News had been brewing for years about the return of Final Fantasy 7, rebuilt from-the-ground-up to adapt the aged game to modern tastes. At E3 2019, Square Enix let fans and media get their hands on a demo of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which won’t be fully out for years – but coming soon, they revealed, would be another blast from the past: a remaster of the following game in the series, Final Fantasy 8.
While the game has never looked better, it’s more or less a cleaned-up port – and light years from the gorgeous footage we’ve seen of the completely re-imagined Final Fantasy 7 Remake. So the question remains: is it worth even playing the Final Fantasy 8 Remaster?
It’s a tough answer, because 8 is a tough game to love.
While Final Fantasy 7 heralded the series’ triumphant entry to the polygonal age with a roiling steampunk fantasy, its successor was a moodier adventure filled with neurotic characters drawn in a realistic style. Suffice to say, it divided fans when it was released in 1999, leading to an entrenched 7-versus-8 rivalry.
That tribalism unavoidably colored everyone’s opinions of Final Fantasy 8, including this writer’s, pushing fans to gloss over the game’s flaws to stand united on the battlements. The announcement to remake FF7 likely caused no end of snobbish smirking among its stalwart fans. Presumably, FF8 devotees raised a weaker cheer when they learned their own remaster was coming far sooner – this year, even.
Final Fantasy 8 Remaster has faithfully ported the game to the post-HD era, with limited – but crucial – touch-ups. Square Enix created brand-new models for characters (everything else is merely cleaned up from the game’s jagged 32-bit days), while players can use a trio of debug cheats to ignore or breeze through fights to simply enjoy the story.
Which is very, very far from a proper remake, and it’s hard not to stare at the cinematics and in-game footage of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake without serious envy. Remastering FF8 is a hacky solution to please fans of the Final Fantasy dynasty and buy time while the publisher laboriously brings Final Fantasy 7 to the modern age. It’s not really fair, but FF8 fans’ denialism doesn’t extend to ignoring its predecessor’s larger cultural footprint.
That underdog mentality does things to a fan, like leading them to believe their game to be inaccessible to anyone who didn’t sign up years ago.
Before firing up the remaster, I would have sternly cautioned any newcomers away – the original game is opaque, with less-than-helpful tutorials leaving players to figure out the idiosyncratic junction and draw systems for themselves. And thanks to all the ribbing from FF7 fans, I’ve tired of defending the game’s truly weird story about anxious teens fighting sorceresses across a disconnected, steampunk-lite world.
My first few hours confirmed my suspicions, especially with the polarizing protagonist: Squall is a loner stubbornly closed off from his peers, who all try in vain to break him open – sometimes because they need him to just be a leader, dammit. I picked up the junction system like I’d put it down yesterday, but subsequently spent hours stocking up on magic to top out my stats before continuing the story, an egregious break in game flow. Even the character interiority – Squall’s frustrated thoughts about teammates, his aggressively detached attitude – exasperates my older, wiser self. How did I stand this fumbling dolt?
But after riding with Squall for a dozen hours, my frustration thaws. I’m not really fed up with the fierce loner too stubborn to let others in; I was desperate not to revisit the character I identified with so much as a teenager. Cloud is a silent badass with a big sword; Squall is prickly and lost in an endless introspective spiral. No matter which game I played first, I would have clung to the latter in my formative years.
I’ve rediscovered a game that’s as awkward and clunky as it is swift and lean, emotive and earnest, which has resonated with more lonely gamers than I expected. I would have warned prospective players away with caveats like I was describing all the warts of my hometown, trying to keep people from seeing a place, a game, with flaws I projected on my younger self. I used to be so into this and identify so much with it; to play it is to see young me.
But Final Fantasy 8 is richly unique. Aside from their super move Limit Breaks, each party character is essentially interchangeable – you build your squad by picking who you like best, rather than weighing abilities and team composition. The setting is such a mix of esoteric architecture and futuristic tech that it feels plucked out of time, familiar yet fantastic. And while the game has melodramatic streaks, it’s also prone to slapstick humor and ridiculous dialogue.
I’ve seen people tweet long threads about playing Final Fantasy 8 for the first time and falling in love with the foolish, headstrong, self-doubting messes that make up the cast. (And no, they weren’t turned off by junctioning, idiosyncratic as it is.) It’s not validation that I, and other FF8 heads, were right all along; it’s relief that the game was always more than a scrappy experience desperate to prove its worth within one of gaming’s greatest dynasties.