Final Fantasy is one of those series I have always wanted to be able to say I’ve completed at least one game from. Yes, I should get better life goals. Unfortunately, a lack of patience or talent for inventory systems has left me very much an outcast in the on-going conversation around one of video game’s most beloved fandoms.
If I’m being completely honest, I first purchased a Final Fantasy game when I was 16-years-old in a desperate attempt to impress a boy I fancied (don’t judge). I went to get a copy from Gamestation (RIP) and in the dusty box of PlayStation One games dragged out from the stockroom; Final Fantasy VIII was the only option. So, I picked it up.
Though admittedly I didn’t spend too much time with it back then, the game clearly had an impact. I can’t go to a beach and listen to the waves without hearing that infectious title music stirring in the background and even in its pixelated original format; I have always been more drawn to the Final Fantasy VIII’s art style compared to its predecessor’s chibi aesthetic.(The world’s most adorable killer for hire!)
So, with Final Fantasy VIII Remastered released on the Switch last month (also available on Xbox One, PS4 and STEAM) and a 16-hour transatlantic journey to get through I figured this would be a good opportunity to join the ranks at SeeD and give it another go.(I think our editor might have a problem…)
For starters, the game, now two decades old, looks great. The main characters and enemies have been completely revamped to deliver our protagonist Squall – now really the “best looking guy here”, scar and all – in all his tortured, pouty glory. That said, many secondary characters have been spared a modern makeover which can, at times, look a little strange. The same can be said for the pre-rendered, low-res environments which almost feel like your polished cadets are traversing a cardboard town. Nonetheless, it’s a stunning futuristic environment to spend some 40 hours in, particularly the beautiful full motion video sequences. After all, this is a Remaster, not a remake, so don’t go in expecting the current generation sorcery shown in next year’s Final Fantasy VII Remake.(We should be grateful they fixed what they did!)
There have been a number of new features added to the Remastered edition such as the ability to do away with random encounters and increase your game speed by a factor of three – great news for first timers or the unconverted like myself. As someone whose most recent experience with this turn-based style of combat was Let’s Go, Pikachu, I found the constant stop and start to be frustrating and somewhat distracting from the story, which is strange considering straight up shooters tend to leave me in a hot sweat. There’s also a Junction system to master in which party members can summon Guardian Forces (GFs) to use magic and special abilities. Optimistically, I tried playing the old school way (partly because I wanted to have the full experience, partly because I do enjoy that victory fanfare) but there were times where I only had around four steps to make to get to the next scene and would be faced with that bloody battle music twice, sometimes three times. I get that this is what you sign up for with Final Fantasy but it did feel excessive in places. Luckily, with a few simple clicks of either analogue stick you can easily speed through the more repetitive elements of the game. It kind of feels like cheating, but who has the time?!(“Let’s hurry this along I have Triple Triad to play!”)
It’s because I’m so untrained in this type of combat that I found it unbelievably trying when you couldn’t skip cut scenes. During one of the early boss battles, I met the Game Over screen twice and had to watch a lengthy cut scene play out over and over again. Granted, part of this frustration comes from being spoiled by modern games where death usually means just reappearing a couple of steps behind where you had just fallen off a cliff but had they just added a skip feature for the longer cut scenes, it would have made the experience a lot more enjoyable.(“ImPuDeNt HuMaNs!”)
That said, watching cut scenes over and over does give you a real appreciation for the script. The trash talk between SeeD team mates, particularly Squall and Seifer, is wonderfully terrible but it’s also impressive how well the dialogue quickly gives you a clear indication of who each of these characters are. Seifer is evidently a bit of an antagonising know it all, Zell is enthusiastic to a fault, their instructor Quistis is having none of it, and Squall is just a bit of an emo kid and kind of reminds me of a brooding Lucas Scott in One Tree Hill whenever he tries to be stoic – no wonder I had an embarrassing crush back in the day. His love interest Rinoa, a member of the resistance, is basically the opposite.(“Even if you’re destined to become an evil sorceress I still love you!”)
The music in this game is also rather wonderful. At one point I set my Switch down for a moment, my headphones still plugged in, and just sat back listening to the magical soundtrack. This was completely unintentional by the way, but it’s such a great score it could have lulled me straight to sleep.(Or Ballroom dance I suppose.)
It’s worth noting how enjoyable it was to be able to play this game on the go on a handheld device. I remember always longing for one of those PSOne TV setups you could get for your car in the Argos catalogue and would have loved a setup like that to play huge PSOne titles on. The game works really well with the Switch screen size and controls, and the portability has meant I can easily pick up the game on my lunch break – otherwise I would probably still be playing it another 20 years from now, just in time for the 40th anniversary Remaster.
For anyone like me who may have missed out on Final Fantasy VIII upon release in 1999, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is the ideal time to jump on board and give it a go. The new features have made it a much more user-friendly experience for those who find the random battle mechanics to be a grind, and the HD makeover means it is without a doubt the best way to experience the game’s stunning art direction. While I may not be leaving this experience a fully-fledged SeeD graduate, I do leave with a greater understanding of why this series was so revered (particularly Final Fantasy VIII which, while divisive, was considered ground-breaking at the time) and continues to be so to this day.