With the weight of decades bearing down upon the franchise, not to mention re-release after re-release, it's a small wonder that the 6 games contained in Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster can still be made relevant, interesting, and palatable to modern audiences. Nevertheless, that's just what's been done. The games have not received major overhauls, but the versions presented in Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster are a culmination of the many different editions preceding it.

Pixel Remaster is a collection of the first 6 Final Fantasy games from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. These games represent the franchise's formative work, when it went from what was basically an adaptation of tabletop RPGs like D&D to something wholly its own and hugely influential in its own right. The first six games saw the birth of many recurring elements, from Chocobos to a guy named Cid, as well as the series' penchant for constantly innovating its core systems. The evolution of storytelling across these six titles is significant, and one of the most interesting parts of a historical collection like this - from the bare bones and nonsensical narrative of Final Fantasy 1, to the mature and complex drama of Final Fantasy 6.

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These early games remain iconic, Final Fantasy 6 with its infamous main antagonist standing out as one of the most lauded JRPGs of all time. Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster cleans up and rebalances these artifacts, and adds some great new features, all the while managing to retain their retro charm.

The collection does not disappoint; far and away, the changes are positive and better the experience but some sacrifices are made. Content added for previous editions is cut, and repeated retooling has resulted in a hodgepodge collection of old, new, and awkwardly outmoded. The skeletons of obsolete systems or spells lie discarded, waiting to be stumbled upon. But they are, thankfully, never too distracting, simply remnants of a previous evolution that are no longer useful, yet are still present.

Antiquated systems aside, Pixel Remaster presents a great way to relive the classics, or check them out for the first time - as long as players are prepared for some old-school JRPG quirks. Luckily, this remaster offers options that lessen or eliminate the most aggravating parts of older RPGs. The collection that's now available on PS4 and Switch is actually the second release, and this version of Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster presents new features unavailable before.

Remasters of Final Fantasy 1 - 3 dropped on Steam and mobile devices in the summer of 2021, and the latter 3 would follow over the next few months. The ports cherry-picked many of the best features from editions past and received further tweaking. Marquee additions included reworked pixel art designed for hi-res displays, a generous art gallery, easily accessible maps, an auto-battle option, and new orchestral soundtracks created in collaboration with the series' legendary composer, Nobuo Uematsu. Notably, players received more gil (money) and experience in battle, which reduced the need for grinding but also lessened the challenge, especially in the first three games.

In their heyday, those original three had a reputation for being tough and lengthy affairs, but now the challenge is nearly trivialized. Opinions on this will vary but for those seeking a casual stroll through gaming history, the modest challenge will be ideal. However, those looking to test their mettle against old-school RPGs of a bygone era, won't find it with the first few Pixel Remasters. It seems, though, that the first three games saw the most rebalancing. The latter, more sophisticated titles presented challenges over and above a need for gil and exp, so their abundance is less impactful.

It's worth noting that, beyond grinding for levels, a large part of the originals' fun and difficulty came from the need to explore, talk to NPCs, and actually absorb the information. The presentation of that information is not great - games have come a long way in that respect. But with patience, players will uncover the path, even if it's not immediately apparent. It's easy to hop on the internet and find an answer as soon as momentum slows, but the best way to experience these titles is as they existed originally. These games can be forgettable if they're blown through, but if players tackle them with persistence and curiosity, their experience is more rewarding.

The best changes in Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster only came in the console release, but they're so impactful, it's surprising they weren't part of the original launch. Players now have the option of further increasing, or even decreasing, the amount of gil and exp they receive. Ratcheting up battle rewards allows for a much smoother experience, but it also means players will likely be over-leveled and in for anticlimactic boss fights.

A core ethos of the remastered collection revolves around allowing fans to experience these classics how they want. The adjustable experience/gil is a perfect example; in fact, that extends to ability points, job points, or whatever unique progression system the game uses. When Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster first launched, it featured a new "modern" text font but fan feedback made it clear that the new style wasn't a crowd-pleaser. In answer, Square Enix has added a "classic" text style in the PS4/Switch version which emulates a more retro style.

Fans also have their choice of music, as all the old tracks have been given full orchestral treatments. The work is excellent and expressive in a way that simply wasn't possible before. The new score feels like what must have played through Nobuo Uematsu's head as he composed the originals. These arrangements were present in the Pixel Remaster's initial release, but purists and nostalgia-seekers can now switch at will between them and the original digital tunes. The inclusion of the originals is a great feature, but the orchestral score injects some extra vigor into the games' other elements, elevating them.

The most impactful new feature, and an absolute godsend, is the ability to turn off random encounters. Back in 2016, the Final Fantasy 9 PC release allowed players to opt out of random battles, and now its older siblings are following suit. The way the originals handled such encounters, specifically their frequency, was a drag. Turning them off can save the party if they're in dire straits, and more importantly, saves players from lengthy backtracking. That laborious traipsing could be made more excruciating when the characters are over-leveled due to the exp and gil increases, and the battles therefore even less meaningful. Skipping encounters is a huge time-saver, and it may be enough to sway players who are hesitant to engage with archaic design.

The option to turn off battles does point out a few elements made moot by its inclusion. Spells like Warp or Teleport can zip the party out of dungeons or between levels but with combat off, their purpose is lessened. Several other misplaced parts jut out occasionally: a fear spell in Final Fantasy 1 that no longer works, items or spells that pull up the same map that's included by default, and a handful of others. None are too distracting, simply remnants of previous editions that weren't smoothed away. But it does leave the package feeling a little untidy.

A bigger issue is the exclusion of extra content added to previous editions. Some of this content like dungeons, super bosses, and additional jobs in Final Fantasy 5 was highly regarded. But players will be forced to seek out past releases if they want to experience them. Square Enix says these remasters were based on the original games and not the various ports. Yet this collection is clearly an amalgamation of many iterations, so to leave out such good content is baffling. Their absence detracts from the overall experience, preventing the collection from being the complete, must-own edition it could be.

But a few oddities and some missing content don't hurt too much compared to what the remaster does offer. The reworked art is sharp and beautiful without losing sight of its roots, and the new soundtracks are subtly triumphant. The challenge is lessened, but that's largely in the hands of players. That control is a big part of what makes this collection great - the flexibility easing the aches and pains of aging design. Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster is a solid compilation and a recommendation for both long-time fans looking to relive the good old days and hesitant first-timers alike.

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster is available now on PS4 and Switch. Game Rant was provided a Switch code for this review.

final fantasy pixel remaster review
Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster

The original Final Fantasy games are brought to life with completely new graphics and audio in the 2D pixel remaster series.