Why won’t Square Enix ever do Final Fantasy remasters right?

So, it was revealed a while back that Square Enix is working on a series of “pixel remasters” of the first six mainline Final Fantasy games. And despite a few misgivings — notably the fact that they were only announced for digital release via Steam and mobile platforms — people were cautiously optimistic for them.

Based on the initial teaser trailer, it seemed that Square Enix had learned some lessons from the last time they ported the pixel-art Final Fantasy games to other platforms — rather than the obnoxious, inconsistent, bilinear filtered messes that were the mobile versions and Steam releases, this time around they appeared to be doing the pixel art properly.

And as time went on it became clear that they were not only revamping the main sprites, but also some of the backdrops too — but at the same time, they were keeping the retro look and feel. Very nice, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But as time has continued to pass and we get closer to release, it has also become clear that there are also a number of lessons that Square Enix has failed to learn along the way. And as such, we are left with yet another set of Final Fantasy rereleases that are not, in any way, “definitive” versions.

The first issue which has drawn criticism is the fact that while the games make use of some lovely looking low-resolution pixel art, the interface makes use of a high-resolution font — and a very narrow one, at that, making it not only quite difficult to read but very inconsistent looking from an aesthetic perspective. Poor font choice (and an amateurish-looking interface in general) was one of the biggest complaints about the previous mobile and Steam versions, so it’s strange that Square Enix doesn’t appear to have taken this into account with these new versions.

To be fair, a simple font is something that can be relatively easily swapped out or modded by resourceful tinkerers, but doubtless many Final Fantasy fans would have preferred this to be right from the get-go — particularly if we do end up with console ports of these in the long term.

Final Fantasy I
Ugly font aside, at least they kept Garland’s best line.

Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, these new pixel remasters of Final Fantasy I to VI are all based on the original releases of the games on the NES and Super NES. Since those original releases, there have been a significant number of revamped versions released on various platforms, with most longstanding fans of the series agreeing that the enhancements of these later incarnations have two main benefits: they make the games more accessible to modern audiences, and they provide new and interesting things for veterans to explore.

For example, the Game Boy Advance “Dawn of Souls” version of Final Fantasy I featured four tough endgame dungeons to challenge yourself with, featuring guest appearances from bosses seen later in the series. Since Final Fantasy I is a game you can beat well before you max out your characters, this additional material added incentive for players to keep exploring the game and challenging themselves.

The subsequent PSP version added another dungeon called the Labyrinth of Time, which featured a series of puzzle-based levels randomly drawn from a stock of available challenges, meaning each time you dove into it you had a different experience. The boss at the end of the Labyrinth of Time varied in power according to how successful you were in the preceding challenges; if you wanted to truly “100%” the game by filling its Bestiary, you’d need to fight all the possible variations of this boss by finding different ways to survive the puzzles you were presented with.

Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy III got a significant revamp with its Matrix Software-developed 3D remake for Nintendo DS, which was subsequently ported to PSP and PC. The anonymous “Onion Kids” of the original game now had names and backstories, making them immediately more interesting, and the plot of the game as a whole — something of a weak point in the Famicom original — was fleshed out a lot more.

Final Fantasy IV’s PSP version had some of the best pixel art in the series as well as its “After Years” epilogue. Final Fantasy V for Game Boy Advance had extra jobs to discover and experiment with. Final Fantasy VI for GBA had new Espers to summon and learn abilities from as well as new dungeons.

None of these enhancements appear to be in the new “pixel remaster” rereleases. We can say this for sure for Final Fantasy I to III, where the Steam store listings for the games explicitly state that they are based on the original NES/Famicom versions and thus “features and/or content may differ from previously rereleased versions of the game”. Final Fantasy IV to VI, meanwhile, only have a very bare-bones store page at the moment, but the situation with I to III doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Final Fantasy II

This obviously begs a fairly big question: why are Square Enix doing these pixel remasters if they’re not going to make them the definitive versions of the game? The platforms on which the existing “best” versions of Final Fantasy I to VI are all obsolete at this point, so most people would have been happy with the bare minimum: ports of the PSP versions of Final Fantasy I, II and IV; ports of the GBA versions of V and VI, perhaps with graphics brought back in line with the SNES originals rather than the GBA’s lower-resolution art; and, if anything needed to be completely made anew, a 2D pixel art version of Matrix Software’s take on Final Fantasy III.

It might sound strange to be criticising Square Enix for effectively putting in “too much” effort on these pixel remasters — but if those efforts aren’t going to result in the best possible versions of the games available, what, really, is the point? Yes, it will make them more broadly accessible to a new generation of gamers by releasing on modern platforms, but I certainly wouldn’t blame new fans of the series for feeling a bit short-changed if they do some research into past rereleases and discover that they’re missing out on hours of excellent new additions to the base games.

Make no mistake, Final Fantasy I to VI are all-time classics of gaming, and all of them individually helped shape the modern RPG sphere as we know it today in different ways. If you’ve never played these older installments in the series, the pixel remasters are likely to be as good a way as any to experience them for yourself for the first time — they’ll certainly be the easiest and cheapest to acquire in a legitimate way. It’s just a shame that, from how things appear right now, they’ll never be the best way to experience them.

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Pete Davison
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