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

SquareEnix – GBA – 1 Player

I has been brought to my attention that December 18th was the 19 year anniversay of the original Final Fantasy. I suppose a review for Final Fantasy, even if it is the Game Boy Advance remake, should start with the story of the Origin of the Final Fantasy Title. You see, 19 years ago, Square was a failing game company. Previous hits such as “King’s Knight” and “Rad Racer” just weren’t cutting it so Square put all of it’s development power into an RPG. A Fantasy RPG. If this game failed, which they apparently expected it to, it would be the Final game that they would produce.

Hence Final Fantasy.

The game was a hit. At the time it was a revolutionary was of doing a console RPG. Games such as Dragon Quest had players controlling a single character. The had few “Boss” type enemies and little story. Final Fantasy changed all of that. While it still had little real story, it jumped ahead of Dragon Quest’s game play by leaps and bounds. Players could choose classes for their party of 4 playable characters, pick names, outfit them with a slew of weapons, magic, and armor. Each of these classes was highly distinct in nature with limitations on each.

There have since been 12 games released in the main-line Final Fantasy Series with a 13th on its way. Each one has kept with the same basic principles of its predecessors while still innovating on the concept. Up until FFXI, the battles were always the same basic “Line up on one side against a line of enemies”. The menu commands in these battles have always been the same basic commands, Fight, Magic, Items, Flee. Other commands have popped up over time but players can almost always use these basics. On top of these 12 core games, there have been numerous spin off games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Legend, one shots like FF: Crystal Chronicles and FF: Mystic Quest, movies such as Advent Children and that Legend of the Crystals Anime, even direct sequels to several of the main line games.

Not to mention influence on pretty much every RPG following and remakes of every game before FFVII. Basically, Final Fantasy turned into Square’s cash cow. In fact they pretty much don’t make anything that isn’t directly related to Final Fantasy in some way.

Of all the games in the series, the first has been remade the most. Other than the initial release for the NES, a game I played many years ago way more than one should, it’s been remade for Cell Phones, the Wonderswan, the Playstation and now the Game Boy Advance. This latest revamp features updated graphics and sound as well. Gone are the old 8 Bit Sprites, replaced with beefy updated 16 bit graphics. Ok, yeah, 16 Bit is only one step up an it’s pretty paltry by today’s 3D standards, but it still looks really nice.

While the plot remains identical, find the four elemental crystals to unlock the gate to defeat Chaos 2000 years in the past thus creating the series’ first time paradox, the gameplay is altered quite a bit. In addition to updated 16bit style graphics comes updated 16bit style game play. Inventory is no longer limited to potions and tents and key items all on one screen, they are separated like later games. Weapons and armor are carried by everyone instead of just 4 items per character. This helps a LOT in keeping specialized weapons such as the Ruin Blade or Ogre Sword. Each character only equips items they need in the appropriate slots (Head, Armor, Accessory, Weapons.)

The most drastic change comes with the magic system. While spells are still purchased at shops, they now consume MP instead of the limited Spell Point system. This means you’re able to cast more powerful spells more frequently and sooner in the game. You no longer have to wait on that one level 9 Spell Point to pop up before casting Nuke, simple consume the necessary MP whenever you want. This actually tends to make things a lot easier. Previously you would have to carefully ration out magic points as you traveled through the various dungeons, now you can just suck down a few Ethers when needed.

These two changes not only make the game easier, they make it pass a lot faster. The game in general seems toned down a bit with less flat out enemy grinding needed in order to gain the necessary levels to traverse the next area. This makes the game less “pure” but actually helps make it more enjoyable.

Overall, this sort of RPG is still not for everyone. There is a severe lack of story and “purty movies”. Still, it’s a good classic that old school fans of the series should enjoy. The Dawn of Souls game pack also includes a copy of Final Fantasy II, which is a much better game that has seen very little light on US shores.

The game also includes several elemental themed bonus dungeons. Traveling through these dungeons will net you additional powerful weapons and armors. I do not however have the time or will to travel these dungeons as they are very long and randomly presented. If I do embark on this quest I’ll cover it in a separate review coupled with Final Fantasy II’s bonus content.

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