Final Fantasy IV (Pixel Remaster)


Review by · February 14, 2024

Let’s cut to the chase: you don’t need me to tell you that Final Fantasy IV is a great game. Its residency in the pantheon of gaming history is unquestionable, particularly for those who grew up with it since 1991. This reverence makes a lot of sense: the jump from the original Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy IV was mind-blowing to Western players yet to receive the second and third entries. So, if this describes you, I can easily recommend the Pixel Remaster. But for others—me included—how well does this classic hold up under modern scrutiny?

Fundamentally, Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster is a product of its time, even with a fresh coat of paint applied. This is particularly true in the context of how subsequent franchise entries greatly refined and expanded upon IV’s innovations. Thus, some amount of historical understanding goes a long way in shoring up the time-tested shortcomings. Yet, what’s most impressive about Final Fantasy IV is that despite its age showing, there are plenty of areas where I was in awe of what Square accomplished while working around their limitations. This is perhaps most prevalent in the game’s storytelling chops.

Don’t let the pixel-art nature of Final Fantasy IV fool you. This game’s presentation is purely cinematic, staging battles and cutscenes that masterfully capture the gravitas of its most significant moments. I was impressed by the textless sequences where the characters complete tasks, the movements of their sprites around the screen in relation to one another exuding personality while pushing the story forward. It also helps that the localized script remains flavorful, providing bold personalities for characters to make up for where they may lack in depth.

Even more impressive is how Final Fantasy IV conveys so much of its story through systems and mechanics. The gameplay reflects the struggles of the characters, like how an aging mage trying to remember his ultimate spell has it in his magic repertoire despite insufficent mana to use it. Other times, it’s the facade of being able to solve issues through usual interface means only to be left helpless when it doesn’t work, driving home the sacrifices of certain characters. I can’t overstate that many games in the modern era don’t do remotely as good a job of telling story through gameplay, making it all the more impressive that Final Fantasy IV nailed it over 30 years ago. Even if the game did nothing else right, it would already be memorable for this feat.

The Lunar Whale traverses the moon world map with a tower in the background in the Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster.
Going to the moon is a whale of a time.

Of course, there are plenty of moments in which Final Fantasy IV’s early attempts at elaborate JRPG storytelling are laid bare. Don’t expect the character complexity or layered plot that later Final Fantasy games offer. Final Fantasy IV often feels a little too simple for its own good, not allowing us enough time with or details about most characters to become particularly attached. Even protagonist Cecil, who starts out in a crisis of identity, becomes pretty one-note after his early game transformation. This same unevenness also cuts the other way, with main antagonist Golbez lacking characterization beyond his mustache-twirling evil until the game’s final act. The result of all this was an ending that fell flat for me, as I didn’t feel an affinity for any of the characters despite the game’s expectation that I would. They’re solid temporary traveling buddies but not long-lasting friends. Notably, while the game didn’t stick its lunar landing for me, the journey that seamlessly moves between whimsy and tragedy left a strong enough impact to compensate.

The worldbuilding is also a victim of its era’s limitations, and if there’s one place where I wish the Pixel Remasters took the artistic liberty to make revisions, it’s here. While the diversity of fantastical cultures on display keeps the journey fresh, each boasts a distinct sameness between their locales. Nearly every castle and town look visually identical, with a slightly altered layout. Some extra work to give each locale a more distinctive visual flair would’ve gone a long way. Nobuo Uematsu’s score does a lot of heavy lifting in this department, though I’ll touch on this later.

Cecil exploring outside Baron in Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster.
Every adventure has to start somewhere.

Combat is perhaps my biggest sticking point with Final Fantasy IV. While I love how it individualizes characters and tells their stories, it also weighs the gameplay down. With a few exceptions, most characters’ special abilities have limited to no use, especially when more standardized parts of their kit better suit their strengths. This is particularly the case for physical attackers who are usually better off mashing the attack action. Meanwhile, spell users have a decent selection of options, but the game rarely pushes you to utilize most of them, leading to fairly stale approaches to encounters. There are a handful of boss encounters that require a bit smarter use of move sets (particularly using the Reflect ability to turn bosses’ attacks against themselves), but by this same token, the final boss of the game completely invalidates the most versatile character to the point that leaving them dead proved the best option for success. Not exactly the most compelling way to close out your game.

It’s impressive how complete the active-time battle system feels in Final Fantasy IV despite first debuting here. Square’s first attempt nailed the system’s distinctive ability to ratchet up the intensity of battles, forgoing some amount of the abstract nature of turn-based combat. However, there are still some glaring tells that this was a first attempt, particularly in how many bosses (and some late-game enemies) are overly aggressive from moment one, immediately putting the player on their back foot before they can start to implement a strategy. This adds to the problem of most spells not feeling viable, as the aggressive nature of tougher fights often makes tank-and-spanking the most viable tactic. In other words, don’t expect to place down more than one or two buffs before your healer has to start spamming their strongest cure spell. I don’t want this to come across as deeming the combat bad—in fact, it stands out amongst its contemporaries—but Final Fantasy IV shows its age most here.

