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Review – Final Fantasy II (Dawn of Souls) (GBA)

SquareEnix – GBA – 1 Player

It’s fairly common knowledge these days among gamers that the Final Fantasy II we got on the SNES in the US wasn’t actually the second game in the series.  It was actually the fourth.  The true second game was released on the NES.  It eventually and finally made it to US shores in the Playstation “Final Fantasy Origins” collection along side the classic Final Fantasy I.

This wasn’t a straight port however, it was an updated version featuring updated 16 bit graphics.  These two games would be released together again in essentially the same design on the Game Boy Advance in a pack called Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls.

In addition to an updated 16 bit version of the game, these Dawn of Souls compilations featured additional dungeons and updated game play style.  This review only covers the core game.  I honestly don’t have the time or care to play through the added content.

The most impressive part of this game compared to it’s single predecessor is how modern it feels.  Ok, by “modern” I mean “16 bit”.  It’s hard to believe this level of presentation was ever on the 8bit NES but the game is a faithful translation.  There are cut scenes and player controlled interaction in conversation all over.  If I didn’t know that this was an 8-bit game with 16 bit graphics I’d swear it was originally available on the SNES and not the NES.

The plot itself is considerably more story driven as well.  Final Fantasy I has a plot but it doesn’t move forward unless you talk to someone or do something, and often you only get a single cryptic sentence to guide you.  Final Fantasy II changes that considerably.  Also since the party consists of real characters and not generic classes, they actually get some development along the way.  While you can name 4 of the party members at the beginning of this quest, one of them doesn’t make an appearance until very close to the end of the game.

That brings up another interesting aspect of this game, once again, considering it’s NES origins.  The party changes over time.  You get 3 constant members of the party but the 4th slot is constantly being switched around as the plot drives it.  Characters also develop skills in a useful manner, by using them.  The game lacks traditional level mechanics and instead players gain stats by using weapons and doing actions.  Want a quick sword fighter?  Wield a sword and wear light weight armors.  Need a strong magic user?  Carry a staff and cast lots of spells.  They will start out weak but over time they will get stronger.  On that note, this game also lacks the traditional “Cure 1, Cure 2, Fire 3, naming convention.  There is only one Cure spell, it gets stronger the more you use it.   As a nice touch, they get have different animations in battle as they evolve.

There was one aspect of this port I didn’t care for, the sound.  Generally I’m not too opinionated on music and sound effects but in this installment they are particularly annoying and generic.

Overall, this game plays somewhat like Final Fantasy I only better.  When you put the two together for Dawn of Souls, you get a sure winning combination.  Just a warning though, these are RPGs, and while these revamps play more briskly than their NES counterparts, they are somewhat old school in style.  Personally, I’m kind of sick of the new style myself however.

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