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Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls Preview

July 30, 2004 - There have been quite a few remakes of the first two Final Fantasy games over the past few years. Both games appeared on the PlayStation as part of last year's Final Fantasy Origins. Portable systems have been particularly friendly to the games, with both having appeared on Bandai's Japan-only Wonderswan as separate titles. Successful portable systems are getting in on the act too, with NTT DoCoMo cell phones in Japan now featuring a heavily publicized version of Final Fantasy I, and a similar version set to appear on phones out of KDDI's popular AU service.

And now, Game Boy Advance has just seen its own recreation of the two games under one single release, Final Fantasy I - II Advance. As the name suggests, this game combines the first two entries in Square Enix's world-beating series into one package, updates the graphics, sound and gameplay and, just for kicks, adds a monster viewer that lets you view stats about all the monsters you've encountered during play. The game seems to be basically the same as the PlayStation Final Fantasy Origins (for our review of that game, see IGNPSX), but on top of that, Square Enix has supposedly added a couple of dungeons along with some classic Final Fantasy series bosses.

We picked up the import, which was released on Thursday to Japan, and managed to get addicted to a couple of fifteen year old titles all over again. Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II were great games back at their release, and with all the improvements Square Enix has made, they're even better, and a lot more friendly to today's gamers.

Unfortunately, it seems that what held our attention over our many hours of play is the same thing that held our attention when we tried out the PlayStation version of Origins last year. So, we're not quite sure what to write about in this article (we have to write something to go along with all the movies and screenshots we've added to the media section). We haven't seen any of the new stuff, so we can't let you know how well it fits into the game. It looks like we'll just have to fill up space by recapping what you may or may not have already heard about Final Fantasy I and its successor.

Final Fantasy I, which, you should know, was the first game in the Final Fantasy series, is also the series' most basic entry. You start the game off by setting up a party of four characters, giving each a name and class, with selections available from fighter, black belt, thief, red mage, white mage and black mage. Whereas other Final Fantasy games have let you name characters to your liking, in Final Fantasy I, default names aren't provided.

As the game's background story goes, the four youngins in your party are prophesized to retrieve four crystals, which will somehow lift the world from its darkness. Your adventure begins when you meet the King of Corneria, whose daughter, Princess Sarah, has been kidnapped by Garland, who longs for the throne. You save Princess Sarah, she falls in love with you, you set off on your quest to find said crystals, and forty million games later, Square Enix is making the twelfth title in the series.

The battle system for this first Final Fantasy is pretty basic stuff, even in the Game Boy Advance version. Characters have HP and MP, they go up in level, they equip new weapons and armor according to their class, and so-forth. You have to actually buy spells in a shop, which is a little different from your garden variety RPGs these days, but as is the norm, spells can be equipped only by certain classes.

For Final Fantasy II, Square Enix (well, at the time it was just Square) made some big changes. The main characters have names, although you can still change them to your liking. You can't change their class, though, because they don't really have a class, at least not in the same way as in the original. By purchasing magic books at a shop, characters can be given any spell, from fire to cure. Characters can also carry any type of weapon, equipping one weapon in each hand (this lets your character perform, for instance, a sword attack followed by an axe attack).

The character raising system in Final Fantasy II was a preview of things to come in RPGs much further down the road. Characters don't actually go up in level. Instead, a character's weapons and spells gain experience with use, growing in level over time. Magic and hit point statistics are raised in a similar fashion, with their maximum values rising when your character has lost enough life or used enough magic. Years later, having played countless RPGs where weapons and spells evolve with use, seeing a similar system in Final Fantasy II is certainly eye opening.

Other areas of the game are also a ways more complex than they are in Final Fantasy I. The game adds some interactivity to conversations, requiring that you select key terms for memorization to a vocabulary list and recite them to key characters when you want to advance. The story also progresses a ways beyond the collection bit from the original, placing players in the middle of a rebellion against an invading empire.

Despite the upgrades that Square Enix has made to the games to get them up to more modern standards (at least Super Nintendo level), the remade versions found in Final Fantasy I - II Advance preserve the spirit of the originals, from the story to the battle system and adventure parts. We're sure even the most die hard FFFs ("Final Fantasy Fanatics") won't have much to complain about (although if the Final Fantasy Origins on the PlayStation made you mad, stay away from this game).

Both titles look great on the Game Boy Advance. As with the PlayStation Origins, picture an SNES RPG close to the level of Final Fantasy III (Final Fantasy VI in Japan) and you'll have an idea of what to expect from the game on a visual level. The GBA version of the game has one advantage over its console counterpart, though: a direct LCD screen. The result is super-sharp visuals that will make you shout praise for the world of hand drawn 2D artwork (the game is actually more pleasing on the eyes than the recent remake of Dragon Quest V).

We're even more pleased with the aural side of the game. The Game Boy Advance does a great job of handling the classic music, now arranged using real instrument samples. The battle theme from Final Fantasy II sounds as wonderful as it always has. Play this game, and within the first few minutes of playtime you'll understand why the Final Fantasy music has caught on.

We were somewhat surprised at how much Final Fantasy I - II Advance was able to engross us (despite four other, brand new RPGs having been released this past week in Japan). Aside from a high encounter rate that makes exploration a bit of a chore, progression through the two titles is quick. You'll find yourself casting big spells and doing serious damage in no time. On top of that, the original titles emerged in a time of much simpler story telling. You won't find characters who go on and on with lengthy dialogue sequences. The lengthy, non-interactive story sequences that tend to start off many RPGs are nowhere to be found, with both games beginning almost immediately after you press the start button. Once we'd started playing, we couldn't stop.

Add to the quick progression the ability to run through towns and a save feature that lets you stop playing whenever you want and you have the makings for a great portable title that transcends its source material's age. If you didn't know that Cid was piloting air ships fifteen years ago, or even if you did know that and you haven't played any of the other remakes of Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II, you may want to play through the origins of this classic series on the Game Boy Advance when Square Enix releases Final Fantasy I - II Advance in America.

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