned the idea due to a lack of reasoning based on the game's theme and storyline. However, Nobuo Uematsu thought a ballad would closely relate to the theme and characters of Final Fantasy VIII. This resulted in the game's developers sharing "countless" artists, eventually deciding on Wong. Uematsu claims "her voice and mood seem to match my image of the song exactly", and that her ethnicity "fits the international image of Final Fantasy". After negotiations were made, "Eyes on Me" was recorded in Hong Kong with an orchestra. The song was released as a CD single in Japan and sold over 400,000 copies, setting the record for highest-selling video game music disc ever released in that country at the time. "Liberi Fatali" was played during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens during the women's synchronized swimming event.
The music of Final Fantasy VIII has appeared in various official Final Fantasy concerts. These include 2002's 20020220 Music from FINAL FANTASY, in which the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra played "Liberi Fatali", "Don't Be Afraid", "Love Grows", and "The Man with the Machine Gun", the 2004 Tour de Japon series, which featured "The Oath", the Dear Friends series that began that same year and included "Liberi Fatali" and "Love Grows", and the 2005 More Friends concert, which included "Maybe I'm a Lion". More recent concerts include the Voices – Music from Final Fantasy 2006 concert showcasing "Liberi Fatali", "Fisherman's Horizon", and "Eyes on Me" and the international Distant Worlds concert tour that continues to date, which includes "Liberi Fatali", "Fisherman's Horizon", "Man with the Machine Gun", and "Love Grows". Several of these concerts have produced live albums as well. Music from the game has also been played in non Final Fantasy-specific concerts such as the Play! A Video Game Symphony world tour from 2006 onwards, for which Nobuo Uematsu composed the opening fanfare that accompanies each performance.