Install the game as you normally would by running setup either from the physical CD or from an ISO backup on a virtual drive. I highly recommend using ISOs as when it comes time to actually play, FMV sequences will load much quicker (and it helps prevent freezing due to the CD skipping, as I've encountered before). This should go smoothly and quickly with no hitches. Optionally, you can also install the official v1.2 patch from Square which isn't required but certainly recommended (try the non-geForce version first even if you're an nVidia user, GPUs have changed a lot since the patch was originally released). Everything seems to be going great so far, so now you should just be able to launch it and play, right?
Nope. The first problem comes when you load the game, get to the menu screen and select "NEW GAME": it requests that you insert Disc 1 (or if you have an old save file and select "CONTINUE" instead it will ask for the appropriate disc for your progress). And it does this even if you have already done so. At this point you're feeling pretty frustrated and dead in the water, convinced you'll never be able to play the game again unless you install Windows 98 for your OS. But don't despair, there is a fix!
Editing the registry
Disclaimer: I'm assuming you already know what the registry is and how to safely edit it. If you don't know this, look it up somewhere else first.
The problem arises because the game isn't correctly identifying your optical drive. Many websites out there claim this is a result of using a different drive than you used for the Install Disc, but this is straight up baloney since it happens even if you only have a single drive. Nevertheless, the symptom is that a registry key is set incorrectly and you need to load up regedit and change it. Where the key is located, however, depends on your OS setup and this is where it gets confusing when trying to Google a solution, and worse is that duplicate keys can exist in the given locations but have no effect! The first place you should try looking (and what you'll mostly find by searching) is:
- 32-bit OS:
HKLM\SOFTWARE\Square Soft, Inc\FINAL FANTASY VIII\1.00
- 64-bit OS:
HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Square Soft, Inc\FINAL FANTASY VIII\1.00
In that folder there should be a key named DataDrive and as I explained above, it probably is pointing to the wrong drive letter. Edit it and change it to the drive letter it should be looking for, whether virtual or not. Hopefully your problem is fixed and you can play the game now!
Unfortunately this may not be the end of it. Depending on how permissions are set up on your machine these may not be the actual registry folders being used. A dead give-away will be that all the other keys in the folder will have hex values of zero. This especially is where the collective knowledge of the web utterly fails. If you really dig, you'll find suggestions to uninstall the game and reinstall under the Administrator account (the one actually named that, not just a normal account with admin priveleges). While this may work, there's no need to go through that effort. In my colossal efforts I finally found a single website among all the noise with the appropriate fix which is just a different location for the registry folder. If the above didn't work, try checking:
- 32-bit OS:
HKCU\Software\Classes\VirtualStore\MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Square Soft, Inc\FINAL FANTASY VIII\1.00
- 64-bit OS:
HKCU\Software\Classes\VirtualStore\MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Square Soft, Inc\FINAL FANTASY VIII\1.00
This should finally get your game up and running. If even this doesn't do it for you, I don't know what to tell you. A couple random closing notes, though... Some websites—including the official solution released by Square—claim that if you're using ISOs they need to be in folders named "
FF8_DISCx" where x is the number of the disc, and sometimes they'll say the ISOs filename needs to match that scheme as well. This is unnecessary, and only the registry entry matters since it's looking for where the ISO is mounted, not where it's being mounted from or what the file is named. Also, if you have FF7 installed as well, the registry will have 2 similar looking folders called "Square Soft, Inc" and "Square Soft, Inc." (note the period after "Inc"). FF7 registry info is stored in the version that includes the period while FF8's info is in the one without. If you're still unsure, just poke inside and the name of the subfolder should tell you if you're in the right place or not.
Final Fantasy VIII is, of course, an old game and graphics standards weren't as high back then, plus a few bugs can crop up as modern GPU technology has changed. While the above will get your game working in a minimal state, this section is about making what improvements can be done to make it as modern as possible. It still won't look totally stunning: just less jagged and blurry. Higher polygon counts don't just come out of nowhere, you know!
Increasing the render resolution
The only resolution the game originally supported was 640×480... a fraction of today's typical 1920×1080 widescreen displays. Luckily, getting around this is a simple matter. Just download Aali's OpenGL driver (be sure to go to the latest reply in the thread, the OP annoyingly isn't updated to the most recent version) and follow the install instructions, which is basically drop the files from the archive into the game's root directory and edit the config file to your liking. The main advantage here will just be enormous anti-aliasing on rendered objects. The game will still look horrid by today's standards because the textures (including backgrounds) will still be as low resolution as ever and there's no getting around that, but at least the edges are smoothed. Take what you can get. Note that there's also an alternate way to up the resolution in the next section.
8-bit paletted textures
You may also have the problem where your game screen is full of black boxes mucking up the textures. This is because newer GPUs don't support such outdated things as 8-bit paletted textures. I usually hear about this problem in relation to nVidia cards and can confirm I suffer from it, but I have no idea if ATI/AMD cards are equally affected. Either way, if you're affected the simplest solution seems to be to use a custom FF8 exe launcher and just make sure the box for the hotfix is checked. Pretty simple. The launcher also provides its own way of upping the render resolution. I've no idea which of the two methods takes priority or if one does a better job than the other or even if the Aali driver fixes the boxes as well, but they seem to coexist peacefully on my system. Experiment with it if you want.
All the above should have your copy of FF8 running smoothly, but for completion's sake you might find the utilities made by Qhimm useful. The astute of you will have noticed that the graphical fixes above were developed by members of his site's forum community. Of particular interest is his save file editor called Griever. Yes you can use it to cheat by giving yourself godly stats and magic you don't have access to yet, which can be fun, but one thing I find especially useful is altering the regional card game rules to get rid of that pesky Random rule and to move rare cards back to Squall if I lost them. Do what you will with it. He has some nice FF7 editors too.