If you came here for a completely unbias review of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, I'm afraid you are out of luck. I am too big a fan of Squall and the gang to pretend that I don't have positive feelings going into this.
But you didn't come here for unbiased reviews. Like me, you're probably already a huge fan of the original game, and you want to see if this Remastered version ticks all the boxes you need it to.
The TL;DR is simple; it nearly does, it's so close to being exactly right that it's definitely worth buying and keeping in your collection forever.
- The gameplay is identical to the original
- All the sprites have had the HD treatment.
- The extras like full ATB gauges are actually good.
- It's only $20
- Some weird graphical glitches
- No increase in FPS
- No visual enhancements to anything but moving 3D models
What you'll love about Final Fantasy VIII Remastered
Before we get to what changes you will love, let's start with what changes they didn't make that you'll love. This is not a remake, like the new Final Fantasy VII; it is the exact game you remember playing when you were young. Some people will say this is negative, and that's ok. This game isn't for them; it's for you and me.
We know that a good remaster takes the original gameplay and adds as little as possible, while graphically sprucing everything up. Give us a game that plays as we remember with a fresh lick of paint and that's all we need. That's what Square Enix has done with FFVIII, and I couldn't be more pleased.
This game has every game mechanic, you remember. ATB, limit breaks, the Junction System — it really is the best system, Materia sucks, come at me — even Triple Triad is exactly the way you want it to be.
The additions they have made to the gameplay are thankfully entirely optional and added more to the experience than I first thought. The new additions are the ability to play the game at three times the speed, being able to remove random encounters, and having your ATB and Limit breaks always full.
The characters in Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered come alive in a way you couldn't have imagined 20 years ago.
While I was skeptical at first — I still am about the random encounters one — the ability to speed up the tedious traveling is tremendously helpful, especially when you start continent-hopping in the Ragnarok. Having the ATB full all the time can feel a little like cheating. It does help with the slow grind that exists at the beginning of the game and can be deactivated simply.
I think that is my favorite thing about these additions; they aren't on all the time. With just a press of the thumbsticks, you can activate or deactivate one, two, or all three bonuses with ease. The only one I don't like very much was the random spawn toggle as half the fun of the game is the grind to fully leveling your character. The game feels a little pointless without the random spawns.
The upgrades they have done to the visuals are just OK. I was hoping to see a little more than they did, but we will get to that later. All moving objects in the game have had a makeover, or maybe all the moving objects that you can interact with at least. The backgrounds are still painted on with slightly moving parts.
So all of the monsters, all of the heroes, the vehicles, the buildings — sort of, more later — and even the draw and save points are remodeled in glorious HD. Weirdly though, the game plays in a window with black borders all around it, which shows that they didn't scale up everything. It's why all these screenshots have black borders; you will see them in the game too.
Square Enix did put the icons for the new abilities in that black area though which is great news. There isn't much real estate, so having them there stops them covering up the action.
The game does run smoother though and the characters in Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered come alive in a way you couldn't have imagined 20 years ago. You can see these are people now, not hideous monstrosities that are told they are handsome.
What you'll dislike about Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered
If you look at the screen above, I think you will see one of the main issues with Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered. Some of the new HD models are just terrible. Sure, they are now HD models but if you don't add new textures then what's the point? It's clear that Square Enix had to make some decisions on what they were going to upgrade and what they weren't. This may have been to keep the cost low, I don't know, but there were some very poor choices.
Each crash of a wave on the shore in the first movie is maybe 10 frames, and so it looks like a badly made GIF.
There also doesn't seem to be any work done on anything other than the 3D models I mentioned previously. I have compared the Remaster to the original game, and there appears to be almost no boost in graphical fidelity. It's almost like Square Enix has added a gaussian blur to the backgrounds, fixed the color dithering, and called it good.
It's a little disappointing when you are playing on PlayStation Pro, and the backgrounds still look so poor. The cutscenes didn't even get a sprucing up. In 1999, the cutscenes for Final Fantasy VIII were beyond anything that was out at the time, and I was drooling in anticipation — especially after seeing the work they put into the Final Fantasy VII Remake — but nothing. It is almost entirely the same — just a little sharper.
The last graphical issue may be a complicated process to fix, but something I feel needed to happen. The cutscenes and the moving backgrounds play at what seems like a tiny frame-per-second. Each crash of a wave on the shore in the first movie is maybe 10 frames, and so it looks like a poorly made GIF.
The same goes for the backgrounds. Pay close attention to the curtains in Squall's room in the scene above. They have four, maybe five positions. I would have liked to see them interpolate or add frames to these effects, giving us a smoother, more modern feel to this remaster.
Should you buy Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered? Oh, yes
Those graphical issues aside I am enjoying every second I am spending in this game. Of course, I didn't finish the game before I reviewed it, I take no shortcuts when playing what I consider the best of the Final Fantasy franchise. I still have at least 200 more hours to go before the end, but every minute is as good as I remember it.
Do I wish the game had got a full graphic overhaul like Final Fantasy VII? Sure I do, but if it did Square Enix would have changed the entire game along with it. That is not something I wanted to see.
This is the game I love, on a console I love, and every happy day I've spent playing Final Fantasy VIII comes back to visit me when I play the Remaster.
You should pick it up and play again. It's $20 for 200+ hours of nostalgic glory, and that is a deal in anyone's books.
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