I titled my main series on Final Fantasy VIII “A Place of No Return”, and when I first wrote the entire piece, I had sort of figured that I’d shelve the game for another few years until I next got the itch. Partway through uploading all the parts on my site over the past few months, surprising news emerged – FFVIII was to get an official remaster, breathing new life into the series while simultaneously making all my low-quality 2013 edition screenshots even more defunct.
(Fair warning – I’ll be referencing stuff from the final boss battle in this article, so don’t read on if you want to avoid spoilers!)
A few months have passed, and now here it is – Final Fantasy VIII Remastered in all its HD glory. To let me know, Square-Enix sent me this email:
Now there’s some very telling phrasing in this email: “visuals that breathe life into the game’s characters”. Not the prerendered backdrops, not the 3D combat arenas, not the world map… it only mentions the characters.
It’s fairly unlikely that anyone would or could take Square Enix to court if they had claimed the game’s graphics entire had received the breath of life, so it’s not as though the specific phrasing would have actually been required, but I feel like it hints at the team’s slightly-embarrassed knowledge that they had not, in fact, remastered most of FFVIII.
Let’s play a quick game – which of the two pictures below is from the Remastered edition?
My original plan was to just post both pictures from the Remastered edition, but it doesn’t really matter since they’re both basically the same anyway.
For the record, the Remastered edition is on the right. I think.
To save me time on replaying the full game for this article, FFVIII Remastered can, conveniently, use my old saves, so the first thing I did was pop straight to the final boss gauntlet and blast my way through. Here’s my stream of consciousness from starting up the game:
- “The fonts look sharper. The CG images in the opening credits are still a bit pixellated.”
- “The music doesn’t seem to sync up with the credits any more. Wasn’t the music shift at the end supposed to accompany the appearance of the Final Fantasy VIII logo? Now it just awkwardly changes to the logo early and the shift comes in late.”
- “Alright, loaded up the game. I see we’re still in a small box rather than actual full-screen.”
- “To fix the pixellation, they just blurred the backgrounds? This doesn’t look right.”
- “Let’s just start the boss fight. Okay, the new models look great. Ultimecia doesn’t look evil or angry, though – she looks disinterested.”
- “The character models in combat look nice, as do the spells, and the text is much better now that they’ve sharpened it. The backdrop is very low-quality, though. Didn’t they fix the combat arenas?”
You get the idea. There wasn’t a great deal of excitement going on. Sure, sure, the character models look really good, but when everything surrounding them does not, it makes it all the more jarring. But while I’m talking about the character models, let’s show off the new Squall in all his glory:
As you can also see, the background is perfectly manageable, but it’s not exactly sharp. FFX had a similar issue with the handful of pre-rendered backdrops it employed, so I suppose it’s just too difficult to update them. The benefit is that it’s not so clearly pixellated as in the earlier 2013 Steam edition, which didn’t show as much in my screenshots as it does full-screen on PC anyway.
The worst part of the resolution issue is that my screenshots continue to have huge black borders around them that I have to remove. It’s a tough life.
Here’s what one of the combat arenas looks like. It’s not a good look anyway, but what the screenshot doesn’t really convey is how bad the unevenly-cut backdrop looks like when the sky’s moving behind it. More complex arenas, like the throne room, are filled with sharp angles and blurry textures that clash with the detailed character models at play in the centre.
Speaking of clashing, that’s another downside of the new character models. I think they look great, but no other changes have been made to them – they follow the same animations, down to the lack of any expression. While I could forgive it with the older, simpler models, it feels awkward now that they look so much better.
As an example, while “dying” in phase 3 of the final boss encounter, Ultimecia looks supremely bored:
On a similar note, the 2013 Steam edition made it clear that certain NPCs were just parts of the background, which I hadn’t realised in the original PS1 version. This doesn’t get much better in the Remastered edition:
I’m not so good at picking up on these things, but there are plentiful complaints about the game’s framerate still being low. I didn’t really notice this myself until I started using the 3x speed booster to clear through Drawing a bit faster, and returning to normal speed made things noticeably less smooth.
Speaking of boosters, rather than redesign the game’s balance from the ground up, FFVIII Remastered once again employs a number of in-built cheats and augmentations to ease the pain of collecting spells and such. These are now easier to access via the Escape menu, and some of them can be quickly activated and deactivated at the push of a button.
This is all nice and convenient, and I have no issue with it – especially since I like using the 3x speed buff as above. A year or two after I first played FFVIII, I remember wishing that there was a mode that would allow you to replay the game just for the story, with only the bosses required. FFVIII Remastered does indeed have that option, but contrary as I am, I’m probably not actually going to use it…
While I’ve moved over to discussing good things, let’s rejoice that the original music has been restored, rather than the MIDI tracks that played in the old PC version. I won’t lie, I quite liked hearing some slightly different versions of the old familiar tracks, but it was hardly ideal.
So let’s summarise the features of FFVIII Remastered:
- Updated character models
- The original music
- Some sharper UI elements
- In-built cheats easier to access
I’m not sure there’s really much more to it than that. Perhaps there were some stability and compatibility issues sorted out that I can’t really see from the outside. Either way, it’s not much of a remaster. It’s still got a low resolution, there are numerous graphical clashes and let-downs, and the performance hasn’t changed in any noticeable way.
As such, I can understand why the current Steam reviews are “Mostly Negative”. While the company practices behind Borderlands could be debated until the sun sets and beyond, it’s worth noting that they released an enhanced edition of the original Borderlands with a variety of upgrades and quality-of-life improvements free of charge to people who already owned the Steam edition. Certainly there was a lot less work needed on the graphics end to make it “acceptable” for a modern audience, but all the same the game plays smoothly and all the various new components work together well.
FFVIII Remastered, meanwhile, makes the characters look nice, the backgrounds blurred, and everything else 3D worse than the original PS1 release. At £5 cheaper than the version I purchased back in the year 2000 on PS1 (I got the Platinum edition), I really can’t say that I feel like I’ve got value for money. I’m glad that the game will be available on more platforms, but I don’t think it’ll give a good or fair impression to first-time buyers, and I’m fairly certain that modders would have done a better job for free.