The original Final Fantasy first came out more than 30 years ago, and it’s been ported, remastered, and rereleased dozens of times, along with many other classics. As such, Final Fantasy Pixel Remastered is the latest in a long line of Square Enix re-releases of classic franchises for modern systems, even if this latest entry is made exclusively for PC and mobile.
This latest remake is a bit of a mess, with pixelated sprites and tiles that look great, but each game loses a little bit of its personality in order to make a cohesive series. While Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster is still a great way to add classic titles to a modern digital library, it can’t capture the charm of each title’s previous releases.
As of this writing, only the first three entries in Final Fantasy Pixel Remake have been released, with the latter three expected to release later in 2021. Looking at these three earliest titles alone, each was a competent remake, bringing three NES-sourced games to a widescreen setting with a sleek new UI. It’s easier to compare them to retro games made by indie developers than in their original form, because they’ve been brought so effectively into the modern gaming age.
To compare this latest release to previous attempts at reintroducing old Square Enix IP, it’s best to see how it matches up with the Chrono Trigger PC port. Fans and critics alike scrutinized the game for its ugly UI and poorly transmitted map tiles — especially on the world map — that looked worse on high-end PCs than the original’s standard definition on the SNES. In contrast, the menus and fonts in Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster look great, and every part of every game world has been subtly recreated in a widescreen format better suited to modern monitors.
In addition to the stellar visuals, there’s also the matter of new sound design, which brings Final Fantasy Pixel Remake’s music to life like never before, even among other re-releases of these classic games. Newly adapted and remastered music tracks elevate the classic 8-bit soundtrack. Square Enix is clearly so proud of these new tunes that players can listen to each track individually, or play the entire album in a playlist, from an extra menu on each game’s title screen.
Each game also comes with full controller support, allowing players to get a similar feel to every game released before on older consoles, or get ready for Final Fantasy Pixel Remastered when it hits Steam Deck. The keyboard controls are also responsive and well-designed for those who prefer to use the keyboard or mouse alone, with keys that bounce off easily if gamers have their favorite settings. Unfortunately, there’s no setting in the game to remove visuals from the screen without hiding them into corners, whether the player is using a mouse or not.
From here, the accolades will start to fall back as some new UI elements start to take the quality of life a step further, essentially letting the game play itself, with players having very little to do on their own. It starts small, with new maps at each location pointing out too many secrets and revealing everything from the moment the player enters a new screen, killing the sense of discovery from exploring dungeons and villages. They can be a huge help when getting stuck in some of the labyrinthine dungeons these classic games are famous for, but it really changes the experience, from exploring to checking items off a list after all the treasure has been revealed. This alleviates the fact that in Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster, players can simply close the map every game, but the main problem of overly helpful UI becomes more apparent during combat.
One thing fans can always expect from any Final Fantasy is a fair amount of grinding, and it’s this mechanic that’s been most notorious in the series’ early entries. However, to mitigate this effect, and to make getting through random encounters repetitive and frustrating when each match takes 20 to 30 hours, Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster added auto-combat. This essentially remembers the player’s last chosen input during the fight, or sometimes optimizes the choice for a particular scenario, and continues to make the same decision until the end of the fight, while also speeding up the pace of the fight.
The result is very mobile-friendly, eliminating a lot of the tedium of typing the same commands over and over again. An unfortunate side effect is the game’s mechanics of basically allowing players to skip most of the combat and allowing auto-battlers to engage the game for them. Tough encounters can’t usually be beaten this way, but when players weren’t forced to wade through wave after wave of enemies to reach some of Final Fantasy’s most memorable bosses, they used to have some glorious pixel fixes. It does go a long way toward keeping the constant random combat from becoming frustrating, but letting the game play itself isn’t the best approach if Square Enix wants to improve the grind. This is especially true when previous ports of other titles like Final Fantasy 7 for PC and PS4 offered options to change game speed and remove random combat entirely.
Not all the quality of life changes that make the game easier are distracting, as the new save features added to every game are huge improvements over these classic titles. The simple addition of giving players an autosave that activates when entering a new area and a quicksave that can be activated at any time greatly enhances the feeling of exploring dungeons and villages. By giving players more ways to save than just go to worlds, the penalty for losing a battle is lowered in a way that encourages exploration of Final Fantasy Pixel Remake dungeons.
The design of the menu and text bubbles found in each remake of the game is perhaps the most divisive among fans, as it has previously been a point of contention for some of Square Enix’s other remakes and remakes. While the font is readable and friendly for both PC and mobile (on which Final Fantasy Pixel Remake will initially release), it lacks some of the character that bold text featured in previous versions of each game.
In terms of the visual expression of the UI, text bubbles abandon the portraits reserved for the main characters in previous versions, and take a simple name for cutscenes and low-quality sprites in the main menu. It’s one of many changes that help solidify the game, but don’t make any one game stand out. Instead, all three of Final Fantasy Pixel Remake’s games so far have looked and felt too similar, and produced nearly the same gameplay experience as a standard RPG-making game.
Overall, the changes in Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster improve the graphics of several 30-year-old games, bringing them up to the modern standards set by pixelation regressions. The new music also helps to bring each game to life in a way that these classic games have not been able to achieve in many older versions until now. However, some UI and quality-of-life changes strip each game of some of their personality and the appeal of exploring the depths of their worlds and battles.
Still, for fans of the classic series or newcomers looking for a high-quality introduction to older games, Final Fantasy Pixel Remake is an excellent way to experience the series. Then, of course, there’s the content timing and timing of all the games in the collection. It’s not perfect, but it’s easy to get lost in the same story and endless battles that Square Enix introduced when it first launched on the NES.
The first three games of the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster are now available on Mobile and PC via Steam, with the remaining three games due to launch later in 2021. Game Rant obtained the Steam code for this review.