Richard enjoys writing about anything that interests him, which is mostly video games. He is particularly interested in "Final Fantasy."
Announced in the summer of 2021, the Pixel Remaster series remakes the first six Final Fantasy titles, incorporating some quality of life additions, remixed soundtracks, and other changes. With the stated goal of making these remasters faithful recreations of the original games, the Pixel Remasters are not without faults. In fact, depending on which Final Fantasy's Pixel Remaster you're talking about, the faults range from "barely noticeable" to "dealbreaker".
Note that I'm not reviewing the games themselves. The six games essentially play the same as one prior version or another, and I have previously reviewed these six games. The reviews below focus specifically on the Pixel Remasters. I'll let you know if these new versions warrant a playthrough or if you're better off playing an older version.
The Major Changes
Across all six games, the Pixel Remasters utilize a new engine. As a (supposed) consequence, the six games look far more similar to one another than they once did, especially when it comes to menus, battle UI, and spritework (VI aside).
The games now play significantly faster than before. Holding down the "cancel" button allows characters to sprint, which can stack with the sprinting ability/relic in Final Fantasy V/VI. More importantly, characters can walk/run diagonally, which helps reduce encounter rates and makes traversal through open maps quicker. You can enter, navigate, and exit menus at lightning-fast speed. You can "auto-battle" at the press of a button, which makes characters use their last selected action at their next opportunity (or "Attack" if they have no such action) while fast-forwarding through the battle, making most random encounters—or basic grinding—that much quicker.
My initial runs through Final Fantasy I, II, III, and IV all took under 10 hours. They were very casual playthroughs at that. The more involved storylines and in-depth leveling systems of V and VI still make them longer experiences, but they shouldn't take even 30 hours to complete unless they spend way too much time trying to max things out.
Something to note is that the six games all use a very jarring font by default in English. They were likely meant for the mobile versions, but they are used for the PC version as well. There is a very easy fix for this, and a multitude of pixel fonts to simply mod in to alleviate this issue.
All six games now include auto-saving and quick-saving, the former occurring whenever the player enters a new area, while the latter can be done at any point that the player can access the menu. Many events, which previously occur once a player simply reaches a spot, now must be interacted with, allowing one to more easily set up an easy quick-save before engaging in a tough fight or lengthy cutscene. Of course, traditional saves still exist as do the methods to make such saves, and they are necessary if a player wishes to have more than one playthrough saved at a time. Regardless, it makes some areas (e.g., Crystal Tower) much more bearable for people who don't have the time or patience to tackle such places all at once these days.
As the Pixel Remaster series looks to remake the "original" games, any content added to these games after their original releases are not included. Notably, this includes basically any new content added to the games during their releases on the Game Boy Advance. This means no Soul of Chaos (FFI), Soul of Rebirth (FFII), Cave of Trials (FFIV), Lunar Ruins (FFIV), Sealed Temple (FFV), Dragon's Den (FFVI), or Soul Shrine (FFVI). This also means no added enemies or superbosses. Additionally, this means features such as playing as alternate characters in FFIV, the four new jobs for FFV (e.g., Gladiator), and the additional espers for FFVI (e.g., Leviathan) are also not present in the Pixel Remasters.
Final Fantasy & Final Fantasy II
When talking about rereleases of the first two Final Fantasy games, it seems somewhat convenient to lump them together since they seem to always get released as a pair (Origins for PlayStation, Dawn of Souls for GBA, both games getting anniversary releases on PSP). This, despite the fact that both games play drastically different from one another.
Despite promotional trailers depicting the Pixel Remasters as being remasters of the "original" games, ala the NES Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, most of the assets are obviously taken from the PSX or GBA remakes and brushed up to be "pixel remastered". This is most evident with backgrounds both in and out of battle, as well as the games essentially retaining cutscenes from Origins. Really, the only elements that were redone to be more like the NES games are the player sprites from Final Fantasy I. The Final Fantasy II characters sprites look more like their Amano artwork, which is actually a plus but I'm sure there's quite a few people that wanted Firion to look like FFI Fighter again.
As mentioned, both of these games now play very quickly, and can easily be completed in under 10 hours. Notably, Final Fantasy I returns to the classic magic system that it used in the NES and PSX versions (while the GBA and PSP versions both used a standard MP system).
If you don't care about the additional content, I think these are fine versions to play if you want to play FFI or FFII. FFII's Soul of Rebirth is an unfortunate loss, of course, in the case you want to play a version featuring it then the PSP version is your best bet. Conversely, I don't think Soul of Chaos is of particular value; while the superbosses can be fun to fight, I'm not a fan of the filler maps inbetween those fights. Still, if you want a version with Soul of Chaos, the PSP version is again recommended.
Final Fantasy III
Unlike I, II, or IV, which have received rerelease after rerelease, the original, 2D version of Final Fantasy III had never received a single rerelease until now. Yes, it did have a 3D remake which only Final Fantasy IV also got to enjoy, but the 3D remake and original 2D game are drastically different and I don't think its fair to compare the Pixel Remaster to the 3D game.
The Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy III basically uses the same assets as the Pixel Remasters of I and II, with the player classes and NPC party member sprites retaining their NES charm. The game follows the plot beats of the original game instead of the 3D remake (the playable characters are four nameless orphans who start out as Onion Knights like in the NES game). To bring it more in line with the other early Final Fantasies, III is given a new intro to help explain the state of its world before dropping the orphans into the cave as per before.
