I got the remaster and so far I gotten to the point where you meet the Timber Owls. My wife has gone from “wanting to name all of the GFs after Pokemon or Disney princesses” to being invested in the game’s story and general dorkiness (though those aren’t mutually exclusive). As for myself, I don’t regret the purchase (I cut my teeth on the PC version, so I’m used to its shortcomings.)
I have a lot of weird nostalgia to unpack with this game. It was one of those mid-late-PS1/early-PS2 era games where my older brothers and a cousin who was living with us played together, gathered around a TV or huddled around a PC monitor. I never got to play myself, but I remember watching the majority of the game and several conversations they had about strategies. For me, FF8 is unique amongst those games because it’s the only one I ended up revisiting on my own terms (a few years later when I was around 15).
One random thing I remember is that the PC version of FF8 (and FF7) came with a cardboard cutout that would fit around the numpad and tell you the default controls (it even had the game’s logo on it). I remember that they’d always put that on the keyboard when playing. Sadly, I couldn’t find any pictures of it on the internet (just lots of pictures from sites selling keyboards).
So, when my older brothers were playing the game I remember them hitting a brick wall vs. Edea in Disc 2. Their playstyle at that point was still based on spamming summons and not engaging with the game’s magic-crafting economy. I forget what they did, but they eventually beat that fight and beat the game. My memory tells me that they played cards more and used summons less, so I think that they looked at a guide that told them what to do. When I first played the game for myself I ran into a similar stopping point (slightly earlier on). I recall following a low-level guide from that point on and that really (hilariously) trivialized the game.
Anyhow, with my current playthrough I’ve determined that I will use the refine abilities, but I won’t reference a guide or a speedrun to find out the optimal ways to bust open the game’s economies. I’ve been enjoying it thusfar. My favorite early-game shenanigan is to refine a bunch of tents into 10 Curagas apiece, allowing me to quite safely spam limit breaks when I’m at “low” health.
I’m a bit amazed at this point just how many refining-items the game dumps on you early on. Most of the early overworld encounters like to give you M-Stones (for tier 1 spells mostly), but also there’s a boss battle shortly after the SeeD exam that gives you 16 Wizard Stones (which translates to 80 -aga level spells). Frankly, I’m kind of amazed that my younger self (and I assume most other first-time players) just assumed all of those items were junk — though it kinda figures since refining is one of the game’s few systems to not receive a tutorial.
As for as the writing and characterization and such: I like it. There’s a lot of subtlety and nuance and stuff that I feel I missed when I was 10 or even 15. Like, I dunno, the awkwardness and physical comedy in the dancing scene is something I appreciate a lot more now as a late 20-something who has Actually Danced with Girls than as a teen whose thoughts on dancing were closer to Squall’s.
On the other hand, a lot of stuff that seemed complex or grandiose to young-me seems very straightforward in 2019. Like, even my wife who had no prior experience with Final Fantasy was able to tell that the bombastic opening cutscene was establishing relationships between Squall/Seifer, Edea/Rinoa, and Rinoa/Squall, even if she didn’t know the names. Likewise, the opening part of the Dollet mission is hilarious with how intense the music is, juxtaposed against the fact that you’re just repeating the same braindead fight 4 or 5 times in a row — though that probably has a lot to do with it being in the weeds of early-game RPG design where the design space can be limited.
FF8 is one of those few games I’m attached to enough that I could talk about it ad nausuem, but I’m typing this on my wretched phone so please feel free to talk about things like “How problematic is it to play a game that is largely uncritical of your mercanaryhood?” or “What in the world is a balamb fish?” or “Why did they never make a hoverboarding spinoff starring Zell?” or “What were the macroeconomic consequences of radio technology becoming unusable 18 years ago?”