Game Corner: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered (Xbox One)

GameCorner
FF8RLogo

Released: September 2019
Originally Released: February 1999
Developer: Square Enix
Original Developer: Square
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4. PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita

The Background:
So, everyone knows about Final Fantasy VII (Square, 1997); it’s one of the definitive role-playing games (RPGs) and one of, if not the, most popular titles in he Final Fantasy series, selling over twelve million copies worldwide and making its way onto many “top ten” lists over the years. But what about the inevitable sequel? Where does Final Fantasy VIII land in the grand scheme of things? Developed during the localisation of its predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII marked the first time that the Japanese and American teams collaborated on a Final Fantasy title. Like pretty much every single numbered Final Fantasy title, Final Fantasy VIII wasn’t a sequel to Final Fantasy VII but, rather, an entirely new title, set in a new world, with new characters and events taking place, which may have been jarring for those whose only experience with the franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

FF8RPS1
The Xbox One remaster brings new life to this under-rated gem.

I first played Final Fantasy VIII on the PlayStation 3, immediately after finishing Final Fantasy VII on the same system, and found it to be a dramatic step up in terms of graphics, gameplay mechanics, and features. Where Final Fantasy VII felt like Square where just dipping their toes into the world of 3D and polygonal graphics, Final Fantasy VIII featured far more detailed character models, environments, and graphics overall, resembling titles like Resident Evil 2 (Capcom, 19998) and Parasite Eve (Square, 1999). It also helps that I really like the design and characterisation of the game’s protagonist, the stoic loner Squall Leonhart, and enjoy the game’s more science-fiction-inspired aesthetic. Yet, Final Fantasy VIII is often the subject of criticism, whether due to the dramatic visual and gameplay alterations I takes or simply because of how influential Final Fantasy VII was, but is this a fair assessment of the game or is there more on offer in this under-rated classic?

The Plot:
The main plot of Final Fantasy VIII revolves around Squall, who has recently graduated from the Balamb Garden military training program and has become a member of SeeD, the elite mercenaries of this world. When the time-travelling sorceress Ultimecia attempts to possess the gorgeous Rinoa Heartilly and manipulates the characters and events in her quest to “compress time” so that she can become an immortal Goddess, Squall is forced to team up with his fellow SeeD graduates and to reconcile his fractured memories and feelings for Rinoa, all while butting heads with his rival, Seifer Almasy.

Gameplay:
Essentially, Final Fantasy VIII plays very similar to its predecessor and other Final Fantasy titles from this time, being a turn-based RPG with a large overworld populated by innumerable non-playable characters (NPCs) and littered with a varied of monsters to battle to gain experience points (EXP). Players take on the role of Squall, who one of only two party members you can rename this time around, and journey across the world map battling enemies, recruiting Guardian Forces (GFs) to his cause, and engaging in a number of side quests and mini games as he goes.

FF8RAttack
Make your choice quickly or you’ll take damage.

When you’re not in one of the game’s towns, many of which incorporate a lot of futuristic technology, you’re travelling across the world map and every other step puts you at risk of being sucked into a random battle encounter. Like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII uses an Active-Time Battle (ATB) system that, unless switched off in the menu, means you’ll take damage from your foes while you select your move. If you choose to attack, you’ll run forwards and deliver a blow, whittling your opponents health points (HP) down until they are defeated and earning you some EXP, items, and Gil (the in-game currency).

FF8RDraw
Draw magic from enemies and either stock it for later or cast it right away.

One of the most controversial aspects of Final Fantasy VIII is the way it complex way it handles magic and Summons; the only way to learn new magic and to restore your magic points (MP) outside of resting at an inn or with items is to use the games “Draw” system. Selecting “Draw” (or visiting a “Draw” point) will have your character literally draw magic and MP from their foe and you’ll be given the choice to either cast that magic or stock it for later use. This effectively means that you can never run out of MP as you can keep sucking it out of your enemies, meaning that you’re never running around looking for an inn or shop to buy Ethers and Elixirs to restore your MP. Personally, I love this system because it eliminates this stress; you can have different characters “Draw” and specialise in different magic, effectively allowing you to customise your party as you see fit.

FF8RJunction
Use the “Junction” mechanic to increase your stats and abilities in battle.

