Final Fantasy VIII for Nintendo Switch
Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered comes on the precipice of the 20-year anniversary of Final Fantasy VIII. A departure from series in terms of presentation, story, and appeal, this troubled game has endured a mixed reception from tenured fans and game journalists. The lean is often heavily negative, yet, still, the game boasts the third highest-selling units of the franchise. Today, I will be diving into a fair assessment of each element of the game. The approach will be judging as a remaster as well as a standalone experience.
Naturally, the first logical step to tackle is the gameplay. Regardless of story, if a game’s foundation is not built on strong mechanics, then it is of little interest to a gamer. Let’s see if Final Fantasy VIII can hold its ground.
As was the style of the time, Final Fantasy was cultivated in the turn-based strategy genre. Hot off the heels of Final Fantasy VII’s material system comes Final Fantasy VIII’s draw system. They bear resemblance, but functionally are different in execution. The nature of the game is to draw magic from enemies and equip that magic to each individual’s stats. Maxing your magic is the key to proceed in Final Fantasy VIII. While the turn-based element is possible to do without maxing stats, your leveling up is only a small fraction of the boost you get, if you don’t equip magic. Employed with this magic is GFs or Guardian Forces, great beasts of power you can summon to aid you in combat and offer you the ability above to equip magic.
The draw system is a big subject of contention among Final Fantasy fans. It is frequently the biggest negative brought against the game. Truthfully, the system feels antiquated by modern standards. It is not particularly difficult to grasp and master. The hindrance of it is the requirement to consistently draw magic. A chore in the old games, absolutely. In the remaster, the ability to speed up gameplay times three takes away the sting of this issue. While not forgivable, it is serviceable.
Additionally, the lack of interchangeable weapons for each character is a definite drawback. However, there is a satisfaction in building up your weapon to the strongest it can be. After you have gathered up the ingredients required, there is nothing quite like a massive stat jump when you unleash fury on a beast. Largely, with the combat, it is fairly rudimentary, but it is effective at what it does.
Obviously, we have to factor in the element that this is a 20-year-old game. We must account for its remastered status, too. From what is known by fans, the original source code of the game was lost by the developers, so this was a long time coming to fruition. The developers had to cut certain corners in regards to this being a remaster. Namely, the only aspects truly altered are the models and an occasional background. Many NPCs and backgrounds still appear in low-resolution quality.
Thankfully, it is more a gripe than anything else. The visuals of Final Fantasy VIII are uniquely great. They stand up in this day and age due to the prominence of independent studios. Indie games are a massive industry and they have helped redefine unique graphics as stylistic. Final Fantasy VIII has the best graphics of any of the Final Fantasy games before they hit double digits. From the Parisian quality of Deling City to the shimmering crystalline view of Esthar, these games designs are beautiful. Visually, as a remaster, it has not done its job properly. It is propped up by the designs of old that emit a distinctive look of wonder. The new models look the part and serve well for defining previous characters features that we were not able to distinguish in the PS1 era.
To explain the story of Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered in its entirety runs the risk of becoming long-winded in this piece. Put simply, it is a story with many layers that don’t often have logical endpoints; a convoluted narrative that leaves several head-scratching moments for the player. The ebbs and flows of the game are reminiscent of a showrunner who ran out of ideas in a later season of a show. To put this in perspective, I will give a brief summary of how the events unfold as best I can without major spoilers.
You play as Squall, a member of a military organisation known as Garden. There are Gardens all over the world and they are learning facilities as well as hubs to house mercenaries for hire. Throughout your journey, Squall joins a cast of characters that deploy on missions for those who need help. The main journey is directed by Rinoa, a member of Galbadia, a resistance group against the empire. Alongside this, we have the story of Squall’s dreams. Mysterious sleeping gas puts Squall and friends into unconsciousness at different points in the game. When you sleep you assume control of a Galbadian team led by Laguna Loire. There is a connection between you and Laguna in some regard. Involved within this plot is a sorceress that manipulates the world around her as well as an unknown girl that has a connection with your dreams.
The above summary is the base level of the story which curves and drifts over time into poorly-written fan fiction. The saving grace is actually the fact that the characters themselves are likable in their individual tropes. Squall is a brooding leader, Rinoa is plucky and resourceful, Zell is energetic and hot-headed, Selphie is enthusiastic and scatterbrained, among others. The cast is easy to identify with predominantly, aside from the occasional jibe by Squall that shows the game as a product of its time.
The anticipation for this remaster was palpable in the minds of patient fans. They have stuck out years of ridicule for being a fan of Final Fantasy VIII and now those jumping on the bandwagon have an opportunity to see it in full swing. Were fans hating on the game warranted? Yes and no. As a game, it is flawed. The draw system takes up too much time. As a story, it’s too overproduced. The characters have little substance to them.
Does this make it a bad experience? No. Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered, despite its many problems, is entertaining. It is fundamentally damaged, but an entertaining experience. A game which, if you let it take you on the journey and forget about semantics, will have you hooked. It is a fascinating world to explore and for my money, it has the best soundtrack in the entire series. A relative calmness in the game is present when visiting small destinations and large destinations.
Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered is one of the more relaxing Final Fantasies. This is in terms of the difficulty level being very low and due to the nice diversions it offers with the Laguna Loire subplot present. Overall, I have to say that it is definitely worth a revisit. There is an unmistakable charm in this messy piece of nonsense. More could have been with this as a remaster, but the game still pulls through for a fun playthrough.
(All images courtesy of Nintendo’s Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered site.)
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