Final Fantasy VIII has always been my favorite Final Fantasy, so finally getting a full remaster of it is extremely exciting. Make no mistake this remaster is very well done and not only stays faithful to the original but also finally brings the in game graphics more in line with the level of the cinematics, though the cinematics still outclasses them. It was also great to hear the original music as well. Playing the remaster has brought back all my old feelings of love and frustration about FFVIII with very few reservations. Also, despite this being a 20-year-old game, I’m going to avoid spoilers because there are undoubtedly people who haven’t played it.
First off, the entire madcap story plays out exactly as it did previously, including disk delineations though since this is digital there are no prompts to swap disks. One of the big surprises for me was how my memory had rearranged everything a bit and condensed things down. For example, I somehow thought all the story from Disk 1 and 2 happened in Disk 1, and Disk 4 didn’t have much content at all. There were also some parts I forgot about completely. For instance, I thought the whole thing with the radio station in Timber happened way later in the story than it does. I also somehow forgot how much Squall changes throughout the game, or at least how much he can change depending on dialogue options you pick.
The Junction and Draw systems in FFVIII have taken a fair amount of flak over the years, but I have always loved both. To be able to do anything other than basic attacks or Limit Breaks in battle, you have to junction various Guardian Forces to each character in the party. Among the available abilities which can be chosen is Draw, which allows the character to draw magic from monsters they encounter and draw points throughout the world. This is the only way to get magic. Additionally, if a GF has the ability, magic can also be junctioned to make the character stronger. However, how much stronger depends not only on the type and level of magic junctioned but also how much of the spell you have stocked.
Personally, I like the push and pull between the junction systems and draw systems, and since I tend to prefer to use my GFs rather than casting spells most of the time, it’s not too troublesome. Players who like to cast spells often might feel the downsides of these systems a bit more though.
It also felt like FFVIII is much easier than I remember it. I was pretty new to RPGs when I originally played it and now, thanks in large part to FFVIII, RPGs are my bread and butter. Perhaps this increased general knowledge has lessened the difficulty curve here. Plus, I spent a lot of time with FFVIII and unlocked a lot of its secrets; as a result there’s no learning curve for me here. Fights which I recall being terrible seem much simpler now. The characters also seemed to level up far faster than I thought they had before, but I could just be misremembering. Squall was level 30 by the time got to Disk 3, and I did almost no extra exploring or random encounters. That feels a bit off to me, because when I originally played I did all of the side stuff before finishing disk 2 and I feel like I only had Squall at barely level 25.
Boosting Guardian Forces is still a thing even though the select key doesn’t exist anymore. Rather than holding down the select key, you hold down the big middle pad and then hit the square key. It’s not overly complicated you just can’t go crazy hitting the square because if you hit it too many times while the red x is showing you’ll end up sending your GF off doing 75% damage instead of doing double damage. The high/risk reward aspect of Guardian Boosting has always been one of the interesting mechanics. It’s so simple in concept but actually successfully doing it can be challenging, and FFVIII doesn’t tell you how to do it at all. It’s awesome and I love they kept this intact.
While the new character models look fantastic and are a considerable upgrade over the original models, they left me feeling a bit disappointed. All the characters are now beautiful, walking mannequins. There are no facial expressions outside of cutscenes and no animations of talking. Plus, it looks like the new models were graphed directly over the original animations which meant any weird artifacts in the animations from the original game were carried over. There’s one where Quistis is talking to Squall in a hallway, and she’s vibrating. This also happens in the remaster. I had hoped for a redo of the characters on the order of what was done with Spyro Reignited, but unfortunately, that’s not the route taken here.
Another surprise in the remaster is the backgrounds often looked strangely blurry for some reason. It was often a bit disconcerting to see all the characters and monsters looking so sharp and pleasant, and the environments looked like they were a complete afterthought. This became even more troublesome as I moved further into the game, and the characters had to interact with their surroundings more, such as turning wheels and pulling levers. Nothing ever seemed to line up correctly so more often than not it looked like the characters weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing.
However, the cutscenes themselves looked terrific. There are a couple where gameplay and cutscene overlap a little which seemed a bit less amazing, but they still looked outstanding overall. The cutscenes are where we get to see actual expressions from the various characters, and more personality comes across. If voice overs had been added that would also have gone a long way to helping to understand how the various characters felt about everything. The cutscenes are left doing all of that heavy lifting though because written text can always be interpreted in a variety of ways.
The opening cutscene though has lost some of its luster, but honestly if they could have recaptured that 20 years later it would have been a phenomenon. Back when I first played FFVIII I was thoroughly entranced by the waves in the beginning. Never had I seen an ocean so beautifully and convincingly rendered in a video game, it blew me away. Waves are some of the hardest things to animate, and they’ve been done a lot over the years so it’s no wonder even with updating the graphic it’s not as amazing to me as it once was. This is a case of “it’s me, not the game.”
The remaster on PS4 features a couple of new play modes which are worth mentioning. The first is Battle Assist, which gives your party full health and ATB, and Limit Breaks are always available. The full health sort of trivializes things a bit because you could be playing and getting decimated and pop on this boost and everyone is suddenly at full health with no need of healing magic or items. Also, having full ATB helps delay the actions of whomever you are fighting if you are playing in wait mode. It’s a new option and particularly useful if you want to reduce the difficulty a bit or want to use a lot of limit breaks without risking letting your characters be at low health. However, if a character takes a hit which is more than their health pool they will still die. Also, turning this mode on during a fight won’t revive anyone who has died.
There is also a 3x speed mode which I particularly enjoyed, especially when I had to do a lot of running around. 3x speed makes everything outside of cutscenes and end of battle menus go faster, including the GF summoning scenes. I mention this specifically because if you are trying to boost a GF during a fight, you’ll probably want to knock off 3x speed as the longer the summon scene is the more time you have to boost everything up. Moments like when Rinoa wanted me to give her a tour, and all I wanted to do was get to the next big thing in the story were greatly helped by 3x speed. However, FFVIII is a bit janky anytime it required me to interact with anything because I had to be in precisely the right spot, or it wouldn’t work. 3x speed made it more difficult to hit these spots. As such, I found it helpful to turn off 3x speed anytime I needed to interact with anything.
I loved being able to spend time with Final Fantasy VIII again, and I know I’ll be running around in it for a while still. I may have been a bit disappointed in how much the gameplay graphics were upgraded, but that’s in no way saying they were poorly done. Everything looks fantastic, especially if you compare with the original models. Additionally, even for players who never originally played FFVIII this is a perfect opportunity to play it and experience it for yourself.
Overall Score: 8
- Graphics beautifully updated
- Fidelity to original story and gameplay experience
- Battle system is interesting and requires the player to make choices about what’s important
- Gameplay character models are expressionless
- Can’t speed through tutorials
- Some of the Remaster Features trivialize gameplay mechanics
Full disclosure: Copy of game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.