Few series are as beloved as Final Fantasy, and given how many re-releases, remakes, and remasters we’ve gotten over the years, Square Enix knows this. Often these remakes and re-releases have questionable quality and design choices that diehard fans lament. Enter the Final Fantasy I-VI Pixel Remaster, which bundles the first six games into one convenient, streamlined package (or you can buy them individually) with respect for the original versions from the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System at the forefront.
Originally released separately on Steam and mobile between July 2021 and February 2022, these versions include updated pixel graphics – hence the name – and rearranged orchestral scores, along with gameplay balances aplenty. For the most part, the collection maintains respect for the old while introducing a few extra bells and whistles for the console releases which will help introduce these classics to newcomers.
Let’s get the similarities out of the way: developed originally on the NES, the first three Final Fantasy games benefit most from the pixel graphics that have been updated to look great on modern screens. Playing undocked on our Switch OLED quickly became our favourite way to experience these classics. Monster and character sprites look crisper than ever before, and more detailed backgrounds fill the entire screen with vivid colour. The UI has also been streamlined across all six, and it features two different fonts: modern (which received much backlash in the Steam/mobile release), and our preference, the new pixel-style font. We can’t imagine ever digging out our old consoles to play them ever again.
While this crisp retro aesthetic is at the forefront of Square Enix’s marketing, the most impressive part of this package is the rearranged soundtrack overseen by the original composer, Nobuo Uematsu. The orchestrated music adds quite a lot of gravitas; we couldn’t help but crank up the volume during every battle fought and dungeon we entered. And, at almost any time during each of the six games, you can pop open the menu and switch to the original beeps and boops to compare.
As referenced above, Square Enix also included massive quality-of-life improvements this time around, from an auto-save feature, being able to turn random encounters off with a click of the right thumbstick, and the option to bump up the rate of experience and gil, that all go a long way toward making these six Japanese role-playing games the most accessible they’ve ever been.
Full disclosure: being intimately familiar with the original games, we put several hours into each of these remasters to test the new systems and assess the quality of life updates; given the time constraints and the inclusion of six games in this bundle that are 20+ hours each, we haven’t gone through them all to the end yet.
Now, let’s take a look at each game sorted by platform, and whether or not you should opt for the bundle or just the best of the bunch:
Final Fantasy I – III – The NES Trilogy
We’ve already touched on this, but the not-so-final Final Fantasy games on the NES benefit quite a lot from the Pixel Remaster upgrades. As they were released between 1987 and 1990 in Japan, they don’t feature the epic narratives full of intriguing villains and sympathetic protagonists that the series would later become known for. Instead, they fall into the same rhythm as most other early JRPGs: go from town to town solving problems such as defeating evil Djinn or slaying world-threatening fiends while slowly uncovering the Big Bad behind the scenes making the world a terrible place. The turn-based battles and exploration are as straightforward as the story, though we appreciated the quaint simplicity. The rearranged soundtrack also goes a long way toward making these adventures feel much more grandiose than they look.
The quality of life features lessens the headache caused by three-decade-old mechanics in these three games in particular. Your party members, for example, would miss if their target died before they attacked in the first two games on NES, and now they will automatically redirect to another enemy. Plenty of other small tweaks and changes have been made across the board with spells and the availability of items that make adventuring less of an archaic burden, none more so than an auto-save feature to ensure progress isn’t lost if you wipe.
In Final Fantasy I and III, we found boosting our experience and gil earned from battles to 2x (the maximum is 4x) made for a pleasant experience that balanced the grind and challenge well. Final Fantasy II is a bit of an odd Chocobo as it uses an attribute and skill level system (similar to the SaGa series) instead of standard levels. The more you cast spells, for instance, the more your magic attribute will increase; likewise, a spell such as Fire I will eventually become Fire II. This also means that experimentation with weapons will lead to wonky, sub-optimal builds. Thankfully, the Pixel Remaster also includes a 2x or 4x boost to attribute and skill level gain, but we found even 2x trivialised every encounter as we hunted down mythril for Princess Hilda more than the other two games.
Note that these remasters don’t feature any additional content from other versions such as the additional dungeons from Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, which does stop the original two in particular from feeling like truly definitive versions.
