Do we think Final Fantasy VIII is a bad game? Not at all. Do we think it's one of the best Final Fantasy games? Not quite, but even now, a whopping 20 years after its initial release on the original PlayStation, there's a unique kind of magic to Final Fantasy VIII. The world, the characters, and the story create an experience that's never really been replicated. And with the release of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered on PlayStation 4, there's never been a better time to see what all the fuss is about.
Following up on the most successful Japanese role-playing game of all time was never going to be easy. Final Fantasy VII had changed the gaming landscape forever when it launched in 1997, and two years later, its successor ultimately failed to have a similar impact. Final Fantasy VIII garnered a lot of praise at the time, but its legacy is muddied -- it's largely remembered as one of Final Fantasy's most divisive entries.
And to be fair, it's easy to see why. SquareSoft certainly didn't rest on its laurels after hitting the jackpot with Final Fantasy VII -- it had the courage to shake things up considerably. Both in terms of storytelling and gameplay, Final Fantasy VIII makes a lot of unique choices, and the result is a thoroughly memorable but somewhat flawed adventure.
You play as Squall, a stylish teen who's training to be a mercenary. He's an aloof and unsociable protagonist, but his reluctance to interact with just about anyone or anything makes for an interesting dynamic, especially when it comes to dealing with other characters. Final Fantasy VIII's cast isn't the best that the series has seen, but they're strong enough to carry the narrative, and there are some great character moments scattered throughout the story.
The plot itself is... Well, it's not easy to summarise. Everything starts out surprisingly grounded as you guide Squall to his goal of becoming an elite mercenary. The first few hours introduce you to the concept of the Garden, which is essentially an academy for budding soldiers. Back in 1999, this was a pretty unique setting -- it was a slice of school life long before later Persona games took the concept and ran with it. In short, it's a fantastic opening act.
Once Squall's free of the Garden and he's busy fulfilling his first contract as a mercenary, the story slowly starts to branch out into weird (and sometimes wonderful) territory. It's not until about halfway through the game that the plot loses its masterful pacing, and from that point, events become a little less engaging. By the end, Final Fantasy VIII is basically a love story with some mental apocalypse happening in the background. There are interesting themes and concepts at play here -- and there is an enjoyable madness to it all -- but the momentum of the title's first half is long gone.
Just like the story, the actual gameplay is good -- great at times -- but it's not without its flaws. Final Fantasy's trademark Active Time Battle system returns, but it's connected to an ambitious, almost free-form means of character development. You see, in Final Fantasy VIII, character levels don't really matter that much. In order to properly beef up your party, you need to make proper use of the Junction system -- arguably the most polarising gameplay mechanic in the history of the franchise.
As far as we're concerned, the Junction system is mostly a good thing, but it's not perfect. On the plus side, it allows for a great degree of freedom. You begin by assigning a Guardian Force -- or GF -- to a character. Essentially summoned monsters that can be equipped, each GF has its own array of skills, and there are a handful of GFs to find over the course of the game. You then take your array of typical Final Fantasy magic -- cure, fire, blizzard, thunder, etc. -- and equip it to boost your stats. The stats that you can boost are determined by the GF that you've assigned.
Okay, so it sounds a bit complex, but it's easy enough to wrap your head around once you've figured out the basics. The beauty of the Junction system is that it rewards clever thinking. With the right magic at your disposal, you can create some truly overpowered character builds, but even without optimising your party, there's still a lot of fun to be had in playing around with the system's many, many options.
So what's wrong with it? Well, it's obtaining the all-important magic that's the problem. The simplest way to stock up on spells is to literally stock it from enemies. There are no magic points -- or MP -- in Final Fantasy VIII. Instead, you just have a set amount of spells, up to 100 of each. Use them and they're gone, until you find more. By selecting the 'draw' command in battle, you collect magic from your foes, and it's every bit as boring as it sounds. Stocking magic takes a turn, and you get a handful of spells for your trouble. But here's the kicker: the more spells you have stocked, the more they boost your stats when equipped.
And so you end up spending minutes at a time drawing magic from your opponents, over and over again so that you can power up your party. At its worst, it's a mind-numbing process that feels like a complete misstep. Fortunately, as you progress through the game, there are more efficient ways to stock magic, including the ability to break items down into heaps of specific spells. It doesn't excuse the tedium, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Junction system gives Final Fantasy VIII an often odd sense of progression, but it can be hugely rewarding if you're willing to work with it. And thankfully, here in 2019, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered does take steps to mitigate the aforementioned grind. At the press of a button, you can play the game at three times the speed, which obviously helps cut down those long magic stocking sessions.
The remaster's other cheats are also worthy of note. With a click of R3, you can make your party invincible in combat, which is ideal for those who have played through the game countless times before, or if you're new to Final Fantasy VIII and just want to see the story through. What's more, hitting L3 and R3 together disables random encounters.
There are three handy modifiers on offer, then, but what about the remastered visuals? The good news is that the updated character models look lovely -- but their jump in quality creates a dodgy disconnect between them and the pre-rendered environment backgrounds, which are now incredibly blurry. Seriously, if you're not familiar with Final Fantasy VIII, you might have trouble navigating some of these locations purely because of how pixelated they are.
