Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster

It really can’t be overstated how much of an oddball in gaming history the original Final Fantasy is. It’s so technically unsound that the mechanics that work correctly are outnumbered by those that don’t, its entire design document is a copy and paste of first-edition Dungeons & Dragons bordering on outright plagiarism, and it’s notoriously unforgiving even by the standards of NES games. And yet, it’s also one of the most ground-breaking and influential games of all time. The recent Pixel Remaster series includes one of many, many attempts to pull the title in line with modern standards of aesthetics and playability. It largely succeeds at the former, but when it comes to the latter, it overcompensates severely and loses much of its identity in the process, creating a misguided museum piece that erases the very thing it’s supposed to preserve.

What sets the Pixel Remaster apart from other updated versions of Final Fantasy is its attempted faithfulness to the original art style and mechanics. It’s an understandable approach – the original’s iconic imagery is one of the reasons it’s been so cemented in the gaming zeitgeist, so rather than recreate it from the ground up, it simply presents a better version of what already exists. Ditto for the audio, which features a terrific realization of a classic soundtrack. More controversially, this version reinstates the limited-use “spells per day” magic system that’s been conspicuously omitted from most other rereleases. This could have been a return to a unique style of play as it was meant to be experienced. Instead, some of the quality-of-life features actively clash with the original gameplay, and the result will alienate both old purists and curious newcomers.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the original game got the formula right. It has its reputation for a reason – half the mechanics are broken, tons of enemies are equipped with bullshit one-hit-kill attacks, and there’s an absurd amount of chance involved. But the game was designed with limited resources in mind. It required a kind of self-enforced mission structure, where you would explore a section of a dungeon until your items and/or magic ran dry, then retreat, upgrade your equipment, and come back to explore a different section. There was still a lot of repetition involved, so the challenge and sense of progression were the primary sources of engagement. A fair and functional version of that would be a worthwhile purchase, I believe.

The Pixel Remaster briefly looks like it will fulfill that hope. It’s still wildly unbalanced, but the first few dungeons offer a decent challenge at a lightning pace. Eventually, however, the increased leveling speed, addition of revival and magic-restoring items, and most surprisingly, the inclusion of dungeon maps, allow you to play it like a standard, modern RPG when it was never designed as such. You’re not supposed to be able to effortlessly find all of the powerful equipment in every dungeon, but these features allow for that, and when combined, they become such an enormous advantage for the player that any challenge or sense of progression vanishes. Without those things, you’re left with only the extremely basic gameplay and narrative, the latter of which is only memorable for its utterly nonsensical final act.

4/10
4/10

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