Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.

The subject of this installment: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, developed and published by Square Enix.

A good remaster can sometimes let a player relive the experience of playing their favorite childhood game as if it had just come out, or it can make an old classic available to an entirely new audience. As I was barely a toddler when FFVIII originally released in 1999, I was looking forward to seeing what this re-release offered. Sadly, it feels more like a port than a true remaster, and its transition into modern times is flawed.

True to FF’s nature, this JRPG’s gameplay consists of roughly two parts — moving between quest destination points on a world or local map and battling foes in turn-based style. While the first affords little more than following pre-scripted story progression, the latter is where the challenge is found — I’ve had epic 30-minute battles with bosses that were decided by the thinnest of margins.

Explaining the battle system that provided these thrills is a little complicated. Basically, a group of allies has individual health and activity bars. When the latter is full, a move can be made. Any skills other than attacking and using items relies on a FFVIII-specific powering system, the Guardian Force, to be equipped to the character. (These are obtained by beating tough monsters and ‘collecting’ their powers.) When applied, options include magic and a super move. Magic is limited to a quantity of uses and can be ‘drawn’ (read: accumulated) from certain spots during exploration or from enemies in battle.

As I said, it’s hard to explain and also hard to grasp as FFVIII’s tutorial isn’t up to the job. Instead of clearly demonstrating things, huge chunks of text try to explain the modes, and this means plenty of reading, rereading and experimentation to figure things out. However, despite all of the systems, the dominant strategy in battle was to spam supermoves whenever possible and heal allies when low, reducing any aspect of mastery and making the excess tutorial information an annoying and irrelevant read.

As for info on ongoing quests, I was frequently at a loss for what my current objective was and could’ve used a few more pointers. I haven’t found any useful menus on active goals, and I’m a bit lost every time I boot up the game for another session. What doesn’t help is the ancient user interface, which doesn’t feel touched at all since the original release. Despite some slight visual upgrades –which also feel painfully limited at times — FFVIII‘s remaster is clearly hindered by its original engine’s capabilities.

On the other hand, three aspects of FFVIII struck me as still being solidly good — the story tackles questions surrounding anxiety, treason and love. Immense challenge is provided via the aforementioned boss battles, and the music is as enchanting as one would expect from a classic Final Fantasy. However, I’m not sure if any of this qualifies it as a ‘good’ remaster overall.

I’m sure some fans will be delighted at the chance to revisit this title, but as someone coming to FFVIII for the first time, it doesn’t deliver what I would expect from a true remaster — many of the usual niceties and amenities aren’t here, and I found it to be tough to get into. The frustration from its poorly-aged components is, sadly, the most notable aspect of this version and I seriously wonder if I’ll ever get around to finishing it…

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