Square Enix’s new re-releases of Final Fantasy 1, 2, and 3 are strong efforts, and worthy of your attention. But there’s definitely scope to improve with patches and future ports. more
Classic Final Fantasy has a bit of a ‘version problem’. When it comes to FF1 through FF6, there’s no real definitive release you can point to and tell players ‘that’s the one to play’. The new Pixel Remaster releases don’t solve this problem, but they’re certainly some of the easiest versions to recommend.
The games have been tweaked and adjusted in generally smart ways. There’s new sprite work that while potentially divisive for the 16-bit era titles is a perfect fit and undeniable improvement over the NES versions - and in particular, I think the world looks fantastic. There’s subtle balance changes that some will love and others won’t - generally speaking, this NES trio has been made a little more forgiving and thus accessible.
The absolute best piece of the puzzle is the new music, which features sublime arrangements overseen by original FF maestro Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu’s work in FF1-3 is interesting - more simplistic, stripped back and more like typical video game music - and yet the brilliance that’d go on to make him an industry leader don’t so much appear in flashes as constantly, brightly glare.
This is the sort of soundtrack that will help players who find the late eighties game design foibles of these early Final Fantasies push through the grind or the obtuse quest plotting - it’s just that good. I take my hat off to all involved with the soundtrack; it is one aspect of these releases that appears to be definitive - and I sincerely hope the same ends up true with the next three games, which face the more unpalatable prospect of replacing the already great-sounding SNES sound chip.
The soundtrack is certainly the only piece of these remasters that is definitive, however. Everything else is a little… questionable. The debate of which version of these Final Fantasy games people should play will remain fierce.
For a start, there’s the missing content. These versions of the game are based on the NES originals - and only the NES originals. That means content added in later versions is absent. There’s rough and smooth with this; on one hand, it means that the MP system introduced in later FFs and retroactively fitted to FF1’s later releases is gone, with the original ‘charge’ based magic restored. That’s a win. On the other hand, FF1 and FF2 both saw significant new content on Game Boy Advance, with new dungeons and super-bosses to challenge experienced players and extend the game experience. FF2’s GBA version sees the greatest loss of all - an entire post-game story campaign launched from the menu - a mini-sequel that works as a perfect coda to the game’s overall story.
The sprite work, as mentioned, is an undeniable improvement over the NES version, but will be a matter of taste when compared to platforms like GBA and PSP. Balance changes will inevitably divide. These are lovely versions of these games, but it does rather feel an opportunity has been missed to provide an absolutely definitive edition.
Some of these problems cannot be totally resolved. People will always inevitably debate about the sprites. Short of a graphic style toggle, there’s nothing you can do there. Likewise for balance changes - though in this instance a toggle to swap the rebalanced stats for the NES originals seems more of a reasonable ask. The biggest miss is the content, though - while not central to the game, it sort of sucks to have that stuff missing, as those extras really brought later versions of FF1 and FF2 to life.
It’s true that Square Enix doesn’t have the greatest track record of following up these releases with patches and updates to maximize their representation of these classic games - but one does rather live in hope that all this might be addressed in a console version that could also come to PC and mobile as a version update. Square Enix has made tweaks like this in the past with certain re-releases - though as mentioned, their track record with this sort of thing is extremely spotty.
I’ve seen a lot of belly-aching about this since these games were announced, but let’s put cards on the table: the FF Pixel Remasters will come to console. To be honest, the grapevine is already a-rattlin’ with word of work on those versions being ongoing, in fact. This is just how Square Enix operates. If you look at Final Fantasy 9, it was ported to iOS, Android, and PC in 2016. The next year, a PS4 version followed - and then later still, it arrived on Switch and Xbox. The same was true for FF7, which made its way to iOS months before hitting PS4, gradually winding its way to other platforms. The Pixel Remasters will surely be the same.
If we accept that these releases are indeed coming and they’re just seeing a staggered arrival, the next question is what Square Enix can change to improve the later offerings. They certainly can improve the god-awful typeface , given that industrious folk have already figured out how to swap the Pixel Remaster font for a better one. But could they also consider additional features, or additional content? I sure hope so.
Even if the company chooses to swerve those options, however, these remasters are still pretty reasonable ways to play these classic games. It’s of course the only official way to play the original 2D Final Fantasy 3 in English, but for FF1 and 2 it’s now a respectable port on modern devices, replacing some truly abysmal previous mobile and PC efforts.
With all that said, if you have access to them I’d still advise one to at least consider the PSP and GBA versions of FF1 and 2. As explained above, which you go for will depend on personal preference. If the content gets added later, these will be the definitive versions, though. So come on, Square - finish the job! Buck the trend - and deliver some truly definitive versions.