Final Fantasy IV DS and the future of Final Fantasy remakes...

Final Fantasy III for the DS left me cold. While it was a technical marvel, the game's tedious dungeon crawling grew stale very quickly without any kind of meaningful story behind it. 

From the outset my hopes were much higher for Final Fantasy IV's DS incarnation, and I have not been disappointed. Final Fantasy IV is a tremendous remake that benefits greatly from its transition to 3D graphics. See for yourself: 

FF IV DS's 3D engine allows for dramatic new cutscenes.
FF IV DS's 3D engine allows for dramatic new cutscenes.

Sure that original shot of the Redwings conjures up nostalgic memories of long hours spent in your mom's basement with the SNES, but it would take a special kind of fanboy to say that it is preferable to the opening on the DS. 

The thing is, I always thought that FFIV's graphics were kind of a holdover from the NES-era Final Fantasy games. Look at the clouds in that first screen shot. We all know that the SNES was capable of a lot more. I loved FFIV when I first played it on the SNES, but returning to it years later, I was always a little put off by how flat it looked compared to say... Final Fantasy VI. 

And that brings me to the real point of this blog. Square has done a terrific job modernizing the look of Final Fantasy IV, but moving forward there are going to some touch decisions that need to be made by the Square Enix art department. 

I don't know enough about Final Fantasy V to really comment on it, so I will skip that iteration of the series for now and move directly to FFVI. Unlike Final Fantasy IV, I always thought that Final Fantasy VI looked gorgeous. No matter how many times I played through it I always found the larger sprite based characters both emotive and entertaining. The game's backgrounds were equally lush.

Take a look at the two games side-by-side:

Final Fantasy VI featured larger more detailed sprites with better animation.
Final Fantasy VI featured larger more detailed sprites with better animation.

What really made FFVI's sprites so memorable though was their terrific animations. I can still see Edgar's cocky finger-waggle, Kefka's belly-laugh, and Sabin's shocked-face clearly in my mind years later. These are iconic sprites and animations that are going to be hard to translate into 3D.

So should the inevitable FFVI DS forgo 3D for enhanced 2D graphics. Definitely not. I am confident in Square Enix after their tremendous work on FFIV DS and that they can find a way to translate FFVI's more detailed characters into their 3D DS engine, but it is going to be tricky work. The engine already experiences some serious slowdown when a large number of magic effects are occurring in FFIV. It seems that without further refinement to the code, Square's DS engine has reached its graphical peak. 

While translating FFVI to 3D will be a challenge, things might be easier with the PS1 generation Final Fantasy games. 

One interesting point though is that the DS engine used to power FFIV seems to have already surpassed the original FFVII-engine used on the PS1. Now, I know everyone is drooling over a "true" remake of FFVII for the PS3 (although a 360 version seems just as likely now), but imagine being able to take FFVII with you anywhere? As long as they convert all the CGI into in-engine cut scenes it seems totally feasible. The PS1 generation games used entirely pre-rendered backgrounds that the DS would easily be able to handle. It might even be possible (although probably not preferable) to translate the games into full 3D.

Better still, imagine Final Fantasy IX on the DS ::drool::

OK, maybe only like a dozen other people are with me on that one, but I still maintain it was the best in the series ;)

In any case, Square has done some fine work with their DS ports so far. Final Fantasy III may have been a shallow technical wonder, but Final Fantasy IV stands as a world class remake. Here's hoping they continue to port their catalogue over.