Final Fantasy has one of the greatest first entries in RPG history. It’s robust, iconic, and endlessly replayable thanks to a flexible class system. So many words have been written about it, you almost have to wonder what more could be said. Well, thanks to a few wonderful quality of life tweaks from the new console release of the Pixel Remasters, the way you play the series comes with many more options.
Let’s start with the basics. Final Fantasy is a pretty simple RPG. Talk to some NPCs until you get a hint for a quest, go to a dungeon, explore a bit, find a key item, and repeat. Sometimes you’ll get some cool piece of kit like a boat or an airship, and valuable equipment pieces litter each floor in these areas in both normal and trapped chests. You enter your commands at the top of each turn, and watch the battle between your party and the enemies play out.
Final Fantasy was also a visual treat for its time, offering sprites with a distinct sense of style and a collection of appealing spell effects. Weapons have a collection of interesting models, each class has a unique class change that completely changes their sprites, and areas span creative locales from volcanoes to flying fortresses. And this doesn’t even touch a story that is far more ambitious than most of its 1980s contemporaries.
But Final Fantasy has one aspect that most allows it to stand above its contemporaries. At the start of the game, you select from up to six jobs across your four party members. Some party compositions are easier to complete the game with than others, but all jobs are viable with the right (and sometimes absurd) strategies. Players who like to find out how to break games or how to complete a game under the most challenging circumstances have a lot to enjoy considering how long ago the game was initially released.
But the Pixel Remasters add plenty of quality of life options. A run button makes moving through dungeons more smooth. Your party automatically re-targets when their target dies. The experience curve has been flattened somewhat, reducing the amount of grinding needed. These changes help make the Pixel Remaster one of the best ways to play the original game. But what elevates it to definitive status are the changes made for this new console release.
There are a few changes that are easy to notice. A new pixel font vastly improves the original squished font, though a bolder font would be even easier to read. The ability to switch between the arranged and original soundtrack lets you dip into how games sounded in the NES era. And it’s easy to toggle off random encounters by clicking the right analog stick, which makes retreading old areas or getting out of dungeons a breeze. Maps make the areas much easier to navigate. Autosaves at each screen transition help to smooth out the occasionally brutal save system. But those aren’t the main changes that keep the game feeling fresh. Those are hidden away in the “boosts” menu.
These “boosts” offer two abilities in this first game. First, you can modify experience and gil gain by 0x to 4x, with some comfortable spots between. This can completely change the pace of the game when applied smartly. For example, I was able to fly through the game while still experiencing plenty of challenges from the game’s strongest bosses by cranking up my gil gain and doubling my experience while turning off encounters whenever I was getting frustrated trying to navigate, or when the game made me go back to an area where enemies weren’t worth it. All told, these changes meant I spent less time grinding and more time exploring new places, and never felt significantly behind or ahead of the curve.
Having these options truly gives the game new life and makes it feel at home for modern players who might not have the patience for older RPGs. The ability to adjust difficulty at any time made me feel more comfortable taking a unique team, leaving a white mage on the bench for the first time in my Final Fantasy career and giving myself over to the unmatched coolness of the red mage.
That flexibility makes this version of the Pixel Remaster the definitive version of Final Fantasy, but it’s not without its faults. The color palette seems to be made with mobile screens in mind, with high contrast visuals seeming a bit flatter than other remakes of the game. While it fades into the background, the difference is stark when you look at something like the PSP remake. Devotion to recreating the original is mixed, as sometimes you’ll get oddities like the weirdly proportioned promoted classes next to real visual updates like modern water effects or flashy spell effects. The style never feels entirely cohesive, but the bright colors and beautiful vistas can still appeal. It’s not the best the game has ever looked, but it’s a solid blend of classic and new.
Unfortunately, this new version also brought some framerate issues and stuttering on the Switch version that don’t appear to exist on the PS4. For example, when moving quickly or during some of the world map scrolling screens during the intro, frames get hitched in a pretty noticeable fashion. While this will doubtlessly annoy some players, it’s not a huge hindrance, as it’s not constant and never interferes with gameplay. Still, it’s odd to see in a game that doesn’t seem too technically demanding.
Bottom line: if you want to play Final Fantasy, this is the way to do it. The quality of life changes are invaluable, the visuals are eye-catching, and the game plays as great as ever. Even a few hiccups can’t hold back a wonderful all-time classic.