Square Enix has arrived at the last stop on its Pixel Remaster greatest hits tour, Final Fantasy VI, and expectations are high for this touch-up. The last 2D game in the series is particularly beloved—considered the best in some circles, challenged primarily by its successor, Final Fantasy VII. Its presentation was already legendary, with the most advanced visuals of the series to-date and a legendary soundtrack. How do you improve upon that?
Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster is, in some ways, the least necessary remaster of the set, but it’s also the most definitive presentation: the SNES version holds up well today, save for some artefacts of Nintendo’s over-zealous censorship in that era; its Game Boy Advance port has been championed for its bonus optional content, albeit at the cost of audio quality, which is almost criminal for this soundtrack; and the recent mobile/Steam ports, while offering extremely divisive visuals, kept the game accessible to modern audiences. Splitting the differences between them makes for the most well-rounded experience.
As with the five previous remasters, Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster is truly a definitive edition of a timeless classic. However, it wins this honour more narrowly than its brethren.
For the uninitiated, Final Fantasy VI is a sprawling epic about a rebellion against an evil empire who seeks to rule the world with the combined might of technology and magic. You control a massive cast—as many as 14 strong—as they strive to undercut the empire and the diabolical clown who pulls its strings, Kefka.
“Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster is truly a definitive edition of a timeless classic.”
The remarkable story is presented here with a subtle new translation that retains the best of its predecessors, while smoothing out some bumps. The core trio of Terra, Locke, and Celes—the Luke, Han, and Leia of this rebellion—are some of the greatest characters that Final Fantasy has ever produced, and their companions are still compelling. In fact, some narrative themes ring even truer than ever today, especially moving toward the bleak back half of the game.
Presentation is the major selling point of these editions, however, and the new approach serves Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster well. Granted, some of the SNES version’s charm has been lost; there was a grit to the original sprites which is absent here, but it’s nowhere near the over-sanitized and blurred look of the last visual overhaul. To compensate, characters do have more expressive sprites, and I’ll consider that a fair bargain.
As for the settings, some environmental character is lost by falling in line with the other remasters. However, this is handily regained by the improved sense of scale that comes with modern resolutions. It’s also worth noting that certain segments which utilized the SNES’ Mode 7 graphics have been retained. With these remasters’ visuals, Square Enix giveth, and also taketh away, but I think we can call the final outcome a net positive… or at least even.
“Presentation is the major selling point of these editions, however, and the new approach serves Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster well.”
An unequivocal positive, however, is the sound. If nothing else, the Pixel Remasters have provided signature editions of these six pivotal soundtracks, overseen by legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu himself. Time has been very, very good to the score, providing the instrumentation that Final Fantasy VI may have always needed.
Each character theme rings truer than ever—even “Gau’s Theme,” a song about a character I’ve never cared much for, has found new life. Just as the modern scale has enhanced iconic locales, so too has the new instrumentation reinvigorated their soundscapes. “Dancing Mad,” the mind-melting 17-minute opera that accompanies the final battle, realizes the broad ambitions of its compositions in ways Uematsu has only achieved on stage before.
In terms of gameplay, the same modern quality-of-life touches have been made to Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster. Updates have been made to some characters’ unique mechanics as well, some carried over from the mobile port: you no longer need to memorize Sabin’s Blitz commands, as an on-screen prompt will remind you; or wait to input other commands while Cyan prepares a Bushido technique. I do wish something had been done with Gau’s tiresome but potent Rage mechanic, either to make it less tedious to learn new techniques or to remind you in the heat of battle what they each do.
“Each character theme rings truer than ever—even “Gau’s Theme,” a song about a character I’ve never cared much for, has found new life.”
Beyond that, the core character development process remains compelling 18 years after we first saw it. Each character has a unique command ability befitting their job, and can eventually learn magic by equipping Magicite, which also allows them to summon the franchise’s iconic supernatural beasts. Choosing characters to use, developing their stats and magic, and keeping them equipped remains strategically vital, especially since you’ll often be forced to divide your team or outright lose access to some people for long periods.
One thing that people have been eager to see is the iconic Opera scene, wherein Celes poses as a famous opera singer in order to lure the party into an audience with the world’s only airship owner. This scene has been enhanced with HD-2D technology similar to that used in Octopath Traveler, Triangle Strategy, and the upcoming Live Alive remaster. The sense of depth and theatricality granted is great, but what really leapt out is the new audio. All three singing parts have real vocals now instead of the MIDI-based imitation used in every other iteration—and not just in English, but in six other languages as well.
While the long-time fan in me was thrilled, another part of me crept up to whisper, “why didn’t they do more of this?” How many other moments in these six classics could have used a glow-up like this? If there was one game to give special treatment, it’s probably this one, a defining moment for the series, genre, and game storytelling as a whole—but why stop at one?
“All three singing parts have real vocals now instead of the MIDI-based imitation used in every other iteration—and not just in English, but in six other languages as well.”
It would be easy to slide from here down a slope of pessimism, considering what might have been. Ultimately, I appreciate the extra effort taken to end this series with a modest bang, and the overall decision to keep these remasters authentic to the original style. It would be easier to lose the vision—and months or years of development time—if attempting to overhaul all six in this fashion.
Again, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the bonus content added to previous ports—in this case, two dungeons, two superbosses, and new items—is noticeably absent to veterans. Of its siblings, Final Fantasy VI had some of the better, more naturally-implemented bonus content, so it’s a small shame. Newcomers won’t be phased by the omission, though.
So as the curtains fall, Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster stands as a summary of the entire project: a classic game remastered for new audiences, that errs on the side of tradition over reinvention but still files down the most archaic edges. My only qualm in recommending this as the new standard version is that a console release feels almost certain, and nothing could top having these six games on Switch (except having them with all that bonus content implemented).