Playing Final Fantasy VIII In 2024: Everything You Need To Know

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Originally released in 1999, Final Fantasy VIII may not have gone on to enjoy the critical acclaim of its predecessor, that being the one and only Final Fantasy 7, but it’s certainly earned its place in the hearts of many a Final Fantasy fan.

Read More: Final Fantasy VII: The Kotaku Retro Review

Perhaps you’ve been considering giving it a shot? Maybe you’ve cleared up Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth recently and are interested in another chapter from FF’s past, one that doesn’t get as much vocal praise? If you haven’t played it before, or it’s been some time since you checked it out, Final Fantasy 8 is well worth your time thanks to its experimental battle and character spec systems and cryptic narrative that, to this day, leaves many questions unanswered.

Let’s dig into what you should know about playing FF8 in 2024.

Two versions worth your time, one not so much

In 2019, Final Fantasy 8 got the remaster treatment with a fancy new version for Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam. It’s also playable on PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. This version is definitely a good one to play, but there are a few things you should know first.

Read More: So You Want To Play The Original Final Fantasy VII?

One of Final Fantasy 8 Remastered’s biggest flaws is that it doesn’t support analog control for movement. Yes, you can use the left thumbstick to move Squall and your party around, but the characters can only move in eight directions, not seamlessly in a way that precisely follows the analog stick like the game did on its original PlayStation launch in 1999. Characters run in octagons, not circles when twirling the thumbstick around.

Why is this a problem? For the most part it largely isn’t, but I have found that it can be hard to direct Squall to go exactly where you want him to when talking to NPCs and navigating the field screen. FF8 was originally developed with analog movement in mind, and I have found that there’s just an extra layer of awkwardness when moving the characters around the screen without it. Plus, back in the day it was kinda neat to see your whole party smoothly follow the analog movement of the first DualShock controller.

There’s another oddity present in the remaster: inconsistent character models. All of the main characters have received remarkable facelifts. But it seems this change hasn’t been applied universally as some NPCs look straight out of 1999. When held up as one-to-one comparisons, the presentation of certain scenes looks a little uneven.

A classroom full of students at Balamb Garden gets a lecture from Quistis.

An example from the Remaster: Note how certain characters look very different.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

Much like other Final Fantasy remasters and reissues, FF8 Remastered does have the option to speed up the game’s animations, avoid random encounters, and set your HP and Limit Break to max (sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘god mode,’ though it won’t make you invincible).

For these reasons, I’d prefer to play the original Final Fantasy 8 on the original PlayStation (or via emulation) instead of the Remastered version. The analog movement and more consistent visual presentation makes it a better choice in my opinion. That said, the remaster is a solid way to experience FF8.

Most importantly, unless you’re looking to mod the game on PC, please, please, please avoid buying the original PC version on Steam (the one without the Remastered label in the title). We don’t have time to go over the many issues with this deeply flawed port, but just know that it is a profoundly bad way to experience the joy that is Final Fantasy 8.

When in doubt, use the tutorial!

FF8 packs a very helpful tutorial in the game’s menu. If you’re confused about how any of its various systems work, be sure to give it a read.

Understanding the Junction system as painlessly as possible

Much has been made over FF8’s combat system over the years. While there are many fitting words to describe this system, “conventional” certainly isn’t one of them. So let’s break down exactly how this works so you can understand what to expect.

FF8’s characters all have base stats that reveal certain key strengths and weaknesses. Every character can attack and when their health drops too low, they have a chance at using a Limit Break, which does even more damage.

Characters in this game gain new abilities by “Junctioning” with powerful beings called Guardian Forces (GF). GFs let characters access new abilities like using Items, summoning GFs for a powerful attack, casting magic and, most importantly, drawing magic.

Squall draws magic from a monster.

Screenshot taken on the Switch with the remastered version.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

Magic is treated much like items in FF8. Instead of being able to cast “Thunder” or “Blizzard” as many times as you’d like, you have a finite number of uses per spell. Once you use them all up, you no longer have the spell and must instead “Draw” it from select locations while exploring, or from enemies directly (you can also Draw GFs from certain enemies, as well).

But that’s not all. Your spells don’t just give you attack abilities. Similar to FF7’s materia system, you can also boost a character’s stats and give them buffs with magic. To do so you have to Junction specific magic spells to specific stats. For example, Junctioning “Cure” to your HP will boost your overall hit points. Junctioning “Fire” to your Strength will increase your strength. Different spells will boost different abilities and you can check which ones have which effect by navigating to Tutorial > Information > Magic and selecting the spell you wish to learn more about.

A tutorial screen shows how the Blizzard spell affects different abilities.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

The more of any given spell you have Junctioned to an ability, the higher that stat will get boosted. For this reason, think of the number of spells you have as a percentage, not a per item count when Junctioning magic to stats.

