February 11, 2017

Impressions on Final Fantasy I: Dawn of Souls

Following my playthrough of the original Final Fantasy for the NES, I played the remake for the Gameboy Advance, Final Fantasy I: Dawn of Souls. The game wasn’t very hard, and since I knew exactly what I had to do, I didn’t wander around aimless and was able to finish it in roughly nine hours.

The port to the GBA includes modernized graphics, sound, and music; modernized game play; quality of life additions; improved translation, longer dialogues with NPCs, and modernized names for magic spells; bug fixes; new side quests. But surely the greatest quality of Dawn of Souls is that, even with all the improvements, the developers and artists have managed to make it look and feel like the original Final Fantasy.

(Note: at the moment, I have not played Final Fantasy II: Dawn of Souls, so my comments are all based on my experience with Final Fantasy I: Dawn of Souls.)

Improved graphics and music

To my untrained eye, the graphics of Dawn of Souls look most like Final Fantasy V on the SNES; larger and more detailed than FFIV, smaller than FFVI. They capture the look-and-feel of the 16-bit era Final Fantasies (which, I must confess, is my favorite generation of games). Although there was nothing wrong with the graphics of the original NES and they had their unique charm, I appreciate the more detailed graphics: I find that they contribute to making the world richer and fuller. Look at the difference between the new Lich and the original Lich: she now looks bigger, badder, and more menacing.

Fight against Lich

Dawn of Souls animates magic spells more richly than the original game could; the visual effects for the high-level spells are beautiful, recognizable, and convey the great power of black and white magic. The spells used by enemies are also animated, and even when two enemies cast the same spells, the animations can differ. Take for instance the ice storm cast by both Winter Wolves and White Dragons: to convey that the Dragons do more damage, the whole screen becomes white with snow and ice, while the wolves’ attack only send a volley of hail toward your party.

The music composed by Nobuo Uematsu for the Final Fantasy series is legendary, and the music of the original game was no exception, giving us the original motifs for the Prelude, the Final Fantasy Theme, and the battle and victory themes. There is a detail I noticed in the soundtrack of the first game on the NES: none of the tracks seem to use the noise channel. Listen to the original battle theme and then compare with the Dawn of Souls battle theme; the drums in the latter make the track more energetic and better capture the excitement of battle. I do not know if the absence of the noise channel on the original version was due to a technical limitation (e.g., using it for attack sound effects) or if Uematsu had yet to figure out how to best use this extra channel. Regardless, the soundtrack of the new game (which was supervised by Uematsu himself) stays true to the original and adds a few track of its own: rather than fighting fiends with the standard battle theme, new tracks were composed for those important showdowns.

Modernized game play and quality of life

I mentioned in my impressions of FFI that I enjoyed the simpler and slower battle system; I’m happy the developers decided to keep the turn-based fighting system rather than replace it with a faster-moving ATB-like system. Like the NES version, the player selects an action for each character, and then those actions are performed, interspersed with enemy actions. Contrary to the NES version, however, the concept of ineffective attacks has been eliminated: if an enemy dies before it was attacked by one of your party member, a new enemy will automatically be re-targeted. This change certainly pleases many gamers, and makes the game more accessible to newer players. I mentioned before that ineffective attacks opened an extra tactical dimension, so it would have been cool if they could be re-enabled through an option. I believe that the PSX or PSP version offer such an option.

The magic system has been modernized and will feel more familiar to anyone who has played a RPG in the last 20 years. Rather than having a fixed amount of charges per spell level, casters have MP that they can use to cast any spell. Tents and cottages restore MP and Ether have been added to the game; caster characters can now use their magic repertoire more freely. A welcome improvement over the NES version involves multi-target spells: rather than acting on one character at a time, they act on all targets at once. I’m sure anyone how has casted FIR3 on 9 undead or had to wait for 6 WhWolf to cast IceStorm in the original NES version will appreciate the quicker fights. The spell names have also been changed: the nomenclature that is now pervasive in Final Fantasy has been back-ported. FIR3 is now Firaga, LIT2 is Thundara, etc.

Many enemies are now weaker, but the bosses are tougher. None of the fiends were push-overs. Chaos, who used to have 2000 HP in the original, now has a whooping 20,000 HP! This buff made for an epic final showdown: my fighting characters kept hitting while my white mage did everything in her power to keep them alive. It took a solid 8-9 minutes before my Light Warriors finally prevailed. That’s the way boss battles ought to be!

A number of quality of life improvements are also included in the game. A surprising feature for a Final Fantasy game is the ability to save anywhere, and not just when using tents or staying at an inn; maybe this was to allow players who play on the go (e.g., train or bus) to enjoy a few minutes of the game and then quickly save their progress. The game also has dashing, making trips into town quicker and descending into dungeons less of a drudgery. Buying items in shops can be done in bulk rather than buying one heal potion at a time (yes!) Similarly, when using an item or a spell on a character in the menu, pressing A multiple times uses that item/casts that spell multiple times; healing your party with items after a difficult battle is thus faster and less of a chore.

There’s also a point I didn’t think I’d ever need to mention in a Final Fantasy game: the controls are responsive. I am currently playing Final Fantasy IV Advance on the GBA and there is a lot of input lag! For instance, there is a 1 second delay between the time I press A to use a potion and the time that it actually applies! Fortunately, the controls in Final Fantasy Dawn of Souls are very responsive and you don’t lose an action because the game was busy at that time.

Fixed bugs

It’s no secret that the Final Fantasy games have been plagued with bugs: status ailments that didn’t work, stats that had no impact on your character, and even game crashing bugs (e.g., the draw ability in FFVI on the SNES). The original Final Fantasy was no exception: many spells didn’t work, the class ability of the thief was incorrectly programmed, etc. Final Fantasy Dawn of Souls fixes most of those bugs. The most disappointing aspect of gameplay bugs is when they take away tactical depth. I’m happy that I can rely on all my spells when making a decision: using the Temper spell is now a great way to boost the attacking abilities of your fighters.

Conclusion

I thought Final Fantasy I: Dawn of Souls was a terrific game, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. People completely new to the series will appreciate a straight-forward game with a simple system while veterans of the series will enjoy a solid port that brings back all the nostalgia and leaves many of the pain points in the past.