I just finished Final Fantasy 8 for the first time. I played the remastered version on PC with an Xbox 360 controller. It’s difficult to give a firm review score on a game like this because it is both terrible and completely met my expectations. First I’ll start with what I liked about it.
The artwork is really great. The 3d pre-rendered environments are detailed and give additional visual backstory to what is going on. Of course they are blurry since they are at the original Playstation resolution, but you could see what they are going for. The backgrounds are also better than FF7 in that you could actually see where all the screen exits are intuitively. The locations and environment are definitely my favorite parts since the game straddles a sort of sci-fi and fantasy blend. There are lush forest, technology dense citadels, and everything in between.
The combat system is also satisfactory despite how unusual it is. FF8 is the first, and definitely the last, to use a “junction” system. In the “junction” system, you “junction” “girlfriends” into slots which augment your stats and give you special abilities. You find additional “girlfriends” in the wild, in boss fights, or by doing special side quests. The great part of the system is how you can create many different combinations of builds, some of which can be hilariously overpowered. Some boss fights become a joke where it is literally impossible for you to lose. It takes a while to get used to how it all works, but the complexity is worth it so you can build characters that match your play style.
Another aspect I liked was some of the humor which was all too rarely used. I thought it was hilarious that during a giant battle you can broadcast a message to your troops, and the only thing I told them was to protect the hot dogs at all cost. I probably lost SeeD points for that.
The worst part of the game is definitely the writing. The plot to the game is nonsense piled upon nonsense, which I actually find pretty sad and also predictable. People probably spent thousands of hours working on the detailed artwork, combat system, musical score, and more in this game, yet at no point did any of these people wonder “Is there a logical reason why we are doing this?” The answer is of course: No, there is no reason for you to do anything, and even when it is explained it doesn’t make sense.
This is another JRPG where you don’t meet the main villain until the final battle. You never understand what she’s trying to do or why she wants to do it. Your final strategy is to, and I am paraphrasing it a bit, give her everything she wants and then defeat her in standard battle with the power of friendship or something. So basically there is an evil sorceress who wants to do “time compression”. I’m not sure what that is, or why it is bad for the heroes, or good for the evil sorceress. After completing the game, I’m still not sure if I even stopped “time compression” or if it is still going on. I have no idea why this sorceress was evil and why I needed to murder her. But still I did it because the game told me to.
Here’s some other lost plot threads that I found amusing in how incomplete they were.
At one point in the game you are suddenly given the knowledge that the main funding to your magic ninja training center was provided by an alien living in the basement. In your first meeting with said alien, it gets upset and you have to murder it. This is never mentioned again, but you can keep taking the elevator down to gawk at the dead alien.
Another random plot point happens when you go to space randomly for some reason. In space you learn, for the first time, a rare disaster called the “lunar cry”. In this event a very large number of scary monsters, who live on the moon, travel to the “earth” planet. Of course 2 minutes later this happens. The weird part is this could have been the main threat you have to face in one of the story revisions. After the “lunar cry” happens you never hear about it again. As far as I know, a good chunk of the civilization gets destroyed and you just move on. I guess some of the random encounter monsters are different now.
The remastered edition gives you certain extra powers that make the game much more playable than the original Playstation edition, which was far too slow and grindy. One option lets you disable random encounters. Another lets you play the game at three times the speed. I had 3x speed boost on nearly all the time, only taking a break during some particularly difficult battles. Occasionally I would accidentally toggle the 3x speed boost off because I didn’t realize it was on because the scene was moving too slow even at 3x speed.
It’s kind of telling that your game has pacing issues when you need to re-release it with the ability to increase the speed three fold. It’s also problematic when your game gets much better by disabling one the key game play mechanics (random encounters).
I did enjoy some parts of Final Fantasy 8, but in the end I have to say it was frustrating. This game would have been an amazing classic for the ages had they spent just a little more time on making a story. If only a fraction of the effort put into the game’s art, was instead moved into good writing then this would have been the best JRPG of the 90s. But it’s not. And this will be the same problem on pretty much every game that comes out of Japan with a few exceptions. All I want is a fun RPG adventure with a good combat system and, most importantly, a story I can get into. Why is this too much to ask for?