Review: Dawn of a new?well, I guess old era
Two years ago, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy Origins for the PSone. A remade compilation of Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II (which was never before released outside of Japan), the package was by all accounts a successful trip into the old-school, showing just how far the Final Fantasy franchise has evolved in almost 20 years. Now, Nintendo and Square Enix are ushering the FF Origins package to the Game Boy Advance, with the new name of Final Fantasy I&II: Dawn of Souls. While they're basically ports from the Origins package, SE spent quite a bit of time enhancing the games to play better, fixed the awkward translation in some spots, and added special quests to further help the GBA version be different enough to entice FF fans to purchase whether they've played Origins or not. Though nothing aside of a total overhaul would make either of these games ?great' in today's sense, thanks to simple stories, basic battle systems, and short playtime, the DoS package is extremely polished and though outdated, the games are still fun and perfect for a portable game console like the GBA or DS.
Final Fantasy I released for the Japanese NES, known as the Famicom, in 1987, and later was released here in 1990. Like many RPG's of the day, the storyline of FFI is fairly barren, though it has some good story towards the end of the game. It revolves around the Light Warriors, four mythical heroes who were prophesied to come to the rescue of the world, engulfed in chaos thanks to the Four Fiends that have polluted and destroyed the land. What begins as a simple kidnapping rescue turns into something much more and by the end, you come full circle without even realizing it. The potential for a great, epic story is definitely here, but the technology of the day just couldn't cut it so we're stuck with characters who do not speak, and don't even have any real traits ? instead, you pick from 6 classes to make a party of 4, give them names, and do your deeds for the good of the world. A good bit of progression is wholly based on either luck or diligently speaking to NPC's around the world, as there's not a whole lot pushing you in any direction. Unlike many RPG's of today, there are little to no sidequests at all, and though the game doesn't wish to hold your hand, it's pretty much entirely linear in nature.
The battle system for Final Fantasy is basic turn-based ? you choose your method of attack/healing/item use and once your party is done, the fighting begins in random fashion. It was a few games until Square created ATB, but it was competent and managed to be fun if only because of its simplicity. Some things have changed from the NES, and even PSone versions ? no longer do you have to fear the ?whiffing at air' tactic that your character would attack an enemy even if they're dead (lame, I know), instead if that enemy has been defeated, they'll target another. You don't even have to fear death anymore, as you can acquire a Life spell and even can purchase Phoenix Downs, though they're fairly expensive early on, before Gil is found lying around like it was water. You can still visit a ?faith' and restore your KO'd characters, old-school style, though. The magic system has been adjusted slightly as well; even in the PSone version, each level of magic (8 in total) had its own separate MP, so you couldn't use your large MP for level 1 spells for level 2 spells, and so on. In Dawn of Souls however, MP is unified and is one big pool for a White/Red/Black Mage to use and abuse.
For the most part, FFI is pretty simple, and short by RPG means ? you can clear it in 15 hours without much knowledge of the game, less than 10 once you know what to do. All the different battle system changes are definitely done to ease the game and make it more accessible, which can be seen as good or bad depending on your perspective. The ability to save anywhere also really makes the game easy, especially since in the original, you could only save at Inns or when you used a Sleeping Bag/Tent/Cottage. However, the reasoning for this is simple, since you're dealing with a portable game where batteries could die at any time, being able to save and come back is vitally important. It makes dungeons easy even though they can be a confusing mess of endless random battles, though its purpose is noted.
For those who want to adventure more, you can take on the new and optional Soul of Chaos dungeons. Each time you beat one of the Four Fiends, a special dungeon opens up, with some new enemies, actual towns inside, and the best part, randomized floors. These are pretty tough and have special bosses from more modern FF games as the prized final battles, so old-school FF fans will find some treats within these special dungeons. In addition, there's a Bestiary which you can fill up, in-turn revealing weaknesses and strengths, and this carries over to a ?New Game Plus' if you decide to go that route.