Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters Review

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster logo

Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters Review

The Final Fantasy series hit a major milestone in 2022 with the celebration of its 35th anniversary and the accompanying insight into the series’ past, present, and future. Just a year prior, Square Enix would release newer, updated versions of the first six games in the storied franchise as the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters — supposed definitive versions of the legendary formative games that inspired the future direction of the franchise and helped establish the conventions of the Japanese-developed role-playing game, or JRPG, as we know them. These remasters are far from the first ports and re-releases of classic entries in the Final Fantasy franchise, but their availability across modern consoles, PC, and mobile makes them the most accessible.

Aside from accessibility working in their favor, the Pixel Remasters also bring some much-needed improvements to the earliest games in the series. While Final Fantasy IVVI hold up incredibly well even under modern standards, the first three games in the franchise have not aged as gracefully, despite their importance to the RPG genre and the games industry as a whole. The original Final Fantasy and its first two sequels are the definitive “glow-ups” of the games receiving the Pixel Remaster treatment, and the improvements made to their mechanics and systems (as well as the helpful “Boosts” that the Pixel Remaster versions include) are sure to introduce the games to a brand-new audience that will be more receptive to them in this newer context.

That said, it is important to note that the Pixel Remasters adhere closely to the original Famicom and Super Famicom releases of the first 6 Final Fantasy games, eschewing the inclusion of additional dungeons, super bosses, and post-game content that the Wonder Swan, PS1, and PSP ports of these titles include.

Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster key art

©Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster key art – Original

The original game in the series and the title that kicks off the franchise’s long history, Final Fantasy is still a remarkable experience that holds up incredibly well despite later games in the series overshadowing it. The glue that holds the first game in the series together is its relative simplicity and straightforwardness, delivering what amounts to a classic pen-and-paper RPG in a piece of digital interactive media. The rules and systems that govern Final Fantasy‘s gameplay behind the scenes adhere closely to the format established by Dungeons and Dragons a decade before its original release, and that steadfastness to RPG convention serves Final Fantasy well. Going back and playing the Pixel Remaster after being a lifelong series fan makes the original feel like “Baby’s first RPG”, and it’s an excellent starting point for those new to the genre.

However, lest we forget, Final Fantasy is a tough game with plenty of necessary grinding and some obtuse quest design that often leads to confusion over where to go or what to do. Additionally, the dungeon layouts in the original Final Fantasy are exceedingly maze-like in their construction. With the random encounter rates being like they are, expect to rely heavily on the game’s welcome inclusion of completely turning off enemy encounters in dungeons when you inevitably get lost. Thankfully, 35 years of existence and decades of fan-made guides and forums online mean that solutions to navigating these dungeons or helpful maps are never more than a few clicks away. Final Fantasy, like Dragon Quest, is pure RPG “comfort food”, and the Pixel Remaster honors the beauty in its simplicity.

Rating: 8/10

Final Fantasy II

Final Fantasy II title card

©Final Fantasy II Pixel Remaster key art – Original

Upon its original release and for many years afterward, Final Fantasy II undoubtedly got the short end of the stick when it comes to the first 6 games in the series. Long derided for the deviations it makes from the original Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II is essentially the spiritual precursor to the SaGa franchise, which makes its strange mechanics all the more meaningful. Unlike the original game, which sees players battling enemies, gaining experience, and leveling up after reaching certain experience point thresholds, Final Fantasy II requires players to complete specific actions in battle to level up those skills. Swordfighting only improves from using swords, magic only gains potency from using spells in battle, and even HP pools and defense only increase from taking damage and surviving.

The Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy II deserves commendation, then, for the ways that it improves the core experience and allows the story, characters, and innovations of the series’ first sequel to shine. While the Famicom version of FFII is perhaps one of the most difficult games in the series (especially early on), the Pixel Remaster‘s “Boosts” make its more confusing mechanics and progression systems less abrasive, allowing the excellent Star Wars-inspired tale at its core to take center stage. Aside from its offbeat mechanics and differing approach to RPG design from its predecessor, Final Fantasy II introduces many important concepts that would come to be staples in the series, such as the recurring Cid character, a greater emphasis on story and premade characters, and non-linear exploration and adventure.

Rating: 7.75/10

Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy III title card

©Final Fantasy III Pixel Remaster key art – Original

As the first game to introduce the concept of the “Job System” to RPGs, allowing players to switch up their classes and party composition on the fly, Final Fantasy III is a hugely influential game in the continued evolution of the genre and a fan-favorite for the freedom it affords to create an adventuring party of your dreams. The same holds true in the Pixel Remaster, which thanks to its helpful “Boosts” makes mastering each of the game’s more than 20 Jobs easier than ever before. Notably, Final Fantasy III is also a massive return to form for the franchise, ditching many of the interesting mechanics from Final Fantasy II in favor of bringing things back to the same basic format of the original, albeit with the inclusion of Jobs and the best story the series had seen to that point.

