It is no secret that we at Geeks Under Grace are huge fans of the Final Fantasy franchise. In the lead-up to Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s release, we played many of the previous games in the franchise so that we could each give input on the series as a whole. When FFVII Remake was up for grabs, I remember there being a mad scramble to see who would get to review it. We also published an article in which multiple reviewers got to give their input on the game and FFVII Remake ended up being runner-up for GUG’s game of the year of 2020. Suffice it to say, we love Final Fantasy. Recently, we were given the privilege of playing Square Enix’s remaster of the first three games in this beloved franchise. Each game was played by a different writer and our thoughts on each title are detailed below.
Final Fantasy I
The legend goes that in 1987 a struggling video game company in Japan called Square was on its last legs and on the brink of bankruptcy. A young game designer named Hironobu Sakaguichi was tasked with creating an RPG, in the wake of the popularity of Enix’s game Dragon Quest. Square’s faith in Sakaguichi’s capabilities of creating a successful game was shaky at best, and the company found its future uncertain. For Sakaguichi himself, it was a turning point; if this game turned out to be a failure, it would be time for him to reexamine his role in the gaming industry. On December 18th, 1987, Final Fantasy was released in Japan, and would soon create a vast and beloved franchise that has thrived for over thirty years.
In 2021, Square Enix announced a series of 2D remasters for their first six titles, with the goal of releasing all of these titles on the same platforms in a short amount of time so that players would have the opportunity to play them all back-to-back. As a passionate Final Fantasy fan who has never played the original game, I was thrilled with the chance to play these earlier titles and I knew that what I would experience with this game would be different from what I have been used to with modern Final Fantasy games. What I was surprised to discover, however, was that there was enough charm in its simplicity that many fans will appreciate.
The story of Final Fantasy begins ominously; natural disasters and evil forces are affecting the world and have darkened the power of the crystals responsible for bringing order and peace. Four mysterious warriors arrive together at the Kingdom of Cornelia, each carrying one of the four darkened crystals. They are tasked with rescuing Princess Sarah, who has been kidnapped by the traitorous Garland. If they do so successfully, they will be recognized as the Warriors of Light, legendary heroes who will save the world from the evils and disasters afflicting it. What begins as a simple task turns out to be anything but, as the player will discover.
The gameplay is simple, especially compared to most modern RPGs. You can control each of the four Warriors of Light, and can determine which class they will be from the get-go, as well as choosing their names. There are six different classes and combinations that players can choose from: three fighters, Warrior, Thief, and Monk, and three mages, White Mage, Red Mage, and Black Mage. Each class has its own special abilities, as well as armor and weapons that can be equipped. Spells can be bought for White and Black mages respectively, with Red Mages being capable of learning both. Battles are random and are not timed, as players must carefully select their Warriors’ abilities in order to defeat them. These battles will seem simple and easy at first, but will gradually become more challenging as enemies begin throwing status effects that can potentially paralyze your party. If not careful, you can quickly end up with a game over before you even realize it.
As someone who has never played the original game before, I do not know which features were added in this remaster. I do know from playing this title that the Save/Quick Save feature quickly became my best friend. I enjoyed having the luxury of saving wherever I was, which rescued me when I came across enemies that I couldn’t handle. From the menu, you are able to change your party’s armor, weapons, and heal upas needed. One thing that I forgot was a staple in early Final Fantasy games was that status effects remained even after the battle ended. If one of your party members was afflicted with Poison and you don’t have an Antidote, prepare to watch that member’s HP slowly dwindle as you move from location to location. Another difficulty I found was that if a party member was KO’d from a battle, a rest from an inn afterwards will not revive them; only a Phoenix Down will. It’s little things like these that make for a challenging gameplay experience, forcing you to plan ahead and make sure you have all that you need before you venture on.
As far as visuals go, I enjoyed the bright vibrant colors and designs that you would only find in 2D RPGs. I was pleased to see that each town and kingdom I visited had its own unique populace and that character models were not recycled over and over again. The models of the enemies you encounter in particular stand out. Warg Wolves, Goblins, Ogres and many more are encountered and range in difficulty as well as in creative design. One neat feature in this version that many other versions of the game will have now is the Bestiary, a catalog of enemies that the player has encountered and defeated with more information about them.
I think my favorite part of experiencing this version of the game was the music. Many beloved titles come from this game alone, including the beloved Final Fantasy theme and the Prelude, but the care and quality the music received in this development is one of the best I’ve heard in recent years. The orchestration feels, for lack of a better word, alive. It’s vibrant, melodic, and really encapsulates what I would imagine a world called Final Fantasy would be like.
