Final Fantasy VIII is one of my personal favourites in the Final Fantasy franchise. That’s not necessarily something you often hear when people post their “Top 10 Final Fantasy games” list. Sometimes, I can’t even explain why I like it. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the story, or maybe it’s just how complicated and quirky the game is. It certainly stands out as one of the games from my childhood that showed me just how grindy and complex a JRPG could actually be. It’s been an honour to visit Balamb Garden again and re-discover the game in a new light; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this version of FFVIII is an end all be all replacement for the original game.
Square Enix have done an amazing job over the past few years cataloguing every Final Fantasy game on modern hardware. You can find every main line title of the series in some form, whether it be on Steam, Mobile App stores or current generation consoles. Every now and then though, they just seem to say “Hey, screw it, let’s do some extra work on this one.” Final Fantasy VIII was lucky enough to be one of those titles and it’s definitely appreciated. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, being a very simple remaster that won’t be replacing the copy in your collection that you may already have any time soon. If you aren’t one of those people, a total newcomer, or are interested in the updated visuals and slight changes anyway, I hope that this review will help you come to a clear decision.
As this game is a remaster of an older game, I’ll be talking about the game in question for the beginning of this review for those that either haven’t played it or need a refresher. If you are reading just to see whether this game is a justified upgrade, feel free to skip ahead in the review to read what exactly gives this game the title of “remastered”. Like a bull out of the gate, Final Fantasy VIII doesn’t mess around. It’s clear that after the success that was Final Fantasy VII, the development team wanted to make a game that really pushed the limits of the hardware at the time (Namely the Playstation) and you are greeted with an absolutely gorgeous FMV sequence. This FMV sequence hasn’t aged well by today’s standards, but back when the game originally launched this was an absolute sight to behold. These FMV scenes will be a common occurrence as you travel through the world of VIII (Which I have to call it, since the world doesn’t actually have a name this time!) and provide lovely bits of extra flavor to the story.
It’s not long before you are thrown out of this gorgeous FMV to find your main protagonist, Squall Leonhart, waking up in the infirmary after a particularly harsh training session with his eternal rival Seifer Almasy. After a few dialogue boxes and a quick discussion with your instructor Quistis Trepe and providing a tour of Balamb Garden (An academy for the training of SeeD, essentially mercenary school) for your new classmate Sephie Tillmit, you meet with Quistis to complete a pre-requisite GF union (Essentially acquiring a summon) so that you may undertake the final exam to become a full-fledged member of SeeD. At this point you are roughly 10 minutes into the game and this is where it really, REALLY demands your attention. From this point on you are going to hit a ton of tutorials and you will be opening the menu A LOT. If you want to make the most of your Final Fantasy VIII experience I sincerely hope your start button works because you aren’t going to be spared of using it throughout the entire game.
This game is complicated and will demand that you listen very carefully to Quistis for the next 15 minutes because you have a ton to pay attention to. GF Junctioning, GF abilities, AP points and AP training, Magic Junctioning, Magic Drawing, the list goes on. Opening your menu will be common for literally every single practice that Quistis teaches you within the next 15 minutes and you absolutely must pay attention to it as you play. Without delving too far into it, I’m going to try to explain it in the simplest way possible, which is almost a little too hard. Final Fantasy VIII sports an incredibly huge variable system that is absolutely awesome if you want to test characters in different situations, but an absolute chore if you just want to play the game.
The general outline is that your characters Junctioned GF will control the passive abilities your character has (IE, Strength Up 20%) as well as some passive effects that become available once you level and unlock them through AP, the GF’s experience that you obtain after battle. Every once in a while you will have to manually change what your GF’s gained AP is being invested in to get the best result, otherwise you will be just wasting a ton of time levelling something that isn’t going to be particularly useful to you. The other thing to is Magic Junctioning, which controls how your characters interact with elements and status effects. For example, you can equip the magic spell fire to your character to have them deal or negate fire damage. The more powerful the spell, the better the effect, and in some cases you will reach over 100% resistance to the point where that element will heal you instead. This is also true for status effects, where equipping a blind spell to your weapon slot or armour slot will either give you the chance to inflict or negate Blind.
