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Terra prepares to cast Omega in the recent Final Fantasy VI remake

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I like remastered games, but my opinion is hardly that of the general consensus. Remastered games are viewed with suspicion, and often for good reason. Mistakes keep people wary, and Square Enix has made lots of mistakes when revisiting its old games on modern platforms, like the mobile version of Final Fantasy VI that transformed the game’s fierce warriors into a soft-focus cadre of chubby little Hummel figurines.

Despite all that, I’ve been anticipating the Steam release of a remastered Final Fantasy IX since I first heard it was happening. It’s tied with FF6 as my favorite in the series, and since I’ve only bought the game twice already, I was eager for a third opportunity to purchase it. This most recent version has been available for mobile for a few months and has been generally well-received, so I wasn’t as concerned the update would be grossly mishandled. Still, it is a 16-year-old game, and I was a little uncertain how the experience would translate to my ridiculous, toboggan-sized monitor. I’ve only had the opportunity to play a few sessions, but so far the remastered Final Fantasy IX is mostly a success. In some ways, it utilizes the updated visuals to convey the game’s storybook mood better than the original.

Final Fantasy IX’s art direction holds up and is still more inventive than a lot of games currently being made. The visual style, a combination of junk-shop messiness and French Age Of Reason ornamentation, makes the game feel as though it were assembled by Brian Froud and Terry Gilliam. Unfortunately, the technical limitations on the original release have been replaced by resource limitations. Since it would be a massive undertaking to clean up all of FF9’s pre-rendered environments, the backgrounds suffer most. They remain close to their original resolution, which looks pretty fuzzy when displayed on a modern screen. It’s especially noticeable on my 27-inch display, where they could most generously be described as impressionist, like Monet’s Haystacks series if you dropped an airship into the background.

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But the updated character models look fantastic. While it would be easy to apply a fuzzy filter to the character textures, they’ve been thoughtfully reworked. The details are soft but paired with a paper-like texture that makes everyone look like a watercolor illustration. It’s subtle but very pleasant. And playing on a big screen gives me a renewed appreciation of the game’s visual inventiveness. At one point, you brush past a group of musicians idly playing together. They’re only in this one scene, yet they’re a wonderfully realized collage of Edward Gorey-esque weirdos. I don’t know if I ever noticed them before, but here you have the opportunity to take in all the details. Each model, from everyone on your team all the way to some snot-nosed little kid who just hangs in the background, has been cleaned up. As have the full-motion videos.

This new Final Fantasy IX also features a few welcome improvements to the way it plays, like a mode that allows you to turn off random encounters. Perfect for a fellow like myself who doesn’t have the requisite patience, joblessness, or singleness I had in 2000 that was necessary to get the full 80 hours out of the game. The score is still great, though, and the story is still heartbreaking: Some things never change.

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