Final Fantasy VIII calls its Summons “Guardian Forces” (or “GFs”); you can use “Draw” to acquire new GFs but, for the most part, you’ll have to battle and defeat GFs in order to recruit them and Squall’s first mission is to do just that with Final Fantasy mainstay, Ifrit. Once you have a GF, you have to “Junction” it to a character; this allows you to summon the GF in battle to deal powerful attacks, buff your character’s stats, and gives you access to other magic and benefits. Effectively, this system is very similar to the Materia system used in Final Fantasy VII; each GF allows you to increase your character’s stats and inflict or resist certain status effects and they even level-up, unlocking new attacks, attributes, and increasing in power, just like Materia. This is pretty much a mandatory mechanic in Final Fantasy VIII since can’t even use your magic or even items without Junctioning a GF as these are commands you can only assign once a GF has been Junctioned to a character. Furthermore, if you want to gain buffs to your stats (like increased HP, strength, speed, or whatever), you need to win battles to earn AP so that your GFs can learn these techniques; similarly, if you want to gain HP whilst walking, reduce (or eliminate) random battles, or even haggle with the game’s various shops to receive a discount, you’ll need that AP. Some of these techniques take less AP than others but, to access the best abilities, you’ll need to earn a lot of AP and, once you have them, you’ll be switching on the fly between different commands depending on what you’re doing.

FF8RGFAP
You can’t even use items or magic without a GF Junctioned to your party.

Now, don’t get me wrong, all these gameplay mechanics are very confusing; it doesn’t help that, for the first hour or so of the game, you’re constantly lectured about each new mechanic, how to use it, what it means, and the best way to get the most out of the “Junction” system. In comparison, it seemed like information abut Materia and levelling up and Summons was spread out much more effectively in Final Fantasy VII but, despite that, it’s not that difficult to wrap your head around the “Junction” system…as long as you think of it as being an altered form of Materia and the “Draw” mechanic means you never have to worry about running out of MP, so don’t stress over nothing.

FF8RLimitBreak
Unleash your Limit Break to deal massive damage.

The “Limit Break” system returns, albeit in a slightly altered form; rather than triggering as your party takes damage and a meter builds up, you potentially gain access to your Limit Break when your character’s health drops low enough, making it more of a last-ditch desperation attack. Whereas the Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VII were largely automatic, here you can choose to interact with the Limit Breaks if you wish; for example, pressing R1 at the right time as Squall attacks with his “Renzokuken” Limit Break delivers additional damage and you’ll be required to press different button combinations to perform different attacks when performing Zell Dincht’s “Duel” Limit Break. You can perform additional, more powerful blows and flourishes when performing a Limit Break by equipping different weapons, reading documents, or acquiring certain items. Interestingly, Final Fantasy VIII features a unique twist on the random battle formula in that the enemies you encounter dynamically increase in strength and difficulty as your party levels-up. in addition, you’ll also level-up every time you time you acquire 1000 EXP points, meaning that you can, effectively become massively overpowered in the early portions of the game with very little effort at all. I prefer to play the game as I play every Final Fantasy and RPG, however, progressing the plot and grinding levels in-between towns and around new areas, meaning I never experienced any advantages or issues with this system.

FF8RMiniGames
A few awkward, button-mashing mini games appear during the course of the game’s story.

You can use magic or items to heal your characters or remove status effects; you also have to heal your GFs as they can also take damage from enemies. Once again, you can only save on the overworld or at specific save points; if you die, you get a game over and have to reload your last save file, so it’s recommended that you save often and heal up at inns whenever you can. You’ll also be tasked with completing a series of awkward mini games; I don’t know what it is about the 3D Final Fantasy titles and having these odd button-mashing sequences shoe-horned in but they can be pretty annoying simply because of how vague the game is about how you’re actually supposed to complete these mini games.

FF8RCraft
Use the items and gear you earn from battles to remodel and strengthen your weapons.

