Game Review: Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster (PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC)

When it comes to JPRGs, the two franchises that immediately spring to mind for most people are Zelda and Final Fantasy. Both have a vast pedigree dating back almost 40 years, although it’s only the latter that has been experienced by gamers other than Nintendo officianados. The Final Fantasy series is now up to the 16th main game in the series (not counting the endless spin-offs, Chocobo titles, and more), there are still many fans who haven’t experienced the game that started it all…

Final Fantasy – The Beginning

When I received the Nintendo Classic Mini console shortly after it was released, being a fan of Final Fantasy is was obvious that I was going to be drawn to the Square Enix classic. Despite having a lot of games to choose from on the console, I found myself playing Final Fantasy more than any other game on the Classic Mini. A LOT more. I’ve been playing games in the Final Fantasy series since my first introduction to them with Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation but my first encounter with the game that started it all off wasn’t in its original incarnation but rather its remastered form released for the PSP so going back to play it on the NES was like a breath of fresh air to me.

I won’t go into too much detail about the game and it’s plot as there can’t be many of you out there now who haven’t experienced at least one Final Fantasy game in your life. The story is typical Final Fantasy fare – your party of heroes are tasked to save the world which – according to the game – has been shrouded in darkness. An ancient prophecy foretold of a group of adventurers – the four Warriors of Light – who will save the world, bearing four mysterious crystals. Your group of weary travelers arrive – all four of you carrying strange objects and everyone believes you to be those very saviours they are seeking. Looking to you as their only hope, you set off on your quest to save the world…

Not The First Remake

While Square Enix have made a big deal about this release, this isn’t the first remastered version of Final Fantasy. The first update to this classic was produced back in 2008 for the PlayStation Portable as a physical and digital release (also playable on the PS Vita) and as I mentioned before, this is how I first encountered the game. This improved on the original in a huge number of ways and took what was a good, but dated classic and turned it into a game that still managed to hold its own two decades after its first release.

Interestingly enough, when you look at both this and the current Pixel Remaster, many of the updates have remained across both versions with all of the best parts of the 2008 update being retained, with some new features added to enhance the game further.

Visual Makeover

As you’d expect, the graphics have obviously been given a major overhaul from the 8-bit visuals of the NES to the wonderful cartoon graphics presented here. Every character is immediately given more personality, feels as if they have more life breathed into them and all of the background graphics have been given the same loving care and attention to bring the game world to life. Even the world map itself has a pseudo-3D effect added to it.

The Pixel Remaster takes things a step further, offering two options for the text allowing you to choose between the original pixel style or a more modern, cleaner font for all the on-screen text (personally I have to say that my eyesight preferred the latter!). There’s also a CRT filter giving the game a more authentic 80s look and feel which does wonders for the graphics. I’ve seen a LOT of CRT filters used in retro games and consoles, and have to say that this is one of the best implementations of the effect I’ve seen so far and it’s become my standard way of playing.

Sounds Terrific

Both versions have a new orchestral arrangement of the original game soundtrack, but the Pixel Remaster gives you the option to swirch between the two at any time during the game. While I’m a huge retro gaming fan, I was never a huge fan of the sound chip on the NES (I’m more a fan of the Commodore 64’s incredible SID chip) so it was the new music for me. But having the option was certainly a welcome bonus.

I’m glad they didn’t go further and add voiceovers or additional sound effects beyond the basic combat ones though as I think it might have spoiled the atmosphere. I still can’t quite come to terms with Final Fantasy VII with spoken dialogue…! Regardless, all of the improvements throughout to the sound do enhance the experience and make for a more enjoyable gaming session – at least on the eyes and ears taking the graphics upgrade into account as well.

Gameplay

But those are really just cosmetic changes. The real crunch really is how well the gameplay holds up and whether that has been left intact or affected in any way. Before I get onto that, the first thing I noticed with both versions was the character creation. When you set up your party of four before you begin your quest, on the NES original, you were limited to using four characters for your names. In the PSP version this was expanded to six. In today’s gaming era that might not sound like a lot, but back then it was a big deal, I tell you!

The new version has expanded that character limit once more (the number varies depending on whether you choose to use upper or lower case or a mix of the two) and is a much welcome change. When we create our party, most of us will either choose friends, family members or favourite film/TV characters and this finally lets us do this properly!