Lastly, the GF you have Junctioned to a character determines which stats they can boost as per the skills each GF knows. Selecting GF and choosing one of the ones in your inventory will show you which skills they know. Quezacotl, for example, can learn Mag-J, which will allow a character to Junction spells to their Magic stat. Ifrit has Str-J, which will allow a character to Junction spells to the Strength stat. GFs can learn new abilities by earning AP from battles.

You can end up with some profoundly broken character setups with this system.

Squall holds up his gunblade to prepare for an attack.

Screenshot taken on the Switch with the remastered version.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

Junctioning 100 Curaga to HP, for example, will profoundly boost a character’s HP. While Junctioning a super powerful spell like Thundaga to Strength can massively increase a character’s attack power. There are also ways to Junction spells so that you deal elemental damage, absorb it, or can become immune to status effects like Blind and Sleep.

Yes, using magic like expendable items is weird at first, but FF8 wants you to think about magic in a different way than just a spell you cast for damage. Magic is a resource which you can use to create very different kinds of builds.

Keep random encounters to a minimum

Grinding is actually counterproductive in FF8 as enemies, especially bosses, will scale in level with you, granting them higher stats and better spells. This can get out of hand quickly if you’re spending too much time grinding.

Since the most common source of magic is to Draw it from enemies, you might be wondering how you’re supposed to strike this balance? To start, you can always Draw from an enemy and then escape from a battle. You’ll keep the spells you drew. There are also some GF abilities which will let you create spells as well.

Squall races forward to attack an enemy.

Screenshot taken on the Switch with the remastered version.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

Also, boss battles don’t grant experience points (thus you won’t level up from them) but they will have spells (and GFs!) to snag. They also deal out AP so your GFs will learn new abilities.

The remastered version’s encounter-skip option (activated by pressing both thumbsticks on a controller) makes this a breeze. If you’d prefer to leave this option off (or are playing a version that doesn’t have this option), the GF Diablo has an ability he can learn that cancels out random encounters. Also, if you walk on paved roads in the over world, you won’t get sucked into any random encounters either.

Check the Draw options from every single boss

Some bosses have missable GFs you can Draw. Be sure to check the Draw menu for each boss as soon as combat starts so you don’t miss out on any of them.

3x Speed on the remastered version makes for speedy Draw sessions

Fun fact about FF8 Remastered: If you hold down the action button (X and A on PS5 and Xbox, A on Switch), it functions like turbo mode. Combine this with the Cursor > Memory option in the Config settings and during a battle with an enemy, you can easily speed-run your way to filling up your magic inventory to spells. I like to do this early on as the enemies are usually quite easy.

3x speed is also really handy for speeding up GF animations and the beginnings and endings of battle.

But don’t speed through too much!

Quistis tells Squall why she was dismissed as an instructor.

Screenshot taken on the Switch with the remastered version.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

My preference with these FF remasters is to use 3x like I would a sprint button. I try not to use it much at all during dialog, as the characters in this game have wonderful, spirited animations that kinda get glossed over if you’re just burning through the game.

Yes, as a game from 1999, FF8’s various animations and transitions from exploration to combat can be a bit sluggish, but try to enjoy the ride during its most meaningful moments.

You can ignore Triple Triad (but give it a shot)

I struggle to learn the rules of card games, so I totally get wanting to skip out on Triple Triad. A full guide on how to play this game well is beyond the scope of this piece, but do know that it is entirely optional. That said, there is a way to transform monsters into cards, and then cards into magic, so it can be beneficial to engage in it to a minor degree.

Explore and talk to as many NPCs as you can!

An NPC tells Squall that there's going to be a parade in Galbadia.

A parade? Sounds like something neat might happen there...
Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

NPCs have a lot to say in FF8, particularly about the world. And FF8’s world is a very mysterious one with a deep and interesting history (or future, depending on how you look at it). Be sure to take the time to wander about different towns and interior spaces in order to talk to as many NPCs as possible. You never know what you might learn!

And yes, you should save before messing with the Magic Lamp!

Shortly before Squall, Zell, and Selphie take their first mission to the town of Timber, Cid has something to give you. Be sure to talk with him before leaving Balamb Garden and he’ll give you a magic lamp. Not only is this a missable item, it’s also a pretty dangerous one.

Cid gives Squall a magic lamp with great power.

Screenshot taken on the Switch with the remastered version.
Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

As the menu advises, be sure to save before activating it in the main menu. When you’re ready, select it and enjoy what happens next!


Final Fantasy 8 never saw multiple sequels and prequels, or any expanded media. And its experimental combat system certainly rubbed many an FF fan the wrong way in the late ‘90s. Still, for some there’s a certain magic in this weird and wonderful tale of mercenary teenagers and mysterious sorceresses. And, it just so happens to be my favorite Final Fantasy.

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