Square Enix has finally released Final Fantasy VIII Remastered after a long wait. The remastered edition of the game was originally thought to have been a pipe dream we'd never see fulfilled due to a lost source code. However, the source code was recovered and the final result is absolutely worth the long wait time.
Now, Final Fantasy VIII gets a lot of flack for not being Final Fantasy VII. FF8 was the direct follow-up to the JRPG that cemented the franchise in the minds of fans, which is never a great position to be in. It also changed up the way magic works, introduced a card game, and furthered the cinematic potential of gaming. Granted, the changes to the magic system were, and remain, highly unpopular. Rather than learning magic spells and having to manage your MP (magic points), players steal magic from enemies and can either add them to their stock or use them immediately. Which makes magic a consumable resource. It was a decision that didn't last long in the franchise, as Final Fantasy IX returned to a more familiar format for casting.
Final Fantasy VIII also avoids the usual Final Fantasy class/job system. So, in a way, it is the black sheep of the family. However, I will always believe that the game is highly underrated. But now, thanks to Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, new players can enjoy the game without the spectre of FF7 hanging over it. And without having to change through four discs, maybe they'll actually make it to the end.
Make no mistake, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is still very much the original game. The graphics have been updated, but they still feel like an artifact from 1999. The biggest changes have been made to the cutscenes, which are far slicker than they used to be. However, the base game has been unchanged.
The combat system, outside of magic use, is pretty typical turn-based RPG fare, which ought to be familiar for any Final Fantasy fan. However, with the 3x speed modifier, which you can toggle on and off at will, you can get through fights much faster. Which will make the long, long haul through the early levels easier to stomach.
There are additional modifiers available on the PC edition of the game, however, they're more fun to play around with for veteran players to test themselves. Or try to speed-run the game. For most, the 3x speed is all you'll need to enhance the base game, though there are also ways to make it easier should the base difficulty be too much.
As for the plot itself, I'll try not to spoil a 20-year-old game. However, the story remains one that I think should get more attention. It's more of a love story than anything else, but the plot includes a ton of action and a few satisfying twists. The characters themselves are rather compelling as well. Squall Leonhart may not be the every-man that was Cloud Strife, but he's reticent enough for any player to put themself in his shoes. And he's far from Tidus-levels of annoying. Rinoa Heartily is a sweetheart, Selphie feels like she was ripped out of an anime, and even Seifer has his moments.
If you've got the spare $20 and time, its absolutely worth picking up.