Playing The Game

While the core game and story remains the same there have been some changes made but thankfully all for the better. Character progression at the start of the game was – I have to admit – quite arduous on the NES. Not because the game was tough but more because combat felt like a chore. Final Fantasy’s ATB (Active Time Battle) system was introduced back then but it was flawed. Each character in your party only had a certain chance of being able to hit your opponents and on the NES characters started with a very low attack chance drawing combat out longer than it needed to.

Add to that a logic flaw that beggars belief in the original that made combat frustrating more than anything else… In harder battles logically you’d assign all of your party members to attack the strongest opponent first. Once that opponent was defeated any of your characters who haven’t taken their turn would – as you’d expect – move onto one of your other adversaries. Not on the NES they didn’t. For some bizarre reason, if a character is defeated but the rest of your party had been assigned to attack that character they still attempted to attack the “missing” opponent! Obviously there’s nothing there so they report back that their attack was unsuccessful! It’s absolutely astonishing that this slipped past the testers all those years ago but thankfully this was corrected for the remakes.

At the same time, your party start off with a higher attacking rate (not attacking strength I hasten to add), and the combat seems to flow a lot faster and as such is much more enjoyable (and with all the grinding you need to do in a typical RPG this is a pretty important point!).

It’s A Kind Of Magic…

The magic system has had a revamp as well. First time around all magic users could learn a fixed number of spells for each magic level they had attained (three per level out of four available spells). On the NES characters had a fixed amount of magic points to spend on casting spells per level with each spell costing the same. For example, early on in the game a White Mage may only have a couple of level one spells and have 2 or 3 magic points at their disposal to cast them. Once they run out, it’s back to an Inn to rest to restore them.

This is where the updated versions differ… The 2008 update uses the system that most will be familiar with these days – each magic user has a set number of magic points and these can be used on any spells but each individual spell has its own “cost” in MP. Weaker spells don’t need much to cast them but more powerful ones are more demanding. It’s a much better system and it’s another great improvement to see this implemented in the remake. But the Pixel Remaster has reverted back to the original system where magic users have a fixed amount of MP allocated to each magic skill level they have attained and only that can be used on the spells you have learned.

To be honest, of the two methods of using magic I prefer the system seen in the previous remake, especially in tougher combat later on when you’ll need magic users to help with healing and defensive spells. It does make you question whether you should have just relied on potions and and a combat-driven party from the start instead…

Pixel Remaster – Further Changes

When looking at the latest remake, even more changes have been implemented. First is an overhaul of the user interface making it much easier to navigate the menus. A more subtle one is the autosave feature and while it doesn’t save progress to one of the game’s internal save slots it should be something of a lifesaver if you lose a boss battle and forget to save beforehand.

One thing I did notice as well is that there’s a feature included for those who want a more casual gaming experience. In the options menu you can adjust settings to alter the number of random enemy encounters you have during play, as well as increasing the amount of gil and exp you receive from battles. While some hardened players may look down on this, it makes the game far more accessible to players of all abilities and makes this version of Final Fantasy more welcoming to those new to the genre.

A similar thing was done for the remake of Final Fantasy IX offering a battle setting giving characters the ability to inflict maximum damage on an opponent (9999 points) instead of the normal amount of damage. While it still left some challenge for the tougher fights and boss battles, it allowed casual players to focus on and enjoy the story rather than worry about the combat.

Bonus Material

In addition to all the gameplay tweaks Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster has a few final surprises for players. First is an art gallery packed with original concept and poster art from the game that can be viewed. Secondly is a music player giving you the chance to listen to the game’s score track-by-track, both in its original NES incarnation and the modern interpretation.

The final addition here is the bestiary, cataloguing all of the creatures encountered in the game. Here you can find details on their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, where to find them, and how much gil and experience you can expect to receive when you defeat any of them. And for those of you obsessed with statistics, you’re also informed of how many of them you’ve defeated.

Overall

While the original Final Fantasy isn’t the best in the series (I’d still reserve than honour for Final Fantasy VII), it is a fantastic RPG and provides not only hours of rock-solid entertainment but a fascinating insight into the legacy of one of the industry’s most enduring sagas.

It’s a superb, deeply engaging game and with the enhancements and improvements made with this new version, the Pixel Remaster becomes a must have for any RPG enthusiast.

Screenshots taken from different versions of the game.

About Simon Plumbe 214 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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