The battle system receives several tweaks. Unlike in previous versions of the game, there is no drawback, penalty, or restriction to changing classes; you can change classes in the Pixel Remaster freely. Many classes have been tweaked; some now have some of the abilities featured in the 3D version of the game while others are brand new (the Dark Knight's Bladeblitz, for instance) in a renewed attempt to rebalance classes. Still, Ninja and Sage are still top-tier classes and aren't as pared down as they were in the 3D remake, either.
Overall, I highly recommend playing the Pixel Remaster of III in general, considering its only direct competitor is the original, never-localized, NES version. In my original review of Final Fantasy III, I lamented that if the game had been localized and released in the West back in the early 90s it'd be as loved as any other Final Fantasy, so the Pixel Remaster is a great way to enjoy this game. I do prefer this to the 3D version as well; any features from the 3D version not retained here aren't sorely missed.
Final Fantasy IV
I've never been the biggest fan of Final Fantasy IV, and over the past few decades I've always been somewhat annoyed that it kept getting rereleases over the likes of III, V, or VI. After all, the original version of IV has basically no customization or replay value, something that can't be said about any other classic Final Fantasy game. IV's main draw, instead, is its plot, which doesn't hold up very well. I'm apparently alone in that opinion, since Square Enix not only released a direct sequel to IV (the After Years), but a midquel as well (Interlude), AND it got a 3D remake to boot. The later releases of IV and its 3D remake try desperately to remedy the game's lack of replayability by either allowing other characters (Yang, etc.) to be swapped into the endgame party, or at least customize your endgame party with different skills or abilities.
The Pixel Remaster of IV does not have these. It is a basic remaster of the original Final Fantasy IV; its basic plot, its basic gameplay. Oddly, by default, the Pixel Remaster of IV and only IV gives players double the experience compared to older versions of the game. Perhaps Square is aware most fans play IV for the story, not its gameplay, and just want to make that experience a bit easier?
In any case, this game can be breezed through in under 10 hours. After that, there is no reason to return to it. I recommend the PSP version of IV, or even the 3D version, as these versions at least attempt to offer interesting gameplay.
Final Fantasy V
Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI both get Pixel Remasters after the two were previously remade on mobile platforms featuring redone sprites and overhauled UIs, most of which was for the worse. These versions were then ported to PC via Steam, and were the only official or legal way to play these games on that platform, until now.
Focusing on V, the Pixel Remaster does look much nicer than the now-delisted mobile port, though I have noticed the game uses the battle backgrounds from the GBA version instead of the SNES version, which I think is a downgrade. A minor nitpick to be sure, but it does fall in line with the assets used in the other Pixel Remasters. Some sprites have new details, notably child Bartz having a more consistent palette in his flashbacks, but other details, such as Galuf's hair color, remain as inconsistent as the original game.
The Pixel Remaster of V is, or perhaps was, very buggy. That's not to say earlier versions of V didn't have their share of bugs, but the Pixel Remaster, on a new engine, introduces a new set of bugs that I didn't even come across in the other Pixel Remasters. This included errors where the player can no longer interact with anything on the map (particularly stressful on Fork Tower, where I couldn't initiate the second boss battle within the given time limit, even if I quick-saved and restarted the game), and an odd bug where, upon loading a save, a character's MP is lowered to their base amount instead of their current max (via equipping a magic command, for instance), but I do believe these glitches have since been patched out.
Assuming most of the game's initial bugs have been addressed by this point, the recommendation boils down to this: which do you care about more - the Sealed Shrine and the four extra jobs, or the smoother, quicker gameplay provided by the QOL features? For the diehards that prefer the former, I think the GBA version will remain the version of choice, but for most others that don't care (or particularly like) the missing post-game content, the Pixel Remaster of V is the version to play.
Final Fantasy VI
The Pixel Remaster for VI has its own set of pros and cons. Like the other Pixel Remasters, it seems to reuse assets from the GBA version of the game (most notably, the initial overworld map is as bright as it was in the GBA version compared to the darker SNES original). For whatever reason, VI is the only Pixel Remaster to include elements of Square's HD-2D engine, previously seen in the likes of Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy. A few moments such as the railcart getaway and the famous opera scene have been given this treatment, but not much else. Otherwise, other than the fact that the map sprites now match the size of the battle sprites, VI looks very similar to the other Pixel Remasters. Speaking of the opera, the songs in it are now voiced and sung according to the language settings you have set for the game. Yes, that means if you're playing with English text, you will be getting the songs played in English. Personally, I think its at its best in Italian.
The character sprites are updated a bit to line up more with Amano's artwork, most notable in characters such as Relm and Edgar. Spells in VI seem to be given animations more faithful to the original game (whereas the other five remasters seem to share the same set of animations for fire, cure, etc.). The localization is basically the same as the GBA game, a more accurate translation of the original plot, though some say it lacks the sort of flair present in the SNES game.
Overall, even though it has additional audio and visual flair not present in the other Pixel Remasters, my recommendations for VI mirrors that of V. If you like the SNES version for reason that only the SNES version continues to possess, the Pixel Remaster was never going to sway you. If you want the Dragons Den and the extra espers, you can pick your poison with the bright, audio-swill of the GBA version or the visual mess of the original mobile version (which isn't for sale anymore). For people who just want to experience Final Fantasy VI, the Pixel Remaster works well enough, again thanks to its overall QOL improvements over the older versions of the game.