Rather than purchasing new weapons, Final Fantasy VIII features a crafting system, of sorts; as you explore the world, you’ll find copies of Weapons Monthly magazine, which contains blueprints that detail the items and gear you’ll need to craft stronger weapons for each character. In order to obtain each character’s most powerful weapon, you’ll need to travel all over the world battling specific monsters and enemies to acquire these items; you can use your GFs abilities to steal these items or increase the odds of them appearing and, once you have them, you can visit a weapon shop to get your upgrade. It’s worth noting, however, that you don’t actually need to read the Weapons Monthly magazines to acquire these upgrades and, with the right amount of patience and a lot of grinding, you can actually acquire Squall’s ultimate weapon, the Lion Heart, on the game’s first disc.

FF8RSquallRinoa
Squall and Rinoa’s relationship forms the core of the game’s story.

As in every Final Fantasy game, narrative and characterisation are the driving force of the game’s complex story. While every main character has an arc of some kind and their own unique characteristics, at its core, Final Fantasy VIII is a love story first and foremost and a battle against a malignant time-travelling sorceress second and it is therefore Squall who undergoes to most dramatic changes as the plot unfolds. Beginning as a stoic loner, he learns to not only emote and open himself up more, but the bulk of the game’s main theme is centred around his growing affection for Rinoa and his acceptance of his love for her and the friendships he has formed.

FF8RPartyChoices
I struggled to settle on a party I was completely happy with.

Unfortunately, though, the other playable characters don’t get quite the same focus; none of them have sub-plots or explicit character arcs and, thanks to the game’s emphasis on more realistic character models, the six main playable characters lack a lot of the same aesthetic appeal as those seen in Final Fantasy VII; Squall has a bad-ass look and Zell resembles an anime character but, even though characters like Quistis Trepe have recognisable traits (she struggles with her failure as a teacher), they don’t make an impact in the same way as the likes of Barret Wallace or Vincent Valentine and I struggled to settle on my preferred team. I ended up going with Squall, Irvine, and Rinoa but there were aspects about this line-up that continued to irk me; Irvine’s Limit Break, for example, requires you to buy or craft ammo and Rinoa’s “Angel Wing” Limit Break is useful but only if your swap around her magic and can deal with losing control of her once you select it.

FF8RCharacters
The characters have interesting traits but some are more visually interesting than others.

Final Fantasy VIII expands upon its world, characters, and narrative by including an entire sub-plot with three additional, playable characters. At various points throughout the game, your party will mysteriously fall asleep and assume to roles of Laguna Loire, Kiros Seagill, and Ward Zabac. These older, more seasoned characters are a battle-tested team and contrast with Squall and his relatively young and untested group. Through their side story, which takes place about seventeen years in the past, we learn about a lot of the events that factor into Squall’s characterisation and the way this world works. The SeeDs are mercenaries trained to perform a wide variety of jobs but, first and foremost, their goal is to assassinate sorceresses before they can become too powerful; this is directly related to the main plot of the game, as the dark sorceress Ultimecia projects her consciousness and manipulates events….completely unaware that she is actually creating her own undoing.

FF8RLaguna
Laguna’s side story fleshes out the game’s world and lore.

Laguna’s side plot serves to further drive the game’s main themes of love and loss; though initially dismissive of Laguna for his foibles and the concept of friendship and relying on others, Squall comes to realise that he is part of a team and a family and progresses from only expressing himself trough his inner monologue to actually opening up to his friends and team mates. Unlike Final Fantasy VII, which gave each of its characters a clear arc and developed them as the story progressed, Final Fantasy VIII pretty much hedges all of its bets on you relating to, and growing to love, Squall, Rinoa, and their relationship and, if you don’t really connect with these characters or their love story, you might struggle to connect with Final Fantasy VIII. Additionally, Final Fantasy VIII is a very complex experience, even for a Final Fantasy title; it’s a slow, atmospheric experience; you can’t skip the cutscenes but, thankfully, you can fast travel in the towns and around the map this time.

FF8RMap
Final Fantasy VIII‘s map is much better and the game has a fast travel system in place.

Luckily, though, the game’s map is a dramatic improvement on Final Fantasy VII’s; areas are actually named and highlighted, making it much easier to know where you have to go…assuming that you paid attention to the dialogue boxes and cutscenes. If you didn’t, you’ll probably have to consult a guide or risk wandering around in circles desperately trying to figure out who to talk to or where to go. As always, I recommend consulting a guide if you need to, over-levelling your party, saving as often as possible, and doing everything you can to simplify the game’s complex mechanics as best you can. It seems daunting but it is possible and, once you have your party set up as you like, all you have to worry about it surviving battles and bosses rather than trying to wrap your head around the intricacies of the “Junction” system.

