Final Fantasy VIII Remastered Review: Still The Unlucky Middle Child

It’s finally here.

After twenty years of snubbing by players, critics, and even its own publishing companyamidst rumors of lost source code and the ruins of a half-hearted PC port—what everyone believed would be impossible has finally come to fruition. The classic, the underdog, the cult favorite, the last mainline Final Fantasy title in its generation to receive a proper remaster...

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is finally here, and it looks better than ever.

The Best-Looking Game In The Room

Balamb Garden Dormitory

The most obvious thing upon loading up the remaster, of course, are the revamped character models. What were once pixelated jumbles of polygons in an admirably close approximation of people are now crisp, clear, detailed renders of the beloved characters. From the opening scene, you can see every detail of Squall’s outfit from his boots to his jacket, not to mention his facial scar, but the pre-release trailers showed him off plenty already. What I remember is squealing in delight when Quistis finally came on screen, and I realized that you could see her glasses on her face in her in-game model; something I never asked for, but am incredibly blessed to have.

Look at her glasses... my girl....

And it’s not just the main characters who’ve been remade—all of the interactable NPCs have been given the full remaster treatment. Even monsters have been given a render upgrade, revealing previously hidden details of their appearance that I’d never picked up on in my three times playing this game to completion.

Remastered, But Not Remixed

Triple Triad

Beneath the graphical makeover, it’s still the game I know and have loved since before I was old enough to play a game on my own. The setting is still the strange mishmash of outlandish sci-fi fantasy and a mundane 90s aesthetic that I adore. The story is still the heartfelt exploration of trauma and loneliness hidden behind the veneer of an angsty teen romance that receives an unfair amount of flak (as if JRPG plots aren’t just like that in general). The gameplay is still the perfect balance of the quintessential classic Final Fantasy experience and innovative new mechanics. For all the criticism the Junction system gets, you can’t deny that it was a creative step out of the ordinary. Besides, it’s actually quite intuitive and fun once you get past the tedious tutorial.

At the risk of being proclaimed a fake FFVIII squad member, this Remaster is the first time I’ve attempted to play Triple Triad, the card minigame. My delayed verdict is that it’s brilliant. It offers a fun minigame that’s entirely optional, yet provides hours of enjoyable playtime as a game-spanning sidequest that even offers substantial benefits to the main gameplay should you decide to pursue it. For those of you who also have not given it a try as of yet, I whole-heartedly recommend it.

RELATED: Why Did Final Fantasy VIII Take So Long To Remaster?

Some Extra Bits And Bobbles

Balamb Garden 1F

Graphical updates weren’t the only addition to the remaster, however. Also included are a few “cheats” that are available right from the beginning with the simple press of a few buttons. The remaster gives players the option to speed the game up to 3x speed, disable random encounters, and to keep their ATB and HP maxed out.

I definitely appreciated the option to speed up the game. Not only was it useful for grinding, it helps to be able to speed up some of the story sections that are bogged down by backtracking and long walks up and down certain areas. The other two modes, on the other hand, gave me some mixed feelings, especially the option to disable random encounters.

Yes, I understand that random encounters are considered an inconvenient trapping of a bygone era in JRPGs. Adding the ability to avoid them was probably crucial in drawing in potential new players. My problem with it is that this option actually exists in the base game. Once you unlock the Guardian Force Diablos, he can learn the “Enc-None” ability that lets you bypass encounters entirely. I’ve always felt that this was a creative way to give the players the means to earn the ability to walk freely without hindrance, so to speak. Having this option from the onset of the game takes away a bit of the charm of unlocking Diablos and investing time in him.

GF Diablos Abilities

Besides, I’m of the (rather unpopular) opinion that random encounters should make a comeback in games. They can be annoying, sure, but they also provide an unlimited supply of experience and loot without the need to wait for monsters to respawn.

Still, I appreciate these options for making the twenty year old game more accessible to new players who aren't used to older mechanics or returning players who just don’t have as much time to sink into a video game anymore. I will, however, maintain that the max ATB/HP “battle assist” mode is an inelegant way to add an accessible “easy mode” of sorts. There really, really has to be a solution less lazy than just handing over a god mode to players.

(Okay, fine. It did make getting good screenshots a LOT easier. It’s still unnecessary if you’re not a reviewer, though!)

RELATED: Will Square Enix Remaster Final Fantasy Tactics Next?

A Half-Hearted Effort

Balamb Garden Cafeteria

Despite the fact that I have been waiting and begging for a remaster of my favorite Final Fantasy title for years, I did find myself… disappointed in many aspects.

The render upgrades to the characters were amazing and brought me not a small amount of glee, but for some reason, the rest of the game didn’t get the same treatment. I don’t believe it would have cost Square Enix much to re-render the backgrounds of the game as well. In fact, fans have posted some beautifully HD renders that they made in their own time with AI, and many modders have made progress in upscaling backgrounds of older games. And yet, as with the FFVII and FFIX remasters, they remain as pixelated as ever. Even if they were improved upon in actuality, it’s impossible to tell because they look comically low-resolution behind the detailed character models. This actually makes the game harder to play. The game has multiple sections that require the player to interact with the environment in a way that’s not immediately obvious, or don’t have the most optimal paths programmed in. The increased disjuncture between character models and the environment make it even more difficult to navigate certain areas of the game.

re-render via https://twitter.com/Nitroid/status/1095028650720808960

At certain junctures, the framerate plummeted. This, I feel, is borderline unacceptable for any remaster of a game that was released twenty years ago. The performance should have been more than optimized by now.

The remaster could have also benefited from adding the ability to skip the tutorials. No matter how much I love the game, I will admit that the drearily paced tutorials are one of its greatest flaws. The speed boost helped, but I feel like it would have been trivial for Square Enix to add the option to skip it, or made it somewhat more engaging.

Final Verdict

Balamb Garden Bridge

If I were to be rating the base game, I would give it a solid 4 out of 5, as I’ve always done. It’s engaging, fun to play, heartfelt, but not without its flaws. However, the remaster brings a new set of parameters and standards that I didn’t feel were lived up to.

In the end, I’m not too disappointed. When you’re a fan of what some people call the “Worst Final Fantasy Ever,” you learn not to expect too much. Square Enix has never given FFVIII very much love or attention. Hopefully, the sales on the remaster will finally be the wake-up call that might lead to a full-on remake that this game deserves just as much as FFVII.

If not, then I’m still deeply grateful to this remaster for what it is. The graphics update gives me more details to my favorite characters who never received better renders (like Squall did for Dissidia). The porting to modern systems allows me to play it on my console of choice without having to bust out the old PS1 or gritting my teeth through the PC port. The renewal of the fanbase has been a welcome surprise as well. All in all, it’s a decent remaster of a much-cherished game.

3 Out Of 5 Stars

A review copy of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered was provided to TheGamer by Square Enix. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch as of September 3rd, 2019.

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