In most RPGs, your party becomes more powerful as your characters gain levels. Generally speaking, this makes enemies easier to defeat as their levels and stats remain static.
In Final Fantasy VIII, your characters’ stats will increase by leveling up. However, these increases will be fairly minimal on their own and the majority of your enemies’ level will scale to the average level of your active party members. Both your party members and enemies have a maximum level of 100.
As you would expect, an enemy’s base stats increase as their level increases. In addition to this, each enemy will have three different level ranges that vary between different enemies. These determine the abilities they can use, the magic that can be drawn from them, and the items they produce either as drops or by mugging them.
Using the humble Bite Bug as an example:
- At levels 1-19, a Bite Bug can only use the ability “Bite.” It can have the magics Fire and Scan drawn from them and can only drop M-Stone pieces.
- At levels 20-29, the Bite Bug can now use the abilities “Needle” and “Fart” in addition to “Bite.” It can have Fira and Scan drawn from it instead. It will also have a chance to drop Magic Stones.
- At levels 30 and above, the Bite Bug doesn’t gain new abilities and has the same magic drawn from it but will now only drop Wizard Stones.
In this example, we can see the Bite Bugs in the mid and higher ranges become more challenging as they gain new abilities but also yield items and magic that result in better junctions which, in turn, make your characters more powerful. This means that so long as you are junctioning your characters well enough with the items and magic available, your party can defeat most higher-level enemies relatively easily.
Benefits of Leveling Up
As well as having access to rarer items and more powerful magic from enemies, there are other potential benefits from leveling up as well. Certain abilities will only become available to learn once your GF has reached a certain level. For example, Ammo-RF requires Ifrit to be Level 10 for it to be available for him to learn.
Additionally, Bonus abilities will allow you to permanently increase certain stats every time you level up. For example, Ifrit’s Str Bonus ability will increase a character’s Str by one every time they level up.
All mandatory boss encounters will only scale with your party up to a certain level. For a couple of examples, Elvoret’s maximum level is 11, and Gerogero’s maximum level is 12. Additionally, certain enemies in specific locations will have a fixed level. In these situations, leveling up can actually make certain encounters easier as your character’s levels can increase relative to the enemies’ level which will remain static in these cases.
The main drawback with this approach is that your GF’s will only be obtaining AP from those mandatory encounters which means they will learn abilities very slowly without any supplementary source of AP income. Additionally, avoiding combat might not be your preferred way of playing through the game. Thankfully then, there are also other ways of avoiding EXP while still accumulating AP and items from combat.
Turning enemies into cards will allow you to acquire AP and items without any EXP. This means you can learn new abilities without leveling up when defeating enemies.
This is done using Quetzacotl’s “Card” command ability, which you can learn as soon as you leave Balamb Garden for the first time. “Card” has a chance to turn most enemies into cards. This chance is based on how much HP they have lost, the more HP lost, the better.
For example, if an enemy has lost half of their HP, then there would be a 50% they would be carded. If they have lost 99% of their HP, then there would be a 99% chance to turn them into a card and so on.
Note that some enemies, namely human enemies, cannot be carded. Bosses also cannot be carded but as they don’t give EXP anyway, you can defeat them as normal.
Using Break on Enemies
Petrifying your opponents will allow you to obtain AP and items from them while minimizing EXP gain. It is particularly useful on enemies that cannot be carded.
It is important to note that you will get EXP based on how much damage you inflict on an enemy before petrifying them. For example, if an enemy has lost 25% of their HP before they are successfully petrified, you will gain 25% of the experience you have got if you killed them outright.
Therefore, if you successfully petrify an enemy before dealing any damage to them, you will receive no EXP from them. Note though, you will still obtain AP and items in a similar manner to carding them.
As you ideally want to inflict no damage to receive before the enemy is petrified, casting ‘Break’ is preferable to junctioning 100 Breaks to St Atk-J. Note that it may take multiple attempts to successfully inflict a status and this includes Petrify.
One of the fastest ways to receive Break earlier in the game is using Card Mod. Specifically, you must refine Cockatrice Cards for Cockatrice Pinions. You can then refine the Pinions into Break using Diablos’ ST Mag-RF.
Using Guest Characters to Take EXP
Certain playable characters are only present for a very small portion of the game. These characters are Guest Characters and their level will only affect the average party level for the small duration that they appear in the game. This means you can let them take all of the EXP by killing the other two party members. This ensures the effect on the average active party level is only temporary. Doing this can be useful for leveling up your GFs, and for enemies that cannot be carded at an earlier portion of the game.
Note: Beyond this point are spoilers. Specifically, the guest characters are mentioned by name and when in the game they feature. If you don’t want that information. Stop here!
The earlier portion being referred to is the SeeD Exam and the Guest Character here is Seifer. You will encounter many G-Soldiers here that cannot be carded and your characters are unlikely to be able to inflict Petrify that early on. To avoid EXP, you can kill the other party members so they do not gain EXP. Just remember to revive and heal them once he’s left the party!
The second guest character comes much later in the game on Disc 3. Specifically, Edea becomes a guest character in your party until later on in the Disc. As you can card most of the regular enemies and will have easy access to the Break spell, using her to gain EXP in place of your other characters is not necessary here. However, it can be useful if you haven’t leveled up certain GFs for certain abilities beforehand.
Note that characters in dream sequences do not operate the same way as these two guest characters. They directly transfer their levels, stats, and junctions to and from the main playable characters. Therefore, if the characters in the dream sequences gain levels, so will the main playable party characters. You should therefore consider minimizing your EXP gain and keep the party level down in these sequences as well.
Note: Spoilers end here!
LV Up and LV Down
If you want to obtain items and magic from high-level monsters but wish to maintain a low-level playthrough then consider using Tonberry’s LV Up command ability (Tonberry is obtainable on Disc 2).
LV UP will double an enemy’s current level, making them more challenging but more lucrative to fight. Using LV Up can be useful for farming certain rare items and magic at certain parts of the game. Just make sure to prepare your party for the increased difficulty!
Conversely, you can use LV Down to halve their current level and make them less challenging, at the cost of having inferior items and magic available in most cases. In a few cases, a desirable item may only be obtainable from drops from a low/mid-level enemy. LV Down can be useful for this as well but note that certain regular enemies and all bosses are immune to LV Up and LV Down.