But hey, at least the music holds up. Another stone-cold masterpiece from composer Nobuo Uematsu and company, Final Fantasy VIII's soundtrack is as memorable as they come.
It's easy to see why Final Fantasy VIII is considered one of the series' most divisive entries, but its story and gameplay systems remain unique 20 years after its original release. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered has its flaws -- the draw system is still a total pain in the arse -- but there's a magic and atmosphere to Squall's often mental adventure that's incredibly endearing. This is a PlayStation classic given a new lease of life, and it's still way more interesting than the majority of Japanese RPGs hitting our consoles today.
Never played this one, but as a big FF fan, I'll definitely check this out.
You’re on the world map within 10 minutes, crazy stuff!
I am digging the speed up mechanic for drawing though.
Always been a favorite game of mine. I like how customizable it feels. In fact, this was one of the first games that showed me how deep gameplay can be.
Great review Rob. I have an itch to play this again.
Out of interest, when you junction magic, does the amount you have in stock make a difference to the stat buff? I.e does 99 magic junctions to “HP up” give a better health increase than 98..or 1?
I never fully grasped this system back in 1999 to be honest. Given my intelligence only peaked about 5 years ago, I’m hoping to be able to get my head around it this time.
I see what you did there.
@Enuo to be honest, released today as it is without nostalgia, the game is probably a 6-7 and lower than that if you really want to dock points for the graphics, which you’d be entitled to do when comparing to the likes of God of War. I mean, imagine if a new IP launched with the graphics of this... it’d be a dead on arrival.
It’s a very tough game to score. As ever, the smart thing to do is ignore the numbering all together...
@kyleforrester87 Yeah, at specific amounts, more magic = bigger stat gain. There's bound to be a spreadsheet somewhere on the internet.
Final Fantasy VIII has an unbelievably broken and badly designed battle system, but I still really like it. Top 5 in the series for me. Love the world and the characters and the story.
@ShogunRok thanks, I figured it might not be as direct as “99 is better than 98”, etc. I assume it is in factors of tens or something. I’ll get googling, cheers.
@johncalmc I agree. Gameplay-wise it can be all over the place, but there's loads of fun to be had in deliberately breaking things.
It was destroyed when my physical preorder was cancelled wont buy it again. Wont go for a downgrade to digital when i own the original. You suck Square Enix its just baffling how they can release physical. When even the smallest indie developer can. 😔👎
@kyleforrester87 "I mean, imagine if a new IP launched with the graphics of this... it’d be a dead on arrival."
Shovel Knight, Celeste that "Miami" game, all have much worse graphics than this and are doing fine at around the same price point.
As for the draw magic system - I played this twice when it released 20 years ago back-to-back. I only realized you had to keep drawing about 80% through as I was having a difficult time beating what I thought were simple enemies. The 2nd time I spammed draw every time I came across a new spell to max it out at 99. It made a big difference. Probably not noticeable point by point but playing it the first time at 1 and the 2nd time at 99 was very different.
But drawing still sucks and I'm glad it never returned.
@ShogunRok You put a pic of Triad in the review but didn't mention it in the review, it's my all time favorite side minigame.
The ending credits video is still also my all time favorite. I've seen a couple of games try to mimic it, like Triad, but it's still the best. Any chance they entirely redid that in HD so it looks modern? Blew me away 20 years ago, probably look like garbage now.
I don't like the characters, the story is weird and it's too easy...
But like you say, there's some kind of magic about FFVIII.
@rjejr The CG scenes haven't held up especially well, but they don't look terrible. Just blurred and old.
Got it on pc can't see how much difference this would be over that???? Still it's a good game even if the battle draw system is a little confusing. If you set a fire magic to a junction of say HP it goes up bit stays up as long as you don't use that magic at all because if you do it drops. Plus draw made battles long sometimes because you would see new magic and you wanted it for all 3 players. Then you stayed in that area as you pass what you drawed to your others and then battle again to rinse and repeat
It's more of a 10 but okay.
@rjejr I hear what your saying, but I don’t entirely agree. Shovel Knight has good pixel art, but FF8 doesn’t have good pre-rendered backgrounds or 3D environments on the worldmap or in battles. The graphics are serviceable, and I quite like them, but they are what I would have to call “poor” in context.
Lot better than the dreadful review on your sister site, in which the reviewer posted major spolers, granted its an old game but it's very unprofessional as their are those who haven't played it or it's been a long time. Also they said the bonkers story a negative, if that's a negative most jrpgs should be marked down!
Bought it today for the switch. Enjoying as much as the first time, still my favourite
Main reason for interest in this for me is to play as my favorite Blue Mage
@rjejr Hollow Knight has worse graphics??? That game’s hand-drawn and looks beautiful. 2D is not suddenly worse looking than 3D as Super Mario World clearly looks nicer than WWF No Mercy. I’d happily say that Final Fantasy VI looked better than VII, VIII and IX today. I think it’s a mindset from the late 90s that polygons were the cutting edge so looked ‘better’ when they’ve aged worse.