Graphics and Sound:
There’s no denying that Final Fantasy VIII is a massive step up on it predecessor both in terms of its in-game graphics and cutscenes; rather than replicating Final Fantasy VII’s chibi, anime-style aesthetic, Final Fantasy VIII renders its characters as realistically as possible and the character models remain on model instead of there being several wildly different character models across the overworld, battle screens, and cutscenes.

FF8RGraphics
In-game cutscenes, models, and backgrounds are vastly improved.

This means that Final Fantasy VIII more closely resembles other 3D, polygonal videogames of the time, like the two Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996) sequels rather than a mish-mash of pre-redendered backgrounds and chubby 3D polygons. While I actually really liked Final Fantasy VII’s artistic style and blend of anime cute and bio-organic sci-fi, and it is annoying that Squall pulls his gunblade out of thin air in cutscenes, Final Fantasy VIII is a clear graphical improvement over its predecessor in every way. You’ll travel to many diverse environments, from caves to towns to ornately-decorated castles and sprawling towns, all of which are an impressive blend of natural landscape, a marriage of steampunk and 1950s technology and aesthetics, and elaborate, futuristic sci-fit. Even the battle screen is cleaner, forgoing the traditional battle dialogue box and incorporating more dynamic camera angles and detailed backgrounds and the Xbox One remaster only emphasises this further by applying a crisp, fresh coat of paint to the original.

FF8RGraphics2
CG cutscenes have dramatically increased in number and quality.

Final Fantasy VIII also features a lot more CG cutscenes and, honestly, every one of these is leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor; the action and camera and character movements is slick and fluid and, while they’re still obviously not on par with today’s graphics and cutscenes, they’re far beyond the limited and stilted cutscenes seen in Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VIII also improves on the placement and use of dialogue boxes for in-game cutscenes; dialogue boxes are now much smaller and clearer and appear in various places around the screen like speech bubbles rather and being a large box that obstructs a sizeable portion of the screen. Final Fantasy VII also includes more of long-time Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu’s greatest work; while none of the game’s tracks are as iconic as “One-Wing Angel”, Final Fantasy VIII still features some fantastic tracks such as “The Man with the Machine Gun”, “The Extreme”, and the awesome “Maybe I’m A Lion”. The game forgoes traditional character themes in favour of its influential main theme ballad, “Eyes On Me”, a pop song performed by Chinese singer Faye Wong that perfectly encapsulates the game’s main themes of love and loss; “Eyes On Me” was so influential that it not only sold over 400,000 copies but it was also the first piece of videogame music to ever win “Song of the Year” at the Japan Gold Disc Awards.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you explore the world of Final Fantasy VIII and resolve Squall’s complex social issues, you’ll take part in a whole bunch of random battles against enemies of all shapes and sizes. Your party will often butt heads with the military force of Galbadia, who are under the influence of Ultimecia’s magic; these battles are generally pretty easy, even when the Galbadian’s attack with magic or in larger groups, and only really become a challenge once you come up against their mechs and robots.

FF8RMonsters
Final Fantasy VIII‘s monsters come from the Moon!

Final Fantasy VIII is, of course, absolutely infested with monsters. These range from the dinosaur-like T-Rexaur (one of the most difficult enemies you’ll battle against in the game’s early moments), gigantic dragons, demonic shadows, poison-spewing, man-eating plants, monstrous turtles, weird-ass, floaty face…things, and even these horrific alien creatures who have overrun the game’s Airship and will continually regenerate if you don’t destroy them in coloured pairs. The majority of these monsters fall to the planet in a constant cycle based on the correct alignment of the Moon and even originate from the surface of the Moon; later in the game, you get to see this in motion which, as far as I know, is the first time a Final Fantasy game directly explained where all these weird and wacky monsters actually come from.

FF8RGFBosses
GFs act as the majority of the game’s boss encounters.

