maanantai 27. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (2004)

Genre(s): RPG / Compilation
Released: 2004
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Square Enix, TOSE
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

In 1997, Square's flagship RPG series Final Fantasy finally rose to international fame with the release of the dystopian cyberpunk masterpiece Final Fantasy VII. Casual European gamers who ignored all gaming press wondered what exactly happened to the first six games, or if the "VII" was just some sort of weird promotional stunt. As the truth about the existence and utter brilliance of some of the previous titles in the series unfolded, and all the confusion of the past with them, people began to demand reissues of the previous six games. After two compilations and one stand-alone reissue for the Sony PlayStation, which were intended to be once again released only in Japan and North America for some odd reason, but finally shipped to Europe as well, Square - now merged with Enix - inked a deal with Nintendo concerning the enhanced re-releases of every pre-VII Final Fantasy game, with the exception of the still obscure Final Fantasy III, for the Game Boy Advance. The first release in this series of handheld remakes was Dawn of Souls, the first two games of this magnificent series in one essential role-playing package. Both games are influenced by earlier remakes, but include enough exclusive features to be called the ultimate forms of their source materials. Ever wondered what the first Final Fantasy game would be with decent gameplay worthy of its name? Or what Final Fantasy II's even like? Welcome to the dawn of souls!

Reborn to rock

Yep, that's us. Where's our fancy tour bus?

The elemental powers of the world have failed. An old sage's prophecy tells of four Warriors of Light, who will emerge to save the world in a time of darkness. 400 years after the first elemental orb went dark, these four Warriors with different talents arrive to the Kingdom of Cornelia, to begin their mission of restoring the world.

There are two things I'd like to mention right off the bat. Even though I decided to split this review into two, there's one personal statement that rings true to both games: they're the exact same games as all of you purists so love. Only the execution of good ideas is a lot better in the case of the first game, and its few concrete alterations to the gameplay experience are only for the better. The second thing is that I've never played Final Fantasy Origins, the only previous I+II remake available in my region, even though a friend of mine has it, so don't bug me about everything that I'll personally point out as new stuff.

The battles are arranged a "little" better.
What they did to Final Fantasy, graphically, is something I never thought Square would have the desire or the needed energy to. We've seen minor changes take place in the past: we've seen the rendered cutscenes on games that have otherwise been direct ports of their source games. We haven't seen this before, not on this scale: a fleshed out world from which the legend of Final Fantasy began, totally renovated according to the standards of Final Fantasy VI. For the most part, we're talking about tearing the original game apart pixel by pixel, and replacing it with a full, blooming palette of colour and animation. The remastered and partly recomposed music might not manifest into the best soundtrack in Final Fantasy history, but it is damn good.

The reason this review is split into two is, of course, since the first game and Final Fantasy II are so different games from each other, and I gave both the original games kind of a vague touch, knowing that I'd return to them with this remade bundle. In this review, I am more willing to go deeper into the gameplay of both games instead of just saying if it sucks or not; Dawn of Souls gives people the chance to see the games as they really are. Like I said, they're the exact same games. The graphics are better, a small sum of old peeves (like the "Nothing here." dialogue box whenever you search any empty space) are removed, but for the most part, the first Final Fantasy game suffers from the same gameplay problems as ever before - the difference is that in this version, one is willing to learn how to cope with those problems and the ways to come out as a winner, and finally be able to say "I beat the hardest Final Fantasy game ever". Well, or an admittedly very easy version of it... but it offers up challenge in certain areas.

We are those who feed on punks like you
for breakfast.
Let's re-review the basics of the game, and at the same time, you can personally pick up some aesthetic differences between the original game and the Dawn of Souls version. You control four Warriors of Light on their journey to restore power to the world's four main elements by destroying the four Fiends disrupting them, and finally their spiritual leader Chaos. Your journey begins from the kingdom of Cornelia, in which you have to save princess Sarah from the deranged Dark Knight Garland to prove your worth to the king and make it to the shore of the next continent with his help. Throughout the rest of the game, you need to assist several different factions, communities and singular NPC's with their personal problems - such as find a potion strong enough to awaken a comatose elven king who has possession of a mystic key you oh so want, and nitro powder to the dwarves of Draygor, so they could blow open a canal for you to travel through on your ship. It might not be clear at first since the game's still pretty cryptic, but absolutely every quest and errand you do in this game has an important effect on your progress. There are no sidequests, and very few weapon and money related secrets, most of which are on the game's first half. As you can see, Final Fantasy started out as a generic fantasy story with princesses, elves, dwarves and dragons; it took some time before Sakaguchi created a whole new kind of fantasy universe around these games. Yet, like I've said before in regards to the original game: I have no beef with the story, it's good in its simplicity and personally, I'm amazed at how much Sakaguchi could squeeze into one NES game. Double the story and all the different locations, and complexed gameplay with the still extra capacity to include an airship. Kinda makes you feel the original game was really impressive, doesn't it?

