Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster (PC) review
Square Enix’s latest project to re-release 2D Final Fantasy games is making great strides and is now coming to the Super Nintendo generation with Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster.
Final Fantasy IV has a complicated history with ports. The original English version for Super Nintendo, known as Final fantasy ii, has been significantly reduced compared to its Super Famicom counterpart. Gameplay has been simplified, hidden passages have been highlighted, and unique abilities have been removed. Nintendo’s family censorship program also took its toll with an already poor translation.
Small tweaks followed with successive ports on PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, and mobile platforms, while the DS saw the game reconstructed in 3D. Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster marks the thirteenth time – give or take – that the game has been released since its first premiere 30 years ago, and it took the throne to become my favorite version of a beloved classic.
As with the previous three games, members of the original development team have returned to oversee the new audio / visual experience. Nobuo Uematsu managed to re-energize his classical score with a new orchestration, continuing his excellent work on the first three Remastered pixels.
These new arrangements have more depth and character, without altering their timeless melodies. Whatever emotion is behind each song, it’s heightened, from the militaristic theme of the Red Wings to the bittersweet. Love theme, with intense battle themes. (The Chocobo themes in particular are excellent, accented by harsh brass, and Palom & Porom never had such a funky bassline.)
“Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster is the finest 2D version of Cecil’s story to date.”
The visual overhaul also shines again. Supervised by one of the original sprite artists, Kazuko Shibuya, Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster is the finest 2D version of Cecil’s story to date. Despite the switch from NES to SNES, the original game retained the same graphical approach as its predecessors: squatted interpretations of characters on world maps, larger and more detailed models in battles. However, the story was also bigger and more involved than ever before, loading those cramped little sprites with serious acting moments.
So naturally the new sprites are bigger and more involved than the previous ports. They add details missing in the SNES and GBA versions, while maintaining the same sense of proportion as the originals, unlike the LOL doll-shaped sprites in the PSP version. For years the GBA version was my favorite, but looking back on it now, I much prefer the new version.
In terms of gameplay and story, not much has changed. The fourth title in the series introduced the Active-Time Battle system, which made combat much more exciting than the strict round-based fare seen previously. Additionally, the character group often changes in the early stages of the game, mixing up different classes within Cecil’s team instead of having you choose at the start or offering full customization like Final Fantasy III.
“… this version of the old script is the smoothest yet.”
Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster uses the existing 2D script so to speak, so most of the 3D remake embellishments have been lost. This will be good news for those who found his more haughty tone off-putting. That being said, this version of the old script is the smoothest yet. Other translations were a bit odd, but that’s not the case here, as the grammatical and tonal roughness has been sanded down.
The story centers on Cecil Harvey, commander of the Red Wings of Baron, as he questions his king’s increasingly bloodthirsty edicts and his obsession with elemental crystals. Along the way, he will grow from a dark knight to a paladin, endure tragedies and betrayals, and learn deeply rooted truths about himself as he fights to save the world from a dark menace.
Although it is a bit superficial textually, it is one of the more typically “Final Fantasy” experiences. Crystals, airships, summons, other worlds, scripted losses, unexplained juxtapositions of advanced technology in a high fantasy setting and a decisive confrontation with a divine embodiment of hate, all the hallmarks of a Final fantasy game are here.
One thing that is not here, however, is bonus content added to previous ports. The GBA version added an epic endgame dungeon that showcased every member of the cast, resulting in an alternate “superboss” version of the final boss. I was especially disheartened to see that the Developer Room, an Easter egg that breaks the fourth wall of Dwarven Castle, was missing, with only a note at its old entrance.
“If you’re new to the Final Fantasy series as a whole, Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster is one of the best entry points possible.”
The missing bonus content continues to be the only thing stopping this remaster series from being the final version of the games, and hopefully future updates can fix that, maybe if the series is ported to other consoles next year for the 35th anniversary?
From my perspective as a longtime fan of the franchise, the Remastered pixels excel at walking the line between different reiterations of classic games, dividing the difference and presenting a balanced whole. Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster continues this trend. So far, this series of ports has succeeded in their goal of presenting 2D games with consistency, while retaining what makes each game unique.
Ultimately, my recommendations depend on your familiarity. If you’re a returning veteran, and especially if you’re indebted to the more involved systems of the 3D version, there’s nothing new here other than the improved presentation. I would still recommend it for the next time you feel inclined to relive the experience, even without the bonus content.
If you’re new to the Final Fantasy series as a whole, Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster is one of the best possible entry points. The story and gameplay run deeper than the first three games with a diverse and well-developed cast to boot, and virtually all of the series’ most prevalent features are present. (If you are a recent convert to Final Fantasy XIV who hasn’t played any other game in the series, you might want to check this out before Endwalker also arrives in November!)