It took me a little while to realise that Final Fantasy VIII seems to be lacking in boss battles; most of the time, you’ll fight against a GF as a boss (or mini boss), which doesn’t really feel like a boss battle as it’s more like proving you’re worthy enough to use the GFs power. By that logic, Ifrit acts as the game’s first boss and, as you progress, you’ll come across other GFs in various areas; most of the time, like with Cerberus, you can choose not to engage with these GFs but, if you do, you’ll have to go out of your way to “Draw” the GF from a later, more challenging boss in Ultimecia’s Castle.

FF8RSFRBosses
You’ll battle Seifer, Fujin, and Rajin a few times during the game’s story.

When you’re not fighting GFs, you’ll battle against Galbadia’s finest giant robots; the first one you face, the spider-like X-ATM092, can’t actually be defeated and, instead, must be damaged enough so you can make your escape and then either avoided or disabled long enough for you to run. Other times, you’ll butt heads with the main character’s rivals, Seifer and his buddies, Fujin and Raijin. Although Seifer eventually upgrades to becoming a penultimate mini boss as he is manipulated to act as Ultimecia’s “Knight”, you never battle all three at once, which is a bit of a missed opportunity but, essentially, they’re very similar to the battles against the Turks from Final Fantasy VII.

FF8RCastleBosses
Ultimecia’s Castle is full of powerful superbosses.

Once you reach Ultimecia’s Castle, you’ll be stripped of your abilities and forced to take on the enemies within without your GFs and magic…that is until you defeat one of her eight superbosses. Fittingly, these creatures represent the game’s toughest challenge yet (although the Ruby Dragon can be a pain in the ass thanks to its high HP and “Breath” attack) but, by this point, you should be well levelled-up and full at ease with the game’s various mechanics and controls. Nevertheless, each of these superbosses has a unique design, character traits, and requires specific strategies; Sphinxaur takes on a second form after enough damage is done, the Red Giant can absorb a huge amount of punishment (and spouts a crazed response every time he’s attacked), and Trauma can only be spawned after solving a puzzle and is protected by smaller machines, for example.

FF8RCastleSuperbosses
Tiamat and Omega Weapon offer perhaps the game’s greatest challenge.

Easily the most challenging bosses in Ultimecia’s castle are Tiamat and Omega Weapon, both of which are optional battles (though Omega Weapon involves splitting into two teams, ringing a bell, and running to a specific point to trigger the battle). Like many of the superbosses in Ultimecia’s Castle, you can “Draw” GFs from these bosses if you missed them earlier in the game but you’ll be more concerned with setting up your party to endue their powerful attacks. Both of which can deal massive damage, absorb elemental attacks, and have huge amounts of HP but it is Omega Weapon that offers the greatest challenge. With HP in the millions and capable of casting both “Death” and ending your party with “Light Pillar” (which deals 9999 damage and thus results in a one-hit KO), Omega Weapon offers such a tough challenge that, upon defeat, you’ll earn a special “Proof of Omega” award so you can prove to your friends that you got past this absolute tank of a superboss.

FF8RSorceresses
As a SeeD, it’s your duty to destroy sorceresses.

In addition, you’ll have to face-off with a few sorceresses during a playthrough of Final Fantasy VIII; being as she prefers to possess and manipulate sorceresses from the far future, Ultimecia doesn’t actually physically appear until right at the final parts of the game meaning that, before you confront her in her ominous castle, you’ll mostly be battling the current-day sorceress, Edea, who has been possessed by Ultimecia. As her chosen “knight”, you’ll usually have to dispose of Seifer before you can properly get your hands on Edea, which can make these battles a bit tougher. Later, when the malevolent sorceress Adel literally falls from the sky, she/he/it is leeching off of Rinoa so you have to be sure to target only Adel and not use attacks that hit more than one target or else you’ll risk injuring or killing Rinoa and losing the battle.

FF8RUltimecia
Ultimecia desires the destruction of all time and space!

Once you finally fight your way through Ultimecia’s Castle and unlock all of your abilities, your party falls victim to Ultimecia’s “Time Compression” ability and ends up stranded in the far future, where Ultimecia rules unopposed. This final battle has multiple stages, each with their own concerns; initially, you battle Ultimecia one-on-one but she randomly decides which of your three party members she wants to battle against and, during the battle, will erratically KO or remove one of your party from the battle screen. This means that, if you don’t revive your strongest party members, you could be stuck facing Ultimecia with characters you’ve chosen to ignore up until this point.

