Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters: faithful remakes or disappointing lack of content?

Final Fantasy is a franchise that started in the 1980s and is still going strong, with the latest iteration selling over 10 million copies. With such popularity beckons us to look back at the series’ humble beginnings.

The first three Final Fantasy games were a lot different to how you’d expect to see a game like that play in today’s gaming atmosphere. They fully utilised the 2D nature of the NES and SNES to deliver beautiful graphics and engaging stories.

Each game in that original run has had a number of remakes and remasters too, adding their own flair. This even includes somewhat controversial 3D remakes on the DS and mobile platforms.

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The most recent updates to these venerable games are the Pixel Remasters, which bring their own updates to the franchise and make the games more accessible to everybody… but are they the best possible versions?

final fantasy 1
Credit: Square Enix

Final Fantasy 1

The Final Fantasy 1 pixel remaster features updated pixel graphics designed by the original artist Kazuko Shibuya. It also boasts a rearranged soundtrack, overseen by original composer Nobuo Uematsu. That’s not all; the pixel remaster version features an expanded item list and a mix of features from the Famicom and Game Boy Advance versions of the game. Several quality-of-life updates are also included, such as in-game maps, which have been introduced for every area, making sure you get each chest in a dungeon. 

But it’s not without its flaws. The shop prices for the pixel remaster are based on the PlayStation’s Easy mode – a setting which drastically reduced the difficulty by reducing the aforementioned prices while also increasing the rate at which your party gained experience and stats.

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This, coupled with the inclusion of the phoenix down and elixir, items that were not available in the original release of the game makes it feel needlessly easy as it provides the party a method of always keeping on top of their resources in dungeons. 

Furthermore, in being a faithful remaster, it omits the expanded content of the PSP’s 20th Anniversary release; this means any additional dungeons or the expanded bestiary are unable to be traversed and conquered in this outing. Despite the PSP version having the most content, the pixel remaster is more accessible due to being a recent release, and while the expanded content is missed, it isn’t enough of a draw to hunt down a copy of the 20th Anniversary edition for PSP.

final fantasy 2
Credit: Square Enix

Final Fantasy 2

Like the first game, Final Fantasy 2’s pixel remaster features refined pixel art and an updated soundtrack. It also brings in balance tweaks for several enemies, and the row formation system functions in line with the rest of the series, meaning that characters in the back row can use any weapon – but will do less damage if they aren’t using a magic or a ranged weapon – you can also target any row with melee weapons. There are other quality of life changes, such as a character auto-targeting the next enemy if they defeat one while dual-wielding. 

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Again, the anniversary content is removed, but the pixel remaster also has an issue with status effects. Some enemies, such as coeurls, apply status effects like paralysis when they hit you with a melee attack. Previously, this wasn’t a guaranteed effect, instead only having a chance to be applied. With the pixel remasters, these on-hit effects are guaranteed to happen and can’t be mitigated in any way.

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This makes some encounters much more dangerous than they should be. However, this works both ways, if you equip a poison axe, you can trivialise some boss fights as it is guaranteed to poison them, which deals a percentage of their health as damage every turn – something that is harder to pull off in other versions of the game. Once more, the PSP version has the most content, but like before, the ease of access outweighs the completionist factor.

final fantasy 3
Credit: Square Enix

Final Fantasy 3

Final Fantasy 3 is one of the better pixel remasters. It has undergone some extensive balance tweaks. For instance, there are now no penalties for switching jobs, whereas you originally had a number of Capacity Points or CP that you had to build up during battles. Jobs such as the Dark Knight have gained new abilities and the game employs a mix of enemy stats and abilities between the Famicom and 3D Remake versions. 

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The pixel remaster also features an entirely new localisation, drawing in anybody who may have played through the Crystal Tower raid in the MMO Final Fantasy 14. The removal of 3D Remake content and story beats stings a little. Arc, Luneth, Refia and Ingus have been replaced in favour of the blank slate protagonists of the original, really missing out on an expanded connection to the world.

However, while the 3D remake is still readily available on Steam, the quality-of-life changes, the cutdown of bloat from the 3D remake, and the love and care that has gone into the pixel remaster makes it the definitive experience, even without the expanded content.

final fantasy 4
Credit: Square Enix

Final Fantasy 4

As well as retaining the pretty visuals and re-orchestrated soundtrack that the other pixel remasters boast, Final Fantasy 4 also brings an updated GBA localisation to the table. However, it is significantly easier than both the 3D remake and the original outing. The best example is that the experience points required to level up are halved for each character; thereby making most of the game a cakewalk as you’re levelling at effectively twice the standard rate. 

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The pixel remaster is also missing the Cave of Trials and the Lunar Ruins from the 3D Remake, as well as CGI cutscenes and any other 3D Remake content. The game doesn’t feel incomplete without it, but it certainly feels like a missed opportunity as with the other bonus dungeon omissions throughout the series. In this instance, as the 3D remake is still available, it’s worth getting that version of the game – it is the more challenging game with the most content available – and you can still buy it on Steam.

final fantasy 5
Credit: Square Enix

Final Fantasy 5

Final Fantasy 5 is one of the better remasters. Square Enix used it as an opportunity to fix some bugs from the previous versions, update the localisation and apply some balance changes. Unfortunately, the bonus content from the GBA version is missing; this amounts to four jobs and the Sealed Temple dungeon which contained three additional superbosses.

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The lack of this bonus content is a shame but not vital to the experience that is Final Fantasy 5. The fancy art is a huge step up from the mobile version, and the re-orchestrated soundtrack provides the truest to form Final Fantasy 5 experience. Unless you really need to play through the extra dungeon, the pixel remaster is the version I’d recommend.

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final fantasy 6
Credit: Square Enix

Final Fantasy 6

I won’t mince words. The pixel remaster of Final Fantasy 6 is the best version of the game. It has the most changes out of all the pixel remasters which highlights how well-loved this game is. Though change is not always a good thing, in this case, I think it really helps to elevate the experience of Final Fantasy 6.

Unlike the other pixel remasters, unique battle animations have been recreated from the ground up for Final Fantasy VI to ensure that it really feels like the best version of the game. The bestiary has also been re-enumerated to make logical sense; enemies you fight earlier appear lower down in the bestiary for a much needed quality of life change. The biggest difference is in the opera sequence – Square Enix looked to Octopath Traveller for inspiration and rendered it in HD2D, which is where the game diverges from its inspiration. 

Not only that, but all musical acts are now voiced in seven different languages and subtitled in an additional five. Despite the game being easier and some features, such as dialogue portraits and any GBA content being absent, the pixel remaster is the definitive version of Final Fantasy 6 and well worth the money.

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Credit: Square Enix

WHAT DO WE THINK?

The content rebalances, gorgeous sprite art, fantastic soundtracks and accessibility to the titles make the pixel remasters the go-to versions of the games. They have had a lot of thought and attention poured into them which overshadows most of the missing content from previous iterations.

The only case where this is contentious is Final Fantasy IV where, if you want a more challenging experience, the 3D remake is the way to go. Doubly so as it does have a lot of content that the pixel remaster simply fails to include, including cgi cutscenes and a number of dungeons.

Finally, pixel remasters 3 and 6 are must-play titles for JRPG fans, they elevate previously good games to fantastic new heights, maintaining the storylines of the original games while giving them a fresh coat of paint. The pixel remasters are really the definitive way to play early Final Fantasy games and are, for the most part, faithful remakes.

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While you’re here, be sure to check out our video of the week. We break down 10 of the best PlayStation 1 games of all time. What are your favourite PS1 games?

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Featured Image Credit: Square Enix