For those of you who have missed the RPG boat for the past fifteen years or so (has it -really- been that long?) Final Fantasy pretty much created the RPG genre on consoles, along with a couple other games called Dragon Quest/Warrior and Phantasy Star. Without Phantasy Star, the Sega Master system (and later the Genesis) would never have had much of a RPG base. Without Final Fantasy, there wouldn’t be a Square, much less a Square-Enix.
Final Fantasy was named such because Square believed that it would probably be their final game. Luckily for every RPG fan out there right now, they were wrong. Final Fantasy exploded onto the Japanese market in 1987, and blew game players out of the water here in the US in 1990. The numbers began to mount, bringing us to the present day with Final Fantasy X, X-2, XI and the upcoming XII.
From the looks of things, one would think that Dawn of Souls was nothing more than a GBA port of the Playstation game “Final Fantasy Origins” and that’s somewhat true. However, there was a significant amount of new content added to the game.Being that the GBA isn’t the technical wonder that the Playstation 2 or Xbox is, I really wasn’t expecting a lot from the graphics. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the graphics. When I originally played Final Fantasy on the NES, it was very blocky and the sprites were extremely basic. The graphics on the remake are on par with those from Final Fantasy Origins, which would be SNES-level graphics. I even thought I saw Mode 7 graphics in a few places in Final Fantasy 2. On my Nintendo DS with the backlighting, the colors were sharp and crisp, and I had no problem at all reading the text or understanding what I was looking at, other than trying to decipher a few of the weapon status screens in FF2. It was somewhat disappointing that Square-Enix didn’t add in any of the FMV that was in Origins, or any FMV at all, considering that the GBA can do limited video, but they did add in a few ‘story’ clips that were new to me using the game graphics which were quite well done. First off, I absolutely love the music from the Final Fantasy games. That being said, the music is very recognizable on my DS and just as much so on a GBA I borrowed to try the game out on. The sound is as good as anything I’ve heard on a GBA title and it really feels like they jazzed up a number of the tunes from the original go-round, if not updated from Origins itself. This was very evident in the battle music in the first game, especially with the variations on the boss fight music. The music did a very good job of evoking an emotional response which is always a good sign in any game with a story, which helped quite a bit with Final Fantasy 2. The only real drawback comes when using a GBA or GBA SP instead of a DS, which is more because of the lack of a second speaker on those units. There’s a definite difference in the sound quality on the DS, which makes the game even more fun to play. Honestly, I only had a few minor quibbles with the control structure. As with most NES/SNES RPGs, A was used to confirm choices and open treasure chests, B cancelled, start went to the menu screen, and that was about it. One addition was using a combined L/R press to auto-run from battle, a-la Final Fantasy 4-6 on the SNES. The ability to dash through dungeons and towns using the B button helped as well. The only drawback I ran across is that hitting the map (pressing B and Select) was a bit awkward because you had to do it in the right order. If you press Select, then B, you don’t get the map. It took me a few tries to nail that one down.
For those of you who are used to Final Fantasy X (or even VII), or any modern RPG, this is a definite throwback. To older gamers, however, it’s old-school RPGing at its best. The first game has no storyline at all, other than ‘create four Warriors of Light to save the world’. The second game actually has a storyline, with four youths caught in a struggle between an Evil Empire and the Rebellion….wow, does that sound familiar.
Interesting to note here is what’s been added to each of the games. Final Fantasy 1 dosen’t have much added to it other than four new dungeons, shrines named for each of the four elements. The dungeons are unlocked once you defeat the fiend associated with that element, and for the most part, the monsters inside the dungeons are about the same level as those you’re facing when fighting to that fiend in the first place. However, the BOSS monsters on the final level of the dungeons are a serious pain in the rear. For example, Cerberus, one of the bosses in the Earthgift Shrine, decimated my level 33 party in less than two rounds. These are definitely end-game monsters, and should be treated like such. I’m honestly afraid to think what the bosses in the final Shrine are going to be like.
Final Fantasy 2, on the other hand, has added a secondary storyline. During the course of the main game, four semi-major characters die. In the original Final Fantasy 2, that was the end of their story. Not so in Dawn of Souls. Here, those characters continue to fight in what appears to be another plane of existence called Pandaemonium, where they must defeat the Emperor of that plane. It does a good deal towards extending the life of the game, and fleshing out the story quite a bit more.
Another great addition to Final Fantasy 2 is the complete retuning of the battle and character building system. No more do you have to fight within your party, or extend battles to raise your HP, MP, or your stats. As I went along about every ten to fifteen fights I would get a message that my characters had raised in HP. Following the storyline along, there really wasn’t any part in the beginning of the game where I was seriously outclassed by the monsters I faced, other than one area where I went way off the path. It definitely eases a lot of the frustration brought about with the original battle and character system from the game.
The ability to save literally anywhere is a great feature, and fits in well with the concept of being able to play a game on the GBA or the DS for a few minutes before putting it away. The only major drawback of either game, and less of one to those who might be used to this ‘feature’ of older RPGs, is the insane number of random battles. There are places in the game (not counting those places where this is designed) where you literally have a battle every two to three steps. It can be very frustrating and annoying when you’re trying to run back to town to keep from dying, or when you’re just trying to finish a task before putting the game away for the night.
The fact that it’s two games for the price of one is a great deal, even if the games are solidly in the fifteen to thirty hour range each. It effectively gives you each game for about fifteen to seventeen dollars, which isn’t at all a bad price to pay.
As far as replay value, outside of possibly playing the game a different way (playing FF1 with four black mages, for example), there really isn’t much replay value. The game has a Bestiary, and the only way to get 100% on it is to beat the game once, then start it again with New Game+ to get the final boss listed, but outside of that, there’s nothing to unlock, nothing to collect, and no real reason to play the game again. There’s nothing actually wrong with this, but in this day of unlockables and collectibles, many people are used to having them.