GOTY 2019!!! Im coming for you Squall, now get your profile off the Pushsquare dating boards!
Love this game and its characters, and was always surprised about how much hate it has had in recent years. Esp with the stupid 'emo' tag attributed to Squall. It will be interesting to see if the rerelease improves it's reputation. That said I was never a fan of junctioning, and the wrapping up of the plot was messy, but as a whole the game was great. I have next week off work to play it and can't wait.
Give it time, who knows, they might release a physical collection of the 3 PSX games after the first part of the FFVII remake, like they did with the Nintendo games. I'd definitely buy them all again as would many others I'd guess.
@kyleforrester87 I remember that it does... When I first played it, given I was only 10 or so, I realised (with cheat codes!) that having 100 fire spells will boost you hp (or attack, def, whatever) higher than having, say, 97. But then, every time you use a fire spell, your total hp will drop incrementally, (or atk value, def, etc.). Having cheats, I basically put the best spells (ultima, comet...) on my attack and health modifiers, but for a character who wouldn't typically use magic, to give a permanent buff, whereas my magic users would be using the best spells (firaga, blizzaga) but would have 2nd tier spells equipped, so, while not the biggest boost, they would remain constant values, because, as elicited in the article... Drawing all the time was a pain in the arse.
@J2theEzzo yeah, I’ve just had 100 cures junctioned to HP up. As I used the cures to heal, the max HP dropped one spell at a time.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, though. Honestly the 3x speed makes drawing so much more tolerable.
@kyleforrester87 yeah, I imagine that would definitely come as a blessing! I revisited a lot of the old ff games on my ps3 when I found out it was backwards compatible (so glad I kept hard copies of all my best games!) and I feel like id enjoy 8 more, now being somewhat more 'mature', but it was really 9 (and 10, thereafter) that held a place for me in terms of memories. But I'd really like it if they all got the ff7 treatment and were remade, rather than just remastered.
@J2theEzzo yes 9 is amazing... I can say I wasn’t too impressed with the HD version of that though. But I am enjoying 8 a lot more than I did when I was younger, so far anyway. Just got to Timber. I’d say.. give it a go!
Hard act to follow with 7 but i enjoyed it quite a bit. I did like how they encouraged the long summon animations because you could "max" the spells power. And breaking the junction system was fun. Epic intro as well. The latter half of the game is just not that great though. And the scene in space....awful- i get it- but execution wise....awful lol. The "remaster" does make it a hell of a lot easier on the eyez just like FF7. Cant wait!!
@themcnoisy i just love that profile gif.
I still can’t believe they didn’t make a max draw cheat where it does it in one take. That would have been the perfect pacing solution these days.
@ztpayne7 That would have been a brilliant idea.
This was the last Final Fantasy I played after the disaster that was FF 7 and then this game I never wanted to touch a FF game again.
@Nyne11Tyme Thanks mate.
@Tasuki I know what you mean. After playing FF8 the pinnacle of the series every other game seemed lesser somehow.
Great game. I cant say it enough. Played it back in '99 and still sticks with me today. Soundtrack is awsome. One of the best.
@ztpayne7 I honestly think a "Draw 8x/10x" would have been fine. Takes 2 draws to max out most anything with ultima and stuff maybe taking a few more.
Base game draw should have been 5x as strong anyways.
I've never played this one but I'll try it when it's on sale sometime. I'm not really into FF as much as I used to be.
@Tasuki all the PS1 FF games are WAY better than DQ11
I've been playing Triple Triad for the first hour. Haven't left the Garden yet... There's an RPG buried somewhere in this card game.
@kyleforrester87 almost anything* > pixel art 😎
*I can't play most N64 games, like being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.
@nessisonett OK, I screwed up with Hollow Knight, I'm going to change it to Celeste, about as popular.
@ShogunRok Old and blurry, is that an insult? 😉
Finally got my email back after 2 full days, stupid internet service provider was doing "maintenance" and the entire company was basically shut down. (I was having PSN PTSD) Stupid cable monopolies. 😝
I have tried to get through 8 about 4 times think I managed to get to the end of the second disk one time. the junctioning stuff is what killed it for me when I first played it. The other problem I had was i would always get side tracked by Triple triad to me that was the best part of the game. May pick it up in a sale does anyone know if the cheats disable trophies? I know they didn't in the 7 remaster.
@bindiana Nope, cheats don't disable Trophies.
If this wasn't called final fantasy it would have scored lower.
The junction system is a mess, squall is a whiny bstrd, the plot is so full of holes it is silly and level adjusting monsters are stupid.
I hate this game with a passion.
@ShogunRok That's good will pick it up at some point and will try to finally finish it.
I just bought this game the other day and when I reached Timber heading to the tv station, as I'm climbing the steps when Selphie says: "Hey an outdoor tv" the game crashed and froze.
Any ideas how to resolve this?
Thanks and Happy New Year all!
Only finished it once in PS1, many years ago. I was wanting to go again, and just gor it last week. Very memorable, having a good time. I was itching to play a turn based RPG also.
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