FF8RGriever
Griever’s ability to blast away your magic and GFs is a serious threat.

Once she is defeated, Ultimecia summons the most powerful GF in the Final Fantasy VIII world, Griever, a monstrous lion-like creature inspired by Squall’s lion iconography. Griever’s threat mainly comes from its ability to completely drain your MP, blast away entire stocks of your magic, and one-shot your GFs with “Lethal Strike”. However, once defeated, Ultimecia “Junctions” herself to Griever and the two form a monstrous combined form that can do everything both previous bosses could, meaning the longer the battle lasts, the more likely it is you’re going to lose your magic stocks, GFs, or party members and also deal massive damage through your defences with “Great Attractor”.

FF8RUltimeciaFinal
Ultimecia’s final form shows her on the cusp of immortality!

Once you manage to defeat this monstrosity, Ultimecia will ascend to her God-like final form; rather than the resplendent grandeur of Safer∙Sephiroth. Ultimecia’s final form is a grotesque eyesore that is halfway between human, monster, and eldritch horror. In this form, she can again destroy your magic stocks, remove any positive buffs you cast on your party, one-shot your GFs, reduce your HP to one point, and cast “Apocalypse” on the party for up to 8000 points of damage. Destroying different halves of Ultimecia’s body results in her using different spells and attacks but, once she starts narrating, it means she’s all out of HP and all you have to do is keep attacking her until the battle ends and Ultimecia is finally defeated.

FF8RFinalForms
Ultimecia is a much greater threat than Safer∙Sephiroth…

When I first fought Ultimecia when playing Final Fantasy VIII on the PlayStation 3, I found this battle to be particularly difficult; unlike Sephiroth’s final forms, which increase in difficulty depending on your level, characters, and tactics, Ultimecia can completely ruin any strategy you have by wiping away your most powerful party members or dispelling your magic. It’s hard to revive characters if Griever wipes out your stock of “Life” and your GFs won’t be much use if Ultimecia kills them in one move, meaning you’re constantly having to think on your feet and adapt to the battle; add to that the multiple forms that you must face one after the other and you’re left with a far more challenging final boss than in the previous game.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just like in the Xbox One port of Final Fantasy VII, the remastered version of Final Fantasy VIII allows you to alter the game’s mechanics and difficult by pressing in the analogue sticks: press them both in and you’ll turn off the random battles, press in the left stick and you’ll increase the game’s speed by three times, while the right stick powers up your party, giving them constant access to their Limit Breaks and effectively granting them infinite HP and MP. As I only found out about these latter two options right at the end of Final Fantasy VII, I decided to activate them right from the start for the sequel, dramatically speeding up my playtime.

FF8RBoosters
Use the Remaster‘s boosters and you’ll obliterate everything that stand sin your way!

It’s worth noting that, even with these activated, your party is still susceptible to status effects (confusion, poison, etc) and can still be killed by the likes of Omega and Ultima Weapon but, still, activating these boosters basically means you never have to worry about wasting Gil in inns or expending MP healing during battle and makes reaching level 100 an absolute breeze. Not only that, if you switch the battle style to “Wait”, you can end up completely obliterating every enemy and superboss you face by spamming your character’s Limit Breaks and ensuring that they never even get the chance to land a single hit!

FF8RRoaming GFs
A few roaming GFs may randomly appear to aid you in battle.

While you’ll gain access to most of the game’s GFs by Drawing them from certain bosses or battling them head-on in specific areas, some are only accessible by using certain items. Additionally, you can complete a side quest (made difficult thanks to the presence of the deadly Tonberry enemies) to battle Odin; upon defeat, Odin will randomly appear during any of your battles and deliver a one-shot KO to your opposition, which can be an extremely useful feature. That is until Odin tries this against Seifer and is cut cleanly in two; luckily, Gilgamesh fills very much the same role but his attacks cause a random amount of damage to your enemies, meaning he’s often more of a hindrance. Similarly, you can acquire the Phoenix Pinion after a side quest which, upon use, calls forth the Phoenix GF, which will randomly arrive to resurrect your entire party if you’re lucky.

FF8RTransport
There’s a few means of transportation on offer in Final Fantasy VIII.

