Lazy porting mars the Final Fantasy VI experience on PC
Despite dominating on consoles, the Final Fantasy series generally has a poor track record when it comes to the PC. The MMORPG entry Final Fantasy XIV had such a negative reaction from fans that it was pulled entirely and rebuilt as A Realm Reborn, while the single player console games typically also suffer from problems when they make the jump to PC.
The double DRM (both Steam and online activation through the Square Enix servers) on Final Fantasy VII definitely doesn't sit well with fans, but now we've got a whole new issue to deal with: ports of ports that lead to sub-par experiences for high prices.
Making Different Editions Distinct
Back when we covered the Final Fantasy series from best to worst, it was mentioned how difficult it can be to rank a long-running series that contains such a huge number of re-releases, re-packages, ports, and now re-makes. The original Final Fantasy for instance has seen more than 10 distinct releases on various platforms.
Some of those updated entries clearly had work put into them though: when the classic Final Fantasy IV came to the Nintendo DS, it actually got a major overhaul. For good or ill, the 2D sprites were entirely re-imagined in 3D model format, the translation errors were fixed, new mini-games and cut scenes were added, but the basic gameplay remained essentially the same.
From there this version of FFIV went to iOS / Android devices, and then something baffling happened: the mobile edition was ported to PC, essentially as-is. There are places where it's clear the graphics were designed for a smaller screen and that a touchpad was supposed to be used. Despite that odd decision to not make any significant changes for the PC version, at the very least Steam users got to experience the game in a different way than the original SNES edition by virtue of the 3D graphics and other extras.
Going In The Wrong Direction
Unfortunately, there's no such luck for the next two games in the series as the porting issue gets worse from there. FFV and FFVI both got mobile versions, but with minimal changes. Rather than a complete overhaul, the sprites were instead updated to be more “hi-res” and there were some character portraits thrown in during dialog sequences.
These mobile editions have now been ported, again as-is, to the PC through Steam, and the experience is a less than satisfying one. Frankly, the whole thing feels pretty lazy. In the grand scheme of things though, the Steam asking price isn't all that much, and Final Fantasy 6 is an absolutely amazing game in terms of story and music, so what's my beef with this new edition?
Sad but true analysis of the graphical evolution
For starters, it seems odd to pay $16 for a direct mobile port of a 20 year old game with only slightly modified graphics and no significant new content (especially considering how the originals are freely up for grabs for anyone who knows about emulators). Note that I wrote “modified” and not “improved” about the graphics. Sure, the character sprites are no longer pixelated and lo-res, but they don't actually look better.
In fact the odd juxtaposition of styles looks worse than the original SNES version, as there's no cohesiveness between the characters, backgrounds, and monsters. There's some serious problems on the character portraits, as they frequently don't match the sprites – at all. The games also don't look good in full screen mode no matter what resolution are you using, as its again clear these sprites were made for a phone and not a 20” or larger monitor.
Pricing Ports Of Old Games On PC
With these new ports of FFV and FFVI you are literally getting a mobile game, but with the added “benefit” of having to be at your computer to play it. The most that can be said about the Steam edition is that you get achievements and Steam cards, so that's at least something, but if you don't care about achievements then there's really no drive to grab these games on PC.
Considering the fully 3D FFVII and FFVIII are on Steam for only $12, this pricing of older, smaller, less graphically advanced games seems higher than it really should be. Then again, the lack of micro-transactions on these mobile games means you are actually only paying $16, and not 99 cents plus $25 in nickel and diming over the course of the game.
Putting Some Effort Into New Versions
For these PC ports to get any recognition and love, Square Enix has an issue to overcome here that's made difficult by the fickleness of a devoted fanbase: we want changes, but not that many. Sadly, they really can't win either way. Give us the exact same thing and we'll complain about it, or make a major change (like the combat system in the upcoming FFVII remake) and we'll complain about it even harder.
The problem is that with this latest batch of ports, there wasn't any effort made at all. How difficult would it be to efficiently optimize the experience for PC and throw in some additions to take advantage of better hardware? Take the PS4 port of FFVII for instance – while the game remains very close to the original, there were at least a couple of new features added in, like the ability to skip random encounters or increase the game to 3X speed. There really should have been more, but that was at least an attempt at new features.
The still unreleased Final Fantasy XV has been in development for 10 years (!!) now, so there's no argument to be made that Square Enix doesn't have the time or resources to devote to these projects and make the PC editions worth playing. As someone who completely plays FFVI from beginning to end at least once a year, I'd rather wait longer and see a new version worthy of the original come out than get a lazy port with some Steam achievements slapped on.
It's hard not to see these bare-minimum effort ports as a cynical money grab. You already bought the game on the SNES, then you bought it again on the PS1 for the nostalgia, then you bought it again on a mobile device for the casual diversion, and now you can have literally the same thing on the PC. Throw in the upcoming remakes with modern graphics and this situation has reached an absurd level.
Yeah, Square Enix having more money means they'll keep making new games (with potential decade-long development cycles...), but at some point this whole system just gets ridiculous, especially when the newer versions become increasingly lazy. Square Enix owes it to the fans to give us something better than what's been coming down the pipe lately.