Save your money.

A lot of us grew up with the Final Fantasy series; I know I did. As a kid in the single digits, my mom bought me VII, and after that the rest is history. As a troubled teen, I found solace in the like-mindedness of Squall and played VIII far more than I’d like to admit. When I found out it was being remastered, I thought “it’s finally getting the love it deserves!”. Well, the remaster was released today and it pains me to say… you should save your money.

A Muddled History

Final Fantasy VIII has been out for twenty years, and during that time it has seen some truly horrendous ports. The first PC edition had music in MIDI format, making for a tinny and lower quality soundtrack. It would take until 2013 for VIII to arrive on Steam, and even then it was nothing to write home about. Fortunately, some modders lovingly made some excellent mods that improved character models, backgrounds, animations, and FMV’s using machine learning techniques, changed the in-game font, and replaced the garbage MIDI soundtrack for the original, and better, PSX version.

VIII manages to be an incredible experience no matter how bad the ports are. The charm of the characters, music, and eventual wacky story shine through. That being said, you shouldn’t pay for a game over and over again when the billion dollar company that made it doesn’t do much to each new iteration.

Visuals

All of the original love of the game is still there, but what about the changes? The remaster font is far better than the original and modded fonts. The original font is blurry like the rest of the game, and the modded fonts look fan-made and blocky. The new font is smooth and easy to read, critical for a game that relies heavily on damage numbers, stats, and tons of dialogue.

The character models have been redone, but aside from being sharper, there’s not much to praise. For all the modernizing they did, they also wiped out the details that made each character unique. They have instead opted for a washed out anime art style. This is a problem we’ve seen with the recent slew of remixed and remastered Square classics.

Anyone who has played a good indie game knows that pixel art can do a lot with less. This is true of the old Final Fantasy games; Squaresoft made magic happen with the limited hardware it was given. Squall’s face meme aside, VIII has an awful lot of character, charm, and detail, and it achieves this with a unique art style and wonderful music.

The new is sharp and modern, no doubt. But the remaster loses the unique qualities Squall has in the original. Squall was designed after the late River Phoenix, and you can tell once you know this. The remaster obviously doesn’t follow the original design idea.

Sound

The original PSX soundtrack is the default. The MIDI soundtrack should now be thrown into the dustbin of history.

Sound effects haven’t been touched and we didn’t get any voiceovers. For shame.

Gameplay

Turbo mode was first introduced in Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age, and it just works. Some of us have played these games multiple times, and being able to speed through tedious sections is a boon.

Players now have the option of breaking the game’s original intended design by turning on max gil (money), damage, HP, etc.

I’ve seen these features get praise, and I don’t know why. Rather than working on dated mechanics, Square simply added some options for breaking the game for the rest of the playthrough. Turbo is one thing; maxing out your spells takes away all of the challenge and screws with pacing.

The Junction and Draw system are still in place, and this is where Square really had a chance to make some much needed changes, seeing as it’s one of the biggest criticisms of the game. Spells could’ve been unlocked throughout the game and equipped spells could’ve been grayed out in combat. This would keep unwitting players from reducing their stats by casting a junctioned spell.

Even the character movement feels janky. The source code to the original is apparently lost to the ether, which is the reasoning behind why it hasn’t seen a lot of change over the years. Dotemu and Access Games collaborated to piece this game back together, so there’s no reason movement couldn’t have been made smoother.

Censorship

Siren’s bush and Rinoa’s cleavage have been censored by Square’s “ethics department”. The name alone is enough to make you queasy, but this points to a deeper problem of PC culture. I haven’t played to the last “disc” of the remaster, but I wonder if Square covered up a certain boss’s monster nipples.

Look, fantasy is weird. We can let graphic artists go crazy and come up with some kooky design ideas for monsters and characters and places, or we can obsess over whether or not this or that amount of cleavage is sexist or triggers people with weak stomachs. I don’t want to over-politicize this piece, but this is something worth thinking about. I find it best to let creators have creative freedom to pursue their ideas and let the gamer’s decide if something is worthy of ridicule.

Missed Opportunities

There’s not much else to complain about… because Square didn’t do much else than update character models, change a font, and add a few settings. Here are some basic upgrades and changes that could’ve been made.

  • Voiceovers
  • New battle animations
  • Widescreen display
  • 30–60 FPS
  • Perhaps some orchestral versions of music (Fisherman’s Horizon is gorgeous)
  • Additional end-game content
  • Bring back Chocobo World but significantly upgrade it and integrate it into VIII
  • Do not cut off end-game towns and areas

Verdict

The Final Fantasy VIII remaster is indicative of a problem I’ve discussed with gamer’s and have written about before; Square and the mainstream gaming industry are too big to fail. Sure, after the massive failure of Final Fantasy XIV’s original launch, people said there was a very real chance that Square could’ve gone bankrupt. I don’t believe that, but no corporation is impervious.

What’s unfortunate is that Square Enix has been seen as a tired company for a long time. After all of the waiting, not even Final Fantasy XV or Kingdom Hearts 3 were the mind-blowing games we knew they could be. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t produced any good games recently; it still does a good job here and there. But there was a golden age for Square, and that age has passed. Maybe we want too much, grasping for the return to an age where gems like VII, VIII, and IX all came out within a five year period.

I do know this: In 2017, Square Enix made over $2.3 billion (over ¥250 billion). This remaster is not what Square is capable of, and you shouldn’t reward a company that is unwilling to properly invest in one of its best titles.

Why you shouldn’t buy the game

After twenty years, Square made some new character models and slapped a $20 price tag and “Remaster” title onto an old product. Some gamers have a defeatist attitude. They think, who cares? This won’t change how Square does things. But after Gamergate, we know that video games can shake things up and cause a controversy. This is a cash grab, so talk with your wallet. Tell Square this is unacceptable.

Pros & Cons

[+] Turbo Mode
[+] PSX Soundtrack
[+] Released on Steam so modders will save the day
[–] Not much for graphics outside of character models, and those get rid of the unique charm of the original
[–] Doesn’t fix any gameplay features
[–] Offers options for breaking the game’s original intended design

The Original: Amazing
The Remaster: Bad


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