In conclusion, I honestly had low expectations as to what I would experience in the very first Final Fantasy game. Thirty years is a long time and a lot of changes have been made, many of them for the better. I had assumed that also meant that Final Fantasy would only be enjoyable for those who grew up with it, back when it was first released and the Final Fantasy franchise was brand new. I find that I was wrong, though; there is a lot to enjoy and love in this updated Pixel Remaster. It really takes the best of what is already a fun game and makes it even better. I’m looking forward to continuing to play it and adding it to my ever-growing list of completed Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy II
A sequel is always a big deal. Before its construction, a plethora of questions stand in the way. How do you improve upon the success of the first? How do you know what to improve upon? Can the medium hold your ambitions? These questions are what I think would come to mind if I were in Square’s shoes. After playing through Final Fantasy 2 (FF2), it’s clear to see that the game company figured out what to keep, what to improve, and what they could experiment with. Getting to play the Pixel Remaster, I can say without a doubt that it is the definitive version to play. I tried to look up references to the NES version, and the other remasters, to have a comparison for this review.
Unlike starting off with blank slates in Final Fantasy 1 (FF1), players begin with a party of four, already equipped with weapons, armor, and names. There’s still the option to give them whatever weapon class of choice, as well as the choice of any magic spell. The combinations of classes become even more varied than before. Axe wielders with white magic? Archer with black magic? Bare fist with every magic? The freedom is limitless.
That does present the problem of choosing too much. The best weapon of the current dungeon can set back your strongest character, because of the new level up system. Experience points are gone. Instead, characters level up their stats by using them. HP goes up by getting hit, MP goes up using magic, and so does the magic stat. The weapon class also levels up according to use. It becomes a number management game at some point, weighing the brand new sword with the level 5 class, against the current spear that has level 7 class.
I found out that being bare-handed is the strongest thing in the game, so none of that mattered.
The story is changed to a more personal narrative, rather than a mission of obligation. Firion, Maria, Guy, and Leon are orphans of a town decimated by the Emperor. They seek revenge, and go on a journey to prove themselves to the Wild Rose rebellion. The adventure involves NPCs thanks to a unique Ask, Learn, and Key Items menu never again used in the entire FF series. Players can learn highlighted words from conversations and ask them to anyone who gives the option. The phrases and key items further the story or give additional info on where to go. I personally adore this mechanic, because it gave me incentive to talk to more NPC’s in hopes of finding more words or unlocking special dialogue.
FF2 also introduced the chocobo, providing safe, enemy-free passage across the map. This becomes a welcome surprise, because holy moley is the encounter rate high! And there’s no escape from it if you don’t have the chocobo. Sadly, this is maybe a one-time occurrence for most players, as the chocobo is found in one place on the map and you have to go out of your way to get it. I found myself using it twice, setting it up as a fallback while exploring high-level areas. This is another weak spot for FF2: there’s no indication that players are entering high-level encounters. There’s simply trial and error. Back in the NES days I’m sure this was frustrating, but thanks to the auto save function this will prevent a lot of mistakes.
Unless you’re me.
I took the chocobo to the colosseum way too early in the game. I entered, just wondering if I could explore, and met a locked door. As soon as I left, click, auto-save. I was automatically locked in a high-level area with a humongous encounter rate and no chance of getting lucky enough to flee my way to safety.
But it honestly wasn’t a huge pain to replay the lost content again thanks to some new updates, namely the highly detailed map in the top right. It shows everything on the current floor, including treasure chests, doors, and stairs. I knew which hallway to take and which to leave alone. This made the high encounter rate a little more bearable.
And what to say of the pixel remaster update? The GUI is clean, quick, and responsive. Every number and letter is crisp, and all the menus are easy to navigate. The magic attacks are beautiful, and flashy. Level X Holy looks different from Level I Holy, and that goes for all attacks. The weapons even have different palettes. The auto-fight button made the constant fighting the most bearable it can be. The water gleans, fire crackles, and wind whips in gorgeous modern pixel standards.
As a player that never touched FF2 until now, I am honored to have the first experience through this remaster. Thanks to the balance between modern and classic mechanics, I got to enjoy what matters most to me: the fantasy. And Square still has an immersive world filled with memorable moments. Saving the last dragon, escaping a leviathan, traversing snow in a snow-craft, and Guy speaking beaver are epic adventure moments. The remaster succeeds in keeping the magic alive.
