The Editor: Not Enough People Are Talking About Final Fantasy VIII
The Final Fantasy series has always been close to my heart. Listeners of The Switch Island podcasts will have heard all about my love of the latter-end Squaresoft titles (specifically; VII, VIII, IX, and X) but for some reason, I’m getting the impression that the upcoming remaster – due Tuesday, September 3rd – just isn’t getting the hype that a title with over 9.7 million units sold worldwide, deserves.
I think I might know why, too. First, I’d ask that we cast our minds back to the titles released in 1999, and for context, remember that a significant proportion of the western world legitimately thought the millennium bug was going to bring about the end of civilisation. It was a different time.
Anyway, the games from 1999;
- Tony Hawks Pro Skater
- Unreal Tournament
- Age of Empires 2
- System Shock 2
- Silent Hill
- Resident Evil 3
- Medal of Honour
- Spyro 2
- Pokemon Gold / Silver
- Syphon Filter
Some absolute bangers, to be sure. But not many huge JRPG’s. Certainly none that have the depth and scope of Final Fantasy VIII and certainly not many that allow you to wield a border collie as a projectile.
Regardless, Final Fantasy VIII wasn’t your standard release. After the lofty heights VII reached, Squaresoft didn’t just double down on the beats and tropes that made Cloud Strife’s story so successful, but rather covered it in petrol, lit a match, and then sparked up a cigarette from the flames. This wasn’t going to be the same game, it was going to be completely different. For better or worse.
The opening of VIII alienated a significant amount of players in its initial ambiguity. The first FMV is one of the greatest technical achievements of a console generation, but also features mixed messages about the games purpose. However, it absolutely helped that the main protagonist, Squall, wields a fucking gun-blade in it. Who doesn’t want a gun-blade?!
Following on, pretty much the majority of the first disk was confusing to even the most seasoned JRPG fan, with the player needing to follow certain story beats by picking up on nuanced movements from the heavily pixelated characters. The bombastic opening from VII was a distant memory, too. With a lot of handholding and guides to navigate you through the various complex game systems, alongside some generic fetch quests and limp, no consequence battles. It’s safe to say that VIII was unapologetic in its approach to getting the player on side. The opening was most certainly a good contributor to why VIII was heavily maligned in comparison to the other franchise releases.
However, after the first ten hours, the game world opens up and the true quality synonymous to the franchise oozes through. From the summons to the junction system. From the security of Balamb Garden, to that first kiss on Ragnarok. VIII continuously builds towards a magical ending, leaving a heavy dose of melancholy weighing heavily on your heart once the end credits roll.
So, brass tax, why should you spend your hard-earned money on Final Fantasy VIII in a period packed with games like Astral Chain, Links Awakening, Or even Gears of War 5 [for those of you that haven’t been blessed with good console taste]? Well, even in 2019, a full 20 years after the game originally came out, it holds up incredibly well, with a love story and game world that’ll either have you engaged for 50+ hours, or leave you with a slightly lower bank balance. The point I’m making, is that for the price, it’s absolutely worth the risk. You could potentially fall head over heels with VIII, or you might just fall flat on your face.
To conclude my TED talk, I’m urging you all to put £15.99 / $19.99 aside to experience one of the greatest love stories told within the medium. Even with dated – albeit remastered – graphics, I promise that anyone who loves JRPG’s will more than likely get addicted to Final Fantasy VIII. For a release in 1999, it was a good fifteen years ahead of its time, and with a more cultured and patient audience, I’m sure it’ll resonate once more. For a low-cost gamble, It’ll potentially steal your heart, a small amount of SD card space, and a significant amount of free time.
Oh, and a further reminder that you can use a dog as a projectile.