Aug 30 2021
Thoughts on the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster
The Final Fantasy franchise has been around a long time. I fell in love with the game early on as an NES rental. I had gotten Dragon Warrior free via Nintendo Power and enjoyed it a lot and was eager to find similar experiences. When I stumbled upon Final Fantasy, it was an amazing experience. The world was so much larger than the world in Dragon Warrior, there were more people for me to control with more magic, weapons, armor. In general, the word more is a perfect description, as it took the RPG elements introduced in Dragon Warrior and gave the player more.

Which brings us to modern day. Square, now known as Square Enix, has made another remaster of the game that made be a fan of the series, the original NES version of Final Fantasy. Known as the "Pixel Remaster" and released on Android as well as Steam, this was made as an attempt to recapture the feeling of the original game. I'm here to do a deep dive on this remaster and ask one single question: Was this even necessary? It's great to see the original Final Fantasy released on Steam, but I question if this release was the best method of doing so.

Let's go back to what I said about this being an attempt to recapture the feeling of the original game. This new remaster has taken the core gameplay of the original, without any of the new additions and changes introduced in previous remasters, and gives it a 16 bit era coat of paint. The issue is that those previous additions were all meaningful changes that did nothing but add and improve the original NES game. Let's start with that new 16 bit look. I will admit, it's the best feature of this new remaster. That being said, the game had a new look way back on the PS1 remaster, and kept that new look throughout the concurrent remasters on the Wonderswan, Game Boy Advance, Android, and PSP releases. The new look is a bit of a sidestep in my opinion. If you prefer the look of the 16 bit Final Fantasy titles, this new look is a lot closer to that era than the previous look which was more in line with a 32 bit title. However, it's all aesthetic compared to the other changes.

The first change is removing content. Starting with the Game Boy Advance release, we got new dungeons that unlocked as each of the four fiends were defeated. These dungeons were all optional, and gave the player the chance to fight some baddies from later installments in the Final Fantasy franchise to get some unique, and perhaps overpowered, loot. The PSP release got a fifth extra dungeon with more new loot, a wild puzzles, and a superboss at the end. These were all removed in the Pixel remaster. I have to ask myself why these were removed. They were completely optional, the game was totally beatable without traversing these dungeons, but made for a great way to expand the game after beating the main quest or as a new place to grind for new levels and gain new equipment instead of the same old locations. The entrances were all off the beaten path of the main storyline locations and could be ignored by players who weren't interested or didn't enjoy the new dungeons. At the least, there could have been an option just to turn the entrances on or off depending on what the player preferred.

The second change is the magic system. The original game used a "magic charge" system, similar to the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop game. In this magic charge system, there are 8 levels of spells, and each level has a certain number of casts, maxxing out at nine casts per level. Later games changed this to the "magic point" system, where each character has a number of magic points that go up when they level up, and each spell has a magic point cost to cast, going up as the spell increases in power. The magic charge system is great for tabletop RPGs, as there are normally only a few battles and the math is very easy to keep track of. However, there are MANY more battles in Final Fantasy, and you find yourself hoarding your magic charges for fear of running out when you need them. This makes your mages useless in normal battles as they don't deal a lot of physical damage, but you are wanting to save your magic charges for powerful bosses or those moments where you face hoards of monsters. You don't have the problem of keeping track of spell magic points needed and your current magic points, as the game does it for you, unlike in a table top setting.

These two changes make the game feel more like a regression than a step forward. I completely understand wanting to bring back the original experience, but there was another, much easier way of doing that. The NES game still exists. Square still owns the rights to it. For those wanting the original experience Square could have easily taken the original game, added controller support for Steam and touch support for mobile players and released it. That would be an even better way for players to get the original experience, as it would be identical. Still.....there is an even better way.

Years back, Square did a remaster of this game for the Sony PSP. It was simply an amazing experience. It took the graphical style they used on the PS1 and made all the sprites sharp and crisp, with plenty of details for backgrounds and absolutely stunning magic spell effects when a spell was cast. It included all the bonus dungeons in the GBA release, and than added another as well. The soundtrack was also absolutely stunning, although I will say the Pixel Remaster soundtrack is very well made as well. It was the best way to play the original Final Fantasy. In this case, if Square would have taken the lazy way out and just ported that version of the game to mobile and Steam, we would have a very strong release. Package in the NES original version as a selectable game, and you have the best of both worlds. Square could have even done what 343 studios did with Halo Anniversay Edition, where you could push a button to switch between the original X-Box version and the Anniversay version instantly. It would have been a cool feel to play the remaster, than at the push of a button swap over to the NES version (some coding would need done to swap your current magic points to charges, or to not allow a switch if you were in a bonus dungeon, but this could have been done). For some reason, instead Square decided to rebuild the game entirely, but what they have built just doesn't compare to previous remasters. It's a lesser experience, and there's no reason for it to be a lesser experience, as they quite literally have the best version already made.

For players looking to play the original Final Fantasy, if they want to just drop some money and immediately play, the Pixel Remaster works, but the player is losing out on so much more content. I would recommend to instead recommend them to purchase the PSP version of the game, which can be found for around $20. If they need a PSP itself, it can be found for around $40. All PSPs can be hacked with custom firmware, than allowing the game to be ripped and played where ever you wish. There is a great PSP emulator called PPSSPP that runs great on Android, giving you a portable version of this game better than can be found in the Google Play store. This same emulator is on Windows and Linux through Retroarch, allowing you to play there too. This gives you the added benefit of being able to copy your game save from your PC to your phone to continue progress where ever you wish to play. This is a feature that is also not included in the Pixel Remaster, as even if you buy the game on both Steam and Android, there is no way for your game saves to go across between the two games.

I love the Final Fantasy franchise, and the original game is great. And the Pixel Remaster is not a bad game by any means. However, there are better ways to play this classic game, better ways released by Square-Enix themselves, and the player is robbing themselves of an amazing experience in the sake of an "original feel" that's actually not original because of the bumped up graphics. If someone wants to play the game with the original feel, the NES version is available for dirt cheap at around 20 to 30 dollars, and an original NES or a clone NES can be had for as cheap as 20 dollars to around 200 for a Retro AVS system if one wants to play with the best clarity they can get with HDMI output and minimal latency. If they want to play it with all the upgrades, there is the PSP version. This Pixel Remaster stands in a strange middle area that makes it's version of the game feel unnecessary.

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