I’m on my way to becoming a real gamer!  I have recently joined the club in beating the first two entries to the Final Fantasy series.  The latest releases in the Final Fantasy series were the Final Fantasy 7 remake in 2020, and Final Fantasy XV in 2016, so to play the first few games I would be taking a trip back over 33 years to FF1’s release back in 1987.  After asking around a few different gaming communities the consensus seemed to be that quality of life improvements made in the 2004 GBA remakes were too great to ignore, and that Dawn of Souls was the easiest way to experience the stories of FF 1 & 2 for the first time. 

Dawn of Souls is a compilation of the first two games, and features completely new graphics and additional dungeons.  There were balance tweaks made and the magic system was revamped but to my understanding the story was faithful to the originals.  I figured if I really loved the games after completing them on the GBA I could always go back and replay the NES titles.

FF1 world map

Exploring the world and meeting the colorful NPC’s that populate it is a wonderful experience that persists from beginning to end of FF1. There is a bit of backtracking, but having to revisit older areas making discovering the new ones all the more exciting. 

Multiple times it felt as though I were pushed out into the world without enough direction, but I was rewarded for exploring as an unfolding path of quests was laid before me that ultimately led to restoring the elemental crystals to power.  

The game felt pretty balanced in difficulty with the exception of a few boss battles that quickly humbled me.  At times it could feel overwhelmingly difficult, but after a little bit of grinding for XP there wasn’t anything I couldn’t overcome.  It certainly doesn’t let you get close to becoming a one-hit KO godlike character too early.

Most of the plot is revealed through interacting with NPC’s while exploring through a world that is full to the brim with charm.  There are humans, wizards, dwarves, mermaids, and even robots; all of which you’ll need to assist or solicit assistance from.  Everything that we’ve come to love and expect from an RPG in current day was set as a standard in Final Fantasy 1.  The influence of Final Fantasy on the RPG genre and gaming as a whole is undeniable and I must say that the game is fantastic to this day.  Upon completing Final Fantasy 1 I was left with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.  Needless to say, a huge fan of FF1.

FF2 World Map

Now, let’s talk about Final Fantasy II.  FFII gets a whole lot of flack.  When bringing up the game in conversation with fans of the series I was either met with a hesitated warning upon starting, or a straight admission of hate.  In fact, while I streamed myself playing the game on twitch, nearly every viewer introduced themselves to me in chat as “Oh I hate this game!”  

As I played the game and got used to the mind-boggling differences between Final Fantasy 1 and 2, I couldn’t help but agree with the crowd.  In FF2 there are no experience points.  No experience points, so that must mean there are skills you can level up right?  The answer is yes! That doesn’t sound so bad right?  We’ve played Skyrim, and we like skill systems!  But wait, what if I told you that the skills level up randomly?  Stats?  What if stats also level up randomly.  That would be pretty odd wouldn’t it?  You may be left wondering how do you ensure your magic classes get the correct skill points to be an effective magic user?  How do you craft and effective fighter when the skill and stat level ups are random?  The answer is that you cannot.  Everyone should be a magic user, it’s a complete waste to try and create a strictly fighting class because there are no job assignments or roles for the individual characters.  Everyone is a fighter and everyone is a magic user.  When a battle is over each character gets a random chance at leveling up a random skill or stat.  

So here’s another thing, magic spells level up correctly based on usage. 

Magic spells leveling up correctly sounds like a relief, but it is actually more aggravating than anything, because that’s evidence that the game developers know how to make a skill based level up system work effectively, and they just aren’t going to apply it to non-magic skills or stats.

My second gripe with this game is that you are effectively punished for exploring.  The thing I enjoyed so much about FF1 was an absolute chore in FFII.  The dungeons are plagued with trap rooms.  There was never a clear path from one end of the dungeon to the next, and each dungeon was more often than not littered with closed doors.  What’s behind door number one?!  Oh NOTHING.  Nothing but a random encounter that you’re forced into because you happened to choose the wrong door.  It wasn’t uncommon for there to be 4 or 5 trap rooms per floor, and unless you’re reading a guide or walkthrough you’ll likely enter each one before stumbling into the one that happens to contain the stairway that proceeds to the next floor.  If there were treasure or some significance to the encounter behind trap rooms, this wouldn’t have been such a bad experience but they failed to make it worthwhile.

Ok…. so those are some pretty big hurdles to get over, but I did it. It wasn’t the end of the world and despite the bad things that I may say about Final Fantasy II, it’s not as if it were so bad that Square closed shop and didn’t make a Final Fantasy III.  Final Fantasy I was just so good that it’s hard to not compare the second game to it, and it falls flat because of how great the first game was.

One of the positive aspects of this game, and what it did that finally won me over in the end was that the plot was fairly entertaining.  The story flip flops between engrossing and serious to straight goofy at times.  The NPC dialogue has its moments and I couldn’t help but grow attached to the simpleton character in the party “Guy”.  His dialogue is often broken or incomplete sentences, and his intellect being so low means that he can talk clearly to animals.  Talking to a giant beaver through Guy is actually a part of the plot.  The story is a pretty straight forward scenario saying “orphans need to avenge their families and save the world from the evil empire, also there are crystals” but that’s the kind of thing I enjoy playing.  When the general story is a revenge plot there is infinite room to write in fun scenarios and it was those instances that helped to break up the monotony of grinding through palette swapped enemies.  

Dawn of Souls was overall a great experience for me, but that’s mostly because of how much I enjoyed FF1.   I love turn based combat and the strategy that goes along with it, and I love the massive scope of the worlds in these games. I would do it all over again and actually plan to in the future. If I had played FF1 twice and played around with different party combinations and classes I would have nothing but positive things to say about this game.  FF2 was unfortunately a mediocre RPG that didn’t live up to its predecessor, and it’s a part of this compilation.  I will pass on the sentiment that was given to me before my first playthrough of these games; Play FF2, but be aware that there are some serious issues with the game.  Play FF2, and love FF1.  Give Dawn of Souls a shot if you’ve never had the opportunity to play through the games that spawned the Final Fantasy series and have a good time.

FF1: 9/10
FF2: 4/10