Luckily, a handful of quality-of-life features in the Pixel Remaster help prevent combat from becoming a slog. Auto-battling—which repeats the last manual input given to a character whenever their ATB gauge fills—is a great way of quickly clearing through easier enemies. This is extra helpful; while the game does a good job of balancing your level progression alongside content difficulty, I encountered a small grind before tackling the final few areas. Auto-battles alongside a 4x experience booster minimized the pain. Players who want to stock up on money can also utilize a gil booster, though you typically have enough moolah on hand for most things you need. Lastly, a new toggle for random encounters can remove the strain of random battles when backtracking, though this is risky, as not properly leveling will make bosses extremely tough. There are a few other modernizations I would’ve liked to see in the Pixel Remaster, including better ability and item descriptions, clearer emphasis on when an enemy’s weakness is exploited, and a better way of switching between characters, but these aren’t deal breakers by any means.

Overworld and dungeon traversal have been elevated from their simple origins with a few Pixel Remaster additions of their own. Diagonal walking allows you to maneuver across the map more quickly, forgoing the rigidity of movement on a grid-based system. Due to this, the game feels surprisingly fluid to play with a joystick. There are also incredibly detailed maps for every dungeon that highlight where every chest and door is and tell you how many chests remain in a given dungeon. However, the real saving grace of these maps is that when traversing an invisible path (and there are a lot of these in the game, more than would be kosher by modern game design standards), all other invisible paths on the floor illuminate. Again, what could have been sticking points are made less so by some smart additions for the Pixel Remaster.

Golbez bragging about how the party's power pales in comparison to his in Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster.
Any bets on how this ends for ole Golbez?

Speaking of the Pixel Remaster’s strengths, let’s address the titular feature of this release: completely redrawn pixel art. Square Enix worked some magic here, visually rebuilding the first six Final Fantasy games from the ground up while retaining the sense that you’re playing the original. Yet there’s no mistaking that some of the extra effects, which would have made an SNES crumble, go a long way in heightening the presentation, even when your mind tells you this is how it’s always looked. The addition of a classic font option in console versions of the Pixel Remasters further adds to the authenticity while at the same time being remarkably readable. A CRT filter is also available, though it’s not particularly well-implemented and mucks up an otherwise pretty image. The point of the remaster was to create an image that works best without scan lines. Regardless, it’s good that a variety of options are there for those who want it.

Unfortunately, a huge caveat hinders the visual splendor of Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster: its performance. There is an ever-present stutter on all versions of the game (and all games in the Pixel Remaster series) due to a misalignment between character walk speed and world scrolling speed. This stutter becomes a chug in certain areas, but even in the best moments it was difficult for me not to notice it. Further, entering any new screen results in a very short freeze, potentially the game dropping a few frames. These classics deserve better, and hopefully Square Enix will address this problem, though given that they haven’t already done so, it seems unlikely.

However, there can be absolutely no mistaking that the newly orchestrated soundtrack overseen by Uematsu steals the show from the moment you boot into the Prelude on the title screen. These pieces give the game a grander feel than ever, doing more to modernize how the game feels than anything else. The broader instrumental palette also enhances certain tracks, such as Edward’s harp represented by an actual harp. If this new version of the soundtrack isn’t to your liking, you can easily toggle back to the original MIDI tracks. And the cherry on top: the game includes a music player with both the original and new compositions. This ear candy is honestly reason enough for returning fans to give the game another spin.

So, I return to my initial question: how does Final Fantasy IV hold up for modern audiences? With all of the dated aspects of the game, would it be better left to those harboring nostalgia? That couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, the residual flaws lend it an air of authenticity. If you’re willing to go in with an understanding that you’re playing a game that was trailblazing for its time, it’s easy to find it a worthwhile adventure. Inexcusable technical issues aside, this is a great way to experience a piece of gaming history, frog warts and all.


Outstanding visual and soundtrack overhaul, narrative techniques that remain impressive, great quality-of-life features, feels great on modern controllers, endearing characters.


Many aspects of combat and encounter design don’t hold up, persistent performance issues (on all platforms), characters and story lack depth.

Bottom Line

Even if it’s starting to show its age, Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster is still an enthralling adventure with optional useful features to help out modern players.

Overall Score 85
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Tim Rattray

Tim Rattray

Tim has written about games, anime, and beyond since 2009. His love of JRPGs traces back to late-90s get-togethers with cul-de-sac kids to battle and trade Pokémon via link cables. In the early 2000s, this passion was solidified when Chrono Trigger changed his conception of what a game could be. A core focus of Tim’s work is mental health advocacy with a focus on how interactivity can be used to depict and teach about mental illness. He’s excited to share that insight with RPGFan’s readers, alongside a log full of side quests to explore the mutual passion we all share.