The headline is not a typo. When it comes to Final Fantasy VIII, that game has a special place in my heart. As I was recently scrolling through the game library on Xbox Game Pass for PC, I saw the remastered version of the game. Seeing the picture flooded my mind with so many wonderful memories. Without hesitation, I boldly say that Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite Final Fantasy game of all time and, yes, that means I prefer it over Final Fantasy VII.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a range of opinions on which Final Fantasy was the best. My top three are Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy VI, and Final Fantasy VII. That string of three games made me a fan of the series for life. Final Fantasy VI was the game that started my journey into Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs). It was known as Final Fantasy III in the United States on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. That game was so memorable and epic. It is a huge reason why I ended up playing a lot of RPGs during my teens. Final Fantasy VI also eventually led me to Chrono Trigger, my favorite game of all time and the best RPG that has ever been created, in my opinion. The foundation that Final Fantasy VI laid for me in the RPG genre can not be overstated.
Final Fantasy VII was a groundbreaking title on the original Playstation that just wowed the video game world at the time. I especially was blown away at how much the presentation stepped up from Final Fantasy VI. Graphically, the game was a sight to behold with a great story, memorable characters, and a fantastic Materia system to boot. It felt like Square Enix (then Squaresoft) had put together a game that everyone would always remember and set a standard that would be tough for future games to live up to. Final Fantasy VII was a title that solidified Sony as a true player in the console market as Final Fantasy games at that point were exclusive to the original PlayStation. With all the accolades that VII received, Final Fantasy VIII had the tough assignment of being the very next game in the series with much to live up to.
The first thing that stood out to me that immediately catapulted Final Fantasy VIII over the previous game was that the characters finally looked more realistic. They did not have hands that looked like knobs or look like blocky anime characters. For me, this change did wonders for the immersion factor in Final Fantasy VIII. For the first time, I felt more of a connection to the characters because they looked more like real people. While this may have been a small detail to other gamers, this was the very thing that caused me to be invested in the game from the beginning. And that is also a huge reason why I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII Remake so much.
Because I was in college at the time Final Fantasy VIII came out in 1999, the implementation of the academies in the game was something I could easily identify with. Psychologically, maybe it was just nice to play a game where someone else had to take tests and was responsible for completing coursework. The setting of Balamb Garden was one I delighted in exploring. Academies are something that I’ve always enjoyed in movies, television shows, and video games anyway. It was one of the most endearing aspects of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. The monastery in Fire Emblem Three Houses and the school life in Persona 5, along with the social links that form within those environments, are a primary reason why I love those two games. Academy life in a Final Fantasy game, along with a time element in the plot was a dream combination for me. While gamers have strong opinions regarding whether they liked the story or not, I just remember that I enjoyed the ride.
The next trait that I dug about FFVIII was that of all the Final Fantasy games I had played, it felt the least like fantasy. In fact, that was probably the reason why the next game, Final Fantasy IX, went over the top with its return to fantasy world roots. There was a modern realistic tone to the game that gave it grit and a different feel compared to the other games. This was a bold move by Square Enix for the time because many Final Fantasy fans were used to mages and other fantasy-based characters. Yet I welcomed the new direction that the developers were taking and I am one gamer that wished it would have continued with Final Fantasy IX.
Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the battle system too much because I don’t remember a lot about it. I do recall that the Summon ability was a bit different and there was a “Junction” mechanic to the battle system that provides for expanded abilities. But I honestly couldn’t explain it because when I played Final Fantasy VIII, my priority was the story. I used a GameShark to advance through the battles because I was not interested in grinding. Plus, I detested random battles that developers would put into JRPGs back in those days. I appreciated the approach of Chrono Trigger where you were able to choose if you wanted to battle or not for the most part. Thank goodness Final Fantasy VIII Remastered provides the option for no random battles, which already makes it the best version in my eyes.
Some gamers felt that the plot of Final Fantasy VIII was confusing and lacked the substance of Final Fantasy VII. And I’ll admit that creating a better villain than Sephiroth was going to be a next to impossible task. Plus, Final Fantasy VII arguably has the most iconic characters of the entire series. Yet I was one of those that appreciated how different the Final Fantasy VIII story was and its different layers. It wasn’t meant to be a simple story or easy to understand, especially when something like “time compression” was involved. I do wish the developers had given more depth to Squall Leonheart, Final Fantasy VIII’s main character. He had the potential to be a more memorable character but I honestly don’t remember as much of his character development throughout the game like I do Cloud Strife, Terra Branford, and Tidus.
Putting together this post has made me consider replaying Final Fantasy VIII on PC. It would be interesting to see the pros and cons of the remastered version for myself. Personally, I would love to see Square Enix do a remake of the game but then again, I’ve always wanted to see them do the same for Chrono Trigger. One can dream though.