hard to port

I’m worried that Square Enix has forgotten how the process of porting works.

A store page for Final Fantasy IX has just appeared on Steam, just the latest in a long line of one of the biggest JRPGs ever to exist being brought to the largest PC gaming platform out there. It’s introducing Final Fantasy to an audience of players who don’t game on consoles, including updated graphics and gameplay and Steam achievements. What’s not to like?

A lot, apparently. According to the Steam store page for the game, Final Fantasy IX will require 20GB of hard drive space. Keep in mind, this is a game that originally released on four PlayStation discs, which at the time had a maximum capacity of 650MB. Assuming Square used every single bit of space on those discs, that’s 2.6GB total. This is just speculation with no real information behind it, but here’s something better: when the game was released on PSN as a download, the size was revealed to be 1550MB, a perfectly reasonable size for a multi-disc PS1 game. Somewhere between the two, the game’s size apparently increased by nearly a factor of thirteen.

The first response that comes to mind is that the game’s quality has been scaled up significantly. This isn’t without precendent, as the recent trend (and main motivation) behind all these oldies coming back is the use of the original uncompressed textures. But FF9 doesn’t seem to make use of that. Character models have been improved significantly, but the backgrounds are quite clearly the original artwork from the PS1 release. The resulting image is an epic Wagnerian symphony of discord. It is awful.

Surely, you say, there is a reason for this. The original, high-resolution artwork must have been lost in the intervening years since release. Worse things have happened to bigger projects.

But at least some of the original artwork is easily available. Two years ago, a neogaf user found, compailed and posted over 40 images of original background art; and as if that weren’t enough, also included high-resolution images of character models and concept art, all of which could be very effectively utilized in the process of an HD remaster.

But this is Square Enix. They seem pathologically fixated on phoning it in on almost any matter imaginable. It’s a sad truth–the gaming industry as a whole these days seems to be obsessed with trying to look as indifferent as possible to their customers and their products.

Final Fantasy V and VI were ported to PC from the mobile ports, except their graphics were smoothed in a way that made the games look like a Saturday morning cartoon with oversaturated colors. Not only that, but they featured badly-tiled textures with badly-rounded edges, and it all combines to create an environment that doesn’t feel cohesive. Then Square Enix came back with a port of FF6, which was again based on the mobile port…except this time, they decided to up their own ante by implementing the worst possible way to upscale pixel art, as well as stretching the game into a wide aspect ratio, on top of everything else.

But this isn’t a sprite-based game, therefore it needs a closer analog for comparison. Thus, the blog presents its next exhibit: Final Fantasy IV. Ported, yet again, from the mobile version, which itself was ported from the DS release, FF4 is the only other from the original six games to be ported in its 3D form. While the later 3D releases also suffered somewhat from bad background graphics clashing with higher-quality characters, FF4 goes the extra mile and adds framerate problems. Not only is the main game locked to 30 frames per second, but the battle screen is locked…to 15 frames per second. Sometimes it just boggles the mind, how game developers seem to hate this whole high performance fad going around.

Last-minute disclaimer: these are pre-release images, and as such very much at risk of changing by the time the game officially drops, which as of yet is unknown. But based on Square Enix’s recent history of porting their older (and newer) games to PC, hopes aren’t terribly high.