Over the past few years, Square Enix has been remastering its PS1-era Final Fantasy games so that modern audiences can more easily experience them. However, when it skipped Final Fantasy 8 in favor of an enhanced Final Fantasy 9 port, there was some concern that Square Enix wouldn't be giving Squall's adventure the makeover many felt it deserved. Those concerns were put to rest at Square Enix's E3 2019 press conference when Final Fantasy 8 Remastered was officially announced, and now that it's out, we can confirm that it's the definitive way to experience the game.
Final Fantasy 8 Remastered lets players experience the original game almost exactly as it was, but with some enhancements. The most obvious one being the new character models that replace the pixelated characters from the original release. Squall, Rinoa, and everyone else in the game all have detailed character models that are leagues better than what was on display in the original release. This makes Final Fantasy 8 Remastered much easier on the eyes, to say the least.
Unfortunately, not everything in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered received the same visual upgrade as the character models. The backgrounds in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered look just like they did in the PS1 release. The pre-rendered backgrounds were fine in the 90s, but here they look ugly, blurry, and especially ancient with the upgraded character models walking through them. The overworld just looks dreadful, and it's a shame that Square Enix didn't spend more time sprucing up the game's graphics beyond the character models.
One area that's really hit hard by the lack of a graphical upgrade are the cut-scenes. At one point in time, Final Fantasy 8's cut-scenes were award-winning work, but nowadays they look drab, bland, and they even stutter a bit. It would have been an expensive undertaking to create brand new animation for Final Fantasy 8's cut-scenes, but the investment would have made it so modern games could truly appreciate them. As it stands, those who are playing Final Fantasy 8 for the first time with the remastered version will walk away unimpressed by them.
Final Fantasy 8 Remastered's graphics are a mixed bag. On one hand, the updated character models ensure that this game is still the best-looking version of Final Fantasy 8, but at the same time, the improved character models really make the rest of the game's dated visuals stand out. Luckily, there are other enhancements in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered besides the graphics that do a great job of addressing some of the more dated aspects of the game.
Like the enhanced ports of Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 9, Final Fantasy 8 Remastered has cheats that players can use to circumvent some of the original game's annoyances. For example, players can play Final Fantasy 8 Remastered with random battles turned off. They can also play through the game basically invincible. Those who still want a genuine challenge but want to speed up the game's more frustrating sections can make everything go 3x the normal speed, which is easily the best part about Final Fantasy 8 Remastered.
Increasing the speed in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered lets players still enjoy the game without having to deal with its more tedious elements. With the speed cranked up, random battles go by so fast that players won't even feel the need to switch them off. And since summons (called Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered) are used so frequently in battle and have their own animations, the speed boost makes using them far more tolerable.
With the speed boost and other cheats, Final Fantasy 8 Remastered players can really tailor the experience to how they want to play. They can choose to experience it how it was meant to be, random battles and all, or they can turn the cheats off and on as they please. Better yet, achievements aren't disabled for using cheats in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered, so players don't feel like they're getting punished if they decide to use them.
Something that the various Final Fantasy 8 Remastered cheats don't necessarily address is the game's complicated leveling and battling systems. Final Fantasy 8 Remastered was polarizing when it originally released because some found having to "junction" with Guardian Forces to really improve character stats in any meaningful way to be too confusing. The "draw" system, where players have to "draw" and store magic from enemies and other sources, was also a source of contention with the original release. These systems are still in place in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered, and one's enjoyment of the game will largely depend on how they feel about them.
Some will like the draw system and junctioning, whereas others will find the game difficult to really get into because of them. Those that take the time to master these mechanics will likely find Final Fantasy 8 Remastered's battles and progression to be a bit more rewarding than standard turn-based combat, but it's understandable that some would prefer more straightforward systems. Of course, Square Enix couldn't really change junctioning or drawing in Final Fantasy 8 Remastered without fundamentally changing what the game is, and so at the end of the day, it's nice to see everything fully intact.
Final Fantasy 8 Remastered keeps everything that made the original a classic, including its polarizing leveling system, the Triple Triad card game, and the ugly backgrounds. The game's ugly graphics outside of the character models makes it feel like a half measure at times, but regardless, Final Fantasy 8 Remastered is still the best way to experience the game today. Oh, and the soundtrack is still fantastic, too.
Final Fantasy 8 Remastered is out now on PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.