Square Enix probably had the best showing at this year’s E3. Maybe that’s my personal bias because they finally put out a ton of fresh new information about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake. They went into the details of the battle mechanics, which strangely reminds me of Final Fantasy XVIII. They also revealed that the first part will span two whole Blu-Rays, just to give you an idea of how large it’s going to be. Square Enix also gave us a preview of Aerith and Tifa and how they’ll be in action. For a lot of fans, Square Enix could’ve ended their show right there and they would’ve been happy.
I was going to be one of those fans but, as hype as I was for Final Fantasy VII Remake, it isn’t my favorite game in the series. For me, it’s always been Final Fantasy VIII. And it looks like, at long last, I will get to re-live some of my most nostalgic memories growing up since Square Enix announced they were finally going to remaster Final Fantasy VIII! I can’t wait!
Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite Final Fantasy but for mostly because I grew up with it. But even looking at it now, there is just so much to love about Squaresoft’s masterpiece, which is rather heartbreaking to hear that there are a lot of fans who kind of think its the “black sheep” of the PlayStation Final Fantasy games. There is a part of me that understands why, though. I totally get all the reverence VII got as it was the groundbreaking entry that was their first taste of how grand JRPGs can be. For longtime fans of the series, Final Fantasy IX brought the series back to its roots with the traditional Job system and cute stubby characters. Final Fantasy VIII kind of sticks out like a sore thumb as it does a lot of things differently. But that’s kind of why I like it.
For one thing, Final Fantasy VIII is a love story. It even states this right up front! If you look at the “symbol” that the game uses, it has the two main protagonists, Squall Leonhart and Rinoa Heartily, in an embrace. It puts their relationship in the forefront. While I’m not saying that the other games in the series didn’t have any love interests, Final Fantasy was the first one to make it the driving point of the plot. Okay, there was the entire Ultimecia main villain and something about time travel in the game but the focus of the story, from my point of view, was Squall and Rinoa’s love for each other. This is nicely encapsulated when the two of them were adrift in space and they try to find a way back to Earth. Squall manages to control the ship and Rinoa lands on her lap while Eyes on Me plays in the background. Seeing this scene always puts a happy smile across my face.
I also have to talk about Eyes on Me as it’s an important factor of my love for Final Fantasy VIII. When Final Fantasy VIII came out in 1999, I was only three years old. An impressionable age, definitely, and I absorbed things left and right. That was especially true for music. I could speak by that time but only phrases… but I could definitely sing a lot of the songs I heard. My band of choice were, of course, Disney songs like Part of Your World, A Whole New World and the like. I also loved the Spice Girls so I could sing, or at least try to sing, Wannabe and Stop. They were incredibly fast songs so I couldn’t keep up.
But with Eyes on Me, there was something special about that song that just clicked with me. Maybe it was the rather melancholy slow pace of the song. Maybe it was the accompanying visuals that came when the song started playing. Maybe it was the simplistic words that were used for the lyrics or the broken “Engrish” Eyes on Me uses. Maybe it was all of those factors but Eyes on Me was one of the songs I could sing flawlessly when I was that young! I have so many memories singing that song and I love it so much!
Speaking of loving something so much, I have to talk more about Rinoa. She actually tops the list of my favorite obscure female video game characters. That’s how much I adore her. As a kid, she was all the things I wasn’t. She was confident and able to talk to people without the fear of looking foolish. She doesn’t seem to care about what others think of her and, considering she’s supposedly a princess, that’s very admirable! I do think that she has the traits of the “manic pixie dream girl” in retrospect. But I don’t care! Her introduction, where she’s in the ballroom and she drags Squall to the dance floor, was just too cute!
One thing that’s hardly mentioned about Final Fantasy VIII are, oddly enough, the visuals. Objectively speaking, Final Fantasy VIII blows VII out of the water! The character models are just better looking and the backgrounds are more detailed! Everything also seemed bigger. Summoning a Guardian Force felt like a spectacle each time you did it. To me, this was a landmark in graphical design for the original PlayStation!
But the thing that really blew my mind were the cutscenes. Yes, they were all prerendered, which in all likelihood, made it necessary to put the game in a record number of four CDs! That’s nothing now but, back then, that was huge! But it all paid off as each and every cutscene was an event to me. The intro is still one of the best cutscenes in video games, in my opinion. And the ending… wow! It was a great way to close out an epic game as you got to see what happened with all the characters! Oh, and the video footage of the celebration party while the credits rolled was just perfectly executed!
You may have notice that I haven’t talked about how it plays. Well, to tell you the truth, I haven’t played Final Fantasy VIII yet. All of my nostalgic memories came from watching my brother play it when I was three years old. I only remember how impressive everything looked and sounded. But what I can definitely tell you that Final Fantasy VIII made me happy. I was so excited whenever my brother would come home from work and he would boot up his PlayStation so he could continue his game. I was enthralled by the battles, the music, the characters and how gorgeous the game looks.
I also couldn’t really understand a lot about the story. Remember: I was very young and there was a lot of reading involved in those early PlayStation games, something I couldn’t really do at that age. But I still have so many vivid memories about Final Fantasy VIII. Sometimes, they are weird things, like how you have to cast Cure on the zombies on the train to defeat them. But some of them are really vivid and upsetting, like when Ultimecia throws an ice shard and seemingly kills Squall. I can just remember being so shocked and horrified that the main hero got killed!
This is why I’m so excited for Final Fantasy VIII Remaster. I have avoided playing the PC version because I heard it’s an abomination. But Square Enix is finally bringing my favorite Final Fantasy onto modern consoles. It’ll be my actual first time playing it! I may be more critical about it once I do get my hands on it. But I will always have my wonderful memories of what it was like. Even if it’s not as good as I imagine it to be, I will always have these nostalgic images and feelings for Final Fantasy VIII. That’s never going to change.
What’s your reaction to Square Enix remastering Final Fantasy VIII? Better question: where does Final Fantasy VIII rank in your list of Final Fantasy games? Let me know in the comments section below!