Of the bunch, we enjoyed Final Fantasy III the most. Up until this point, we had only played the enhanced remake for the Nintendo DS which featured some additional story beats, named main characters, and 3D visuals. III ditches the complicated skill and attribute system from II in favour of a familiar experience-based level-ups of the original with one key change: the job system. Yes, Final Fantasy III introduces the earliest rendition of the jobs system that would later become a staple of the main series and its spin-offs. We had little nostalgia going into III, but it soon fascinated us by how similar it played to its predecessors while laying the groundwork for its successors. Also, we loved the crunchy guitar in its updated battle theme.
All that said, these three classics do have interesting locations to visit with a few neat twists in regards to world-building, yet there’s not much here outside of some straightforward turn-based battles and a few several dozen hours of video game history. Given when they were first released, we don’t really blame them for this, but we wouldn’t blame you for skipping over them, either. There are many more involved JRPGs out there, but these three games are foundational and hugely important for the genre as a whole.
Final Fantasy IV – VI – The SNES Trilogy
Dragoon jumping over to the SNES is where you can expect the sympathetic protagonists and intriguing villains the series is renowned for. Final Fantasy IV follows Cecil the Dark Knight as he struggles with his guilt while on an adventure to stop the sorcerer Golbez, and in doing so pioneered stronger storytelling in JRPGs. Despite being over 30 years old, IV once again engrossed us in its narrative – we’re itching to get back to Cecil’s convoluted journey with its cast of twelve characters. The fourth game ditches the job system we loved so much from III in favour of set classes; however, it makes up for this somewhat by introducing the Active Time Battle system, giving each fight more of an involved pace. Of all the games in the collection, Final Fantasy IV has been ported and remade the most, also getting a DS remake like III, but this interpretation of the original SNES shows how well the 1991 game has stood the test of time.
Final Fantasy V takes a narrative step back with the adventure of Bartz, Lenna, Galuf, and more as they rush to protect elemental crystals from the evil sorcerer Exdeath. Of the three from the SNES, V ranks as the weakest of the bunch as it nixes much of what makes IV one of the best JRPGs. It does expand upon the job system from III, and with the addition of combining abilities, there’s more player freedom here than you can shake Excalibur at. Still, the rearranged soundtrack feels less bombastic than the other games; it didn’t give us that shot of nostalgic adrenaline we expected. If we didn’t have the gil to buy every one of these games, Final Fantasy V would be the one we’d leave on the eShop shelf.
Lastly, it’s onto the crown jewel of the collection; Final Fantasy VI returns to narrative form and marks when the series truly found its stride. It’s a must-play experience for any JRPG fan, and the Pixel Remaster represents one of the easiest ways to do so. Much like IV, the sixth Final Fantasy features a wide cast full of different personalities; we’ll always have a soft spot for Terra being the first female protagonist introduced in the series. Furthermore, the sprawling narrative that adopts an awesome steampunk aesthetic also has one of the best villains in gaming history: Kefka, the mad clown. VI takes a massive leap forward in terms of dialogue, narrative exposition, and cinematics to bring them all to life, an impressive feat nearly three decades later.
Of all six games, VI also received the most love. Everything from skill updates, enemy stats, and way more we surely wouldn’t have noticed without checking out the Final Fantasy Wiki were changed, which makes it a shame that the additional dungeons from the Game Boy Advance version were cut. It’s also the only remaster that allows you to decrease the amount of experience, gil, and ability points gained to 0.5x if you want to up the challenge. This time around, the opera scene features real opera singers and HD-2D-esque graphics, and it’s hugely exciting to see Nobuo Uematsu’s vision for this sequence realised. If you had to pick one Final Fantasy game to spend your gil on, Final Fantasy VI would be the one.
For all these SNES titles, the music and visual upgrades aren’t as dramatic as the NES games. At first, we thought little had changed. However, when we did check, we realised the wider screen and reworked sprites, especially of the backgrounds, make a Blue Planet of difference. And at the risk of sounding like a broken midi track, the orchestrated music alone warrants a purchase for longtime fans. However, like the NES titles, additional dungeons from other versions are regrettably absent.