The still sealed entrance to one of the new
dungeons, Lifespring Grotto.
The original game is impressive, technically. In terms of gameplay and presentation, it's something completely different. I think we can all agree on the dialogue; the dialogue in the original game was horrible, cryptic and 80% of the time, completely irrelevant. There was one person amidst all those large towns of pixels who you needed to find and talk to, to MAYBE be able to deduce where you should go. Well, this version includes some inside jokes, some are rewritten while some are left just as they were - such as the infamous line "I, Garland, will knock you all down!" - but indeed, the annoying "Nothing here." box is completely eliminated and most of the relevant dialogue is completely rewritten. It's actually fun to talk to people this time around. They basically say the same things, but no words are capitalized, like "ORB" and "KEY" in the original, the flow of the conversation is notably better and at times, it's really the kind of classy dialogue that makes the game feel like it's part of this great series in terms of presentation. Of course it's still a bit distracting that your own four characters are robotic henchmen with no ability to talk or even a will of their own, but I think this version gives even them a bit more personality through other people's perception of them. As you will see right after you start the game, almost all of the locations and enemies in the game have new names. And yes, they're much better. At least I think "Crazy Horse" has tons of more street cred than "MADPONY". And a new name like "Elfheim" makes "ElfLand" sound a little less like a very weird theme park.

You start off by selecting your four characters, your very own Warriors of Light, who you can classify and name as you please, this time with six letters instead of the original's four. The class names are changed a bit, and some slight changes have been made to each class' attributes: Monk (formerly Black Belt) and Thief are way more useful in combat than they were before, while Red Mage is now literally a tweener between a Black and White Mage: his spells, be they white or black, don't do as much damage as they would when used by the two primary mages. It takes forever to teach Red Mage the best spells around, and he can't learn them all anyway, not even after he gets promoted to the Master class of Red Wizard. He's actually quite efficient in physical combat instead, as well. The mana system's severely changed, for the better at that. You are still able to teach your mage three different spells according to a certain spell level - which increases along each fifth EXP level - but the Spell Charges, which limit your use of a certain spell to a set number of times, are now replaced with the more common and by all means, more comfortable MP system.

A standard kingdom in the game consists of a stronghold and a town. With one or two exceptions, the towns have a chapel - which I'll return to in a bit to get something out of my system - stores for weapons and armor, stores for both black and white magic, and an item shop. The stores still have a little pricing problem. With the way more dynamic battles, it shouldn't be too hard to raise the money needed for all the stuff in the game, but the ill logic is still there; regular items cost much more than weapons and armor, most of the time. Hell, they cost more than some of the most important mana in the beginning of the game. Like I hinted, in this game it isn't a problem in the same way it was in the original in which a battle against one or two Goblins could take 10 to 15 minutes with all those misses. In this game, the misses don't occur as often, and besides, the tempo of the battles is a LOT faster, even though they play out pretty much the same way. Well, more of the battles soon enough, but the chapel. Oooh, I'd like to take a trip back here to a game called ActRaiser. I guess Mega Man 2 and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest could be mentioned, too. Back then, Nintendo of America had some sort of problem with religious references, which I've dealt with in the past - I have often said that their code regarding the removal of religious references only seemed to affect ANTI-religious references. Castlevania II had this huge white cross symbolizing a church, and inside, the priest healed all your wounds in a second. Mega Man 2 had the Yellow Devil, soon to be renamed the Rock Monster. When ActRaiser came out, I guess Nintendo had no other choice but to change God's name to Master, since they already renamed Satan to Tanzra. ActRaiser is still the most religiously censored game in history, and it really brought the exclusion of religious references in Nintendo games to light. Well, guess what we have here? A church, in which the priest resurrects any fallen party member in just a jiffy with the help of two angels. Oh, here we go again, huh? Actually no: we have enemies like Hellhound, Winged Devil, and a new bonus dungeon called Hellfire Chasm. Publishers of the game: Nintendo. Props, man. Props. They've finally stopped thinking they're making every one of their games for 5-year olds - although, even those kids know (better than some adults, in fact) what is heaven and what is hell, what's a God and what's a Devil. A crock of bullshit, but great material for fantasy games, as it has turned out in the past.

