‘Final Fantasy’ Pixel Remaster Review – Back to the First Final

100x100bb 8The original Final Fantasy is coming up on its 35th birthday next year, but that’s not the only anniversary the game is celebrating. It has been 21 years since its first remake on Wonderswan, almost 20 years since its second remake on the PlayStation, nearly 17 years to the day since its third remake on the Game Boy Advance, 14 years since its fourth remake on the PlayStation Portable, and 11 years since that remake was first brought to iOS. Surprisingly, that was the most recent release of the game until now. Reset the clock, friends: the Final Fantasy ($11.99) Pixel Remaster is here.

I’m assuming many readers will be familiar with the original Final Fantasy through one version or another, so I’ll cover the changes and differences first. This new remake breaks ranks with the others in that it does not use the previous version as its basis. In many respects, this game acts as though it’s the very first remake of the original Final Fantasy. That means a new art direction for the sprites that hits a little closer to the original designs, a Vancian magic system instead of MP, and perhaps most importantly, the absence of any and all dungeons, bosses, and other paraphernalia from the other remakes.

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How do I feel about all of this? I kind of dig the new look, even if it’s not as clean or detailed as the PSP style. I have a fondness for those original sprites, and seeing them expressed in a purer fashion here isn’t so bad. The new version of the soundtrack is incredible. I’m actually happy to see the Vancian magic system back, as I feel the original game was designed around the idea of spell charges. You had to carefully ration every spell charge in larger dungeons, and that scarcity made stockpiling and using items vital to your survival. Every version that uses the MP system ends up being far too easy to topple without this component.

I have mixed feelings about the additional content being cut. The original Final Fantasy can be a very brief game compared to its successors, and as a result having any added content was welcome. The bonus dungeon designs incorporated some interesting ideas that can’t be found in the core game, and they are missed. I also enjoyed the monster cameos from later games, even if they made no sense narratively or thematically. The added range of equipment and items was also quite interesting. On the other hand, I think some of that extra content was a bit weak, and I think it would require a complete rework with the shift back to the original magic system. The base content is still the best content, and if we are celebrating the original game then perhaps it’s best to focus on that.

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So is this a better version than the existing one? I wish I had a simple answer. In many ways, yes. Even with all of the updates, the original app is 11 years old. In iOS terms it’s practically from the Stone Age, and it really feels like it at times. Whatever you may feel about the new look, it certainly looks sharper on modern displays. The game also feels more comfortable to control, with diagonal movement and more precision on the virtual dpad. I think more of the original experience of Final Fantasy comes through in this version, both in presentation and gameplay terms. It’s actually somewhat challenging in places again! But I’d rather have that extra content than not have it, and I can certainly imagine some people preferring the art style of the PSP/original iOS version.

Unless you really love the original Final Fantasy, you may not see much of a need to buy this new version. Not yet, anyway. But the old version has been sunsetted, and sooner or later it will stop working. This will be the version from now on, and I’m mostly fine with that. If nothing else, it gives the game a chance to show off some of its unique points that were sanded out of subsequent versions. I happily bought the game again and will keep it in the folder with the old version until such time that its ancestor no longer functions, but I also replay the original Final Fantasy every year. I would probably qualify as a heavy user.

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There’s an appeal to these early RPGs, after all. There isn’t much in the way of a complex story to follow in the first Final Fantasy, though it was quite competent for its time and place. You get a nice set-up here before the game begins, and then little bits and pieces here and there as you go. The gameplay is also relatively straightforward while still being somewhat strategic, so it’s a nice thing to play when I don’t want to have to strain my brain too much. Being able to build your own party adds a fun element of customization to the game, though you’ll have to be a bit more careful in this version because of how it sticks to the original rules more closely. It’s a solid adventure to run through now and then, and I can usually find new challenges for myself each time if I’m looking for them.

Setting aside the cut content, I do have a few problems with this otherwise solid version. The choice of fonts is baffling, for starters. It’s very narrow and small, making it a little hard to make out at times on phone displays. Even with the bigger real estate of a tablet screen, I feel they could have chosen more wisely. I also wish controller support had been incorporated here. I know this doesn’t matter to some, but in cases where a game exists on other platforms with controller support, I see no reason to leave it out of these mobile versions. More options are good.

If this is your first experience with the game, I think you’ll find the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster version to be quite a worthy purchase. It feels its age in terms of story and themes, but it remains a solid RPG with some great beats. The results of turning in that particular item to Bahamut still gets me pumped to this day, and the initial sequence leading up to the bridge feels like the perfect way to kick off an adventure. There are better games in the series, to be sure, but the relative simplicity of this installment makes it well-suited for players who can’t devote their full attention to a more complex RPG. It’s a strong update to the original game, and I suspect we’ll be enjoying it for many years to come.

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