Back in the day, the NES and the Super NES were THE consoles with THE the best role-playing game (RPG) titles, and Squaresoft (now Square Enix) was THE best of the best. Square's most renowned franchise, the Final Fantasy series, debuted on the NES in 1987 in Japan. That original Final Fantasy game was later released iOS in 2010. Or so they would have us believe. How does the iOS version of Final Fantasy stack up against the NES version of yesteryear? Was it moved over pixel for pixel, bit for bit? Was it improved to take advantage of modern hardware? Was it ruined by a process with no respect for the original? For the honor and virtue of retro gaming fans and RPG players everywhere, we decided to have a look.
To be honest, I was expecting a simple port to iOS, but I was happily proven wrong the moment the title screen lit up. I could see and hear the differences immediately. They are both Final Fantasy, yet the experience is better realized on the iOS, which has much improved audio and graphics. Now the venerable NES didn’t have the processing power of today's iOS devices, however, Final Fantasy on iOS doesn’t exactly use the full potential of the iPhone or iPod touch either. What it does use, however, it uses well. For example, I nearly confused Final Fantasy 1 on iOS for Final Fantasy 3 on the Super NES due to the mode 7-like overworld feature they added. Final Fantasy 3 was one of the most beautiful games to grace the Super NES, so I'm actually grateful for these types of the improvements here.
The graphics and sound weren’t the only things improved. The actually story line has been fleshed out with more (and more interesting) dialogue and explanations. The menu screens are improved with better access to each character, a vast improvement on the tedious process of pressing the action and back button to access various characters in game. Purchasing items is made easier as you can now see who in your party can use an item or spell, and who will have an improved status with easy to visualized green up and red down arrows.
The fight scenes now have the useful option of “defending” as opposed to only fighting. When in a town or dungeon, you can now hold the d-pad and press the action button and your character will move more quickly -- an option not available in the original.
The best part, however, the part that truly gives the iOS version a huge edge over the NES version, is the improvements to the save game system. Previously, you could only save at an Inn, and when powering off the NES, you had to hold the reset button before pressing the power button off. Now, staying at an inn only restores your HP and MP. You can save anywhere at any time with 3 save slots. On top of that, there is a resume game option. So, when coming back to play the game, you can continue playing from the last time you closed the app.
One minor gripe I have with the new version on iOS is, of course, the lack of a physical control. I find myself not properly pressing on the virtual, on-screen d-pad at times and frustration can set in if I do this often enough. The NES gamepad never had that problem. You could feel you were properly pressing its buttons.
All in all, the improvements made are completely worth any retro gamer replaying this legend of an RPG on iOS device. And if you've never played Final Fantasy, go get it now. You're in for a treat.
Note: Square Enix hasn't seen fit to release an iPad version, or iPad optimized interface for the original Final Fantasy game on iOS. I play the iPhone/iPod touch version on my iPad in 2x mode, however, and it looks gorgeous.