This brings me to the largest gripe with Final Fantasy VIII being Draw, one of the most tedious systems you’ll ever find in a JRPG. To be able to use spells in most JRPG’s you’ll need to learn the spell during your adventure and you have to expend mana to cast said spell, but in this game you instead must use the command Draw, which will absorb spells from enemies. You will gain a stock of that spell every Draw (To a cap of 100 per spell) and you can use that spell as long as your character has stock to use it. What is frustrating about this is that if you accidentally expend this stock of magic and you happen to have that effect Junctioned to your character, it’s immediately gone from your passives and suddenly you have a whole new issue on your hands. Magic is so damn important in this game and the only way to effectively use it is to stockpile as much as you can before moving on to a new area, because if you don’t and you can’t get back to the area to stockpile you will be in for a whole world of trouble. It’s a system that demands that you pre-plan and grind as much as possible before you move on, making it a sort of artificial gateway for content, especially if you are doing a low level run.
Patience is an absolute need for Final Fantasy VIII. A run through the game for first timers can be completely ruined if they are too concerned with just getting to the end because they didn’t spend enough time worrying about their magic stock. It’s a real shame because the story is really intriguing at times and it will often make you want to keep going and then BAM, virtual roadblock to the face. It’s almost like walking into an electric fence that prods you at first, but you simply jump over it only to find that when you turn around it’s become a giant prison gate. At that point you are just stuck and with very limited options to move forward, and this is usually why most people who never finished it put the game down forever. It’s a real damn shame, because Final Fantasy VIII has a ton to love behind that big, invisible, looming monster.
You’ll find a whole theme park here to discover. Tonnes of NPC’s to interact with, GF’s to claim as your own, a cast with charming characteristics to bring to the table, a large world to explore and even a huge collectable trading card game that rose enough in popularity to have its own playable version through an app on mobile devices and a spot in Final Fantasy XIV’s Manderville Golden Saucer, which still receives new cards and NPC’s to battle every major update. If you have the time and patience, Final Fantasy VIII will reward you with plenty to do, as long as you adhere to its rules, as intimidating as that sounds. So what exactly is “Remastered” in Final Fantasy VIII REMASTERED? Is this an absolute must have for my Final Fantasy VIII collection? Am I going to be absolutely blown away by the new and improved game? The answers are “Not much”, “If you don’t have it”, and “Not really” respectively. The main draw of owning this version of the game is absolutely the model and texture updates. Now when you are at the ball, you certainly look like the best guy here.
Every character has been re-done spectacularly to give them more of a modern “pop”, and it certainly does keep you in the picture a bit better than the original look. The static backgrounds that were common in the PS1 trilogy at the time largely look the same, if not scaled a little better to fit the resolution of today’s higher quality screens. That being said, I feel like they could have given them a bit of work to help the game look just that touch better. Something that didn’t change at all along with this though is that when the static backgrounds do their camera shift the models still go a bit janky and jut about the screen when in movement, which leads me to believe that they just focused on the actual models and didn’t think about how they interact with the world at times, which was a little disappointing to see. It was excusable back in 1999 when it was the absolute pinnacle of the hardware’s technology at play and you expected that kind of thing to happen, but when I saw the word “Remastered” I thought that this would be addressed.
As is tradition with all Final Fantasy re-releases these days the game also comes with an optional menu in which you can activate cheats to help you out in your adventure. Some of these are flat-out cheating giving you a constantly maxed ATB gauge, Refill HP and a few select others, while others are more about convenience and change the speed of the game (Making Draw MUCH less of a time waster) and a no encounters button for those sweet, sweet low-level runs. The PC version of the game (Which was played for review) was given a few extra cheats such as Max Gil and Unlock all Spells to compensate for the original version of Final Fantasy VIII (which is still available on Steam at the time of writing this review) has them. Another thing I was sad to see was no remastered score, which is a hit and miss for me. While I love the old music of Final Fantasy VIII in its original PS1 glory, there was something absolutely magical of the new score treatment that Final Fantasy XII was given.
It really breathed some new life into the game that gave made the adventure just that bit more “epic”, and it’s slightly surprising they didn’t add anything new, considering that the new raid in Final Fantasy XIV’s expansion Shadowbringers is based off Final Fantasy VIII and has remastered tracks of these iconic songs to go with it. As with most work by Nobuo Uematsu though, the soundtrack is one that will likely stick in your heart forever, and thanks to Square Enix putting the entire series music on Spotify, I can listen to this soundtrack anywhere I go. Overall, Final Fantasy VIII is totally what you make of it. If you aren’t into grinding this game will most likely suck without the use of the in-built convenience options. If you were looking for something largely improved, this is definitely smack bang in the middle of “Just port it over” and “Let’s put a huge budget in this!”. But in saying that, I’m enjoying my time with Final Fantasy VIII again. Now that I’m older and I can appreciate the complexity of this game, it’s been given it a new lease of life for me. Sometimes that’s all a game needs in a remaster.