Final Fantasy VIII Remastered Reviews

Neo Ethereal
314,244 (174,210)
Neo Ethereal
TA Score for this game: 1,900
Posted on 16 September 19 at 18:12, Edited on 19 September 19 at 23:17
This review has 5 positive votes and 2 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Even numbered, odd one out. A divisive classic returns.

In the interest of fairness, I must point out that Final Fantasy VIII IS my favorite game of all time, eclipsing even the almighty Mass Effect. But with time and maturity I have gained an understanding that there is a significant difference between something being your favorite, and being the best. An example of this I like to use is with Star Trek. There is no way I can argue against The Wrath of Khan being the best of all Trek films, yet the often lambasted The Motion Picture is usually my favorite one to watch in the series.

So why did I make that analogy, when I have turned around and given this game the same score as Final Fantasy VII, a game that garnered more consistent praise and critical success, and in some ways did things right where its sequel stumbled? Well, whether in reality or fantasy there is no such thing as perfection, and I also believe that mistakes in storytelling or design can be offset by what the product in question gets right, and if it gets these things right enough, the flaws can even take on a certain charm in their own right.

Final Fantasy VIII is an oddball of the series to be sure. Squaresoft took some major leaps to try to shake up the standard Final Fantasy formula by this time. You no longer got money from combat, there were no magic points, XP needed for leveling up was flattened to a set amount, battles were made highly interactive, combat was sped up considerably, the UI was stripped down and made highly cinematic, the primary villain barely had any direct interaction with the story and characters, and the story was now centered highly on three particular individuals instead of feeling like an ensemble piece. The result was a game with an odd mix of grinding due to the draw system, yet a high degree of interactivity and a fast pace due to the flow of the story/quests and an ability to quickly empower your party if you knew how to maximize the refining system. It felt like some sort of conscious design decision on Square's part, to make the game seem like it would be the same kind of tedious grind that most JRPGs used to be, but purposely leaving the door open for many exploits to encourage players to learn how to get the most out of the Junction and refining systems. Whatever the intention was, the result is certainly an odd and unique gameplay experience.

The story is also an oddity. As stated, it focuses on three individuals mainly. The game makes no secret about it being a love story, and that Squall's and Rinoa's relationship will be at the forefront. This is again divisive. Other Final Fantasy games have of course had love stories, but they weren't what the entire narrative revolved around. This is also a school days kind of story, with most of the cast being teenagers, so naturally there is a juvenile element to the romance and humor at times. I understand why this grates some, but my personal experiences in life make the school days feel of the game resonate with me, so I think this is one of those "your mileage may vary" factors. Added to this, Final Fantasy VIII does also involve time travel, a form of temporal astral projection, and several plot twists are dependent on enormous coincidences, some of which may seem too doggedly convenient for a number of you to maintain your suspension of disbelief. Even I had to run through this plot several times before I could assimilate where the writers wanted to go with this and how the coincidences could make sense. The plot is still kind of a mess if you break it down or think about it too much, but to me the characters and their arcs are strong enough to offset the main plot's many stumbles, and to bring back my earlier point, they help bring a certain charm to a story that otherwise ought to be much more of a disaster.

Now to the rest of the package. This port is lovingly remastered, not even close to the extent of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but with a wonderfully faithful upscaling of graphical quality. The character models looks great and are worlds better than the PSX versions in both the field map and in battle. The visual effects, particularly the summons, still look awesome. The sound effects are largely what one should expect from a late 90s game, but still hold up well for the most part. Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack here is of course excellent, as his work typically is. My favorite is Laguna's battle music, "The Man With the Machine Gun," a track that expertly exemplifies Laguna's goofy and cheeky nature, yet still captures his inner heart and heroism. Most notably, of course, is "Eyes On Me," the first Final Fantasy track with a vocal arrangement. As a teenager I groaned a bit at this track, but in time I've come to appreciate Faye Wong's vocals and I agree with the song's inclusion.

The achievement list in this game to me is all too safe and bland, but I do prefer it over the asinine achievement list we got for Final Fantasy IX. The whole list is obtainable in a single playthrough.

As with the other PSX-era ports, this game does have boosters. This is already the fastest Final Fantasy game of its era, so the speed booster here to me is overkill and almost nauseating. There is already a no encounters power in the game so that booster is redundant. Then there is the battle booster, which keeps characters at full ATB, health, and at their Limit Breaks. I don't mind there being an option like this for players who struggle with JRPGs and just want to experience the story, but it does irk me that using it doesn't disable achievements. To me it undermines the point of mastering the game's intricacies and learning how to build an amazing party with the deep Junction system, but, if that's how you enjoy the game it's not my place to tell you that you aren't allowed to do it that way. I would rather have seen something like a jukebox mode or a gallery of Tetsuya Nomura's concept art as extra features for the rerelease instead of these boosters.

Nonetheless, I still consider this the best version of the game I have yet played. It runs like lightning, is wonderfully touched up, and is on the market at a quite fair price point. I totally get that the game's story and weird mechanics are simply too odd for some to enjoy, but, stepping aside from my own personal likes, I think this title objectively accomplishes enough to stand side by side with the beloved seventh and ninth titles from the PSX era. It may not get as many things "right" as its prequel, and may never be The Wrath of Khan of the Final Fantasies, but it is still my favorite game and a bloody good JRPG in spite of and because of its foibles.
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