Wow, six Final Fantasy games released on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 last week! They’ll be familiar sights to any mobile and PC gamers for the most part, as they are the same Pixel Remaster releases that hit those platforms but with a few extras thrown on top. I’ve already reviewed each of the games in their mobile forms before, of course. But I will never, ever skip a chance to talk about these games, so here I am with a review of the Switch versions. Here’s how this one is going to go, friends: I’m going to give you short reviews of each game, each with their own score, and then a little bit about the package as a whole along with a score for the bundle. Let’s go!
Final Fantasy ($11.99)
The original Final Fantasy holds up surprisingly well for an RPG of its vintage. Granted, part of that comes from the improvements and tweaks Square Enix has made over the course of so many reissues, but the bulk of its enduring appeal comes from the solid foundation of the original game. The plot is quite minimal, and it often feels like you’re just bouncing from one Dungeons & Dragons campaign highlight to the next, but the pace is good and things escalate at a nice rate. Each of the battles with one of the Four Fiends feels appopriately epic, the class upgrade from Bahamut is still great, and Chaos remains a challenging and exciting final boss.
Final Fantasy has always made for a just-right level of simple retro RPG experience, and this Pixel Remaster makes for the smoothest ride yet. The upgraded visuals, fantastic arranged soundtrack, and assorted gameplay tweaks seen in the mobile version are all present and welcome, but it’s the new Boost modifiers that really make this Switch version sing. You can now make the game as much or as little of a challenge as you like, finally allowing players to tailor their Final Fantasy quest as they see fit. Whether it’s for challenge runs or a quick tour, the Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy is a great choice. The stuttering scrolling and still not-great font are the only real things holding it back from being its best
SwitchArcade Score: 4/5
Final Fantasy II ($11.99)
Final Fantasy II is often described as the black sheep of the franchise, even if it’s not considered the only one in recent years. I have some personal affection for the game, but I also recognize that it is a ball of many good and less-good ideas that presents a bit more roughage than most would like in their RPGs. The strange leveling system, unusual dungeon design that leans on ridiculous monster closets, and wildly unbalanced difficulty can only be tweaked so much without completely ripping up the floor boards on the game. And these Pixel Remasters aren’t really about that, so this version is just as much the odd duck as it always was.
Still, I think there is something here for the more adventurous players. A lot of the established tropes of the Final Fantasy series debuted here. The story is a little quaint by modern standards, but the use of actual characters for party members was unusual for its time and it helps this title stand out among the original 8-bit trio. The Boost options here can’t change the nature of the game as much they can in the others, but you can make the experience somewhat less awkward if you use them right. Just keep in mind that in this game a lot of your parameters depend on putting in the work, so running around with encounters off can put you in a real pinch in the long run.
Although I love Final Fantasy II for essentially laying down the foundations of the SaGa series, I have to admit that it’s probably the one I would least recommend of the six Pixel Remasters. It’s the one you play if you want something a little different, but you really have to have an open mind and an appreciation for experimentation to really get the most out of it. Sadly, it also suffers from the same stutter in its scrolling as the other games in this set.
SwitchArcade Score: 3.5/5
Final Fantasy III ($17.99)
When I reviewed the mobile versions of the Pixel Remasters, I called Final Fantasy III the most exciting of the bunch, and I stand by that. We’ve had so many good versions of the other games in the series before, but Western players didn’t have a truly faithful version of this installment until the Pixel Remasters. The 3D version is really its own thing in so many ways, and I can’t say I prefer it. What we get with Final Fantasy III Pixel Remaster is an updated version of the original 8-bit game, one that doesn’t completely discard all of the ideas of that 3D remake but is more interested in building on the source without massively altering it. It’s truly the best way to play the game.
Final Fantasy III is a lot like Dragon Quest IV in that while playing it via its remakes you might wonder what all the fuss is about until you remember it originally came out on a system designed to play a mean game of Donkey Kong. You can feel it building on the story-focused approach that Final Fantasy II took while also trying to call back to the first game’s more open mechanics, and the result is one of the masterpieces of the NES library. It might seem humble at first, but it just keeps growing and growing as you play. I’m not sure the trick dungeons work out as well as the designers intended, but they at least add a little spice.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Final Fantasy III is the best game of all of these Pixel Remasters, because it isn’t. But it should be the one of most interest to those who have played the wheels off the rest of the series, because it is the newest experience of the bunch for most Western players. The design carries itself impressively for a game of its vintage, with a lot of mechanics to learn and master. The story is also quite mysterious and enjoyable. The choppy scrolling hurts it a little, but only a little.
SwitchArcade Score: 4/5
Final Fantasy IV ($17.99)
Well, here’s one of the big ones. Final Fantasy IV comes up a lot when people are listing their favorite games in the series, and it’s not hard to see why. Melodramatic though it may be, this game’s story is rich in memorable characters and situations that make for a pleasing roller coaster ride. While it tosses away a lot of the customizability of the previous game, the gameplay is no less compelling. Indeed, the fact that the designers know exactly what kind of party you’re going to have at any given time allows them to tailor the challenges in such a way that this game may indeed have the most enjoyable difficulty curve of the entire franchise.
That said, one of the main features of this particular version is the ability to tweak that difficulty curve by messing with the experience and gil gains. You can also turn encounters on and off as you like, in case you just feel like getting to the next story point. Just be careful you don’t leave yourself underleveled to the point that you won’t be able to beat the enemies around you, because there are definitely places where you can get yourself a little stuck. Broadly speaking, I’d recommend leaving those Boosts alone for this game. But hey, do what you will. It’s a good time no matter how you slice it, and if you’re new to the series it’s a wonderful introduction.