As usual, you are afforded a few vehicles and means to explore Final Fantasy VIII’s expansive world; if you manage to call forth a Chocobo in one of the game’s many Chocobo forests, you can ride one of the birds across the land but you’ll lose it as soon as you dismount. In a change of pace, you can hire out a car to traverse the map but this costs you Gil and the car’s can run out of fuel. You even get to control the Balamb Garden itself for a while as it conveniently has a mobile form that allows it to float across the sea and land when you’re able to come ashore at a beach front. Eventually, you’ll gain control of the Airship, the Ragnarok, which allows you to travel pretty much anywhere but, as good and diverse as all these options are, the game’s camera when on the overworld is needlessly obtrusive and I struggled to find an angle that actually allowed me to properly see where I was going and enough of my surroundings.

Additional Features:
Whereas a great deal of your time and energy was devoted to the capturing, breeding, and racing of Chocobos in Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII instead features the card game Triple Triad as its primary mini game. While you can acquire and ride Chocobos to reach new areas and speed up your traversal across the world map, Triple Triad is a feature in pretty much every town of the game and involves most of the game’s NPCs.

FF8RTripleTriad
Triple Triad is everywhere but I couldn’t really get on with it.

The game takes place on a 3x3x3 grid, with each player having at least five cards; ten cards are played, each with a different number and element associated with it, and the goal is to capture all of the opponent’s cards. At least, that’s how I understand it; I’m not very good at card games at the best of times and rushing through the dense, seemingly never-ending tutorial, so I never really had much interest in Triple Triad. You can acquire new cards after defeating enemies or using the GF Quezacotl’s “Card” ability to turn certain enemies into cards but, outside of acquiring every card and a few Achievements, I never saw any real need to get too involved in Triple Triad and played through Final Fantasy VIII perfectly fine without playing more than one game (though, if you want to earn every Achievement, you’ll have to play at least one game and complete a whole side quest involving challenging NPCs to a game of cards so…good luck with that).

FF8RCardMod
You’ll need to acquire some rare items to craft the most powerful weapons.

While it’s not a requirement to play Triple Triad to access the best weapons and items, it is one of two time-consuming options available to you; the other is to battle specific enemies in the hopes that they drop the item you require or use Quezacotl’s “Card” ability to transform the monster into a card and then use the “Card Mod” ability to transform the card into that item. This can be a bit of a hassle as these enemies are rare, meaning you’ll have to wade through a great deal of random battles to track them down and, to use the “Card” ability, you need to deal enough damage to the monster first, which can be difficult when you’re at a higher level.

FF8RNewAreas
The Ragnarok allows access to new islands and areas to acuire new GFs, like Bahamut.

Once you acquire the Ragnarok, travel across the overworld is much easier than before, allowing you to better access some difficult-to-reach areas of the map and acquire more GFs. The Airship is also the only way to access the unmarked Island Closest to Heaven and Island Closest to Hell, which are teeming with tough enemies and hidden “Draw” points to help you level-up and gain more AP, and the Deep Sea Research Center. Here, you’ll have to walk slowly towards a pulsating piece of machinery to avoid being thrown into random battles and then you’ll be forced to battle two Ruby Dragons back-to-back before you can take on Bahamut.

FF8RDeepSea
Explore the Deep Sea Research Center and you’ll eventually battle another superboss!

After defeating Bahamut (which is easier said than done), you’ll be acquire it as a GF and, when you leave and return, you can access a new area of the Deep Sea Research Center. After diverting power to open a series of doors, you can then travel down several floors filled with the game’s most powerful enemies on your way to confronting the game’s option superboss, Ultima Weapon. You can “Draw” the GF Eden from Ultima Weapon, as well as the powerful “Ultima” magic, but you’ll have to endure the same problems as when fighting Omega Weapon (meaning your party can be decimated in one hit it you aren’t properly prepared for the battle).

FF8RSeeDRank
Pass written tests to increase your SeeD rank and salary.

As you travel around, winning battles, completing quests, and taking steps, you’ll be awarded with a SeeD salary. To increase your SeeD rank and, thus, your salary, you can enter the “Tutorial” menu and take a written test. There are thirty tests, each with ten questions and, every time you complete a test, you’ll gain a rank and earn more Gil to spend on items and upgrades. Luckily, you don’t need to worry about actually knowing the answers as you can just consult an online guide and cheese it, ensuring that you earn the associated Achievement and the maximum amount of Gil.

