Square Enix has been trying their best to bring their huge classic games library to modern platforms. They are reviving a lot of their classic IPs either with a remake or a remaster. Final Fantasy as a series doesn’t need an introduction since it is continuing to get new games even now. Final Fantasy XV was a great game but it took a large step to take the series in a new direction, one that is different from the classic ATB-based combat system present in the earlier games in the series.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered uses the classic ATB battle system and was released during the golden age of JRPGs on PS1. It was a great time for Square Enix (Squaresoft) as they were just coming hot of the heels of the success of Final Fantasy VII, which is now getting a full remake. It was directed by Yoshinori Kitase, who now mainly works as a producer for the modern Final Fantasy games. It is almost sublime now to see the opening credits where every name listed is widely recognizable by any ardent fan of the series.
Final Fantasy VIII is one of the divisive games in the series. It is not as fondly remembered as some of the other classics like Final Fantasy VI or VII. Despite this, there are still a lot of fans that have asked for a modern port of this classic JRPG and Square Enix finally took the time to bring it now, but the effort that they have made has its own set of pros and cons. It doesn’t help that they had reportedly lost the source code of the original game.
First, we need to talk about the improvements made here. One of the most obvious improvements for this remaster is the character models. This is pretty clear when viewing the original version next to the updated remaster. Every major character has been upgraded to a model that seems to be more in line with their concept artwork. It is excellent to see this all in motion but the same can’t be said for most of the new changes featured in the remaster.
The effort to remaster Final Fantasy VIII would be not a small feat but the work done here is also rather disappointing. While character models have been given a facelift, the backgrounds and world map are pixelated. They look bad and are heavily filtered giving them an appearance that can feel worse than the original. This also applies to some characters at the beginning of the game which the developers might have forgotten to upgrade to their modern counterparts.
The quality of the remaster is all over the place and feels inconsistent in execution. If the character models were upgraded, then the artwork that is mostly used for background or world map could be given a facelift as well. After all, there are various technologies available to achieve this task as shown by the hard work and dedication of some of the fans who create mods to improve classic games. Sadly, this is not the case so be ready to look at a lot of blurry and pixelated backgrounds.
Final Fantasy VIII used a Junction system and replaced the traditional level-up experience with it. The combat still works with an active-time battle setup but the difficulty scales with your party’s level in addition to the enemies. This method has its pros and cons but considering how Square Enix hasn’t used it again in a mainline game, perhaps the reaction around it was a little too negative.
The remaster adds some important quality-of-life improvements to the game that should help improve the battle experience. You can toggle the random battle encounters with a button shortcut. You can also speed up the game up to 3x the original and enable boosters that can assist in battles. This makes it easier to replay through the game while skipping most of the jank. The game never forces you to use these shortcuts but I can’t imagine playing without the 3x speed boost especially during combat.
Another issue that I had with the remaster was with its aspect ratio. The game is stuck in a 4:3 aspect ratio so there is no stretched output but it adds huge black bars. Almost all of the major cinematics are not upgraded to high-definition level and it feels like this was more of a port of the PC version with new improvements added on top of it. This is easy to confirm with the lack of proper analog movement so you can also stumble around when trying to talk with various NPCs on the map. What this means is that you can only run in eight directions instead of the full analog movement featured in the original version.
Despite the issues, this remaster is the only way to experience this classic Final Fantasy on the current generation systems. If you are on the fence, the price point should make it easier since it is being sold for $19.99. That said, I do hope some of the minor problems are fixed with an update in the future but it is too early to say anything definitive for it.