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Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Review: A Thoughtful, Well-Made Remaster Series

EDITORS' RATING : 9 / 10
Pros
  • All games revamped into a cohesive and consistent look that fits an HD screen without losing the quintessential retro feel
  • Customizability lets the games offer a tailor-made experience for fans of all kinds
  • Smooth frames all the way through, with flashy new effects balanced with super lightweight performance demands
Cons
  • Movement controls using joystick are a bit slippery and take time to get used to
  • Dialogue and cutscences lack proper text speed options and can get either tedious or too fast to properly read
  • Lacks more substantial accessibilty options

A Switch review code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "FINAL FANTASY Pixel Remaster" is available now for PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

Let's face it: the "Final Fantasy" franchise has not been at the top of its game when it comes to remastering and re-releasing its older titles. Nevermind the controversy over "Final Fantasy 8's" terrible MIDI music when it was ported to PC the first time. The scattered and disjointed releases of "Final Fantasy 1-6" across mobile, console, and PC platforms has made it a full-on scavenger hunt just to experience the series' pre-PlayStation era. 

It was hard enough without having to track down the latest ports and/or remasters. The fact is, even a ton of "Final Fantasy" enthusiasts haven't played the early games due to the massive rift in style. The series was known for more conventionally high-fantasy 2D games before it split off from Nintendo with "Final Fantasy 7" and made the jump to 3D, becoming the fashion-forward, hybrid sci-fi and urban fantasy trendsetter we know and love. 

Ostensibly, this is the gap that the "Pixel Remaster" series is designed to bridge. Putting all the individual PC releases together with a few bonuses sprinkled in, the console release of "Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster" hopes to offer the first six installments of the franchise in one streamlined bundle; and great googly-moogly, does it ever do a fantastic job of making these classic, decades-old games more accessible to a modern audience.

Sorry Steam, the console bundles are better for now

It's slightly unfortunate that the best parts of the "Pixel Remaster" series are the new options added to the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch releases. Make no mistake, despite seeming like surface-level tweaks on paper, these extra options elevate the entire bundle from being solid, well-made remakes, to standing as a near-perfect example of what remasters should look and feel like. 

Honestly, the option to swap between the HD sans-serif font and a more faithful retro one — as well as between the full orchestral arrangements and the original 8-bit tracks — nip so many of the usual complaints about remasters right in the bud. People who enjoy the clarity of a modern revamp aren't favored over those who prefer the nostalgia of the original look and sound, making it a worthwhile investment for both series newcomers and longtime fans. 

The best part is that you can mix and match these options, as well as swap between them at will with no reset required. Maybe you'd like the more readable font with the original music, or switch between the 8-bit and orchestral depending on the area; the choice is completely yours, and it's this freedom that really and truly makes the console editions the superior way of experiencing these games.

Gameplay is better than ever

It's not easy bringing an antiquated combat system into a seamless remaster, but the first "Pixel Remaster" PC releases had already done a bang-up job of staying faithful to each games' individual combat systems while still streamlining them for intuitive play. What the Boost options on the console editions do is make a well-done rehash even better with — once again — amazing customizability.

Those familiar with the similar options on other "Final Fantasy" ports might be expecting another set of heavy-handed cheat options, but the Boost menu in the "Pixel Remaster"s are anything but. Each game has a distinct set of Boosts tailored to its specific leveling system, letting you customize the amount of experience and gil you get from every battle starting from multipliers of 0 to 4 and in increments of 0.5. Meaning, instead of picking between the original pace or make gameplay redundant altogether, you can fine-tune exactly how much grind-versus-reward you want for every parameter. Do you like leveling up at a normal pace, but hate grinding for money? You can do that, and vice versa, or even make it harder on yourself by turning everything to 0.5x.

This is a level of customizability you don't even see in most new releases. It completely opens up the first six "Final Fantasy" games to every kind of audience that might be interested — from those seeking the original experience to those wanting a smoother ride through the less accessible classics.

Close to perfect, but not quite

On the topic of accessibility, let's get into what the "Pixel Remaster" series falls a little short on: despite all its customizable features that lets you create your perfect experience, it lacks more substantial accessibility options. In fact, the remasters having all these fancy options that you don't see in most other games almost makes it feel like the games got halfway to a full commitment to accessibility then bailed out.

And we're not talking top-class accommodations like built-in text-to-speech screen readers or anything. At the very least, with how undemanding the graphics are, it would have been nice to see a colorblind-friendly option on top of the grainy retro filter. Not to mention, the text speed in dialogue and cutscenes can vary wildly from game to game — or even scene to scene — with no way of tweaking it for better readability.

There's also the fact that only a select amount of buttons are remappable, making it only somewhat compatible with custom controllers made for various accommodations. Still, at least there are remappable buttons, and there's a shortcut to toggle the walk/run default so you don't have to hold down any buttons at all. While the "Pixel Remaster"s fall short of perfect accessibility, they're still leagues above their original counterparts as well as most other retro RPG options on the current market.

A wonderful way to see the classics for yourself

Despite its flaws in UI accessibility, the "Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster" series on console still comes through as a thoughtful and faithful remaster effort that considers the needs and wants of its wide and varied audience. Series veterans who just want a near one-to-one HD port to re-experience can have that; longtime fans who only joined in during the PlayStation era and want to finally experience the classics for themselves with a more modern feel can have that; and complete newcomers who want to see the entire franchise from the beginning can now, absolutely, and without hassle, start from the very first "Final Fantasy."

These remasters are not only a wonderful way of experiencing the first six games, but of mapping out the evolution of the series as it navigated towards a coherent franchise identity. The gorgeously redone 2D art and streamlined UI make it even easier to compare the unique quirks of each game, and you can almost feel the love and respect for the series as a whole that went into the entire project. If you've been waiting for the right opportunity to jump into "Final Fantasy's" retro era, this is it. The "Pixel Remaster" series on console is, as of its release, the definitive remaster experience for all six games.

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