[Final Fantasy VIII Remastered]‘Final Fantasy VIII Remastered’ Review – I Dreamt I Was a Mobile Port
Square Enix has made some tasty salad of porting its Final Fantasy games to mobile for a very long time now. It’s been roughly eleven years since the first two games in the series dropped on iOS, and as the years passed the others came. In 2011, Final Fantasy 3. In 2012, Final Fantasy 4. 2013 and 2014 saw the fifth and sixth games arrive, bringing us to the edge of the PlayStation era of the series. In 2015, the big moment arrived: Final Fantasy 7 came, albeit with fewer changes than the previous iOS releases. Indeed, it felt like something running in an emulator, but it was still cool to see such a huge game hit our little screens.
Following this pattern, it would seem logical to think that Final Fantasy 8 would arrive in 2016. Well, we did get a Final Fantasy game that year, but it was the rather impressive port of Final Fantasy 9. Unlike the previous game, this felt like it was rebuilt for the hardware. Perhaps that was the hold-up with Final Fantasy 8? At the time, I thought we’d see the eighth game arrive in 2017. Instead, we got the original title Final Fantasy Dimensions 2. Hm, maybe in 2018? No, that ended up being Final Fantasy 15 Pocket Edition. Oh, I see! 2019 is the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy 8! Square Enix, you sly dogs. But no, no such luck on mobile that year. It did come to other platforms. Perhaps it was just a bit behind on mobile?
2020 passes, nothing. I’ll level with you, friends. I thought Square Enix wasn’t going to do it for whatever reason. Then last week, I’m checking the App Store for the new releases and, pow, Final Fantasy 8 Remastered ($20.99) is sitting right there. Well, okay. Better late than never, right? I wonder how long we’ll have to wait for Final Fantasy 10? A question for another time. I had already gone through this remaster when it hit the Nintendo Switch a year and a half ago, so this run through the mobile version was more of a check to see how it made the transition than anything else.
So let’s get to that part right away. Final Fantasy 8 Remastered is more like Final Fantasy 7 mobile than Final Fantasy 9 mobile, I’m afraid. Basically, it feels like the game is running in an emulator shell. You have your button overlays, and everything is done through those virtual buttons. A pause button brings up a menu with a few features you can tweak, including the cheats, the color and opacity of the control overlays, and a choice between an analog stick or eight-directional dpad for your virtual movement. There’s an auto-save feature, and… well, that’s about it.
It’s not that this is a bad thing, but it does feel a bit underwhelming after the extra care put into Final Fantasy 9. The way the virtual buttons are laid out also makes some Final Fantasy 8-specific elements more awkward. Squall’s gunblade involves a well-timed R2 press to deal extra damage. A trifle when it’s on a shoulder button, but less intuitive when it’s a virtual button sitting up in the corner of the screen. Anytime the shoulder buttons come into play, this approach shows its disadvantages. At the moment, you have no choice but to deal with it. Things like controller and iCloud support are apparently on the way, but as of right now you have to use the somewhat careless touch controls.
Otherwise, this port fares well. Indeed, the noticeable difference between the higher-resolution characters and the backgrounds is that much less noticeable on the smaller screens of most mobile devices. It looks good and it runs well, falling somewhere between Final Fantasy 7‘s largely untouched visuals and Final Fantasy 9‘s extensive work. If you got on fine with Final Fantasy 7‘s mobile version in particular, you’ll probably be fine with Final Fantasy 8 Remastered. Given the price being asked, I do wish Square Enix would have handled things a bit more elegantly at launch, regardless of update plans.
Getting beyond the port quality to the game itself, Final Fantasy 8 has found itself as one of the black sheep of the series for a number of reasons. Like the other black sheep (Final Fantasy 2 and Final Fantasy 13), it’s both easy to understand its reputation and nevertheless love the game. It makes some decisions with its plot that I personally don’t really care for, but I could make that argument for most Final Fantasy games. The cast is a bit smaller than the installments sandwiching it, and their more grounded nature (there’s no one like Cait Sith or Quina in this lot) ends up pushing a lot of the character work into pure coming-of-age drama stuff. The main character is intentionally obnoxious in the first half of the game, and that’s an aspect of the plot that often doesn’t sit well with people.
Perhaps more troublesome than its plot is its unusual mechanics, however. Final Fantasy 8 actually has a lot of interesting, quirky systems, but it’s not very good at explaining to players about the best way to use them. Even worse, if you try to play this like any other Final Fantasy game, you’ll have the least-pleasant possible time you could with it. Enemy levels scale with your party’s, so grinding up levels can actually bite you in the hindquarters. You can use your summons quite often, but there are so many better ways to deal damage that don’t involve sitting through unskippable animations. There’s a great card game here that you might be tempted to ignore, but its rewards are tremendously useful.
You can brute force your way through, albeit perhaps not as easily as in other games in the series. But the true joy of Final Fantasy 8 comes in taking advantage of its mechanics (specifically the junction system that boosts your stats) and breaking the thing over your knee. Leveling up should be avoided where possible, but don’t worry too much about that. As long as you’re using and abusing that junction system, things will work out fairly well for you. Oh, and don’t neglect any of your party members. There’s a pretty strong chance you’ll need even your least-favorite of the bunch at a very inconvenient time. Trust me.
I’m wandering into guide-like tips here, but there’s a reason I’m doing that. I used to hate Final Fantasy 8. The characters annoyed me. One of the big plot twists felt stupid to me. Some of the character development came off unearned. But the backdrop behind all of that, and the likely reason why these things annoyed me so much more than usual, is that I failed to understand the game’s mechanics. Once I learned that conventional tactics were not the best way to proceed, that I had to approach the game on its terms rather than my own, I ended up loving it. It takes a bit of work to enjoy Final Fantasy 8 properly. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but it’s absolutely something you should know if you’re wading in for the first time.
Final Fantasy 8 Remastered took its time coming to mobile platforms. The port isn’t optimal but it is adequate. Certainly well-done enough that you should be able to enjoy the game for what it is. Now, whether or not that game is going to be to your tastes is another matter entirely. It’s an odd duck, but it has a devoted following for a reason. If you’ve got an open mind for a JRPG that wanders off the beaten path in more ways than one, and not always in a good way, you might end up a fan yourself. I’m not sure it was the right follow-up to Final Fantasy 7‘s blockbuster success, but there’s plenty to love about Final Fantasy 8‘s unique charms.