When it first launched decades ago, Final Fantasy VIII wasn’t necessarily the endearing follow-up to Final Fantasy VII that many had hoped for. But for some, myself included, it was another great fantasy escape on the original PlayStation. For its time, the game challenged the hardware with colorful worlds – almost opposite of what was seen in Final Fantasy VII – and epic and cinematic battle scenes and action.
No one’s learning math in this school
Now, 20 years later, generations new and old have a chance to either experience it for the first time or relive the memories of their youth. The star player of FFVIII is Squall, a sensitive young buck who is learning to become a mercenary of sorts. Surprise! After Cloud Strife, we’re still not escaping the mercenary occupation. However, these would-be mercenaries are part of an organization called SeeD and attend a rather eccentrically-designed school to learn the trade. It’s like Hogwarts. But instead of learning wizardry, Squall and crew are learning the art of slaying beasts with all manner of might, magic, and mystical beasts of their own (referred to as Guardian Forces).
This is about as normal as the plot gets in Final Fantasy VIII. Eventually, it takes a crazy turn, or two, or fifty. In fact, I dare you to try and recount the plot in fine detail when all is said and done. With time-traveling sorceresses, missions to outer space, flashbacks connecting intermingling relationships… It all begins to feel like the early days of Game of Thrones, back when I almost had to take notes to remember all of the families and narrative threads of the show. Furthermore, things enter the realm of hyper-fantasy with some of the most bizarre plot points. At first blush, these may feel like they were inspired by a bad hallucinogenic trip. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not lost on me that many JRPGs typically take a trip to the weird department, but FFVIII shatters the barrier. Still, it’s all good fun!
Put those skills to the test
In terms of the gameplay, there really isn’t too much to say about this entry that hasn’t been said countless times before. It’s exactly like you remember, with the exception of a higher resolution on the 3D character models and battle sequences. In fact, there seems to have been a bit of tweaking involved that greatly improved the character models beyond a simple resolution bump. Obviously, there wasn’t much that could be done with the pre-rendered backgrounds and cutscenes. These are still very rough on the eyes – the same scenario as the Final Fantasy VII remaster. And just like the remaster of its predecessor, having this game’s sharper, more defined character models against the dated backdrops is jarring.
Of course, fully-proportional character models in the world are welcome here. For those familiar with FFVII and its predecessors, the characters in FFVIII don’t look like Fisher-Price toys or Lego minifigs. They actually look like normal people when traveling around the world. In the end, the only issue I experienced with regards to the visual fidelity of the game was the occasional framerate dip during the pre-rendered cutscenes – which aren’t many. Otherwise, everything is as smooth as can be with this remaster.
Also, like its remastered predecessor, options are available that enable players to speed things up and also to dismiss random encounters entirely. These options are completely welcome, as the random encounters of the original games can become tiresome. It’s convenient to be able to turn it on when you want to grind and flip it off when you’re only trying to get from point A to point B.
Just how you remember it
In terms of the game itself, I will reiterate that nothing has changed. For those new to the title, the Junction system replaces the Materia-based system fans are familiar with from Final Fantasy VII. But this offers a strategic and refreshing way to outfit your characters with boosts, magic, and the famous Guardian Forces (summons). In fact, the Guardian Forces are my most favorite aspect of combat. If you love them as much as I do, be sure to complete the quest to obtain Odin. It’s not a mandatory quest, but what happens sometime later after you’ve completed the quest is nothing short of magical. JRPG fans both old and new will enjoy what’s at work here.
Final Fantasy VIII is a unique experience in the pantheon of Final Fantasy games. It manages to stand out among others in the series with its own voice and personality, in part, due to its strange narrative and specialized Junction system. It’s thrilling to see this game realized again with a quality remaster on the Nintendo Switch. Ultimately, the visual upgrades and additional options make this version the best way to play the game. FFVIII fans won’t be disappointed.