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One Reason I've Always Loved 'Final Fantasy VIII' Is Because People Hate It

The game's re-release gave me an opportunity to more closely examine why I've spent most of my life stanning 'Final Fantasy VIII.'

by Patrick Klepek
Sep 9 2019, 6:18pm

Image courtesy of Square Enix

“...Whatever.”

If there’s a single line that defines my memory of Final Fantasy VIII, re-released last week with updated visuals and quality-of-life features to eliminate much of the game’s grind, it’s Squall’s hysterically blasé reaction to everything around him. It also tracks with my own feelings on Final Fantasy VIII, and the way I’ve felt whenever Square Enix makes a splashy announcement riffing on Final Fantasy nostalgia and, once again, ignores Final Fantasy VIII’s existence. The world never gave this weird game its due, and I’ve been mad ever since. Being a Final Fantasy VIII stan has been a point of pride—a petty act of rebellion, a middle finger to the bandwagon fans of Final Fantasy VII and nostalgia-clingers of Final Fantasy IX.

I remember when I started working for Giant Bomb, and Brad Shoemaker and I got to talking about Final Fantasy. He revealed a soft spot for Final Fantasy VIII. I’ve known Brad for decades—seriously, we first met at E3 1998, when I was 13—but in that moment, we’d never been closer. There are shared interests, and there is mutually agreeing Final Fantasy VIII is a treasure. I’ve have moments like that time and time again over the years. It’s all a little silly, mind you—Final Fantasy VIII made a ton of money. It’s not some forgotten gem, really. Yet, loving it feels like you’re in a high school interest club where three people showed up and one person left because it felt awkward.

My ire reached a fever pitch this past E3, when Square Enix revealed Final Fantasy VIII was being re-released. For a brief and ridiculous moment, I entertained the idea of a true remake, a chance to see the gorgeous Balamb Garden realized with modern technology. This, of course, made no sense; Square Enix is already the middle of an expensive remake. Instead, Final Fantasy VIII would look...a tiny bit better. And you could skip fights. The precious Final Fantasy VII would, instead, be treated like an overrated rockstar. That’s how it went. Always.

This was a gross overreaction at the time, for what it's worth. Square Enix has done what appears like considerable work to make Final Fantasy VIII look better, absent an expensive rework. I was bitter.

And I get why people had problems with Final Fantasy VIII at the time, whether it was a divisive main character who pushed back on the traditional hero archetype, a convoluted plot even by Final Fantasy standards, or an experimental combat system that threw out franchise conventions. But those are exactly the reasons why I’ve continued to stand by the game! Nothing is going to prevent me from defending the junction system as being cool as hell! The game was totally fine with you breaking it! YOU COULD EQUIP DEATH TO CHARACTERS.

But in revisiting Final Fantasy VIII, it’s difficult to separate my adoration from its legacy, or lack thereof; so much of my redhot fandom is centered on the joy of being labeled the contrarian because my favorite Final Fantasy of the PS1 era doesn’t have Cloud or Vivi. It’s undeniable I’ve doubled down specifically because of the lack of respect, which made me wonder the obvious question: What if I’m merely fallen in love with being the odd one out? Maybe teenage Patrick simply had a blinding crush on Quistis? (This is probably still true.)

Final Fantasy VIII resists the clarion call of ‘universal themes’ at most moments,” wrote Cameron Kunzelman in a column for us earlier this year, “and that means that it is a specific and tragic story.”

For too many years, especially young, games were my primary medium of experiencing storytelling. That meant even mildest forms of experimental storytelling in a game could leave an emotional footprint on me. Final Fantasy VIII being dark and weird, a story about the tragedy of fate and the parts of life that are completely out of your control, is probably why I’ve never stopped thinking about it. Final Fantasy VIII’s strangeness, combined with people then quickly losing their shit over a sequel whose main appeal was hawking Final Fantasy tropes, had me digging in my heels. (I did like Final Fantasy IX, but felt it overly pander-y to an era that, at the time, wasn't that long ago.)

It’s why booting up Final Fantasy VIII for the first time in nearly 20 years on my Switch was an oddly stressful moment. Maybe it was better to leave my nostalgia where such feelings often functions best: in the past. But the moment Final Fantasy VIII’s opening cinematic started playing, accompanied by the bombastic and iconic “Liberi Fatali” by composer Nobou Uematsu, my heart fluttered a bit. Part of nostalgia’s power is an opportunity to revisit a different version of ourselves—in this case, someone who once spent the majority of their free time grinding through JRPGs, usually ones with a Squaresoft logo attached to them.

Here was a chance to return to a story, a world, and set of characters that once mea—

Incredible.

This updated version of Final Fantasy VIII comes with the ability to play everything but the cutscenes at 3X speed, which means you can churn through repetitive fights faster, or, uh, make Squall, who frequently has the personality of a doormat, look like a doofus.

And these features are great, by the way. You can straight up turn off random encounters in the open field, which is extremely useful for when you accidentally walk in the wrong direction and are suddenly forced into 12 different fights while trying to find a cave that’s five feet away. (I’m pretty sure I did that when I played Final Fantasy VIII the first time, and I immediately did it here, too.) Given how much time you spend siphoning magic from enemies—I spent half my time with this update drawing magic over and over and going “yeah, that’s the good shit”—anything that helps move that process along is useful.

My two hours strolling around wasn’t enough for me to resolve the tension I’d worried about, whether my rebellious fandom has more to do with my enjoyment than Final Fantasy VIII itself. I still like the characters, I still like the world, I still think repetitively drawing magic has a weird charm. It's probably true my standom is tied up in a personal identity being formed at a time when so much of what you like is defined by what others' perception of you? That's the point of being a teenager, I think? I’d have to spend a lot more time pulling at the other threads, and even then, my attachment to Final Fantasy VIII came at such a specific moment in time—young, naive—that Final Fantasy VIII’s power over a 14-year-old version of myself is still valid.

And anyway, who cares? Final Fantasy VIII ruled—and still rules.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you've lost are fellow Final Fantasy VIII disciple, drop an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com. He's also available privately on Signal.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.