|By Zach Patterson||Sunday, 25 Feb 2007|
In 2004, Square-Enix decided to re-release Final Fantasy I & II a second time in the US as Dawn of Souls for Game Boy Advance (the first was the similar Final Fantasy Origins for Playstation). While the GBA version lacks the fancy cinemas of its Playstation brother, it adds new dungeons to both games to make up for it. Other than that, the two versions are very similar. I’ll go over each game indivdually.
I’ll admit that the first time I played the original Final Fantasy was a few short years ago, so I cannot really go on fond memories of youth to guide this review. And in some ways, it’s really difficult to fault a 20 year old game for certain things, especially considering the legacy the series has enjoyed. However, while playing through the Dawn of Souls remake of the game, I couldn’t help but be distracted by certain issues.
First, let’s get the good out of the way. The game has been upgraded to SNES-era graphics, which is definitely a plus. Detailed, prerendered backgrounds for every battle scene are certainly a nice touch, and the graphical detail on each character and enemy seems to have been bumped up considerably. In addition, the towns look detailed and distinct, and the overworld map has gotten a SNES makeover as well, with the inclusion of nice scrolling effects when in an airship and generally more detailed graphics. Also, new optional dungeons have been added so that players well familiar with the game will have some new areas to tackle and find exclusive equipment and items. These didn’t excite me all that much, but it is new material that’s not intrusive, so that is always welcome. The bosses in these areas will be familiar to fans of later games in the series. The game also sparingly uses some nice cutscenes which have clever uses of GBA layering effects to create some neat visuals. Also, the music is really great and holds up quite well.
The issue that was a problem in the original version is the fact that battles are very predictable and often boring. This is the number one problem for me, is that you plan all your attacks in 1-2-3-4 succession, and then watch them play out. You hit for about the same amount of damage each time, and there is no urgency to battles. In addition, there isn’t a terrible amount of options for a player. You can select from several different classes at the beginning of the game, but ultimately it comes down to using the generic attack or a spell.
Another point that has irritated me in early RPG’s is the complete lack of characterization found in the game. Your heroes are all generic and defined by names you give them. You could make the party all one class and they would all look the same too. The enemies are given far more characterization than any of the characters. I’ve never enjoyed playing RPG’s just to play them, unless they have a great battle system, and this game is essentially a goal based role-playing game. You are tasked to get the 4 crystals. You travel to different ports and dungeons, leveling up while fighting monsters. Occasionally, you will fight some bosses and get some snippets of back story about the world around you. The back story is unfortunately a dime a dozen in RPG’s now, and aside from the interesting time travel twist that is only half explained, this is about as standard as it gets.
I do feel kind of bad criticizing a game that, along with Dragon Warrior, shaped the way RPG’s would be to this very day. It is a nice history lesson and shows us how far modern games have come, but it is a short, simple game with nostalgia on its side. Don’t expect a modern masterpiece of storytelling or an intricate battle system, and you should get a decent, serviceable role-playing experience out of Final Fantasy on this Game Boy Advance cartridge.
Final Fantasy II
Also included on the same cartridge is Final Fantasy II. Final Fantasy II is in many ways a very similar sequel in terms of mechanics, but this time around you are given multiple 4th characters that join and leave your party, as well as a great translation and much improved story.This game also introduces series regulars like chocobos and Cid for casino online the first time.
Final Fantasy II thankfully incorporates a much stronger story and some small bits of characterization for your 3 main characters. Though they still are a bit generic, at least there is a sense of who these people are. Additionally, the story is much more intriguing and involves war throughout the kingdom, treachery, deceit, and ancient evil entities. Awesome. Truthfully, it does become a bit of a fetch quest like the first game, but the story at least hides this fact a little better. The addition of rotating characters in the 4th character slot also keeps the game fresh.
The battle system is in many ways exactly the same as the first game, but has changed in more technical aspects. It’s still a slow turn-based system that can often be quite repetitive (I often found myself just attacking with every character as fast as possible to get through the battles quicker), but you no longer gain experience. Instead, you gain proficiency based on what you do in battle. If you use a sword all the time, your sword skills will increase, or if you use a bow, your ranged bow skills will increase. Additionally, if your character chooses to be in the front line (front and back rows are also a new feature), they likely will take more damage. The more damage they take, the more their hit points will increase by. Characters in the back row who do not get hit as much and cast spells will see their HP markedly lower but their spell power and MP increase drastically. Everything is essentially defined by use. It’s a pretty good system in theory, and for much of the game seems like an interesting take on battle systems. However, it has it’s flaws. The biggest problem is that once you get a spell, there is no better version of it. It simply increases in power. This means that the more you use that spell, the more it costs you to cast and the more effective it will be. This is pretty hurtful towards the end when you just want to revive a party member or restore 100HP and it costs 9MP apiece when if you had not used the spells, you could get basically the same effect for 1MP. Also, it seems very unfair that you punish members of your squad for specializing in different areas. A white mage-type chatacter will always be weaker than, say, your warrior character. But why should they be denied HP increased because of that? Also, when you find new weapons that are far more powerful than your current weapon, but are a different type of weapon than what you are proficient at (say you are awesome at spears and you find some amazing sword), you will be forced to start all over again in learning how to handle this better weapon. This definitely gets annoying late in the quest. Also, while it’s slightly more realistic that you can’t attack characters in the back row if you still have enemies ahead of them in the front row (assuming you have multiple rows of enemies), it’s gets irritating when you want to take out the most powerful enemy first and he’s sitting pretty in the back. That jerk.
The graphics match the first game similarly, with SNES style character sprites, improved and detailed enemies, a more greatly detailed overworld (with reference to all the places you have been, as well), and for the first time, the use of new character portraits to personalize the game a bit. This is a small but very helpful thing included that helps you imagine the game a bit more in the sense of the SNES-era games rather than the more primitive NES games. Controls are a non-issue, it controls exactly the same as the first game. The music is a nice surprise, and although it never approaches the best songs of the series, there are a lot of great themes (usual suspects like the boss/battle themes, but the dungeon and town themes are also very good) that are worth checking out. Best of all, the game comes with a music player once you beat the games to play through the songs at your leisure.
This game also has what I consider a far better extra dungeon, because it incorporates all the fallen characters into a party to fight their way out of the underworld, and you get them exactly as you left them. So if you didn’t spend time leveling them up at all….you’re in trouble. It’s definitely a bit more worthwhile than Final Fantasy’s, and adds an extra 4 or so hours to the game with a little bit of story. Expect to die quite a bit though, it is certainly not easy. The actual game itself has its fair share of challenge included, but if you spend a little time doing some extra battles on the side, the game becomes much easier. In general, it is not a particularly hard game, but the challenge definitely increases in the final dungeon and you are forced to ration items and magic points.
This game definitely improves on some of the lacking story elements from the first Final Fantasy and adds some new battle elements that are a bit of a mixed bag. Overall the game works pretty well, and is enjoyable for the short time it lasts. I get the feeling if the game was longer, its flaws would be much more noticeable. As it stands however, this is definitely a solid early RPG adventure that may be worth your time if you enjoyed the first game.
Overall this is a pretty decent package and can be found at an affordable price. In addition to the games, you get beastiaries and music players for both games, which add a little bit extra to the overall games. If you really like Final Fantasy games, this is pretty easy to recommend, however if you are not familiar with Final Fantasy or the style of early role playing games, some may find these very slow paced and monotonous. I had a good time with the games but there were some moments of tedium in each one. Perhaps I’ve been too spoiled by modern day role playing games. Regardless, it is worth playing, if only to see the origins of the series, enjoy the story of the sequel, and listen to the great music.