Square Enix has long made a yummy salad out of porting its Final Fantasy games to mobile devices. It’s been roughly eleven years since the first two games in the series fell on iOS, and over the years the others have come. 2011, Final Fantasy 3. 2012, Final Fantasy 4. 2013 and 2014 came the fifth and sixth games, which brought us to the edge of the PlayStation era of the series. The big moment came in 2015: Final Fantasy 7 came, but with fewer changes than in the previous iOS versions. In fact, it felt like something was running in an emulator, but it was still cool to see such a big game hit our little screens.
Following this pattern, it seems logical to believe that Final Fantasy 8 would appear in 2016. Well, we got a Final Fantasy game this year, but it was the pretty impressive port of Final Fantasy 9. Unlike the previous game, this felt like it was rebuilt for hardware. Maybe that was the downside of Final Fantasy 8? At the time, I thought we would see the eighth game in 2017. Instead we got the original title Final Fantasy Dimensions 2. Hm, maybe 2018? No, that was Final Fantasy 15 Pocket Edition after all. Oh I understand! 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy 8! Square Enix, you smart dog. But no, no luck on the phone this year. It came to other platforms. Maybe it was just a little lagged behind on the phone?
2020 goes by, nothing. I will measure myself against you, friends. I thought Square Enix wouldn’t do it for some reason. Then last week I check out the App Store for new versions and Final Fantasy 8 Remastered ($ 20.99) sits right there. Alright Better late than never, right? I wonder how long we have to wait for Final Fantasy 10. One question for another time. I had already gone through this remaster when it hit Nintendo Switch a year and a half ago. So this run of the mobile version was more of a review to see how it made the transition than anything else.
So let’s get to that part in a moment. Final Fantasy 8 Remastered is unfortunately more similar to Final Fantasy 7 Mobile than Final Fantasy 9 Mobile. Basically, it feels like the game is running in an emulator shell. You have your button overlays and everything is done through these virtual buttons. A pause button brings up a menu of some features that you can customize, including the cheats, color, and opacity of the control overlays, as well as a choice between an analog stick or an eight-direction dpad for your virtual movement. There’s an auto-save feature and … well, that’s it.
It’s not that this is a bad thing, but it feels a bit overwhelming after the extra care in Final Fantasy 9. The layout of the virtual buttons also makes some Final Fantasy 8-specific elements more cumbersome. Squall’s Gunblade includes a well-timed R2 press to deal additional damage. A minor touch if it’s a shoulder button, but less intuitive if it’s a virtual button that sits in the corner of the screen. Whenever the shoulder buttons come into play, this approach shows its drawbacks. Right now you have no choice but to deal with it. Things like controller and iCloud support are apparently on the way, but as of now you’ll have to use the slightly sloppy touch controls.
Otherwise this port is good. In fact, the noticeable difference between the higher resolution characters and the backgrounds is much less noticeable on the smaller screens of most mobile devices. It looks and runs well, and is somewhere between the largely pristine graphics of Final Fantasy 7 and the extensive work of Final Fantasy 9. If you are particularly comfortable with the mobile version of Final Fantasy 7, then you will likely end up with Final Fantasy 8 Remastered doing well. Given the price asked, I wish Square Enix had handled things a little more gracefully at launch, regardless of update plans.
Final Fantasy 8 turned out to be one of the black sheep in the series for a number of reasons. Like the other black sheep (Final Fantasy 2 and Final Fantasy 13), it’s easy to understand its reputation and still love the game. It makes some decisions with its plot that don’t really matter to me personally, but I could make that argument for most Final Fantasy games. The cast is a bit smaller than the rates they include, and their grounded nature (there’s no one like Cait Sith or Quina in this lot) means that much of the character work is driven into pure drama stuff of growing up. The main character is intentionally obnoxious for the first half of the game, and that’s an aspect of the plot that often doesn’t fit people well.
Perhaps more problematic than its plot, however, is the unusual mechanics. Final Fantasy 8 actually has a lot of interesting, quirky systems, but it’s not very good at teaching players how to best use them. Worse, if you try to play this like any other Final Fantasy game, you will have the most uncomfortable time you can spend playing it. The levels of the enemies will adapt to those of your group so you can actually get bitten in the hindquarters while grinding levels. You can use your summoning quite a lot, but there are so many better ways to deal damage without sitting through non-skippable animations. There’s a great card game here that you might want to ignore, but its rewards are hugely useful.
They can prevail brutally, albeit not as easily as in other games in the series. The real joy of Final Fantasy 8, however, is taking advantage of the mechanics (especially the connection system that boosts your stats) and breaking the thing above your knee. Leveling up should be avoided if possible, but don’t worry about that. As long as you are using and abusing this junction system, things will work pretty well for you. Oh, and don’t neglect any of your party members. There’s a pretty good chance that at a very inconvenient time you will need even your least favorite bunch. Trust me.
I’ll go into leader-like tips here, but there’s a reason I do that. I hated Final Fantasy 8. The characters annoyed me. One of the big twists in the plot felt stupid to me. Part of the character development got away undeservedly. But the background behind all of this, and the likely reason these things pissed me off so much more than usual, is that I didn’t understand the mechanics of the game. When I learned that conventional tactics weren’t the best way to continue, that I had to approach the game on its terms rather than my own, I finally loved it. It takes a little work to really enjoy Final Fantasy 8. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it is absolutely something you should know the first time you jump in.
Final Fantasy 8 Remastered took its time on mobile platforms. The port is not optimal, but sufficient. Certainly made well enough for you to enjoy the game as it is. Well, whether or not this game will be to your liking is a whole different matter. It’s an odd duck, but it has a loyal following for a reason. If you are open to a JRPG that is off the beaten path in more than one way, and not always in a good way, you might become a fan yourself. I’m not sure if it was the right sequel to Final Fantasy 7’s blockbuster hit, but there’s a lot to love about Final Fantasy 8’s unique charms.