Final Fantasy I and II: The Dawn of Souls (GBA)

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First off, despite the unfortunately misleading subtitle, this is not a Nintendo DS game, its a Gameboy Advance game. Secondly, the GBA cart contains ports of the two original entries in one of the best selling, highly regarded, longest running video game series in videogamedom.

And, considering all of video gaming is made up of long-running series, that shows you something. I think it shows that these games were quality games in their day. The question is whether they’re any good in today’s day of monster tv screens, 3-D graphics and whiz-bang eye candy.

I may not be the one to judge that. Gosh, I still love board games, and those are as low-tech as you can get, and usually very simple in relation to video games. I do enjoy some good artwork though, and Final Fantasy has always had breathtaking art style. In this case we have been treated to an upgrade of the hand-drawn 2D graphics from its original NES/Famicom days and it looks great on the GBA. It seems, in the process of porting the games over, that some extra areas were added (new optional dungeons and bosses), the graphics were updated and the translations were redone. Also, as far as I’m aware, Final Fantasy II on this cart is the real Final Fantasy II, not the Final Fantasy II that was published in English back in the day. That Final Fantasy II was actually Final Fantasy IV in Japan, not Final Fantasy II, whereas this one is, then, actually, Final Fantasy II. They (Square) have since published this Final Fantasy II (as Final Fantasy II, not IV) on Playstation, so this is a port of that.

Since Final Fantasy I is one of the granddaddy’s of all Japanese RPG’s, a lot of the cliches of Japanese RPG’s can be found in action here. You have a party of characters, they’re all about 18 years old, they start at level one in ability and they must save the world (or at least the empire/country). There are towns to rest in, which serve as a place for you to wander around and talk to everyone you see, buy weapons, buy magic spells and generally equip yourselves for the great outdoors, which are obviously extremely dangerous. When you go outside, it all looks calm and peaceful so you wander around looking for the nearest dungeon (what else is there outside towns?), and an enemy pops out from nowhere to fight you. The battles are a very chivalrous affair, with each character in the battle getting one chance to perform an action before a new round of battle begins. The order these actions take place in is a little bit random though, so it’s not like ladies go first or anything. Each character can attack, defend, run or cast a spell. Once you kill the enemy you get experience, and after enough experience you go up a level, meaning your character instantaneously becomes stronger, more healthy, faster more intelligent, wiser, able to hold a different weapon and so forth. You fight your way through the dungeon that you find, with battles every two and half steps, until you find the boss. After a brief discussion with the boss you must fight and kill him/her/it. Then you get an item of some sort which you need to get to the next town.
I think that’s enough of the generic RPG description. A few things to note: there are millions of battles in the game because the encounter rate is high. For just about all battles you’ll follow the same formula of moves and you’ll still have to fight the pathetic goblins when you’re on level thirty, which is a bit tedious. You’re stuck with the party you choose at the beginning, and there isn’t a vast amount of variety in spells and weapons either, so again, the battles are all fairly similar. With the added dungeons in this version (which are pretty tough), your characters end up quite powerful by the end, so other than the first optional dungeon, I didn’t have trouble overcoming any of the enemies. Having said all that, this is still a classic game – my mind is not clouded by nostalgia and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Playing RPG’s is a very relaxing pastime I find, and the music, the story and the graphics all add up to a very pleasant experience. It still has that Final Fantasy aura of beauty.

Final Fantasy II is amazingly different, while staying exactly the same. This time the characters already have names, and there’s no such thing as experience. Instead there’s a skill system where the more you use a skill the better you get at it. It’s quite interesting because you find yourself using all sorts of spells and weapons so that your characters can improve at the different things. The storyline is a bit more thorough than the first game, but in general these seem to be of the same enjoyable quality. I happened to find part two much easier, and, for the record, I never intentionally level grind in RPG’s as I find it saps the fun out of them.

One last thing they’ve put in is a bestiary which lists all the beasts you’ve killed in the games. I think getting 100% on this would take a lot of effort as I finished both games with about 80%, and even so according to the game records I had clocked 50 hours. It’s fantastic value for any game, let alone a handheld game, but it’s a less intense experience than an action type game so I don’t think you can compare play-time between genres.

Pros : Old-school RPG; great value.
Cons : Low variety in spells and weapons; high random encounter rate is particularly annoying when you’re high level.

You’ll like it if you like : Final Fantasy III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2, XII, .