Final Fantasy VIII is one of the best RPGs on the PS1 – having to follow the phenomenon of VII was no mean feat yet through some experimental gameplay ideas, a mad story that does not feel out of place with the rest of the series yet stands out triumphantly, a strange sense of humour, a side-game that is as addictive as the main game and some charismatic characters that have stood the test of time.

Final Fantasy VIII is one of the worst RPGs on the PS1 – failing to follow in the footsteps of VII due to obtuse gameplay ideas, a story that goes completely off the rails about halfway through the game, a distinct lack of light-heartedness and one of the most despicable main characters in the entire series. The card game rules though.

Whatever you think the first paragraph of this review should be, it’s clear that everyone has an opinion on Final Fantasy VIII. You either love it or hate it. Or you’ve never played it.

When the latest avalanche of Final Fantasy ports for the Xbox One and Switch was announced, FFVIII was conspicuous by its absence. It seemed like VIII’s status as the black sheep of the FF family was confirmed that this stage until E3 came around and the Remaster was announced, giving VIII the lick of paint it really needed for this HD age. Finally, Squall can look as handsome as Rinoa’s claims.

Handsome devil

For those who love FFVIII there is definitely some worth in replaying this – it does look as nice as it ever has and it is still otherwise the same great game as before, with a few additional “cheats” that can be activated through button presses – L3 activates 3x speed a useful tool when grinding for items to make new weapons, R3 activates GOD MODE which makes you GOD MODE and pressing them both will turn off random encounters if you just want a lovely stroll in the pre-rendered backgrounds.

For those who hate FFVIII – there’s nothing new here for you. Go away. For those of you who have never played FFVIII, I salute you and also I recommend giving this a try. If you like turn-based RPGs there is a lot to like here.

Let’s start with the gameplay – it is similar to the other PS1 FF games but with some differences to how the system works. Instead of potentially having a screen filled with abilities like with the materia system in VII, here you can only have Attack and three others. Initially you only have a small pool to choose from – Magic, Draw, GF and Item. By the end of the game you will have potentially dozens of these abilities and you’d have to choose whether it’s worth sacrificing being able to cast magic in favour of turning your enemy into a card (it always is).

Drawing is a controversial subject when FFVIII is brought up. Instead of just having magic spells you now only have up to 100 uses of a certain spell, which you have to ‘draw’ from enemies. However, the best use of magic is to not even use them most of the time but to junction it into your skills to make yourself stronger. Levelling up is not too important in this game as enemies level up with you, but as they level up they gain stronger magic which you can draw and make yourself stronger. It is a complicated system to explain but in reality it worked pretty well. There’s also a button you can press to make the game do it for you.

GFs play a big role in this game and as everyone knows GFs stand for Guardian Forces. I always end the game with many GFs who I love equally and I hope my GFs love me the same way. You can use GFs in battle and they will take damage for you when attacked. After their timer empties, they will unleash a massive attack. Each GF either represents an elemental attack or a status effect when used. Some of these animations are wonderful – Brothers and Doomtrain are my particular favourites.

GFs can also learn abilities that can really change the game through AP, some of these will add 20% to a characters stat, increase their own attack power or allow you to refine items into magic spells. It can be useful if you want to UTTERLY BREAK THE GAME BY THE END OF DISC 1.

I could go on and on about the little gameplay intricacies but I’m already closing in on 800 words so let’s move on. Also, that could be a whole article on it’s own. Gotta space out the #content after all.

The story of the game is about a group of young students in a military school called Balamb Garden who graduate to become members of the mercenary force SeeD (‘COS THEY WERE IN A GARDEN) and on their first job they meet Rinoa and attempt to help her achieve independence for a town called Timber but when the Sorceress Edea shows up and starts messing things up so the gang must take her down with the help of the sharpshooter Irvine. I have just condensed the first quarter of the plot into one paragraph. I cannot do this for any other quarter in the game.

The story starts off fairly grounded with just a little weirdness thrown in (the body double for the President who melts into a gooey zombie is one early example of this) but yeah the game gets stranger and stranger as it goes on. I don’t feel it goes completely off the rails as I feel like they ramp up the bonkers nicely as the game goes on. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t played it but the last act of the game takes you to some wild places.

The characters are fine but by Disc 3 is really is the Squall and Rinoa show and the rest of the characters stop getting much development. Squall is an asshole for the first disc of the game but I do feel like his journey into being less of an asshole is nice and the game does explain why he is so cold to other people early on. Rinoa is not my favourite character either (that goes to Selphie, who 8-year-old me hated) but I think together with Squall she has a nice journey but I feel like things happen to Rinoa but she never really grows as a result, it’s always Squall’s character that benefits.

Also, the soundtrack to FFVIII has some absolute bangers on it. Man with the Machine Gun is one of the best battle themes in video games, there’s plenty of nice town themes and the game knows how to use music to create a certain mood. I think VII is a stronger soundtrack but VIII has some special tracks attached to it.

So, I love the game but there are a few things that I don’t like. I’ve mentioned that a lot of the characters barely matter after a certain point in the game but also the most likable characters you play as are only in certain ‘flashback’ scenes and I always want more scenes with Laguna and his pals but they dry up pretty quickly. It feels like there should have been a couple more because they are genuinely some of the best parts of the game.

I do think the Junction system is too convoluted for beginners but makes it way too easy to dominate the game for experts. There is not much of a happy medium but the game is pretty easy in general. I’m not a huge fan of “enemies level up as you level up” thing because it makes levelling up useless.

In the end though, I want more people to play FFVIII so absolutely pick this up if you like a turn based RPG. Yes the story gets a little bit crazy and yes it has a fairly bizarre way of powering up your party but I think this is a game that has a lot of heart behind it, it’s humour works for me as it swings between dry humour and just utter ridiculous. I like a lot of the characters and I get behind how weird this game goes. It’s not too expensive and it took me around 40 hours to get the platinum trophy (albeit with extensive use of the 3x speed button). Definitely check this out if you’ve never played it before but there’s not much here that will convince the haters to give it a second try.


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