Sunday, August 22, 2021

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Review

Developers: Square Enix, Tose
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Steam PC, iOS, Android
Price: $11.99
Version Played: PC

The Final Fantasy remake has had more versions than the original Star Wars trilogy. Final Fantasy was first remade in 2000 for the WonderSwan Color in Japan. Since then, it’s been ported to PS1, GBA, PSP, 3DS, iOS, and Android. It received many updates along the way, adding things like an orchestral soundtrack, redrawn sprites, a more traditional MP system, new dungeons, FMV, and even polygon graphics and stereoscopic 3D on 3DS. So of course, for this new Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster, Square Enix got rid of all the new dungeons and made something that looks closer to the NES original than even the first remake on the WonderSwan Color.
Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster doesn’t have any of the new graphical elements added to the FFI remakes after the original WSC version. No polygonal environments, no pseudo 3D overworld, no FMV, and none of the redrawn sprites from the PSP version. Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster uses the same enemy sprites from the WSC remake, but they've been recolored using a limited palette to make them look more like they did on the NES. They also did something similar for the NPC and playable character sprites. They took sprites from FFV and edited them to look more like the NES version’s characters.
The backgrounds and towns still look great, at least. The towns look pretty much the same, and it looks like they did a bit of work to make the backgrounds wider, but the new parts blend in perfectly with the old. They've also added a bunch of new spell effects, which look a lot more impressive than the ones in previous versions.
I like how the old stuff looks, but I really don’t understand the NES nostalgia route they've gone with for the character and enemy sprites. I would have preferred something that built upon the PSP game's graphics. Pixel Remaster's graphics feel like a step backwards.
They sure didn't go the NES nostalgia route with the soundtrack, though. This game has some of the best renditions of these songs I've ever heard. Everything is orchestral and it sounds amazing. I can actually hear fingers sliding across guitar strings in the town theme, the violins in the shop theme are just beautiful, and the famous victory theme could only sound better if you heard it live in concert. It’s an amazing soundtrack. I hope they keep this level of quality up throughout all of the Pixel Remasters. There's also a music player in the game, so you can listen to the soundtrack whenever you want.
Another baffling choice is the reverting of the MP system back to how it was in the NES game. Since Dawn of Souls on GBA, Final Fantasy remakes have had a traditional MP system, just like the one you see in pretty much every other RPG. Pixel Remaster; however, goes back to a system where every tier of spells has its own MP pool and every spell has the same MP cost. For example you might be allowed to use a White Mage’s level 1 spells 5 times, their level 2 spells 4 times, and so on. It's a lot like PP in Pokemon games, except it makes sense in Pokemon. In FF, it’s a very weird system that severely limits how useful your magic classes can be early on in the game and gets more and more annoying as the game goes on. Since your highest level spells always have the least MP, and Ethers restore MP on all spell levels at once, I found myself using lower level spells to save the most powerful spells and using as many spells as possible before using Ethers. You can carry 99 Ethers, but each Ether only restores 1 MP. You can easily go through all your Ethers in a dungeon if you're only using your best spells. That's a lot more thought than I want to put into how I use magic in a game.
There are a lot of random battles, and I hate them, but they didn't annoy me as much as in other games, like the Dragon Quest III remake. Modern battle system UI improvements, like cursor memory, auto battling, and auto retargeting, really help make all the battling as painless as possible. It also really helps that every zone has a detailed map instantly available to you. You don’t have to aimlessly wander around looking for doors or treasure chests. Everything is automatically shown on the map for you, so you can just go straight to where you need to go. I really appreciate that.
This is my first time playing all the way through FFI, so I don't know if the difficulty is supposed to feel like this, but I felt like it was very unbalanced. I thought I might have been missing out on much needed XP before fighting the Earth boss, but then I took it out in 2 turns and wondered if I had actually been fighting too many random battles instead. I destroyed every single boss in under 4 turns until I got to the final dungeon, where I had boss battles that felt normal to me. I was very confused when the last boss actually killed me. I found out afterwards that you could upgrade your classes in the game. So I did, and then killed Chaos without much trouble.
There really isn't much going on with the story, it's just the 4 Warriors of Light saving the world from Chaos. Yes, you are here to kill Chaos. I love seeing how the world of Final Fantasy started, though. Some of the town scenarios are sort of generic, like the town being terrorized by a Vampire, but it's done in a sort of humorous way and I enjoyed that. I loved talking to everyone in town and listening for clues about what to do next. There's nothing marking your destination on the map or anything, so you actually have to pay attention. I like how the game gives you the freedom to explore and get a feel for how the game works on your own. Modern RPGs sometimes feel like they're funneling you down a path and they bombard you with tutorials, so the level of freedom in this game is very refreshing.
Sadly, this game leaves a lot to be desired on the technical side. It’s not like it runs horribly or anything. It just has some weird issues that should have been fixed. It’s been a month since the release of this game and it hasn’t gotten a single update. The biggest issue has to be the ugly screen tearing and lack of an in-game VSync option. I had to force VSync through my graphics card’s control panel. The game also has some very noticeable frame pacing issues, like many games built in Unity do. The game runs at a good framerate, but you can see where the game stutters every few seconds. It’s not as bad as the Dragon Quest remakes on Switch, at least. The game also doesn't automatically hide the mouse cursor, so you have to drag it off-screen every time, and I was never able to get the game to launch in fullscreen, forcing me to press Alt + Enter on the keyboard every time I launched the game. There are options to run the game in fullscreen and windowed fullscreen, and I set it to fullscreen, but it always launches in a window anyway. There’s also the issue of the very small, smooth, thin, and hard to read font used in the game. Thankfully, you can easily mod that. I changed it to the FF6 SNES font, which looks much better and is much easier to read when sitting away from the TV.
Weird NES nostalgia graphics and technical issues aside, I did enjoy the game. I love the amount of freedom the game gives you, I think the environments and backgrounds look great, and the soundtrack is amazing. I also just loved seeing how Final Fantasy began. Even though I’ve played FF1 before, this is my first time beating the game. I feel like they really missed the mark if they were trying to make this the new definitive version, though. I think that’s still probably the PSP version, which sadly is stuck on a dead system whose online store is now shut down for good.