The Often-Forgotten Remaster We Deserve
I have very fond memories of Final Fantasy VIII. At the time of its original release I was 11 and distinctly remember buying this in GAME during its first week of release. After Final Fantasy VII’s blocky graphics, I was blown away by the graphics, story length and thought provoking themes around love and fate. Armed with one of the best soundtracks of the series and a surprisingly addictive side-quest card game, Final Fantasy VIII successfully rode that wave of expectation and delivered an impressive follow up to the juggernaut that came before it.
Fast forward to 2019 and the recent announcement of VIII’s digital remaster was met with a lot of excitement from this reviewer. I distinctly remember the original cinematic and seeing it here, with updated graphics and a slicker frame-rate, certainly brought home that nostalgia. Make no mistake about it, this is a largely unchanged game from all those years ago, with some touched up graphics and a few gameplay tweaks that’ll certainly appeal to those looking to enjoy the story and eliminate the grind.
Of course, if you’re looking for a complete experience, that’s here too and for those who’ve never played this before, the story revolves around a military cadet named Squall. Following the lone-wolf archetype so inherent with these protagonists, Squall eventually teams up with a handful of colourful characters, including love interest Rinoa. Between President Deling, a powerful sorceress and fellow cadet Seifer, there’s an awful lot going on plot-wise and spoiling all the twists and turns along the way would discredit the story if you’ve haven’t played this before. Suffice to say, it’s a memorable tale and one with a pretty decent pacing, although some of the flashback segments do feel like they drag on a little.
Gameplay-wise, some of the controls still feel a little clunky and compared to some of the later titles in the Final Fantasy franchise, especially those with more organic and fluid movement, VIII does feel cumbersome by comparison. Make no mistake about it, this is a remaster designed for fans of the franchise and newcomers, while still likely to be gripped by the story, may find some of these controls a little archaic. This is a particular problem for things like the menu screens which continue to adopt the usual greys and whites that were inherent in the original game.
Much like the Final Fantasy VII re-release, some of the gameplay enhancements dramatically reduce the grind and make the game a lot easier to plough through. Turning off battle encounters, maxing out HP and granting unlimited Limit Breaks, while fun, also give the game a somewhat watered down flavour to it. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still optional to use but their inclusion also cheapens the game slightly when you know you can just blast through encounters with little effort.
One of the biggest gripes I had with the original is still here too and it comes from enemy scaling. Whenever I play these games, I tend to find myself grinding levels early on to make those bosses easier to handle and while there is an element of that here, enemies level up alongside you. While this sounds good in theory, especially given the increase in experience points and items dished out by enemies, in practice it prevents the game ever reaching that point where battles become easier to tackle, making levelling up less satisfying than it otherwise would be.
Regardless of your feelings toward Final Fantasy VIII, there’s something timelessly endearing about this often-forgotten title. The plot progresses well, the characters grow into their roles despite a rocky start and the soundtrack is one of the best in the series’ history. The gameplay is largely unchanged and the battle assist options do cut out some of the grind, which will appeal to those looking to experience the story again without the need to grind through levels. It may not be the remake fans have been crying out for, but it is a solid reminder of how charming these early turn-based games were back in the day, and well worth a play all these years later.
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Verdict - 8/10