It’s been tough to play Final Fantasy games over the years. Despite being one of the most recognizable franchises in the medium, publisher Square Enix has done a pretty poor job of making the games properly available on modern hardware. The 2D era of games have suffered the worst (and continue to do so). But those that debuted on the original PlayStation didn’t fare much better. That is, seemingly, until the Nintendo Switch rolled around. Now I can confirm that (at least a few of) the older Final Fantasy games are best played in the palm of your hand — and on modern hardware to boot.
In the case of the 3D games (specifically Final Fantasy VII and IX) the most egregious issue boiled down to bugs. Both ports were based on ancient mobile phone versions. And both games had the same error that caused in-game music to restart every single time you entered battle.
In classic Final Fantasy games (and indeed many older JPRGs) these encounters occur randomly — and frequently. With the bug, that meant walking 10 in-game feet, entering a battle, and restarting the overworld music, rather than continuing where it left off. You’d hear the same six seconds of song over, and over, and over again. And no matter how you feel about any particular Final Fantasy game, the soundtracks composed primarily by industry legend Nobuo Uematsu are worth listening to. This glitch robbed the games of that appeal.
More Final Fantasy Feelings:
- What Your Favorite Final Fantasy VII Ship Says About You
- An Ode to Final Fantasy XIII’s Oerba Dia Vanille
- You Love to See It 20: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
The bug persisted for years, too, across multiple ports. They all carried the same code as the phone version, after all. Only after the games hit the Switch did Square Enix clean up the long-running error.
There were more factors at play than the popularity of Nintendo’s console, of course. Final Fantasy VII Remake was always bound to bring people back to the source material. It makes sense that the publisher would want to polish up its back catalog in time to ride the wave. Beating the remake certainly prompted me to blow all the way through Final Fantasy VIII, IX, and XII on Switch, for the first time, in about three weeks. That’s when I discovered a few other perks of playing on the hybrid console.
Audio was never the only odd thing about Final Fantasy ports. Background art also suffered.
The original PlayStation games look gorgeous on modern TVs… in certain spots. Uprezzed character models and HD versions of the old cutscenes sing. But they’re placed against muddy, stretched environments. Clearly the developers either couldn’t find, or be bothered to rescan the original paintings that made up the pre-rendered backgrounds in those old games. So we get the dated images blown up on modern resolutions. It’s a jarring juxtaposition between old and new — perhaps worse than just playing with the old graphics altogether. I tried to do just that with Final Fantasy IX: playing the PSOne Classic edition on my old Vita. That’s just an emulated version of the base game, with none of the quality-of-life modern ports introduce, like a fast-forward function.
Except… there is that handy handheld mode! The smaller Nintendo Switch screen condenses old art meant for a CRT into one tiny rectangle. Playing undocked, the new models and untouched backgrounds look basically perfect together. Plus you get that fast-forward (and options to cheat through combat if that’s your thing). I don’t know if I can recommend Final Fantasy VIII Remastered at all without using that particular perk. Just try farming magic using the Draw system at normal speed…
It’s been a slow, arduous process of leapfrogging ports and patches. But I can finally recommend returning to these classic tales in a modern context. The fast-forward feature cuts down on cruft; handheld mode relaxes weird art issues; the music bug has finally been fixed. Even the most modern port, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, got a bit of a Switch bump. That version includes the option to respec your characters (something the PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One lacked at launch). And they hold up!
FFVIII is bizarre and (I would argue) seemingly unfinished. Yet it’s worth experiencing just to see how weird it is. XII is downright massive, with more optional dungeons and bosses than I guarantee you remember, and the deeply satisfying Gambit system to make your brain go brrrrr. It’s a great way to waste a weekend.
And IX, my personal favorite of the bunch, is just a subtle and heartfelt fantasy. It’s Paradise Lost with anime boys. Plus no other semi-contemporary game in the series gives you the same look into a primarily fantasy aesthetic. It’s the perfect distillation of “old” Final Fantasy, before it went sci-fi, with great combat and characters to boot. And now it looks and plays like a dream on a console you can actually buy! In a store! This is how we always deserved to engage with these games over the years.