I grew up in a Sega household, so I never played any of the Final Fantasy series until the seventh installment on the original PlayStation. It was the game that got me interested in the series and made me want to play through the rest of the titles, and I still love it, but it's the second 32-bit entry in the series that I hold closest to my heart. It probably helps that I was a moody teenager in 1999 but that’s not the point. The point is that Final Fantasy VIII was the best of the series, don’t @ me.
I could go on about the draw system giving a risk and reward nature to battles in the early stages but potentially getting a little tedious later. I could also talk about how Triple Triad is the most addictive minigame that I’ve ever played in an RPG. It wouldn’t be amiss of me to point out how the characters and storyline are so much more complex than the earlier titles and make you feel for the characters in a way that you rarely do in videogames. I could do those things, but there’s no point, you know all about them. This is a 20 year old game so you’ll be likely to already have a good idea if you like it or not. What you’re here for is to see what Square Enix have done with it now.
The answer to that query is, to be honest, surprisingly little. The core game is still the same, but there’s been a bit of retexturing and some blurring of graphics. There are some new models with much higher resolution textures, and if you played the PS1 version back in the day then you’re in for a treat with the less compressed cutscenes, but ultimately the game itself hasn’t been messed with. There are a few cheat options like boosting your characters and giving yourself more money and cards, but these stop you getting achievements so I didn’t use them personally. I did quite like the fact that you can speed up time threefold, meaning that all the long winded attack animations and long sessions of drawing newly found magic can be plowed through much quicker than before.
A lot of the issues that this remaster ends up with stem from the way that the game was created. There were a lot of pre-rendered backgrounds with character models overlayed on top of them. These backgrounds often included characters that weren’t interactive in the scene, and in the late 90s, that didn’t matter too much as the level of detail was similar enough for them to feel like part of the scene. In 2019, with the swanky new high-res textures, it’s very noticeable and a bit jarring. Whilst it would have been nice to see all of those background scenes redrawn, it’s unlikely that would have been feasible given the size of the game. What has happened is that they’ve been given a healthy dose of blurring to make it a bit less obvious that they’re much lower resolution. I would have liked to see the Triple Triad board redrawn though, seeing as you see so much of it and it’s not exactly complex.
Those new character models are very nice it must be said, but they don’t match the cutscenes any more. Squall has a new haircut for example and Rinoa is wearing a slightly different outfit. This was done apparently in order to make the characters look more like their modern incarnations in games like Kingdom Hearts and Dissidia, but it means that the cutscenes, which are pretty much identical to the nice high-res versions that the PC was treated to in 1999, don’t work as well as they used to. One of the things that was ground-breaking at the time was the seamless transition from in-game graphics to FMV, with some sequences, like the Galbadia train capture, overlaying controllable characters on top of cutscenes. This still looks great, arguably more so with the higher res models, but when there’s a transition from the new model in game to the old model in CGI, it looks a bit odd.
There have been some slight changes in some of the enemy and GF models too, most of them being just a higher definition version of what came before, but a few have been tweaked slightly. A commonly cited example is that Siren has been given a skirt, so you can no longer see her mons pubis. This hasn’t happened with Shiva’s model so I don’t buy the suggestions of censorship, it seems more likely an artistic choice, possibly to stop the two GFs looking like a pallete swap of each other. If this kind of thing really bothers you then you’ve probably already flamed Square Enix about it so you likely don’t need a warning from me, but on the off chance that you weren’t aware: there’s slightly less digital bush in this version.
The world map looks frankly terrible now. Again, this is largely due to the textures of the original game being upscaled from a low res. They now look very patchwork and you can see the joins clearly. It’s not a game breaker but as it’s a remaster, I would have expected new textures there, or at least a more seamless looking clean up than we have.
The music of the original PC release was pretty poor. At the time, high quality recorded music wasn’t as common on the PC and the MP3 was in its early days, so instead a MIDI soundtrack was employed. This did the job, but it wasn’t a patch on the PS1 version. It’s nice to see that the orchestral-sounding score of that release is included here, making everything sound so much better.
One thing that I can’t overlook is the lack of a decent framerate. The cutscenes being at 15fps isn’t a major issue, they always were, but the battle mode being limited entirely to 15 is a major oversight. Originally, the battle animations were 15 and the menus 30, but they’ve been flattened down to all run at the same frame rate now. This means that boosting GFs and hitting renzokuken triggers is much more difficult as the mechanics were optimised for the 30fps that the menus were originally. As you will spend so much of the game in the battle screen, I’m amazed such an oversight has crept in. Hopefully it’ll be resolved in a later patch.
Overall, with the improvements to the character models and the better sound, I’d recommend this over the original PC release. It doesn’t do a great deal though so if you already have the Steam re-release, there’s little to tempt you. There are fan-made mods that make the 2013 Steam release and the 1999 big box release look better, so it’s a shame to see that Square Enix have just churned out a remaster that just feels like a cash-grab.
At the end of the day, Final Fantasy VIII is still a great game and if you’re playing it for the first time, I’d suggest getting this version. If you already have an earlier release however then it’s hard to justify the cost. A few graphical tweaks and some blurring isn’t worth the money for me: I could get a similar effect by taking off my glasses before playing and save myself 16 quid in the process. A poor remaster of a great game
FINAL FANTASY VIII - REMASTERED (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Final Fantasy VIII is still a great game and if you’re playing it for the first time, I’d suggest getting this version. If you already have an earlier release however then it’s hard to justify the cost. A few graphical tweaks and some blurring isn’t worth the money for me: I could get a similar effect by taking off my glasses before playing and save myself 16 quid in the process. A poor remaster of a great game