After years of its suspicious absence from Square Enix’s unstoppable barrage of ports and re-releases, Final Fantasy VIII has emerged remastered for all consoles (and PC). This is the best version of the game that has ever existed. Watch me play it for 47 minutes, while discussing 20 years’ worth of crystallised thoughts about the game.
For example: I argue somewhat passionately that you should not use the fast-forward function.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is even better than the original. I noticed a peculiar trend in YouTube comments on the debut trailer Square Enix showed at E3 2019: “The graphics look exactly the same,” many commenters said. They absolutely do not. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered keeps the original’s fuzzy JPEG backgrounds, though its 3D models are butter for the eyes.
I think what a lot of the commenters were driving at was that, yes, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is not on the level of graphical upgrade of Final Fantasy VII Remake. This is because it’s a remaster, not a remake. (As it says in the title.)
I do understand where those commenters are coming from, though. In 1999, when Rinoa told Squall “You’re the best-looking guy here,” we role-playing-game-lovers hunkering in front of dull CRT televisions barely noticed his face was a clump of hideous pixels. We had no idea what a meme was, much less that this screen would eventually become one.
By that point in the game – about three hours in, if you mosey a bit – it had hooked us completely. We were so in the zone that Rinoa’s words filled in the gaps in our imaginations. We knew Squall was a good-looking guy. We remembered him from the hours-ago two-minute anime-music-video-like opening movie. We’d probably watched that opening movie about 90 times.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered keeps the fuzzy, barely animated background JPEGs. It keeps the aspect ratio. It keeps the original full motion video quality. Then it gives us wonderfully, lovingly new 3D models. In their geometry, these models are identical to those in the 1999 PlayStation original. In their texture detail, they are identical to our fond memories of the 1999 PlayStation original.
In this video, I admit that I didn’t really like Final Fantasy VIII when I first played it. Ten years after it first came out, I played it again and thoroughly enjoyed it. It takes so many bizarre risks with its game design, structure, and plotting.
As I say in the conclusion of my video, the original creators of the Final Fantasy series often regale us with the anecdote of the desperation with which they developed that initial game. According to legend, Squaresoft only had the money to make one more game. If it didn’t hit, they were dead. It hit. They lived.
Final Fantasy VIII arrived two years after Final Fantasy VII busted blocks worldwide. At the time of Final Fantasy VIII’s release, Squaresoft was developing the next three numbered Final Fantasy games. They were also financing and producing a Final Fantasy feature film all on their own. As far as video game development goes, this is a level of ambition whose modern-day equivalent I can’t immediately think of.
Final Fantasy IX, X, XI, and the movie would offer a rich platter of something for everyone. Final Fantasy VIII was thus destined to come across as “The Final Fantasy That Came Out After Final Fantasy VII.”
Now that I’m able to look back at it so crystal-clearly 20 years later, I deeply admire its creative risks. If the spirit of Final Fantasy as a franchise has always been, as its creators say, reinvention with every numbered instalment, Final Fantasy VIII represents the absolute zenith of old-fashioned Final Fantasy.
I’ll admit, as a 20-year-old, I rushed through it. It was hard for me to like the protagonist, Squall. The very first character we meet aside from this tough-guy-wannabe teenage protagonist is his slightly older teacher who sees right through his cold exterior and mocks his tough-guy dialogue affectations not five text boxes into the game. It felt embarrassing; it felt to me, then, like reading my old writing feels now.
I didn’t want to think about my dirtbag teen days at age 20 the way I don’t want to think about my dirtbag twenties at age 40.
Replaying the game in 2019, so far, has been a delight. I’m able to fully appreciate the oddball game design choices that me and my hardcore fellow Final Fantasy fanatic friend frowned at in 1999. The battles have a Bravely Default level of game-designerly, simplistic urgency that was sitting there all along, for 20 years, waiting for me to revisit it and appropriately freak out.
The card game, Triple Triad, is still amazing. The Triple Triad theme music is still amazing.
My video consists of eight chapters, each telling a different story about my time with the game. In one chapter, I talk about the game design. In another, I try to find the truth behind the rumour that Square Enix had lost the game’s source code.
The seventh of these chapters concerns a marketing campaign Squaresoft executed back in 1999: pre-order Final Fantasy VIII, and you could win a car. And not just any car: it was an exceptionally bland car. It was a 2000 Toyota Echo.
In my mind, whenever people talk about the anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast, I immediately think of the 2000 Toyota Echo: in the magazine advertisement for the sweepstakes, the date "Available 9.9.99" loudly begs the page-flipper’s attention.
I wanted to surprise you all: I wanted to find the person who won this car. I promise I tried as hard as I could.
I asked some people at Square Enix if they might know anything. They did not know anything. However, they knew some people who might.
I ended up spending more time on the phone in two months than I usually spend in a year.
Ultimately, I didn’t find the car. Though someone at Electronic Arts – with whom Square Enix had partnered to market Final Fantasy VIII in 1999 – told me with confidence that the winner of the sweepstakes had almost certainly taken the $10,000 cash prize over the car.
I explain this in my video, though I thought it was worth telling you about in this text. What’s not worth telling you about in text, however, is my off-the-top-of-my-head musing about what cars other Final Fantasy protagonists might be. Please leave a thousand comments debating this topic, even if you don’t watch my video. (Watch my video, though, please. I tried to do an NPR voice this time.)
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered arrives on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 3rd – six days short of the game’s release’s 20th anniversary. It costs the exact appropriate amount: it costs a number of US cents equivalent to its release year. (I’m saying it’s $19.99. It's £15.99 in our British pounds, but that doesn't make as good a point.)
Don’t use the fast-forward function. Even for grinding. You’ll thank me 20 years from now