It has been 20 years since Final Fantasy VIII released on the PS1 and since then various games in the Final Fantasy series have released and have been remastered. All except Final Fantasy VIII. That changed though with the recent release of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered which is the last Final Fantasy of the PS1 era to receive the remaster treatment. So how does Final Fantasy VIII Remastered stack up to the original and is the remastered version enough to justify a purchase? Let’s find out as we review Final Fantasy VIII Remastered.
The core gameplay remains the same
While Final Fantasy VIII Remastered does have a few gameplay enhancements in the form of boosts such as the ability to speed up gameplay, turn off random encounters, and make your party invincible during a battle, the rest of the gameplay remains the exact same. This is not a bad thing, however, as Final Fantasy VIII‘s gameplay is one of the series’ games that has aged the best when it comes to gameplay. One gameplay mechanic that made Final Fantasy VIII both different and stand out among its siblings is the fact that unlike prior and future games in the series, in Final Fantasy VIII magic doesn’t cost MP and you actually have to draw it from various points across the areas you explore in the game. When you have a character draw magic, the draw supplies your character with a certain number of uses for the drawn type of magic. This gives the battles an additional level of strategy as once you use your magic it’s gone. So you want to use your magic at the right time against the right enemies.
Guardian Force is another big part of Final Fantasy VIII‘s gameplay. Guardian Force is the summons in Final Fantasy VIII and while all the summons in past games required MP to summon, the summons in Final Fantasy VIII don’t and instead have HP. This means as long as a GF (Guardian Force) has HP you’ll be able to keep summoning them. The fact that GFs have HP means you can use strategies that you never could in previous Final Fantasy games. For example, if you’re out of cures and potions and you’re characters are running low on health you can summon so that your Guardian Force can take the bulk of the attacks. This is a helpful strategy that can save your characters and allow them to fight another day but on the flips side if your summons ends up losing all of their HP you can’t use them again unless they are revived. This put an interesting spin, on the whole, summon concept of Final Fantasy and hasn’t been seen in quite the same way since.
Outside of the battle system, Final Fantasy VIII‘s other gameplay has held up as well and Triple Triad is still just as fun as it’s always been and something that can keep you distracted from progressing through the main game for hours. When progressing through the main game another fun distraction is taking SEED exams as they test your knowledge about not just Final Fantasy VIII but the mechanics and gameplay staples of the Final Fantasy series in general. Doing these exams will also give you a higher amount of Gil every time you get paid as a SEED member, so its worth doing them.
A Story That Ages Like Fine Wine
The story of the game actually revolves around Squall who just graduated to become a SEED. SEED is an elite military force that is comprised of graduates from the Gardens that trained them. Squall along with other members of SEED then go on missions until one mission drags them into a global conflict that has them facing off with a sorceress who wants nothing but world domination. Years ago when I first played Final Fantasy VIII the story was one of my least favorite parts of the game, I felt like the story was too romantic and a majority of the characters were very annoying. Years later playing Final Fantasy VIII Remastered while the story is still very romantic with the game always shipping different characters together at any given time, it doesn’t ruin the story. It’s still a story about Squall and the members of SEED who are interlocked in a war with a powerful sorceress. That’s not to forget about Laguna, who is the other main protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII. Unlike Squall, however, Laguna is actually a soldier who’s part of the Galbadia Army which is a military army that SEED actually goes against at various different points in the game.
The fact that the game’s gameplay and story alternates between two different characters that both so different and so similar at the same time as Squall and Laguna is one of the best parts of Final Fantasy VIII. Because as different as both the characters and their stories seem early in the game, you eventually see that the characters and their stories are actually very intertwined with each other. Making the story of Final Fantasy VIII one of the deepest and most complex stories in the entire series. It’s also pretty amazing that Final Fantasy VIII is able to hook you into the game and its story by having both Squall and Laguna’s story segment almost always end on cliff hangers before switching to the other character making you want to keep playing the game until the game switches back to focusing on the character that the cliff hanger left off on. I actually appreciate the story much more now that I am actually older.
When it comes to the characters I use to find every character very annoying and while some of them do start off very annoying characters like Squall actually show a lot of character progression through the game and become quite likable by the end. In fact, while all of the characters may do things at times that are annoying or don’t make sense, all of the characters are quite likable. All except Rinoa who makes so many dumb decisions throughout the game that get the main party of characters into more trouble than they are already in or causes the other characters themselves to make dumb decisions. This wouldn’t exactly be bad if that’s how her character was made, but it’s not. Her character was made to be the main female protagonist and love interest of Squall, but her dumb decisions she is constantly making throughout the game makes her one of the least likable characters in not only the game but in the entire Final Fantasy series.
Other than the complaint I have about some of the characters (Rinoa) the game’s story has only gotten better over time and was actually much more enjoyable to me now than it was years ago.
The difference in graphics
The reason most people would want to check out Final Fantasy VIII Remastered for reasons other than nostalgia or having never played the game before is probably for the difference in graphics. While no work went into the backgrounds other than maybe having a filter applied to them, the actual character models themselves are all brand new and look great. Every character received new models, this includes the main playable characters, NPCs, and enemies you encounter in battle. Instead of the characters looking pixelated, they are now sharp, crisp, and full of detail. This is both good and at certain parts of the game bad. While the characters now really stick out from the background, certain backgrounds and scenes the characters will be in look particularly bad now as they have received no improvement on the visual side. On the flip side, this does also show just how far the character models have come especially if the scene has character models that were not updated due to the reason that they were part of the background. Either way, you look at it the new character models are great and welcoming addition.
A Memorable Soundtrack Returns
Final Fantasy games are known to have memorable soundtracks, it is no different with Final Fantasy VIII. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered did not remaster its soundtrack which is what Final Fantasy X HD Remaster did. That would’ve been a nice addition because hearing remastered versions of classics is always nice along with the option to switch back to the original versions. Final Fantasy X HD Remaster had both a remastered soundtrack and the option to switch back to the original. While this is unfortunate, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy IX which are also PS1 classics didn’t receive remastered soundtracks when being remastered for current-gen platforms so it’s not too surprising. While the soundtrack isn’t remastered, it’s still memorable and seems to always play the right track at the perfect time further enhancing both the mood of the story and the story itself. It also features some of the greatest tracks from the whole series like “Man with a Machine Gun” and “Eyes on Me” which was also the first main theme for the Final Fantasy series that had vocals.
Worth the Price
Whether you’ve yet to play Final Fantasy VIII or you have, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is worth the price of $19.99. For those of you who have played it before, it’s worth the price just for playing the game again with the new character models because they really do just look that great. For those of you who haven’t played the game yet, it’s worth the $19.99 because you’ll be playing a great game with a great story and new character models. However, one downside is the fact that the game is not running in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, of course, could’ve included a remastered soundtrack and remastered backgrounds but the work that was put into the new character models is like night and day when compared to the old character models. Final Fantasy VIII still has a great and lengthy story that alternates between two protagonists keeping players interest in the story. The battle system’s gameplay will be familiar to those who have played a Final Fantasy game before but different enough to the point where it will have you coming up with new strategies that you wouldn’t normally come up with a Final Fantasy game like Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy IX. Final Fantasy VIII has aged quite well and has only gotten better with the improvements that Final Fantasy VIII Remastered has added and is perfect for fans of the series or RPG games in general. While some will no doubt view this as a cash grab due to the fact that the character models are the only things remastered and the game doesn’t even include a 16:9 aspect ratio, it is still the best way to experience the game.