Time has a funny effect; some things age well with its passing and others become nothing more than footnotes in the muddled tomes of history. Final Fantasy is a franchise that is a legend to its fan following, although some digging will bring up a few unnerving facts. Most fans of the series started their affair with Final Fantasy VII and never saw a chance to play the 16-bit and even older 8-bit ancestors of the lineage.
Leave it to Square Enix to rectify this matter. The original Final Fantasy that debuted on the NES almost two decades ago is back along with Final Fantasy II, which never saw the light of day here in the US until Origins on the PSX. Add in graphical upgrades to the duo, four new dungeons for the original and a brand new story scenario for the sequel and what you have is Dawn of Souls. It’s by far the best version of these releases (forget the PlayStation effort), but is it enough to teach newer gamers a thing or two in the history of role playing games?
Final Fantasy doesn’t have the most in-depth plot line - 4 warriors of light must save a world from an unknown evil menace – but this was made back when ‘save the world’ wasn’t rehashed to death in 5000 different RPGs. So onward these 4 unknown soldiers roam, to trek through dangerous lands and deep dungeons, battling the 4 Fiends of the world to restore the 4 Crystals that maintain balance and peace. It’s not the most intriguing story, but that isn’t what makes the game such a joy to play.
Or is it a pain to play? To be honest Final Fantasy is a great trip down memory lane for those of us who grew up in RPGs. It retains all the elements of the original while giving it a full facelift and remixed musical score. Adventuring the countryside and fighting the forces of evil never looked this good when I was a kid, although that sentiment’s lost on today’s generation of gamers. Superb GBA or SNES style graphics don’t go very far in a world of PS2s and Xboxes...nor does the core gameplay.
You’ll run into random battles practically every step of every field and dungeon, not to mention after some power leveling your team will easily lay waste to the majority of enemies and bosses out there. Although a saving grace against the monotonous fighting is the ability to save at anytime, anywhere. Not to mention the magic system - which was stock based back in the day – has changed to a manageable MP setup. Funny that the two largest improvements in the game are condemned by many old school gamers as a crutch for today’s youth to lean on; to be honest it’s a crutch for old gamers like yours truly. I grew up on random battles, long dungeons and repetitive gameplay but there’s not enough time in the day to dedicate such time to Final Fantasy in one sitting. People have to grow up, you know...
Then we have Final Fantasy II, the first game in the series to begin developing full plots, characters and world. You follow three youths, orphaned from a war-torn country and hell-bent on exacting revenge upon the Empire for their loss. After a short session of getting owned, the three find themselves in the company of the Rebel army and enlist. The majority of the game follows the exploits of these three, and there’s even an added scenario exclusive to the GBA that follows them into the afterlife.
At the core things flow just as they did in the first game, but leveling is handled in a fairly innovative way – even by today’s standards. Characters gain proficiency depending on their actions in combat. Get hit enough and your armor and HP level up; fight with swords and get better with blades; using magic increases intelligence and so on. This means there’s a little more thinking involved in how fights are planned out, but not so involved as to make skirmishes longer than need be.
Although the same qualms with Final Fantasy are found here; a scourge of random battles, repetitive gameplay, et al. So if this sort of game element is right up your alley, like so many RPG veterans, you’ll be right at home. Otherwise...
For what it’s worth, Dawn of Souls is a solid compilation that will please many fans of the Final Fantasy series. It comes with a nice visual package, a soundtrack that defies GBA standards and extras that make it more than just a plain rehash of NES gaming. As long as you dig the random battle element this is your best RPG bet for the GameBoy Advance.