Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster Review: Just About Pixel-Perfect
I don’t think that you need to read this review—or any Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster review, for that matter—to know that this game is good. Final Fantasy IV has literally been around since the early 90s and has been remade… what, four times at this point? Maybe more, depending on how you split things up? And it even got two sequels way, way after its release—Prelude and The After Years. Square Enix likes Final Fantasy IV, I like Final Fantasy IV, and a lot of other people like Final Fantasy IV. It’s basically an objective fact that this game is good.
So, if everyone already knows that Final Fantasy IV is good, why do I even need to write a review on it? That, dear reader, is a good question! And I actually think that I have an answer. Technically, this isn’t Final Fantasy IV—this is Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster. It doesn’t matter how good the source material is, nor how many times a game has been remade; if the most recent remake of a game—the one currently representing it the most—is bad, then it casts a shadow over everything. Fortunately, FFIVPR isn’t bad. In fact, it’s probably the best FFIV remake that I’ve ever seen—and, as it stands, there’s very little that could be done to top it.
A Twilit Heart
Final Fantasy IV tells the story of Cecil, a Dark Knight who acts as captain of the Kingdom of Baron’s airforce, the Red Wings, on behalf of the King of Baron. Throughout his entire life, both he and his best friend Kain, a Dragoon, had devoted their lives to the King—who had taken them both in at a young age and raised them as his own. However, one day, the King of Baron begins to act strangely—commanding Cecil to lead sieges on other villages and kingdoms. Though compliant at first, the atrocities Cecil has been carrying out recently quickly begin knawing at him. Uncertain what he should do but unwilling to immediately disrespect the individual who is both his ruler and father figure, Cecil’s uncertainty soon leads him down a path in which he will meet both despair and redemption.
Final Fantasy IV may not have been the first Final Fantasy game, but that didn’t stop it from having any firsts of its own. In fact, FFIV stands out in many ways from its three predecessors—and nowhere can this be seen better than within the game’s story. Casting aside the tradition of giving the player a party full of tabula rasas (I know that FFII had defined characters, but they weren’t super fleshed out), FFIV strove to breathe as much life into each playable character as possible, and, even to this day, the efforts of Square Enix (although guess it was just Square at the time) brilliantly shine through in each and every bit of dialogue. I can’t say too much, of course, as I don’t want to spoil the fun for those of you out there who haven’t played the game, but believe me when I say that FFIV‘s story is an absolute thrill from start to finish.
Okay, so I’m not exactly what I’m supposed to do, here. Generally speaking, reviewing video games is a very referential thing for me. It’s easier to help the reader understand how a new game plays by comparing it to an older game or to some kind of source material. But, like, Final Fantasy IV is the source material. You really can’t get a whole lot more basic than this when it comes to this. I guess I could compare it to the first three Final Fantasy games in terms of flow, but that feels disingenuous. It’s a classic JRPG formula and, while this game is relatively short compared to today’s RPGs (taking anywhere from 20 – 50 hours depending on how willing you are to farm for extra summons and Pink Tails), it’s still an incredibly smooth and satisfying experience overall.
Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster isn’t without its differences, however. While they might not necessarily affect the parts of the game that many would consider being “the most important,” they’re still absolutely worth mentioning. I mean, the “Pixel Remaster” part of the game’s name has to be there for a good reason, right? Of course, it does! And, oh, what a good reason it is!
At a glance, it might not seem like much has been done with Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster. After all, it still looks pretty close to its original NES counterpart. But don’t let that fool you—there’s plenty going on here. Not only has the graphical overhaul breathed new life into each and every location and character within this game, but it’s done so without compromising the integrity of the original Final Fantasy IV. I don’t say this in a disrespectful way—the more modern remakes of FFIV were great in their own right—but there’s something about the fact that Square Enix stayed as close to the source material as possible that just makes me smile.
There’s also something else that this remake boasts—a remastered soundtrack. Now, let me level with you—I normally don’t like remastered soundtracks. Yeah, they can be good, but original is always best. However, I might have to make an exception in the case of this game. The amount of time, effort, and love put into re-imagining FFIV‘s iconic soundtrack is absolutely astounding and has created a one-of-a-kind product unique to Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster. Whether it’s the bold and brassy parts of Encounter 1, the string-centered melody of Encounter 2, or the haunting vocals of Within the Giant, every note emanating from this game’s soundtrack is, plain and simple, masterful.
When it comes to combat, Final Fantasy IV and its Pixel Remaster variant are about 99% the same. Aside from several small tweaks and the inclusion of an incredibly cool, interactive Bestiary (which is technically only combat-adjacent, I guess), FFIVPR doesn’t go out of its way to change anything. And, in this case, that’s perfectly fine—encouraged, even. However, if you compare FFIV to its three NES predecessors, there’s actually quite a bit to talk about.
Final Fantasy IV made some significant changes when it came to combat. This game was responsible for introducing a little-known mechanic known as the Active Time Battle System, or ATB for short. Though still turn-based, the switch to ATB means that players all have a turn bar that charges which, when charged, allows them to take their turn. It might sound a little complicated to those of you who don’t play RPGs—and it certainly can get a little frantic if you switch the game from “Wait” to “Active,” but it’s really a nice little mechanic overall that adds a sense of urgency to battles—which is good, because Finally Fantasy IV, as much as I love it, is not exactly the most challenging RPG around.
Final Fantasy IV is also unique in that, in complete contrast to the first three Final Fantasy games, it takes away any kind of team customization whatsoever. Because FFIV is such a narrative-rich game, you’ll constantly have characters coming and going. In fact, Cecil, the protagonist, is the only constant (and, even then there’s a caveat). Because of this, things like party-building, skill-leveling, and job-changing are all done. Sure, all of the classic Final Fantasy jobs are there (plus some new ones!), but you don’t get to decide when and where to use them. For some, this might seem like a horrible idea. But it really does work out in the end. While not being able to customize your party can be a bummer, the characters themselves more than make up for things. On top of that, FFIV does an excellent job of making sure that your party is perfectly balanced by the time you reach the end, so there’s no need to worry about things getting too wonky.
Once a Classic, Always a Classic
Final Fantasy IV was a great game when it came out in 1991, and, 30 years later, Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster is just as great. The only thing, in my opinion, that could have made this game better would have been the inclusion of the Lunar Subterrain from Final Fantasy IV Advance. But, hey, “almost perfect” is still pretty good, too. Whether you’re a Final Fantasy veteran or are looking to get your feet wet, I can’t recommend Final Fantasy IV Pixel Remaster enough.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC, Mobile; Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Square Enix; Players: 1; Released: September 8, 2021; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+; MSRP: $17.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.