FF8RAchievements
Achievements are awarded for completing a variety of in-game tasks.

Speaking of Achievements, there’s quite a few on offer here and they’re pretty easy to achieve. You get an Achievement every time to acquire a new GF, ensuring you’ll get the majority of the Achievements even without a guide, one for finishing the game, and one for completing certain side quests. These can be trickier to unlock considering how complex and time-consuming the side quests can be (such as the PuPu side quest that sees you tracking down UFOs and aliens) but they’re generally far easier than the ones seen in Final Fantasy VII. Like in Final Fantasy VII, though, I did encounter some issues in getting the Achievements to pop or my Xbox One to acknowledge that I had completed the Achievement; the only advice I can really give if this happens to make sure you save beforehand and try it again, perhaps after logging out or performing a hard restart on your machine.

FF8RBanner

The Summary:
For me, trying to pick between Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII is like trying to pick between The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998) and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (ibid, 2000); in fact, this analogy is strikingly fitting as one is generally universally revered and the other is usually divisive, at the very least. However, I really don’t feel like the game deserves the hate or disdain it often unfairly attracts; the “Junction” system is functionally no different to the Materia system, the “Draw” mechanic means you never have to worry about running out of MP and are free to customise your party as you see fit, and the game as a really slick presentation. Seriously, it blows my mind how much of an improvement Final Fantasy VIII is compared to Final Fantasy VII in terms of graphics and you have to believe that, if Final Fantasy VII had been rendered in the same style as its sequel, no one would have anything bad to say about Final Fantasy VII ever again.

FF8RRemaster
The Remaster only highlights Final Fantasy VIII‘s aesthetic quality.

It’s not just the aesthetics that make Final Fantasy VIII an enjoyable experience in and of itself; the game’s pacing is far better than its predecessor meaning that, while you miss out on truly fleshing out and exploring each party member like in Final Fantasy VII, it’s far easier to stay on track and focused on the game’s core narrative. Plus, Final Fantasy VIII doubles down on Squall’s characterisation and development to have him evolve from a stoic, closed-off loner to a confident, inspiring leader. Not only that, the game puts full focus on his love story with Rinoa, making their relationship the central focus of the game and crucial to squall’s development as a character.

FF8REnd
Final Fantasy VIII doubles down on its themes of love and loss.

Is it perfect? Well…no, but (and here’s a controversial statement) no game is; even Final Fantasy VII had some issues! Newcomers may struggle to come to grips with the game’s new mechanics thanks to the influx of obtrusive tutorials and the unintuitive menus and gameplay mechanics, the overworld camera is disappointingly janky, and game goes way overboard with its random encounters (seriously, these happen almost every other step!) but there’s still a lot to like about this game. Once you simplify the “Junction” system and get your party setup how you want, it’s simple to concentrate on “Drawing” magic, winning battles, and levelling-up your party and their GFs; the map is easy to navigate thanks to the much-appreciated fast travel system and areas being clearly marked; the game’s system of increasing enemy levels as your own level increases means you’re always able to earn the EXP and AP you need to grow stronger; and the game’s story is very engaging. Beyond the exploration and development of Squall and Rinoa’s relationship, we’ve got a story that not only transcends time and space and leads you to battling a truly mental multi-form final boss but also questioning concepts such as life, death, love, and loss, making for a truly enjoyable and unique experience.

3 Stars

And breathe! So, what did you think about Final Fantasy VIII? Did you struggle with the Junction, Draw, and GF system or, like me, do you find it to not bad as bad as people make it out to be? Where does Final Fantasy VIII rank in your hierarchy or Final Fantasy titles? Who was in your party in Final Fantasy VIII and how did you set up your GFs? Did you like the more science-fiction-orientated approach that the game took or do think that the series strayed too far from the traditional fantasy-inspired aesthetics of the franchise? Do you subscribe to the theory that Squall died at the end of disc one? Did you use the boosters implemented into this Remaster or did you go it old school? Whatever your thoughts on Final Fantasy VIII, and the Final Fantasy series, drop a comment below.

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