Final Fantasy VIII is arguably the most underrated mainline Final Fantasy game of all time. Releasing after the absurdly successful Final Fantasy VII, it led to a lot of unfair comparisons and hurt the title’s lasting appeal. With Square Enix spending the past decade remastering these titles for current generation consoles, many were surprised how long it took to get to Final Fantasy VIII. After so many years of waiting, do the improved graphics and performance justify revisiting it or is it actually overrated?
Over twenty years following the release of Final Fantasy VIII on the original PlayStation, the story of Squall, and Rinoa has always remained a classic one and delving into it once more in a more enhanced version brings back all the nostalgia that made fans remember why Final Fantasy VIII continues to remain one of the best Final Fantasy games to date. With so many titles released for the series already, there will always be someone who will like one over the other, but for me, Final Fantasy VIII is among those titles that are underrated and finally, it has been given another chance to shine.
With Square Enix remastering several Final Fantasy games in the past, those who are wanting to get the remastered version of Final Fantasy VIII will know what to expect. Right off the bat, one of the most notable improved changes in the remastered version is the visuals.
While Square Enix didn’t really do a major overhaul of the game’s graphics, they have made Final Fantasy VIII, however, look pretty at least, with them polishing the character models. Those who have played the original twenty years ago will remember just how pixelated Squall’s face is, but with the remastered version, it has all been polished and cleaned up, especially now that the character models are in high-resolution. This is the same as well to the Guardian Forces who now look incredibly better.
Similar to other remastered Final Fantasy PS One titles that Square Enix has done, pre-rendered scenes in the Final Fantasy VIII remaster are identical. From what I have played, many of the pre-rendered scenes are untouched. For those who are hoping that Square Enix would have taken the time to improve the backgrounds a little bit will be disappointed. At least with what Square Enix did, the character models that they have remastered really pops out. Compared to the original version, the game really has improved not only in visuals but in performance as well.
One of the gripes that I hope Square Enix addresses is at least a support of different aspect ratios. Just like how they remastered Final Fantasy VII and IX, the game is stuck to its original 4:3 aspect ratio, thus those who will be playing on Switch on-the-go will be bothered. At first, it’s annoying but as you play through and get through the drama and action of the game, you will easily forget about the aspect ratio. Though when it comes to the FMV sequences, they have indeed improved as well, as it now looks really sharp.
We know for a fact that Final Fantasy games back then compared to now can be somewhat annoying due to the random monster encounters that many endured back then and the abysmal level grinding. Luckily, Square Enix implemented the same gameplay enhancements or cheats, that is also available in their other remastered titles. The no random encounters make a return and the speed boost that allows Squall to move three times faster is back too. Also, you don’t have to grind your way anymore to max level as there is that option to max your levels, obtain all Limit Breaks and cards, and obtain all items and abilities right off the start of the game. But then, that will really kill the overall experience of playing a Final Fantasy title – but it’s always nice to have that option available.
Now for those who have never played it before, Final Fantasy VIII follows the story of Squall Leonhart and other members of SeeD as they fight their way through Galbadia’s tyrannical rule to prevent Queen Edea from fulfilling her ultimate goal. The game may start off slow but if you give time for the story to develop, you will be for a long ride to see how the love story of Squall and Rinoa will end. There are a lot of surprises and shocking revelations, so if you find the story to be slow, just tell yourself to give enough time as it will make your time worth it. Many people say FFVII has the best story, but for me, Final Fantasy VIII trumps that game. It doesn’t have the comical tone of Final Fantasy IX, and the sinister plot of Final Fantasy VII. I think Final Fantasy VIII is in the middle discussing the story of love, politics, and of course magic.
The combat in Final Fantasy VIII Remastered remains unchanged. It’s the same Active Time Battle system that is present in FFVII and FFIX. Each character in battle will have a time gauge whereas soon it fills up, you will then have the turn to attack. It may sound tedious for those who have never played any games like this one but luckily, there is a game boost that you can toggle to make it go faster.
The game is out in all platforms, but as with every Final Fantasy title that has been remastered, I always enjoy playing them on the Switch. With this kind of game that can take a very long time to finish, the option to play it on-the-go is always a plus. While it doesn’t have achievements or trophies on the Switch, the sheer experience of playing it anywhere fills that void. Performance-wise, the game runs smoothly and the only complaint that I really have is that black bars on the side due to the game stuck to its original aspect ratio.
Two decades following its original release, playing Final Fantasy VIII again in its remastered visuals and gameplay enhancements bring all the nostalgia and made me remember once again why it’s considered as one of the best Final Fantasy titles to date. Sure, it is dated, especially with the battle system and gameplay, but what holds up until now is the story and the characters that made this game a classic masterpiece.
[Editor’s Note: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]