The battles have indeed gone through the most bit of renovation. In look, they're nearly identical to the interface in Final Fantasy VI. In practice, it's the same as in the original game, only a lot faster and way more forgiving; the "Ineffective" attacks have been eliminated completely. Instead of trying to hit an already downed enemy, the attacker switches his target automatically to the nearest live one, like he should. Also, like I already said, missing a target is relatively rare. Battles that took you a tedious 20 minutes to win in the original game, now take about ten times less. That also reflects on the amount of random encounters, which is near-ridiculous, your bankroll and the amount of EXP you're able to gather, and ultimately through all this, the difficulty level of the game. Expensive items and exceptionally dangerous handicaps like Stone still have an unwanted effect on the game's difficulty level during the first half of the game, but by the end of the game you're so rich and buffed up you're practically unstoppable. Deadly enemies from the original, like the Elemental guardians and the four Fiends are done in with just a few standard attacks, and you don't even have to intentionally work on your experience, random encounters occur that often and I'm sure all of you who have played the original game still remember what kind of ridiculous mazes await you in the dungeons. Just trying to struggle through them and perhaps find a few treasures along the way pretty much guarantees victory as an enemy or nine of them appear on your every third step.

Look, babe. You're hot and all, but those
arms have gotta go.
What's worst about the dungeons is that up until you get the Exit spell, which is not too soon, I can assure you, you have to backtrack your way out of them. There are no shortcuts in the true dungeons of the game; to my memory, you're automatically transported out of the Temple of Fiends (now called Chaos Shrine) in the very beginning of the game after saving princess Sarah, and that's not even a real dungeon before it expands in the very end of the game. Every real dungeon in the game has a dozen branching paths and three to five floors to be dealt with. It's not very fun to keep fighting the same easy (or annoying - here's looking at you, Cockatrice) enemies over and over again, even the flow of EXP loses its meaning at some point. Probably the worst part of the game in my opinion was the Cavern of Earth (Earth Cave in the original). Originally, you enter the Cavern to kill a vampire terrorizing a nearby village and get the Star Ruby. The gem is then fed to a golem guarding a passage to the abode of an old sage. Well, this old sage gives you a staff, and then tells you to go BACK to the Cavern, back to the bottom floor where you killed the vampire, and take a few steps beyond to activate a stone slab with the staff, and descend even deeper into the Cavern. Why in the hell couldn't I have done this all at once? Is it so important to prolong the game and come up with artificial ways to add more hours into the total playtime? Now I know where the constant backtracking of Final Fantasy XII originated.

Yay, a promotion! And all I needed was the
rotting tail of a dead rat.
The world map's also a peeve. You can't sail or use a canoe without bumping into enemies, and the world map's a kind of a maze in itself, filled with empty spaces. Very often you find yourself searching for some small location while random encounters keep distracting you and making you lose your way. Up until you get the airship, not a moment too soon, navigating the world map is extremely hard. There's no minimap system of any kind. You have a map, accessible via punching in the infamous "secret code" anywhere in the world that shows your current location and most of the places you're able to enter, but it's incredibly hard and tedious to use to your actual advantage. If you're playing the game on an emulator, I have a good tip for you: google a world map and stick it to the background as you're playing. Very useful, much more useful than the in-game map.

The "first" airship ride of the series.
Well, to return to the length of the game: thanks to the faster battles and just a little less cryptic clues of where you should go at all times to advance in the storyline, the game isn't that long, nor does it need to be. It's an experience. Moreover an experience fit for those people who really weren't into the original's gameplay. Like I already mentioned a few times, for the most part it's easy too. Of course, you can try your luck in four new dungeons which all feature a superboss or a few of them, on a cameo trip from the later Final Fantasy games. Those dungeons are in as the real challenge of this game. Also, you should take early note of the fact that you can save ANYWHERE except during battles. Tents, Cottages and Sleeping Bags can only be used on the map, but you can save the game on every step of your way if you want to. It took a while from me to sink this in, after having to pay for each save in the original game, and only in the confines of an inn. Now that was a nightmare. The game might be relatively easy, but relatively comfortable to play - that's what lies in the core of a good RPG.

