Final Fantasy VIII Remastered Review

I tend to think of Final Fantasy VIII as a black sheep among the other PlayStation/PlayStation 2 era Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy VII, IX, X, X-2, and XII have all received ports or remasters on current generation consoles, and FFVII is even getting an upcoming remake. Meanwhile, FFVIII is left behind. Personally speaking, although I love almost every mainline game, FFVIII is one that sticks out negatively due to gameplay and story issues. Yet when Square Enix announced Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, I was more than excited to give it a second chance. And I’m glad I did, as I had a lot more fun this time around, thanks to the new bells and whistles.

To clarify, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is not a remake. The core gameplay, story, and dialogue have not changed, but the graphics look much cleaner now. Every 3D model has been revamped to look crisp and modern. Every character has received a makeover, with well-defined facial features closely matching Tetsuya Nomura’s design. Faces are no longer blurry messes on awkward models. The pre-rendered backgrounds and (admittedly) beautiful cutscenes have only been sharpened, not changed, so the game will still look like a PSX product. However, the redesigned 3D characters and monsters help mask the age. Battles and cutscenes feel fresh, and nothing looks horribly out of place. If you’ve played the original, the game will look like what you remember. The music and sound have not been updated, unfortunately. But with such a masterful soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu that combines calming ethereal tunes, militaristic motifs, and amazing synthesized battle themes, I can’t complain.

The other major changes from the original consist of modifiers, essentially cheats like the ability to boost the game’s speed by three times, turn off random encounters, and activate maximum HP, active-time battle gauges, and limit breaks for your characters. You can turn these off and on at any time, and it does not impact your game permanently – but you’ll have to live with the guilt that you are cheating. Just kidding. If you’re like me and this is your second or third time playing FFVIII, it’s fun to play with “god mode.” These three cheats actually helped immensely with one of my biggest gripes – the heavy grinding caused by the “Draw” and “Junction” mechanics.

Before I explain how, let me back up a bit and give an overview of the gameplay for context. FFVIII is a mostly traditional RPG with many of the common fixings: random encounters, an overworld, towns, shops, dungeons, and bosses. It uses the turn-based active-time battle (ATB) system, in which each combatant has an ATB gauge that fills up during the fight. Once the meter fills, the character can perform an action, be it attack, cast magic, use items, or summon a Guardian Force (GF) creature. At low HP, characters may randomly have the opportunity to activate their strong limit break attacks. This system thus far is common to most of Square’s classic Final Fantasy titles.

However, what makes FFVIII unique is its Junction system. Each character can equip a GF summon. Depending on the equipped GF, they can then junction a magic spell to a specific stat. For example, junctioning Cure magic with the HP stat can raise your health exponentially. In order to get magic, you must Draw, or siphon, it from enemies. Each Draw gives you about 0-6 stocks, but you can Draw from the same enemy until you reach 100. The game gets much harder the more you level up, and the only way to mitigate that difficulty spike is to grow much stronger by Junctioning 100 stocks of powerful magic. Constantly drawing for each character for 20 minutes per magic spell is a tedious affair. Not to mention that using any magic spell will reduce your stock, making you weaker. Of course, you technically don’t need to Draw everything to beat the game, but it’s a relatively easy, albeit grindy, way to beef up your team. In the end, I usually end up depending on my GF summons, which all have long, unskippable cutscenes.

Enter Final Fantasy VIII Remastered and its cheats. The triple speed went a long way in accelerating slow game and made grinding less of a chore. I was finished Drawing magic for everyone within minutes. I would even recommend it for new players. Turning off random encounters perhaps makes the game too easy. That being said, there a natural in-game way to remove random encounters anyway, and it works if you’re just here for the story. As a veteran, I didn’t mind leaving random battles on, as I was still able to break the game by maxing HP, ATB, and limit breaks. I wouldn’t recommend this for newcomers, but it honestly makes returning to the game more fun. I could finally see all the flashy limit breaks, and not feel stressed out while grinding. For those that really want to cheat, the PC version exclusively grants ultimate god mode with cheats for all abilities, GF max levels, max money, max magic, all limit breaks, and all cards for the surprisingly enjoyable Triple Triad card minigame. Is it overkill? Probably, but at least the PC version has the option, which I unfortunately did not get with my version.

Presentation and gameplay improve with the updated visuals and modifiers, but the story is still the same. I wouldn’t expect it to change in a remaster, but I wasn’t a big fan of the plot. The game stars Squall, the good-looking (at least in the remaster!) Gunblade user who works as a “SeeD” mercenary. What starts out as a mission to reclaim a nation’s independence eventually becomes a more complex tale of witches and mysterious out-of-body experiences with a soldier. There is also an OK love story that feels a bit forced and plot twists that come out of nowhere to “conveniently” but unsatisfyingly explain story beats. At least I’ve grown to like the party of six, although I have Square Enix’s Final Fantasy spin-offs to thank for that. The flirty but stubborn Rinoa, the serious but caring instructor Quistis, and even the lone wolf Squall have grown on me over the years.

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is a prime example of how to do a remaster well. Improved graphics modernize the experience, and modifiers help alleviate the grind issues. That said, I’ve always felt FFVIII needed real gameplay changes. It won’t get that in a remaster, and as such, those who didn’t like the game before won’t like it now. If what you disliked in the original was the grind, put your eyes on this remaster. And if you loved FFVIII in the past or are a curious newcomer, this is the best version of the game by far.

I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!