Final Fantasy IV is one of the most frequently reissued games in the series, but it’s no mystery as to why. In many ways, this is like an introductory course to everything Final Fantasy. A dramatic story with great characters, a variety of skills and abilities to play around with, some big nasty villains to fight, and a huge world full of weird and interesting locations to explore. It’s exceedingly likely you’ve played this game already, but I sure wouldn’t blame you for taking another spin with this version. A shame about the judder in the scrolling, but it’s not enough to spoil this party.
SwitchArcade Score: 4.5/5
Final Fantasy V ($17.99)
Yes, Shaun is here to bang the drum about Final Fantasy V again. This is a wonderful game that always needs more attention, and probably the most replayable game in the series. Apart from the stutter in the scrolling, this is best version of the game yet. As with Final Fantasy 1, the modifiers make a big difference here. This has always been a game that benefitted greatly from the player being able to set their own level of challenge, and being able to tweak experience, gil, and ABP gains as you see fit only feeds further into that. When combined with the extremely flexible job system, you get one of the most fun games in the series to poke at.
Since I’ve got the soapbox, I do want to address something I see come up a lot about this game. Namely, the story. This game is sandwiched between the corny but beloved fourth entry in the series and the absolutely outstanding story of Final Fantasy VI, and its more mechanics-focused approach seems to lead people to think it doesn’t have a story worth mentioning. I disagree. This game features one of the smallest playable casts in the series, and it does so in service of drilling down on that tight group and how they fit into the world. It’s a story about the failures of one generation and the subsequent passing of responsibility to the next. This was the first game in the series that Kitase worked on, and his theater background shows in how many of the scenes are framed. Give it a chance and I think you’ll warm up to it.
While I will admit this review is somewhat influenced by my inseparable experiences with this game in its various incarnations over the years, I can assure you there is a reason why I go back to Final Fantasy V as often as I do. When I say that this Pixel Remaster is the finest way to play this outstanding game, I hope that history adds to the weight of the statement. If you have played this game before you probably don’t need an excuse to replay it, but here it is anyway. And if you haven’t? Hop to it.
SwitchArcade Score: 5/5
Final Fantasy VI ($17.99)
Sometimes I’m not sure, when it comes to games from my formative years, where my nostalgia ends and the actual quality of games begins. I’ve wrestled with that often with Final Fantasy VI. When I first played it, I thought it was one of the greatest games I had ever played. Maybe even one of the finest pieces of fiction I had ever consumed. As I got older, I pulled away from that. Maybe it wasn’t that great? Maybe my youthful mind put it up on too high of a pedestal? I think that may have subsequently led to me knocking it down too many pegs for a while. I still don’t know exactly where it should be placed in the ultimate canon, but I am at least sure of this: Final Fantasy VI is great. Maybe the greatest in the series. It has everything you need in an RPG.
Great characters? Yes. An enthralling plot? You bet. Interesting mechanics for those who want to dig in? Maybe not as many as Final Fantasy V, but it’s no slouch. There are some sensational set pieces, one of the nastiest villains around, and a wide array of genuine attempts at emotional depth. This is all backed by amazing pixel art that is only further enhanced in this version, and a drop-dead dazzling soundtrack that serves as Nobuo Uematsu’s magnum opus. This is RPGs. This is video games. Are there things to not like in here? Sure, but none of them are all that major. A little stuttering is a small price to pay to see the new HD-2D take on the opera scene complete with real vocals. Frankly, this game deserves a full-scale remake someday, but in the absence of that I am glad to have this.
If you’re interested enough in Final Fantasy to be reading a mega-review of the first six games in the series, you don’t need me to tell you that Final Fantasy VI is great. You’re probably only wondering about this Pixel Remaster, and in that respect I can say that it’s another fine way to play this classic. Swings and roundabouts, and I don’t know that the Boost modifiers are really your friend here, but even if it doesn’t beat the original in every way, it one-ups it in enough ways that fans of the game will want to check it out. And if you’re coming in new? Prepare yourself to experience one of the reasons why Final Fantasy will never be final.
SwitchArcade Score: 5/5
Final Fantasy I-VI Bundle ($74.99)
And so that brings us here. I’ve hit the drum often enough on the biggest problem with these Pixel Remaster releases: the stutter in the scrolling. I’m not sure why it’s here, but it’s annoying. It didn’t bother me as much in the mobile versions because I was playing on a smaller screen, but even bumped up the size of the Switch display it’s a lot harder to ignore. Some of you will find it to be a deal-breaker, and I suppose I wouldn’t be able to blame you for that. For me, it wasn’t. Similarly, the new pixel font doesn’t really fix the size problem with the original Pixel Remaster font. It will be a deal-breaker for some, but it wasn’t for me. I’m also okay with the pricing here. You get a lot of game for your buck.
I can get over all of that because the improvements here are so great. I love the more detailed yet faithful pixel art. The new soundtracks are amazing and I think it’s cool that you can switch back to the classic tunes on the fly if you want. The modifiers are literal game-changers for some of these games, allowing you to circumvent grinding or even make the games more challenging if you prefer. I also really love how the new look and sound really ties these six games together. The remakes in this series have been all over the place stylistically, and while there are elements of previous remakes I wouldn’t have minded seeing carried into these versions, I’m just happy to have a one-stop-shop I can point to for people asking me how to play these games.
The Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series isn’t an unqualified success. Some technical problems and the continuing font tomfoolery hold this set of games back from being all it could have been. Still, the improvements here are sensible and well-implemented, and while I’m not sure these are the definitive versions of each game, they are certainly going to be definitive enough for most. Short of keeping a menagerie of consoles and handhelds at your side, there’s really no better way to enjoy these all-time classics. A hearty recommendation to fans and newcomers alike.
SwitchArcade Score: 4.5/5