Sorry. We don't speak French.
The first half of this bundle restored my respect for the very first game in the Final Fantasy series. It's been made to truly feel like a Final Fantasy game despite its thematic differences with the rest of the series, and the irrelevancy of true character development. Overall, it's one fine role-playing experience that might not suit everyone who actually hates the original game's ideas to the core, not just their execution like I do. Since the original Final Fantasy II is quite a good game in itself, disregarding the fact that it's a rare sight in these parts of the world for now, I think this particular remake is the real reason to invest in Dawn of Souls. On to Part 2 of this epic saga...

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 9.0
Playability : 8.4
Challenge : 7.0
Overall : 8.3



After a failed attack resulting in the disappearance of their friend, three reckless teens grow desperate to prove their worth to a rebel princess to join her insurrection against the Dark Emperor.

The final trial of our rebel wannabes.
Graphically, Final Fantasy II is remodelled exactly the same as the first half of the Dawn of Souls bundle - it's the games themselves which are wholly different from each other. The sound department is the shizney. The soundtrack is, by far, one of the best of its time. The overworld theme and the standard battle theme which you'll be hearing for most of the game are both masterpieces, now remastered to their prime. Excellent work by Uematsu.

The original Final Fantasy II was, in my opinion, an amazing step forward from the first, critically acclaimed Final Fantasy game. I've always thought that Final Fantasy II was ignored by most fans just because it took Square such a long time to finally reveal the game to the international gaming community, and when that happened, the game was nearly 15 years old. How could a bulk of modern non-Japanese players already taken by such masterpieces as Final Fantasy VII, IX and X possibly be interested in an experimental 8-bit role-playing game, especially when some of them couldn't even sink in the existence of a real Final Fantasy II? Someone mentioned Final Fantasy IV, these people thought of that game as Final Fantasy II. Well, the record has been set straight since - better late than never - and some people took a true liking to Final Fantasy II after the release of Final Fantasy Origins and finally, this Dawn of Souls version. I took somewhat of a liking to the original game, especially in comparison to the very first game, but ironically, I enjoyed the first game more than Final Fantasy II in the case of Dawn of Souls.

What a dork!
The first game was a radically enhanced version of the original. I see the original game as nearly unplayable due to the horribly boring and more than constant random encounters, and endless mazes, and the obvious bad romance between these two. Also, the notably better dialogue and general clarity removed the original's most cryptic elements. Well, how about Final Fantasy II? It remains where it originally was. It's more like a pure audiovisual remaster of the original game than the same kind of reworked and enhanced version of it as the first half of Dawn of Souls is. This feeling of "same ol'" actually brings out the worst in the game that I never took note before, since the basic gameplay's so much better and more comfortable than in the original Final Fantasy. There are things that drag Final Fantasy II down - not exactly fatal, not too major, but annoyances that should've been cleverly cleaned out when they made this bundle, in the same way they cleaned most of the crap in Final Fantasy out.

The worst parts of the original game. Let me think. Well, I can't criticize the English translation, since the prototype swirling 'round in the sea of emulation was never meant to be made public in any way. Its countless errors have become somewhat of a joke in the gaming community, and I criticized them quite harshly myself in the review of the original game, but never let that affect the rating, of course not. The main things about the original game which I find the most difficult to stand are the fact you can't afford all the decent stuff you need - and I can't emphasize your actual NEED for the stuff enough - before hacking your eyes and thumbs to pieces on the vast battlefields of the world map, and constant backtracking brought on by strict linearity, which I intentionally left to be mentioned here.

The prices for items, equipment and mana are ridiculous, especially regular items which you'd normally have to rely on at some point, because as you probably well know by this time, "leveling up" isn't based on experience, but usage instead. In other words, you have to USE magic to be able to eventually raise your maximum MP. Max MP is one of the hardest numbers to raise in the whole game. Unlike in the quite simple remake of the first game, you absolutely need mana to advance. Well, let's say you're in a lengthy dungeon - thankfully, the dungeons are not nearly as long or maze-like the ones in Final Fantasy were, but there are just as many battles, on just about your every step a random encounter awaits - and you run out of MP. Normally, you would use an Ether, but Ethers cost 1,000-2,000 gil a piece, and they are very scarcely found on the field. Imagine getting stuck in the middle of a dungeon with two of your guys dead - no Phoenix Downs, no Ethers... you have the Teleport spell to get out of the dungeon immediately, you learned of its importance during the last game, but remember, you have no damn MP to be able to use it. My point is, in this game you have to be absolutely prepared, always. That means you have to fight practically all the time - not just against any enemies, but lucrative ones, wherever the hell they're to be found - watch what you buy, and... yes, one more thing. You shouldn't always go where you're told to travel.

