The first six Final Fantasy games have been ported to countless platforms over the years. The latest versions of these classics launched throughout 2021 and into the start of 2022. Currently only available on mobile and PC, the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series is an update to the original versions of these games with new graphics and audio. All of the music has been rearranged by series composer Nobuo Uematsu and the soundtrack of each game is fully orchestrated. These new arrangements alone make the Pixel Remaster series worth playing through. The music of these games is instrumental to the storytelling (pun not intended), and hearing these tracks with a full orchestra makes everything feel more alive.
The graphics have been completely redone from the ground up. The original versions of these games were released during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, and they all look very different from each other. Every game in the Pixel Remaster series uses the same graphical style, and they all have a uniform look. This new look is definitely an upgrade for the first three games, originally on the 8-bit Famicom/NES. However, there are aspects of the 16-bit games that looked better on the Super Famicom/SNES. The new spell effects and monster designs look incredible, but the character sprites all look flat and don’t pop out of the screen the way they did originally.
IS THE ORIGINAL ALWAYS BEST?
There are also a handful of quality of life improvements implemented into each game. The most useful of which is an in game map that makes exploring the massive dungeons feel far less tedious. If you bring up the world map and highlight a town or dungeon, the game will tell you how many items are at that location, and how many of them the player has gathered. In the original versions of these games, the player could only save in designated spots, or on the world map. The Pixel Remaster adds a quick save option that can be used anytime the player is not in battle or in a cutscene. These remasters retain the core gameplay of their 8-bit and 16-bit originals, but they’re updated just enough to have a more modern feel.
Some previous versions of these games included bonus content such as new dungeons and bosses. For example, the GBA versions of Final Fantasy IV-VI all include extra dungeons and enemies that were not in the original versions of the games. This extra content is completely missing from every game in the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series. It is unfortunate that this content is missing because some of it actually added to the story. What you are getting with these remasters is an updated version of the original release and nothing else. However, each game already tells an incredible story, and the script for each game has been updated for this release.
FINAL FANTASY I
The original Final Fantasy game featured many elements that would later become franchise staples. Except in this game, they appear in a very basic form. The story is more complicated than the stereotypical “go save the princess/your girlfriend” story most video games at that time had. However, there aren’t many memorable characters and the overall plot is still pretty basic. The typical JRPG trope of “gather the four crystals of the elements” started here. There is also a very basic job system that gives the game a lot of replay ability. When you start the game up you are given a selection of six jobs to assign to the four characters in your party. Since you won’t be able to use all six jobs in a single playthrough, going through the game multiple times with different party make-ups can be a lot of fun.
The combat of the first three Final Fantasy games is as basic of a turn-based combat system as you can get. At the start of combat, you select your party’s actions, then watch as everything plays out. Actions occur in a semi-randomized order and everyone politely stands around waiting for their turn. In the original versions of Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II, characters would just attack empty space if their target was killed by another character first. This made combat more strategic since you couldn’t just mash A to get through every battle. Ever since the PS1 version in 2002, this has been changed so characters will automatically pick a new target. Even though the combat is very basic, the gameplay can be very addicting and it’s easy to see why the series took off the way it did.
FINAL FANTASY II
Often considered the black sheep of the series, Final Fantasy II is the only game in the series that is truly “skippable”. With this game, Square wanted to try something more experimental. Characters don’t gain experience points at the end of battle, then level up after they get enough experience points. Instead, stats are increased individually, and are based on actions the characters make in battle. In addition to that, each character can equip any type of weapon. The more they use a weapon type, the more effective they’ll be with it. These changes to the typical JRPG formula sound interesting in theory, but in this game they just don’t work. Enemies are scaled so poorly that your party is either too weak to survive, or overpowered gods. The only weapons that are useful are swords, axes, and bows. This makes any other weapon you find totally useless.