Final Fantasy III
My experience with the Final Fantasy franchise is unique in that I’ve only started to explore the series in the past few years. I have dabbled in a number of the games but haven’t completed many of them. I knew of Final Fantasy’s existence from playing Kingdom Hearts growing up, but it wasn’t until college that I actually played a Final Fantasy game. My first Final Fantasy game was Final Fantasy XV, and while I found the graphics incredible and the characters endearing, the learning curve for the combat was a bit too steep for me. I have since played Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy IX, and Final Fantasy VII Remake, all of which I have enjoyed. As of now, I would say that Final Fantasy IX would be my favorite in the franchise so far due to its fun setting, endearing characters, and simple yet heartfelt story. As a relative newcomer to the Final Fantasy franchise, I was eager to try out a game from earlier in the franchise’s history.
Final Fantasy III begins with what has now become a standard fantasy RPG setup. Four orphans discover an ancient crystal of light that grants each of them special powers and sets them on a quest to restore balance to a chaotic world. Like many RPG’s of its time, Final Fantasy III focuses more on the player filling the shoes of the protagonists rather than telling a character-driven story. The player is able to name all four members of the party and determine their jobs. While I personally prefer character-driven stories, it was fun to kind of imagine my own story with each of the party members and experience old-school RPG storytelling.
By far the strongest aspect of Final Fantasy III is the level of customization given to the player. Most RPG’s nowadays present the player with a party of characters that each have a predefined job in the party. The typical fantasy RPG party consists of a jack-of-all-trades leader, a tank who can soak up damage, a healing magic user, an offensive magic user, and a damage-dealing ranger/rogue. Games in the Final Fantasy series have played around with this formula, but generally this party structure is the bread and butter of the franchise.
What separates Final Fantasy III is that it allows the player to switch up the jobs of each of the four party members however they see fit. A character can be given the job of a warrior at the beginning of the game, but can be changed to a white mage with healing magic if the player so chooses. Every party member can fill any role at any given time which gives the player a lot of freedom in terms of how they balance their party. There are segments of the game that require the player to briefly switch the entire party into mages to traverse certain segments. It was a lot of fun to experiment with different role combinations to see what worked best in different scenarios.
What keeps this aspect interesting is the fact that each party member will increase in whatever stat enhances their abilities in the role that they are currently in. For example, when the party levels up, the warrior will increase in strength and the mages will increase in spirit. If the player chooses to switch their warrior into a mage, it will take time for that party member to build up enough spirit to be an effective mage. This keeps the player from having a character that immediately dominates at every job they are given and prevents the game from becoming to easy. It is a nice detail that encourages the player to properly manage their party’s stats and to stop them from assigning roles that their party members will be bad at.
In my playthrough of Final Fantasy III, I enjoyed the red mage job the most as it is the most versatile role in the game. It allows the party to have a character that can wield melee, ranged, and magic weapons all at once, which is incredibly helpful in a fight. Also, you have to admire that hat! I also had a lot of fun with the monk class, which excels at dealing critical hits without the use of any melee weapons other than their fists. I had never seen the red mage or monk jobs in a Final Fantasy game before, and I hope future titles reimplement these classes. The game puts the characters completely in the hands of the player, which was innovative when the game originally released in 1990. While I personally prefer the more defined characters of newer Final Fantasy titles, I have to give credit to Final Fantasy III for offering a level of character customization that many RPGs today struggle to achieve.
The world of Final Fantasy III is a combination of high fantasy and steampunk that many following titles in the series have utilized. Some of the most memorable segments in the game for me include escaping a dragon’s nest at the top of a mountain, and the party using the spell “mini” to shrink down to traverse through the gnome town of Tozus. This game also lets the player utilize Cid’s airship to traverse the overworld, another element that is incorporated in many future titles. While the world of Final Fantasy III is not the most original, it is nonetheless fun to explore and manages to stand out amongst the many high fantasy RPGs. Also, as with most games in the Final Fantasy series, the soundtrack is incredibly catchy and incorporates many of the themes that have now become staples of the series.
As a whole, the Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy III is a solid experience that fans of old-school RPGs will enjoy. The remastered version of the game greatly enhances the graphics, frame rate, and soundtrack to make it a more immersive experience for modern gamers. As I inevitably play more games in the series, Final Fantasy III is one that I’m confident will continue to stick out in my mind as a fun experience.