One of the coolest renovations is that you
can wield two swords at once. Double that
with dashing swordmanship and you will
be a sure winner. Die, Icicle. Die.
The one-off key word system of Final Fantasy II is faithfully recreated. Actually so faithfully, that you need to keep repeating these key words to certain NPC's to know for certain where you should go next; more than often your main employer just reveals your ultimate destination, while some other bloke in some other place will tell you where you need to go and which key item you need to get to advance in your ultimate destination. If you don't run around like an idiot from town to town, and talk to just about everyone important about any new key words you learn or show them some stupid-ass items you just got, you will often find yourself paying big bucks to get to your ultimate goal on a mission, just to find that you can't proceed without a key item. You need to pay those big bucks a second time in a row to get back to your original starting point, go have that one conversation and then travel to another location to get that damn item, and once again pay that stupid fee to get where you've actually been going to for the last two or three hours, but got delayed by the fact that you just forgot to talk to some dude who you've talked to a million times during the course of the game, but he never said anything relevant before. Whew. Your employer also has some sort of trouble to give you multiple tasks; the completion of the simplest job requires you to return to your starting point in Altair (formerly Altea). That's backtracking if I've ever seen any.

One of the worst lines in any game. Ever.
"Guy speak beaver." The dialogue, now in decent English grammar, shows that the game isn't exactly masterfully written; it has some very high points, but it still retains a certain generic side in its storyline. I'm not a huge fan of any of the characters, with the exception of Cid, who made his debut in Final Fantasy II and has a tough persona that is somewhat reflected by his very best incarnation in Final Fantasy VII, who's also somewhat facially modelled after this version. The main party in Final Fantasy II consists of three people, but there are many side characters who stop by to fill the fourth slot left vacant by Leon (formerly Leonhart), who disappears in the beginning for most of the game's duration. This game is famous for killing off many major characters, and yes, not to necessarily spoil anything, some of these stand-ins kick the bucket as well, in less than spectacular scenes. The stories of these characters are expanded in an additional quest between them, exclusive to the Dawn of Souls version, which is kind of a cool and well managed story. Too bad my kinship to any of the characters isn't from the strongest end.

Look, guys! Joe & Mac!
Final Fantasy II isn't exactly a long game, nor is it still very difficult at least for the right sort of reasons. The self-buffing system still works, when it comes to physical attributes like HP, Strength and Stamina. It's kind of tedious to work on the effect of mana or anything related to it, since your physical abilities will prove more than sufficient in most standard fights; this prompts any logical player to use less mana and save it for later. Speaking of MP... one thing that I absolutely hated about the original game, but left unmentioned, returns: curative and defensive spells like Esuna and Protect can actually MISS, especially when used on low levels, on multiple targets, and they still consume just as much MP as any effective spell. How's that in relation to the ridiculous price of Ethers and the scarce nature of free ones I mentioned? It's shit. Those aiming to become regulars at inns to restore their HP and MP, and save money by not buying Cottages are not much better off; the inn fees are determined each time by the accumulative amount of your whole party's need for restoration in both HP and MP. I don't know if I've mentioned this to you guys, but everything in this game is FUCKIN' EXPENSIVE!

Final Fantasy II returns, and I want to make it clear to everyone one more time, that I don't hate the game. Absolutely not. In the reviews of the original games, I brought out the worst in Final Fantasy and the best in Final Fantasy II. Since the first Dawn of Souls game turned out so much better than its source title, I was kind of disappointed in this version of Final Fantasy II and thought it would actually make sense if I turned the tables here, completely, since I never really got to the bottom of things in the original game's review, I was so impressed by the game's better aspects in comparison to its predecessor. I like to consider this following conclusion my final verdict on Final Fantasy II, versions past and present. It's not a perfect game, but it's an unique experience every Final Fantasy fan should have once in their lives.

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 9.7
Playability : 7.2
Challenge : 7.5
Overall : 7.3


GameRankings: 80.02%

Nintendo Power ranks Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls #76 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

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