Seeing the longest separation in releases, when compared to Final Fantasy VII and IX, VIII has finally made its way to PS4 and Switch as the problem child of the end-of-century titles for Square Enix (Squaresoft at the time). The latest release, titled Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, features higher resolution, updated character models alongside several smaller tweaks including the boosters commonly found on the other re-releases.
Following the story of Squall, a SeeD in training, FFVIII takes a more structured approach to storytelling within the beginning parts. As a student, Squall goes through several lectures by his instructor Quistis on how to play the game, fight monsters, as well as capture Guardian Forces (GFs) to make himself more powerful. The whole teaching aspect blends wonderfully in a system that not only introduces us to the world but also the gameplay mechanics.
Shortly after our introductory session, Squall is put into a team of 3 to undertake his SeeD exam to become a full-fledged member. Under the command of Seifer, a hot-headed disciplinary member, and Zell, a martial artist who loves breaking the SeeD rules wherever he can, Squall and Co head off to the local city of Dollet. Under attack by another Garden, the facilities that train SeeDs, the team must fend off against gun-wielding troops.
From a setup of 2 missions, the story expands further and further into normal Final Fantasy tropes and hooks. Instead of being a mercenary with strict missions we move onto more grand adventures as we fight more GFs, stop conspiracies and even throw in a bit of time travel as is usual for the series.
FFVIII will last you between 30-50 hours depending on your grasp of the mechanics, mainly how magic and GFs work. Since the difficulty is centred on your level you can make the game harder or easier based on your knowledge and playstyle. There isn’t a whole lot of side-content on hand with this release, adding a good 10-20 hours extra, though most of that may be the Triple Triad card game which this entry was known for.
FFVIII was a very divisive game at the time of release even till now, both from a world design aspect as well as how the mechanics worked. It is still an active time battle system, like FFVII previously, but changes how your character grows immensely. Instead of gaining stats from levelling, you get very little from such, you will want to focus on your GFs instead as they unlock your stats for Junctioning. Junctioning is essentially assigning your magic, which is now charged (up to 100), to your stats with lower-tier giving you a small boost and higher-tier almost maxing you out. As an example, Fire may bump your attack by 10 points but Firaga will increase it by 30. The more magic you have the higher the stat, creating the situation of conserving magic rather than using it.
Combined with the new stat system with magic and GFs, the enemies you face now scale to your level similarly to Elder Scrolls. As the average level of the team goes up, so does the enemies, granting them higher tier magic, new types of magic and attacks as well as higher health values. For a younger audience who didn’t pay attention, this can create an entirely different experience, since if you don’t bother with magic or GFs you will be incredibly outmatched by the overpowered enemies. On the flip side, you can instead not gain any levels and only focus on magic and GFs, making the game a cakewalk.
As a new addition to the series, FFVIII introduces a comparatively easy crafting system, unlocking new weapons via reading magazines hidden throughout the world. As you learned new recipes you could go to stores to upgrade your weapon, changing their model design, stats and limit breaks. Again, like the difficulty system, this could be abused with utilizing the Triple Triad card game to obtain materials far ahead of when they were meant to be available, obtaining ultimate weapons before disc 1 has even been completed.
The music within FFVIII and consequently the remaster is a beautiful blend of theme fitting tracks, from army and action-packed tunes for the attack on Dollet to sombre songs at the lower moments. Some of the late-game music is amazingly fitting to the circumstances, with broken up sounds and drawn out trumpets that suit the atmosphere amazingly. Thankfully the remaster doesn’t play the MIDI OST like the original steam release did, though there is a glitch that can occur on a load that will swap to that OST which is far worse than the normal OST.
The difficulty within FFVIII is very dependent on the player, from both their knowledge of the game and their actions. It can be a gruelling experience or one that requires little stress from the player as their 9999 hp is left almost untouched by level 7 enemies. The tools for minimum and maximum level playthroughs are available almost instantly, through the use of the card ability and that of bosses granting AP for GFs’ abilities but no EXP.
Sadly the remasters drops the ball in several areas, listing some of the major ones right now leaves us with: There is no widescreen, which the original steam release had, instead it is in a weird square box with black borders on all sides. Chocobo World was removed, which the consoles versions didn’t have anyway, but the steam version did. The analogue control only covers 8 axes of movement. Only moving character models get updated, any still characters still have the original designs that blur out with the background, creating a stark contrast between them and the updated models. The world map is blurry with seams where the models change direction are incredibly noticeable. You can see the tilesets for repeating textures on mountains and grass. Several graphical glitches can occur where city models will have half of their model higher definition with the other looking like playdough. Combat is in 15-16 FPS whereas outside of combat runs at 30 FPS. Updated models appear above the poorly touched backgrounds, meaning that you can find floating books above their tables and windows. Certain areas, upon loading, will play the MIDI soundtrack.
Overall, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered gets a 7/10, the main game itself holds up extremely well for today’s standards in terms of gameplay and story. However, the remastered portion of the game feels incredibly lazy, from too many untouched segments like backgrounds, still characters, the black borders and more that create an immersion-breaking difference between old and new. The FPS limitations mess with the precise trigger commands of certain characters attacks, as well as make the game feel laggy. There are too many bugs and glitches that make the remaster either not have the remastered portions or make it feel too unpolished. For those who already own the Steam version, you do not need to get this one unless you want the boosters, as mods do a much better job. Although, if you do not own FFVIII at all on console this is probably all you’re going to get.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is published and Developed by SQUARE ENIX LTD and is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows