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Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (Game Boy Advance) review

"Rob closes out his 2013 in Reviews with a look at a thoroughly average compilation!"

Nostalgia's greatest bane is simply that, oftentimes, those classic games of yesteryear have been surpassed in quality by more recent ones. After the thrill of taking that trip down memory lane has faded a bit, it's common to realize you're playing something that’s more primitive and clunky than it is genuinely entertaining.

Console RPGs might be the worst offenders. Some of those old NES ones that I once enjoyed are near-unbearable now. While their worlds weren't particularly large or complex, you'd have to constantly grind for levels or risk death the minute you strolled more than a few steps away from the closest town. Random encounters occurred with disturbing frequency, at times forcing you into battle every couple of steps. And since there usually wasn't much in the way of plot or storytelling in these games, you'd find yourself in a vicious circle of grinding followed by exploring, which would open up a new area, leading to more grinding so that your party could handle the new and more powerful opposition. Yeah, nostalgia isn't always that great.

So, when rereleasing those old games on a newer system, companies had to make choices about how to soften the rough edges for a new crop of gamers who likely wouldn't have the patience to run in circles around a castle for two hours in order to survive the brief trek to the local dungeon. With 2004's Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, Square Enix proved that it’s possible to simultaneously succeed and fail in such an endeavor.

Upon starting the first game in the series, I could immediately see how this compilation might be a rousing success. As one would expect, the graphics and music were nicely upgraded for their appearance on the Game Boy Advance. I can safely say that if there's one huge positive to take from my experiences with this compilation, it's that I loved listening to it. Nostalgia is best when it's improved upon, and the Game Boy Advance had the capacity to enhance the music of a pair of eight-bit games. Levels are gained much more quickly now, so that it only took me a few minutes to get my Party Of Generic Characters to the point where it was powerful enough to head up to the game's first dungeon and deliver a harsh beating to that Garland guy who is always so psyched to start knocking people down.

Then I breezed through the rest of the game just as easily. The only fights where I risked defeat were in the optional bonus dungeons against assorted bosses from other Final Fantasy games, as those special foes were far more powerful than anything I faced in the main quest. In their attempt to make this game a bit easier to survive, Square Enix went too far and wound up with a game where victory is essentially a foregone conclusion.

The way magic was handled played a big role in this change. When Final Fantasy was created, the designers wanted to essentially create a Dungeons & Dragons game without that name attached to it, and their intentions showed in the magic system. Spells came in multiple levels and, as your characters gained more experience, they'd be able to cast spells of a certain level an increasing number of times. Early in the game, you might be able to cast Level 1 spells two or three times, and then cast a a Level 2 spell only once. Even at the end of the game, you're only allowed nine casts of a given spell level, so success in those lengthy dungeons often was determined by your ability to cast spells strategically.

Here, you have the standard system of magic points you see in most RPGs. Even at an early level, you'll have more permitted casts of Cure and Fire than in the NES original. As you progress through the game, you'll realize you can essentially cast spells at will and never have to worry about running out of magic at the bottom of a dungeon. I remember how in the original, the early-game Marsh Cave was probably the most imposing dungeon I ever encountered. I had very little magic, the dungeon was large and the enemies were quite unpleasant (with some inflicting poison and others being so strong defensively that spells were needed even to damage them). Nintendo Power offered advice such as suggesting players spend an obscene amount of money to buy as many healing items as possible. In Dawn of Souls, it's just another dungeon. It took about two trips to collect all the treasure and I had no issues -- especially since I gained a few levels during that first trip, making the second a lot easier to manage.

And so I was left with a primitive AND dull game that rivaled Mystic Quest for the "honor" of being the easiest Final Fantasy title I've played. Moving on, then…

I found Final Fantasy II's remake to be an improvement over its initial form -- even if that isn't saying much, as my experience with that game was enough to convince me it was the worst in the series. While the GBA version also was easier than the Famicom original, this proved to be a positive for me. Since this game was more plot-driven, with you backing a rebellion against an evil empire, I enjoyed being able to speed through dungeons and advancing the story without it feeling like pulling teeth. A bad game suddenly became somewhat bearable, if not actually enjoyable.

If anything, I was hoping they'd completely overhaul its character-building system much like they did with magic in the first game. Instead, they tightened things up a bit, but it offered the same basic way of building stats that the original did, which then was used as the foundation of Square's SaGa series. I've reviewed three SaGa games here and the average score I've handed out is less than "5", so it's safe to say the approach is not to my liking.

Things weren't HORRIBLE here, as hit points seemed to be gained by characters naturally every few battles and weapons and spells get stronger based on how often they're used…but it seems that to gain more magic points, you have to expend a lot of them in a fight. After a certain point, it was extremely rare that I'd come across any opposition (including bosses) that was capable of staying alive long enough for me to cast enough spells to earn more magic, at least while playing naturally and without using cheap tactics. The remake was better than the original, but I still found it annoying enough that I didn't have the heart to finish the main quest, let alone the post-game optional chapter, in which a handful of deceased supporting characters band together in the afterlife to fight another version of the final boss.

I guess that on one hand, I’d like to applaud Square Enix for their efforts in modernizing their two oldest Final Fantasy games for a new audience. Both of the included selections look and sound better than before, and a lot of frustration has been reduced. But on the other hand, I'm reminded a bit of the old cliché about putting make-up on a pig. My interest in the first game is the result of a combination of childhood nostalgia and respect for it being the start of a series with which I've spent hundreds of memorable hours. In Dawn of Souls, we have a primitive game dressed up aesthetically, but nearly all of its challenge has been removed. I never liked the second game, and the best thing I can say about its remake is that I found it to be a bit more tolerable. In the end, people interested in the humble origins of a vast series who don't want to endure the ordeal those old games can put one through might enjoy this bundle. Both games were revamped in a manner that makes them considerably easier to clear. Other than nostalgia, though, there's probably not much reason to pay the compilation any heed.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 30, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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