The story is a basic “rebel army VS evil empire story”, but it has a much more memorable cast than the first game. However, every dungeon in Final Fantasy II is a test of patience and an exercise in frustration. Every dungeon has numerous dead ends. Some dead ends will have four doors; one will lead to the way forward, the other three are basically traps. These will lead to a single empty room that usually contains a difficult enemy encounter. It’s nearly impossible to not feel like you need to check all four rooms to make sure there isn’t any treasure in them. There never is, and they’re all as much of a waste of time as the rest of this game is.
FINAL FANTASY III
Final Fantasy III takes all the good parts of Final Fantasy I and makes them even better. The job system is expanded to include 22 jobs, and the player can change jobs anytime they’re not in combat. Much like the first game, the plot is a quest to gather the four crystals of the elements. However this time around, there is a larger cast of characters outside of the main party. When you first start exploring the world, the map initially seems a little small. Then, as the story progresses, you come to find that you’ve been living on a floating continent the whole time. When it comes time to leave this continent you find the actual world map is much bigger. Final Fantasy III doesn’t really do anything new, but does perfect everything that came before it. This is easily the best of the 8-bit Final Fantasy games.
FINAL FANTASY IV
Final Fantasy IV is the first game to tell a truly epic and grandiose story. It’s easy to think of cinematic storytelling in video games as something only more modern games are capable of. Final Fantasy IV achieved this in 1991 on 16-bit hardware. Even though the overarching plot is an incredible story of redemption, there are a few specific moments in the story that don’t hold up very well. There are about four characters who have fake-out deaths. The emotions of these moments are completely ruined when you find that they’re actually totally fine. The presentation of the story is far more impressive than the story itself.
This game didn’t just revolutionize the way video games told a story, it is also the game that introduced the world to the Active Time Battle, or ATB, system. In this system, every character has a time meter that starts charging once combat begins. Once this meter is full, you can select the character’s action. Square liked this system so much that it was used for six games in the Final Fantasy series. This system keeps the player more engaged with combat than the previous turn-based system. Since actions are constantly being taken, the player will often need to adjust their strategy at a moment’s notice. However, you’ll quickly find that the best strategy is to have each character use the same attack or spell every turn.
FINAL FANTASY V
Final Fantasy V is a game that many people often overlook. That is a real shame because, much like how Final Fantasy III feels like an improvement to Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy V feels like an improvement to Final Fantasy III. The job system makes a return, but with some major refinements. As a character uses a job, they will level up with that job. Every time a character earns a job level, they learn an ability from that job which can used at any time, regardless of what job they currently have equipped. This means you can easily make a black mage that can also use white magic, or a ranger that can use summon magic. The combinations of abilities and jobs are nearly endless. This might have the best gameplay of any of the early Final Fantasy games.
Even though the gameplay is top notch, the story of Final Fantasy V can best be described as “meh”. Once again you find yourself on an epic quest to gather the four crystals of the elements. Only this time, you have an angry, sentient, magical tree trying to stop you. There are a few memorable moments and the main cast of characters are charming enough, but the story just really doesn’t do anything special. It feels like a story that’s already been told. That’s probably because this is the third Final Fantasy game to tell the same basic story.
FINAL FANTASY VI
Often considered to be the best in the series, Final Fantasy VI is nothing short of an incredible game. There are fourteen playable characters and each one has their own unique ability to use in combat. In addition to that, every character can equip magicite, which allows them to learn magic spells. Even though the first half of the game is very straightforward and linear, the second half is a completely open world, allowing the player to choose how and when the story progresses. There aren’t many 16-bit RPGs that allow the player this kind of freedom of choice. Exploring the world to find all the characters and every piece of magicite is an experience that was decades ahead of its time upon its original release.
Final Fantasy VI may very well have the darkest story of the entire franchise. In a story like this, it is just as important to have a great villain as it is to have great heroes. Kefka Palazzo is one of the most memorable villains of all time. The struggle that the characters go through in an effort to thwart his plans is one of the most emotional and memorable experiences of any video game ever made. Each of the fourteen playable characters are so well fleshed out and developed that they all feel like the game’s main character. This is the kind of story that every JRPG fan must experience at least once in their life.
VIBE SCORE 9/10
32, living in Arizona with a passion for video games, music and movies.