Square-Enix recently went under an initiative to deliver more classic Final Fantasy experiences to modern platforms. This included games like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and even World of Final Fantasy. Notably absent when these games were rolling out was Final Fantasy VIII, an entry with many fans around the world. It wouldn’t be until E3 2019 that Square-Enix would reveal Final Fantasy VIII Remastered to the masses. Now that the game is out, does the classic JRPG still hold up after 20 years?
In collaboration with Dotemu and Access Games, Square-Enix worked to create a port of Final Fantasy VIII to current consoles. They even went through the effort to get some of the original developers involved, including Tetsuya Nomura, Yoshinori Kitase, and Shinji Hashimoto. While the effort sounds amazing on paper, the actual result isn’t quite that impressive. That being said, that doesn’t mean Final Fantasy VIII Remastered was a wasted endeavor.
The story of Final Fantasy VIII puts players in the role of Squall Leonhart, a student at Balamb Garden. Gardens act as a sort of military academy, training students to become part of the elite mercenary task force SeeD. Graduating from Balamb Garden with a few fellow students, Squall is soon placed in the middle of a war between nations. During the course of the game, his life starts to fill with mysteries from the past and his vital role slowly reveals itself. It’s an interesting story that still holds up well today, involving war and its repercussions. Creating a tone that works well within the setting, it provides a proper context for the great character backstories. While the game is 20 years old, it’s still a plot best for the player to uncover themselves.
While the story hasn’t changed, this is a remaster, which means there’s likely some improvements, right? Well this remaster is a bit of a mixed bag. The first thing to point out is that this version of the game uses the PC release as a foundation. While some things are improved, there are still leftover issues from the PC version that remain in this iteration. These issues include the lack of analog movement, as the player can only move in eight directions rather than 360 degrees like the original PlayStation release. The original rumble function is also MIA. Another issue that remains is the frame rate, as the game removes the 60 FPS menus used in battle. Now the menus are in the same 15 FPS that the battles perform in, which causes timing issues.
Normally, the frame rate wouldn’t be such an issue in turn-based combat, but Final Fantasy VIII has various actions that use precise timing. Squall’s Limit Break, Renzokuken, utilizes that precision for performing a sequence of attacks. Doing them well pulls off a special bonus attack, so having the accurate timing is ideal. Luckily, the gunshot boost for Squall’s gunblade is not affected by the limited frames. Not a deal breaker, but still a notable issue regardless. At least the remaster restored the original PlayStation music rather than continue to use the terrible PC MIDI soundtrack.
As far as improvements go, the most obvious would be the brand new models for characters. While they aren’t exactly on par with current generation graphics, they heavily improve the models while retaining their stylistic charm. This also applies to various environmental aspects and objects as well, like vehicles and interactive objects. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t quite get that same treatment. Many of the areas in the game used pre-rendered backgrounds that unfortunately look incredibly blurry. Some areas look better than others, but overall, it clashes with the new models and effects quite noticeably. There are even some visuals that feel like they should’ve been redone. This is mainly with things like computer screens and characters integrated into the background.
While the pre-rendered backgrounds are a setback, it doesn’t ruin the experience completely. The FMV sequences are much clearer, providing great representations of the charming cutscenes. The overworld map and battle sequences do have improved sharpness in models and textures as well. Unfortunately, this improvement does reveal seams in the textures much easier. Luckily, it doesn’t hurt the experience nearly as much as the blurry backgrounds. At least the character portraits and Triple Triad cards have been redone, and the type face for the game is also visually clean.
Speaking of Triple Triad, that minigame deserves a spot among the greatest time sinks in JRPG history. It’s a super addicting experience to collect cards by defeating other players, and the music is still catchy. Using regional rule sets and tons of NPC’s to challenge, players can easily spend hours playing Triple Triad alone. It takes a little time to get used to the system, but after gaining a few strong cards, it becomes a great game of strategy.
Finally, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered adds some quality of life boosters. Players can disable random encounters, increase the gameplay speed by three times, and even max their stats at the press of a button. It makes the game a lot easier to get through for newcomers, though it practically removes all the challenge. Regardless, I often found myself using the speed boost to make battles go by in seconds. It can really make the game less of a chore in some sequences. Overall, the game gains some improvements on some aspects, but suffers in others. Hopefully some of these issues get fixed with later patches.
Remastered changes aside, Final Fantasy VIII remains a classic gameplay experience. It can be a little tutorial heavy, especially when trying to explain the Junction system. Players will equip GF’s to their characters, essentially providing them summon spirits, magic, and stat boosts. It’s a little intimidating at first, but once you try it in action, it’s practically second nature. There’s also the Draw system, where players will draw magic energy from enemies and draw points throughout the game. Some fans may loathe it, but it’s a unique system that really sets Final Fantasy VIII apart from earlier entries. A lot of the features from this title even inspired elements in future sequels.
When it comes down to it, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is still a great game. It has some flaws that bog down the experience from the original release, but it still has some great enhancements. Gaining the original music and improving the character and GF models is already a plus. With further patches and improvements, there’s no reason why this release can’t be the definitive version. It might not have that claim to fame yet, but the potential is there. If you’ve never experienced Final Fantasy VIII before or simply need an excuse to relive it on a newer platform, this is still worth your time. Just try not to get sucked into Triple Triad for too long.