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March 2021

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PSOne, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: Sept. 3, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 4, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In Final Fantasy VIII, Galbadia has declared war on the Dukedom of Dollet. With his friends, resistance member Squall Leonhart gets pulled into the war, unaware of their fate to save the world.

Buy Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered

Final Fantasy 8 was the sequel to the quintessential JRPG that is Final Fantasy 7. As such, FF8 had a ton of expectations riding on it, especially since it adhered to the Final Fantasy franchise's habit of reinventing itself with each new game. The result was a title that had a lot of fans but wasn't quite as popular as FF7. To this day, Squall is one of the most popular FF protagonists. Yet for a variety of reasons, it was the odd man out when it came to re-releases, with both its prequel and sequel getting modern ports before it did. Here we are at last with Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered to round out the PS1-era remasters.

FF8 follows Squall Leonhart, a teenager-slash-mercenary who's working as a member of the elite Garden squad, SeeD. When his first mission goes wildly off the rails, he's thrust into a worldwide conflict against a sorceress with unknown plans. He also finds himself inexorably tied to a girl named Rinoa, who has strange powers and a connection to Squall that seems to transcend space and time.

FF8's plot is remembered as being fairly controversial. At its heart, it's a multi-generational love story wrapped in the trappings of fancy tech, magic and witches. It has a fairly large cast, but even by the game's own admission, Squall and Rinoa are the important ones. (In fact, you get to name them but none of the other playable characters.) It relies a lot on soap opera melodrama, improbable plot twists, and characters who are intentionally unlikeable. If you enjoy that sort of thing, then FF8 is probably something you have fond memories of, and if not, you probably remember Squall more for his "Whatevers" than his character development.

FF8 is odd in that it does away with a lot of traditional Final Fantasy equipment and stats. Instead, each character can "junction" a Guardian Force, who gives them distinct abilities and powers. Instead of learned magic spells, you draw magic from enemies or items, which have a limited number of uses. Magic can also be equipped to upgrade stats, so even weak combat spells can yield powerful stat boosts. It's an interesting system but perhaps too convoluted, especially since it disincentives using magic in favor of getting the high power-boost from equipping it.

The big thing that defines FF8 by Final Fantasy standards is how easy it is to crack. The Junction system, with even a little effort, allows you to do ridiculous things, especially if you combine it with the Triple Triad playing card game, which lets you get early access to rare materials. With minimal effort, you can have overpowered abilities, spells and weapons before you leave the opening areas of the game. This is a double-edged sword, as it gives players a lot of flexibility and freedom to customize their characters. It also means that it's trivial to make the game easy in a boring way, such as by jacking up your stats and using a limit break in every single round.

FF8 is the first game coming off the insane gangbuster success of FF7, and it shows. It's a packed game with a ton of side-quests, hidden material, and bonus features. The aforementioned Triple Triad card game is effectively the forerunner of The Witcher 3's Gwent in being a simple game that dominates just as much time as the parent game. Its complex series of rules and trades don't need to be used to finish the game, but they're fully fleshed out. There's a lot to find here, and without FAQs, you can expect to spend dozens of hours trying to puzzle out every one of FF8's mysteries.

As with the other Final Fantasy re-releases, FF8 Remastered includes a host of "cheat" features: 3x speed, no random encounters, and infinite HP/limit break/turn speed. All three can be activated or deactivated at the touch of a button. The first is a godsend, and I found myself keeping it on almost all the time. The game is a lot more fun to play without some of the PS1-era slowdown, and I even found it easier to time Squall's Trigger at 3x speed than in the original. The second is of limited use, as it's easy to get No Encounters as a skill in the game, but it's still nice to have. The third is there to make grinding easier or if you want to cheat your way through the story.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the FF8 Remastered is the redone character models, which look great. The original FF8 struggled to make characters anything but large masses of pixels, and here, they have significantly more distinct faces and animations. It makes the battles look a lot better, as there are some nice touches that were difficult to see in the original version. Some of the characters look odd (Squall's modern appearance contrasts heavily with the PS1-era CGI). This is still a PS1-era game, and the character models are simple, but it looks a lot more palatable. The frame rate still looks awkward, but at 3x speed, things flow more smoothly most of the time.

The biggest issue in FF8 Remastered is the backgrounds. Unlike the character models, the backgrounds have not been redone or noticeably prettied up. That means the majority of the environments are blurry and contrast sharply with the new and improved character models. For example, there's a scene where Headmaster Cid is talking and showing off his new model. As soon as his dialogue finishes, he becomes part of the background and dissolves into a mess of pixels. You get used to it after a while, but it's jarring early on to see the huge difference between the remastered models and the original backgrounds. This is the only thing that holds back FF8 Remastered. I noticed these sorts of things with FF7 and FF9, but it stands out more in FF8 because it places more emphasis on background detail. It's fair to point out a lot of that suffered in the days of old-school SD televisions, but it was way more noticeable on a big-screen TV with nice character models.

All in all, Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered is a solid port. The new character models look nice, and the additional features are all welcome. At its core, it's still Final Fantasy 8, and almost nothing has changed about it. If you were a fan of the original, you'll like the remaster, and if you weren't, then it's unlikely this will change your mind. This is likely the definitive version of the game, blurry backgrounds and all, and it's well worth picking up for anyone who's looking to experience FF8 for the first time.

Score: 7.5/10

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