There are a lot of Final Fantasy games. I’m not just talking about spinoffs either – Final Fantasy IV alone has been released on five different consoles with slight or massive differences between each release. Some versions had loading times, extra content, or were full 3D remakes. There are a ton of rereleases and remakes for every Final Fantasy up until VII, which has mostly stayed the same until its… modern adaptation in the form of Final Fantasy VII Remake. For a long time, the most accessible versions of I – VI have been the horrendous looking mobile ports which were also converted to PC. Now, however, Square Enix has decided to properly honor the FF legacy with the Pixel Remaster line; a series of remasters based on the original releases with redone pixel art. While these are no doubt the definitive versions of each of these games, they could have gone just a bit further to make them perfect.
Final Fantasy follows four warriors of light of your choosing as they restore the crystals to their former glory. It gets a lot more complicated than that, which is impressive for an NES game, but that’s the basic gist. Starting a new game for the first time, there’s a new intro cutscene to give a bit more context into the story and world. It’s not groundbreaking, but it puts it more in line with other games in the series.
In my short time with the game, I found it to be much easier than the original version; I was able to defeat the Garland and cross the bridge within an hour or so. This may be due to the battles being much, much faster now or the fact that characters will automatically switch targets if theirs has already been defeated. Don’t get me wrong, this is still an NES RPG like Dragon Quest or EarthBound Beginnings, complete with gameplay made mostly of grinding, but that experience has been smoothed out so it feels a lot better.
I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, so just mentally copy and paste this paragraph for every game covered here, but Final Fantasy is absolutely gorgeous. The pixels look sharp and clean, so while this obviously wasn’t the original intention with a game designed to be played on a CRT Television, it’s a joy to look at. There is a CRT filter you can turn on, but it’s not great with scanlines and mostly succeeds at color bleeding. One thing I did not expect going in was the fully orchestrated soundtrack, and it is a very nice surprise. I’ve been to game-based symphonies in the past, and that’s essentially what you’re getting here; every single song for every single game rendered by an orchestra. Of course, given that this is Final Fantasy, you’ll hear a wide range of instruments with everything from trumpets and violins to bass guitars and synthesizers. Honestly, I would say these games are worth buying for the music alone.
Final Fantasy II
The black sheep of the series, Final Fantasy II took a bold new direction with more of a focus on story and character progression way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t exactly a good thing, because it can be easily broken and the game expects you to do just that. This makes it somehow more grind focused than the previous title, essentially forcing you to have your characters hit themselves repeatedly in battle to improve their HP and Defense stats. It’s a neat idea and one I would like to see return in a future installment, such as a followup to the upcoming Stranger of Paradise, but it just doesn’t work here.
Even with all its flaws, Final Fantasy II is still a fun game and a title the rest of the series heavily draws from. Firion is one of the most iconic Amano character designs, right behind FF1’s Warrior of Light and I can’t count how many times I’ve seen the Wild Rose password that the rebellion uses referenced in other games, particularly FF14. It’s kind of a mess, but it’s a lovable mess if that makes sense.
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy III was my first Final Fantasy game with its remake on the DS, so it has a special place in my heart even if it does suffer from grind heavy gameplay and some poor design choices. This entry dials back on the story and character focus of II and instead goes back to the FFI approach of four generic Warriors of Light, albeit with a touch more personality and a shared backstory. Your four Onion Knights are exploring a cave when the floor collapses beneath them and they discover a crystal which gives them special powers to fight off the darkness with. FFIII introduced my absolute favorite Final Fantasy gameplay trope: the job system. While all your characters start as the same class, you can swap them at any time to the now iconic FF jobs like White Mage, Monk, Ninja, and Sage. The job system is a ton of fun to experiment with and find combinations that suit your playstyle. While it’s a bit more shallow and clunky here than in future games, thankfully the Capacity Points from the original release have been removed, leaving you more free to experiment.
While I think I prefer having the actual character designs seen in the 3D remake, I will admit they felt fairly shallow outside of the intro and getting them all at once instead of over a short amount of time feels a lot better in terms of planning how you’ll build your party. As with a few of these titles, the localization has been completely redone, you can now save anywhere with quick save, maps prevent you from getting too lost, and you can even move diagonally. Everything is simply more user friendly, from battles to shops. I do wish there was some sort of story summary to tell you where you left off after a long break, especially for I – III which are more aimless, but these are comparatively short games and there’s no shortage of walkthroughs on the internet.
The music in all of these remasters is wonderful, but I have to give special mention to III because, in my opinion, this is where the soundtracks really started to become magical. The world map theme, Eternal Wind, is still one of my favorite tracks in the entire franchise, which is saying something when Crystal Chronicles exists, and this is my favorite version of that song now. It’s a beautiful tune that somehow captures every feeling of an adventure; mystery, wonder, loneliness, fear, companionship, and discovery. To me, Eternal Wind IS Final Fantasy, and the care taken in recreating this masterpiece extends to most aspects of these remasters.
