I was around 12 when Final Fantasy VIII launched in the West. I vividly remember the marketing for this game showcasing the new Toyota Echo with a picture of Squall alongside the car being heavily pushed in gaming magazines. I also remember my excitement upon learning that on September 9, 1999, a new entry in the Final Fantasy series was ready for me to pick up at my local Blockbuster. It would be a few months before I owned a copy for myself.
Final Fantasy VIII serves as a departure of all previous games in the series. In 1997, Square Soft launched the iconic Final Fantasy VII and set the world on fire as being the game to own at the time. Two years later, Squall and company arrive and shake up everything we expected in a follow up to one of the best games of all time. What we got was vastly different and depending on who you ask, is either a worthy sequel or a lousy one.
The Best Looking Guy in the Room
As it is, this is a pound for pound remaster of Final Fantasy VIII. This is still the same game from 20 years ago with a fresh coat of paint on it. And while for the most part, I really dig the remastered character models, I am at an impasse. Each model looks much better and offers the best look at the entire cast in two decades. However, the background, the world in general lacks that much needed an overhaul as well, creating a stark contrast to the fresh models.
Playing as Squall Leonhart and following one of my favourite opening sequences of the series, you wake up in the infirmary of Balamb Garden. Students of Balamb Garden are trained to be mercenaries for hire as SeeD. These students are the best the Garden has to offer and work around the world making it a safer place. Squall is a bit of a loner and relies heavily on himself to get things done and is highly irritable to those around him. Soon after graduation, Squall meets a young woman named Rinoa, and his life is quickly changed soon after as he embarks on a mission for her.
Story of a Girl who liked a Guy
For years, I loved everything the story offered. There were moments of hilarity, moments of seriousness and moments where I sat with my mouth open at what just happened. A lot of the issues you may find on the internet never really annoyed me. Many plot points of Final Fantasy VIII made sense when you can sit down and understand them, but some things still don’t sit right with me.
However, even with minor gripes like certain plot points never really making sense or coming to fruition, the world in which they occur is one that I fell in love with. To this day, I have a hard time finding a world full of places I truly enjoyed visiting. Each of the Gardens, for example, are beautiful in their own way and it is a shame the backgrounds weren’t touched up to showcase their beauty. Other places like Windhill, Deiling City, and some of the other locations like the Underwater Research Facility and Esther deserve to be seen with clarity.
Many of the systems are still here as they were back in 1999. Both Junction and Draw were experimental systems that alienated players due to their mechanics but were easily exploitable if you knew how to. Junction is the basis of battle and without you have no options in battle than the basic Attack function. By equipping Guardian Forces (GF) they open up the ability to equip Magic, Items, Draw, and additional abilities. GFs offer stat bonuses and status resistance and so on. Back in the day, the system was easily exploitable through using the Draw mechanic.
For the first time ever, enemies scaled with your party as you levelled up. If you got stronger, then the enemies did too and basically dulled an edge you had against them. That is unless you knew how to exploit the Draw system. Draw essentially allows you to gain magic from around the world at certain points, as well as through enemies. In Final Fantasy VIII, magic is used as an inventory item for each character which then can be used to Junction their stats. For example, if you Draw the max amount either Tornado or Ultima and Junction them to Strength, your attack is maxed out and you’ll deal the maximum amount of damage to enemies. If you Draw the maximum of Curaga and Junction to your HP, you’re essentially overpowered. It’s easily exploitable if you spend the time doing the work and there are dozens of ways to make this even more broken.
Boost Mode is Best Mode
And while I love most things about Final Fantasy VIII, I’m equally in love with included boosters with 3X speed boost and battle boost being my favourite things. It’s tough finding the required amount of time to enjoy a lengthy RPG today and this allows me to speed along while enjoying the game. No encounters are also welcome but undermine Diablos’ No Encounter ability. I’m also a bit chuffed we didn’t get the Steam-exclusive boosters on a console, with those offering much more to those who buy it on PC. Those include All Items, All Abilities, GF Max Level, Max Gil, Max Magic, All Limit Breaks, and All Cards.
Speaking of cards, Triple Triad is a card minigame found within and around the world. It’s addicting if you invest your time into it and also is one of the best ways to gain some really high-level items early. Using Quezacotl’s Card and Card Mod abilities specifically allow you to turn cards into items. The cards in Final Fantasy VIII depict monsters, Guardian Forces and characters from around the world. Guardian Force and character cards serve as rare finds and are hard to come by when playing against others. A long sidequest begins at the start of the game and you’ll face off against the Queen of cards in order to earn some of the best cards available in the game.
Final Fantasy VIII is turning 20 years old next week and is for me, is one of the best games Square Soft developed thanks to being so experimental. Granted, the changes weren’t for everyone, but the world and the characters resonate with me to this day. Nobuo Uematsu’s score is also a gem that still has me humming along to Blue Fields and Balamb Garden and all without missing a beat. As it is, this is the definitive version of Final Fantasy VIII and deserves to be played again (or for the first time) if you have any interest in seeing where the series was two decades ago.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
- Excellent visual upgrade
- Stellar soundtrack that has me humming along
- Triple Triad is a fun distraction
- Boosts are welcome addition to Final Fantasy VIII
- Backgrounds and world lack visual upgrade
- PC exclusive boosts should be available everywhere