Accordingly, Final Fantasy III‘s incredible story is a taste of what’s to come, signaling a pivot in the franchise toward greater narrative emphasis to match its excellent RPG gameplay. While the Dragon Quest series would make its adherence to tradition and convention its defining feature, Final Fantasy III establishes that Square’s flagship franchise is built on a foundation of innovation and evolution, deviating from what came before in an effort to give players a brand new adventure in exciting new worlds with every mainline entry. Even with the helpful “Boosts”, Final Fantasy III is also one of the more challenging games in the original trilogy of Final Fantasy titles, landing somewhere between the original and its sequel in terms of difficulty, which makes it arguably the best game of the series 8-bit era.

Rating: 8.25/10

Final Fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster title card

©Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster key art – Original

The release of the Super Famicom (the SNES over here in the West) would bring with it 16-bit updates to many of the Famicom/NES’ most beloved franchises, and Final Fantasy is no exception. For its first “next-gen” entry, Square ends up pulling out all the stops and crafting what many still consider to be the best game in the franchise for its story alone. Prior to Final Fantasy IV, video game stories were mostly told through screenshots and brief cutscenes, or elaborated upon in the instruction manuals that came packaged with the games themselves. Thanks to the power of the Super Nintendo, Final Fantasy IV was able to break new ground in terms of the amount of available dialogue, which in turn resulted in the game having some of the best plot and character development of any SNES game, Final Fantasy or otherwise.

Not content to rest on its excellent story and characters, though, Final Fantasy IV also represents a major turning point in the franchise through the inclusion of the revolutionary Active Time Battle (ATB) system. The ATB system transforms what were previously turn-based battles where enemies and characters complete actions in a prescribed order, to dynamic, real-time encounters where players need to think on their toes and be ready to respond to enemy attacks while deciding on a course of action during a turn. Further, Final Fantasy IV is the only game in the series to allow 5 characters in the player’s party, creating a greater sense of diversity in the offensive and defensive options available during each one of the game’s challenging encounters. If it weren’t for the SNES’ last game in the series, Final Fantasy IV would represent the franchise’s 16-bit peak.

Rating: 9.5/10

Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V title card and artwork

©Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster key art – Original

After utilizing premade characters with static classes in Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V returns to the Job System of Final Fantasy III to great effect. Like that classic series entry, Final Fantasy V gives players the freedom to swap classes, or “Jobs”, at will. However, where Final Fantasy V improves the system is in the new ability to mix and match secondary abilities from other Jobs with a character’s current Job selection, resulting in an even greater amount of customization and the opportunity to create unique, game-breaking “hybrid” jobs that can trivialize what should otherwise be challenging encounters. And challenging they are, the fifth game in the series swaps the general difficulty spike of Final Fantasy IV in favor of an easier overall experience punctuated by some nail-biting boss encounters that practically require specific part compositions to overcome.

Outside the improvements to the Job System and the excellent gameplay on offer in Final Fantasy V, the game remains a fan and developer favorite thanks to its incredible, but lighthearted, story and impeccable soundtrack. Nobuo Uematsu is a master of his craft and one of the most important composers to ever contribute to the medium of video games, and his scores for each of the Final Fantasy titles he worked on are noteworthy in their own right. Somehow, Final Fantasy V‘s stands out as one of the best, thanks in no small part to its uplifting and optimistic main theme that reflects the wide-eyed sense of adventure of the game’s main character, Bartz.

Rating: 9/10

Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI title card and artwork

©Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster key art – Original

While there’s every chance that achieving a true “perfect” game is impossible, there’s a strong case to be made that Final Fantasy VI represents the closest that the franchise ever came to meeting that lofty goal. Both the series’ final 2D entry and its last mainline entry for the Super Famicom/SNES, Final Fantasy VI represents the culmination of years of design and innovation on the franchise, distilling the series’ best ideas into a powerhouse of a title that is both the greatest RPG on the Super Nintendo and one of the greatest games in the genre, period. From a narrative standpoint, Final Fantasy VI‘s characters and conflict rank as the best in the series, even beyond the first 6 entries, introducing players to what is arguably the franchise’s greatest cast of heroes, most despicable villain, and life-threatening stakes.

Gameplay-wise, Final Fantasy VI is equally as groundbreaking, further evolving the ATB system introduced in Final Fantasy IV and delivering the franchise’s greatest magic system through the inclusion of Espers and Magicite. Thanks to the magical Espers and their stone-like Magicite forms, every character in the game can now learn and master magic, making the effort to grind out each character to level 99 and have them learn every spell in the game well worth it. The Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy VI is, once again, wise in not changing what fans continue to love about the game, and its near-perfection makes it the one game out of the original six that is an absolute must-play for any RPG fan. If you’re going to just get one Pixel Remaster and not the whole series, make sure it’s Final Fantasy VI.

Rating: 10/10

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