Final Fantasy IV
If Final Fantasy II was Square dipping their toes into story, Final Fantasy IV is them diving right in. The game follows Cecil, a Dark Knight working for the Kingdom of Baron taking other nations’ crystals by force. After slaughtering too many innocence in his previous job, he’s beginning to question the king’s judgement along with his erstwhile companion, the Dragoon Kain, who still believes in the mission. When the two are sent to a remote village unwillingly carrying a package of monsters to kill all the residents, they discover a young girl by the name of Rydia; the world’s last Summoner after they murdered her mother. Cecil then makes it his goal to stop Baron and protect Rydia, recruiting allies to his cause over the journey as he uncovers a much grander conspiracy than he ever thought possible.
The story is very Disney-esque, drawing on classical literature and following tried and true character arcs, such as Cecil’s eventual redemption in becoming a Paladin after facing the darkness within himself. The plot has a ton of memorable moments that I won’t spoil here, and is still considered by some to be the best FF story. This entry may have forgone the job system of III, but instead it uses jobs to further the story like Cecil’s aforementioned character development from Dark Knight to Paladin or Rydia’s slow mastery of Black and White magic as well as summoning. It’s a well executed story that hasn’t aged a day, if anything it’s only gotten more impactful with time.
This is also where the Active Time Battle system was first introduced. In previous games, you would select your party’s actions all at once and watch them play out, then rinse and repeat until the battle’s over. Here, however, for a character to take action their ATB bar needs to fill up. Only once it’s full can you then choose an action, with time still moving forward as you wait and choose. It’s a nice middle ground between turn-based and action combat, and I know many people, including myself, long for a Final Fantasy that would return to this system. It can be hectic to manage everything, but doing so is also incredibly satisfying and forces you to consider the moment to moment flow of every battle. For example, you may want to forgo an attack to heal before a character gets too low on HP, or even do the opposite to prevent incoming damage if you can defeat a foe quickly enough.
Sadly this is where I have to start talking about the Pixel Remasters’ problems. I’ve praised the visuals so far, but there are some glaring issues present in every single game that I’m shocked made it to the full release. Most obvious is the font – it just doesn’t fit. Sure, it’s nice for accessibility to have a clean, sans-serif font for readability, but its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The kerning of letters is often far too close together, leaving a lot of wasted space on screen for no particular reason, and I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I would have preferred the original, pixel font. On PC at least, you can mod this out with any font you choose, but I do worry for the mobile versions and eventual console releases (if they ever happen, which they should).
Continuing with the UI and HUD, the classic FF blue gradient for menus is far too smooth – it clashes horribly with the rest of the visual style. This is especially strange when the auto-battle icon, which for some reason is always on screen during combat in the top right corner, looks a lot better as it uses actual pixel art. It’s just a very strange issue that tarnishes what is otherwise a fantastic recreation of the original pixel art.
I say fantastic, but IV and V are where I have some complaints about the visuals. In particular, the character sprites use bright colors that make them look too flat and lack the complex shading of the original designs. This does make them stand out from the darker backgrounds, but carefully following my character on screen isn’t a real issue in these kinds of games. This works in FFI-III, since they more closely resemble their original counterparts, but these most recent two pixel remasters feel like we lost something in the translation, particularly from their GBA versions.
Final Fantasy V
The most recent and penultimate pixel remaster as of writing, Final Fantasy V follows Bartz and his three companions as they try to prevent the destruction of the world’s crystals, and thus the degradation of nature with stagnant winds and polluted seas. V brings back the job system in full force with one of the franchise’s best implementations in my opinion. As you level jobs, your characters will master skills they can take with them into other jobs. For example, if you want a tanky, physical damage dealing fighter who can also heal, you must first have a character train in White Mage, then switch over to Warrior with White Magic as your additional ability. It’s a joy to experiment with and allows you to create some crazy combinations as you acquire more and more jobs over the course of the game. For that alone, this is one of my favorite Final Fantasies, however, some may not like that the story returns to a more lighthearted tone after IV. The plot still has its moments, but nothing so impactful as anything found in its predecessor.
FFV’s more whimsical spirit does help the visual translation of the pixel remaster’s more light color palette a bit, but sadly there’s still more missing here. The GBA versions of these games added new content like dungeons, bosses, and jobs that aren’t present here. It’s a shame, because with those the Pixel Remasters would be the definitive versions of each of these games. I hope Square decides to add these in a future update, especially seeing as these took other releases’ balancing and convenience changes into account, but for now I’m torn on recommending these or the GBA versions.
There are a few things the Pixel Remasters have over the GBA in addition to full widescreen support, redone backgrounds, and orchestrated soundtracks: the extra goodies! Each game includes a bestiary, art gallery, and music player to browse at your leisure. The gallery contains some fantastic Amano art along with character sprites from multiple versions of the games, and the music player even has some cute animations for the characters from that particular entry. They’re great additions that round out the package, though I do wish things like the original soundtracks and box art would have been included.
Final Fantasy VI
Check back soon for our review of the Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster after it releases!
While the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters aren’t perfect, they’re certainly the best and most convenient ways to play these classic games. The soundtracks are lovingly orchestrated and the pixel art is gorgeous, though the latter does lose some detail in the translation. Each game feels great to play, but I do wish extra content from previous releases or remakes had been included.