Retro Review: Final Fantasy 8 (2019 Remaster)

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Screenshot by me. Picture from an in-game cinematic.

I first played Final Fantasy 8 when it released in 1999. I was only ten years old, and the complex JRPG was too much for my tiny brain to comprehend. Although, I did think it quite cool at the time. So, when I wanted a new turn-based RPG to play, I found the 2019 remaster on sale for $10. And after more than twenty years of gaming between then and now, I can tell you this game is every bit as inaccessible as it was when I was a child. The miraculous story telling does not save this convoluted mess from being just too off the mark to recommend.

The remaster, made in collaboration with Dotemu and Access Games, spruces up the visuals, making the graphics more sleek and prepped for HD. When FF8 came out, originally released by Squaresoft, it was top of the line graphics. The art style is interesting enough to entertain the eye most the time. I did not think the game was ugly, even being more than two decades old. There are a few other changes to the remaster. Quality of life upgrades like a 3x speed option, the ability to turn off random encounters and a mode that buffs you in combat.

Even with these buffs I had no interest in completing the final boss. What should be the pinnacle of the game in story and gameplay is actually a towering monument to this game’s failures. The game uses a combat system that adapts to your level, but these adaptations are extremely inconsistent and unhelpful. And what good is this system, if I still have to grind until there is absolutely nothing left to be gained?

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Game clip by me. Calling in a guardian to win the fight.

I used guides often, as finding out what to do next in FF8 can be hazy. Often resorting to walking up to every object in the room from every angle and mashing the ‘interact’ button until something happens. My guide showed me the correct way to complete the final boss, only to find that I don’t have the two very specific spells required to make this fight even remotely possible. There are super questionable mechanics throughout this game. The end boss just has features that boggle the mind as to why anybody would think this was fun.

Guides could only do so much without laying out every little detail of what to do, especially in a game designed to be highly open ended. The difficulty is raised so poorly. For almost the entire game, you can coast by on spamming your guardian spirits, something that wasn’t fun from the jump. And through being relegated to cheese tactics we are supposed to somehow gain not only an understanding, but an appreciation for how important it is to stack your characters as much as humanly possible. The game doesn’t make grinding appealing. It all seems like it is for nothing, until that one fight arrives where you can use that one random spell for max effect.

FF8 follows the exploits of a band of mercenaries, raised from youth for combat. Our heroes get hired out to support a rebellion against evil forces that seem faceless at first, but the situation becomes much more complicated and intricate as the tale proceeds. Squaresoft really flexed the story telling elements of their game building here. It is nearly worth playing just for the story. Nearly. There were a handful of fun fights in this whole game. Two of them didn’t come until the very end.

I’m not sure how this game ends. Which is a true tragedy, because I was really loving the story. The final part of this game just sucks all the joy out of the experience to a point where I feel like the closure of the plot could only be further insult. The first half of the game had some incredible plot dealing with issues like fascism. A beautiful love story unfolds as the game progresses. I suppose I will resort to watching a video of the ending of a game I played well over thirty hours, and I cannot think of anything sadder.

Credit; Final Fantasy 8. Screenshot by me. My favorite battle in the game.

I love turn-based RPGs, and I deeply wanted to love FF8. I had such high hopes that I would come back to this game after twenty years and finally appreciate its glory. This just isn’t how it went down. All the way up to the end boss I was in denial. The more I leaned on the remaster enhancements like 3x speed and combat buffs to get me through boring phases, the more I knew I wasn’t really enjoying myself. These upgrades are the only way I could potentially go back and beat the final boss, but even then it would be such a slog it doesn’t seem remotely worthwhile.

I also bought Final Fantasy 9 on sale, which I dabbled with as a kid as well. I’m again hoping for great things, I won’t trash the follow-up just because the predecessor was ugly and weak. That may be a while down the road however, my next turn-based RPG will be something away from the Final Fantasy series just to keep things fresh. I recently bought both South Park: Stick of Truth and Dragon Quest 11 on sale so I will likely give one of those a shot for a time.

It pains me to say I cannot suggest Final Fantasy 8. While if you like masterfully crafted stories you may find some enjoyment, there are so many flaws in this game and they feel relentless. The difficulty curve, the atrocious quick-time events, the sloppy combat system, there is so much chaining FF8 down and keeping it from being special. I think if they ever give it the full remake treatment like they are Final Fantasy 7, it could definitely breath some new life into the corpse. I just think it unlikely. If you’re looking for a top tier turn-based RPG, go into my Archives and check out the Octopath Traveler review.

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Screenshots by me.

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