Released almost 20 years ago, the original Final Fantasy has proven to be one of the most influential RPGs of all time and has paved the way for over a dozen titles in the series.
Final Fantasy II, which was released about a year after the original, was just as innovative as the first title, adding a number of unique gameplay elements and bringing the storyline to the forefront of the adventure. Both titles have seen remakes, including the recent Final Fantasy Origins for the Playstation, which included an overhaul in many areas including graphics and gameplay. Final Fantasy I & II Advance: Dawn of Souls is essentially a port of Origins to the GameBoy Advance, with a couple of added features.
The storyline of the original Final Fantasy involved the arrival of four young heroes to the kingdom of Corneria, each bearing a mysterious orb. The heroes are prophesized to vanquish the evil in the world and deliver it from darkness. Final Fantasy II pits a group of orphans against the Empire of Palamecia, who is out to conquer the world. A rebel force based in the kingdom of Fynn is quenched by the empire. The four youths flee the occupation and must rally allies to their cause to overthrow Palamecia. The storylines remain fundamentally the same for the GBA port, although the dialogue has been overhauled and updated for both titles. Several new story sequences have also been added to both titles to flesh out key moments in the storylines.
Final Fantasy set the stage for gameplay in the series. The game features random turn-based battles, unique character classes, and plenty of magic and melee mayhem. From the outset, the player chooses the classes of their four heroes from warrior, thief, monk, red mage, white mage, and black mage. The difficulty of the title has been scaled back significantly since the original release. The rate of encounters was lowered, and enemies now reward slightly more experience and treasure to compensate. A dash feature has been added, as well as a "save anywhere" feature, making the experience even easier.
The gameplay of Final Fantasy II was a drastic departure from its predecessor in may respects. The "word memory" system requires players to "memorize" key terms to "ask" NPCs about later in the story, making the execution of the story a bit more interactive. The main area of departure, however, is in the skillup system. Instead of gaining experience levels by defeating hordes and hordes of enemies, character skills are leveled up individually as they are utilized in combat. Casting a fire spell a dozen times will lead to skillups in that spell, using a sword in many battles will yield sword skillups, taking a lot of damage will lead to increased hit points, etc. Many gamers felt the system, while being undeniably unique and innovative, lacked in its execution. The GBA port has made the painful skillup process a bit easier this time around, as skillups will come more frequently. In addition, some attributes, like hit points, will increase automatically, meaning players won't have to attack their own allies to boost their hit points.
In addition to the drop in difficulty and the tweaks in gameplay, a few new features have been added to both titles for the Dawn of Souls port. Final Fantasy features a "Soul of Chaos" game scenario, which adds four new dungeons that are unlocked by defeating the four elementals. Included in these dungeons are cameo boss fights featuring enemies from later Final Fantasy titles, including Gilgamesh, Omega Weapon, and the Four Fiends. The "Soul of Rebirth" expansion of Final Fantasy II continues the storyline of the title and is complete with new dungeons and areas to explore. Both features are promised to add 8-10 hours of gameplay to their respective titles.
The graphics and sound for the GBA port are in many ways similar to Origins. Graphics are now much more detailed and colorful and spell animations have been improved. The music, now arranged using samples from real instruments, is handled very well by the portable console.
For die-hard fans, the promise of added story and gameplay elements is enough to warrant picking up a copy of Final Fantasy I & II Advance: Dawn of Souls. For those who have not had a chance to play these classic titles (if there are any of you left), the tweaked system will hopefully remove all the painful aspects of the gameplay in the originals, and leave behind much classic RPG goodness. Look for Dawn of Souls to start appearing on store shelves early this week.