Final Fantasy I: Dawn of Souls review. The Square NES classic gets a Game Boy Advance (GBA) remake

Final Fantasy I & II Dawn of SoulsFinal Fantasy has practically been around since the inception of
8-bit gaming, and with the original Final Fantasy Square hit the jackpot. A game that started out being their last, ended up being the first in a very long line of extremely high quality and ultra popular role-playing games, known the world over as the Final Fantasy franchise. The series is now on it’s 12th installment, with a 13th already in the works (and this doesn’t include numerous spin-offs).

But of course, that hasn’t stopped it’s creators, now known as Square Enix, from making the most of their back-catalog and re-releasing all their old games in updated form; First on the Sony Playstation, and now on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS (In Japan there were even more remakes; on everything from the WonderSwan Color, which never saw a release outside of Japan, to cell phones).

That means that these classic games are now readily available for a whole new generation of players that may have missed them back in the day. People like me.

Yes, I feel ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t catch on to the Final Fantasy series until it’s seventh installment . . . . and I didn’t actually play one myself until the ninth! Thankfully, as the good gamer I am, I tracked down previous installments, at least the modern ones, and played them myself (I played the series backwards essentially. See my reviews for Final Fantasy X & VII). But now, thanks to Square giving a new lease on life to these classics on the Game Boy Advance, I have been able to get my hands on these games and play them in a way the developers originally intended (They all have updated translations on GBA, which means the game reads more how it was supposed to when they wrote it in Japanese).

So, whether you are a newcomer to the best-selling franchises original installment, like I am, or you know the classic well and are a seasoned veteran, you can do no wrong in checking out my review for Final Fantasy 1 (Dawn of Souls version on GBA).

Final Fantasy Title Screen

System: Game Boy Advance
Also On: NES, Playstation (Final Fantasy Origins)
Genre: 2D top-down Role-Playing Game
Debut: July 12 1990 in North America on NES, Dec. 18th 1987 in Japan on Famicon
Later Releases: Part of Final Fantasy Origins – April 8th 2003 in North America, March 14th 2003 in Europe and October 31st 2002 in Japan.
Part of Final Fantasy I&II: Dawn of Souls – Nov. 29th ’04 in NA, Dec. 3 ’04 in Europe and July 29 ’04 in Jap
Save: Cartridge Save, three files.
Players: 1
Developer: SquareSoft
Publisher: Square Enix

Who would’ve known that 20 years later, a little top-down role-playing game by SquareSoft would have turned out to become easily one of the most popular and best selling franchises in the entire video game industry. That is exactly what Final Fantasy is in the year 2007. The very name, “Final Fantasy” is synonymous with console RPGs. And without it, many American gamers would’ve never gotten into Japanese role-playing games in the first place.

Matter of fact, a large chunk of modern console RPG players got their first taste of Final Fantasy with the 3-disc behemoth Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation One. Which is considered not only one of the best games of all time among many gamers, but is credited with breaking the RPG genre out of it’s niche and thrusting it into the mainstream. Something that never would’ve been predicted beforehand, as RPGs were considered on the nerdier side of gaming.

As a result of the success of Final Fantasy VII and it’s previous installments (which all sold well), the series captured the hearts of gamers across the globe, and it quickly became THE premier role-playing franchise; especially outside Japan. Every release (especially since VII) has been nothing short of a breakaway hit, quickly selling millions of copies (the most recent example being Final Fantasy XII on the PS2).

But you have to start somewhere . . . And that starting place is the original Final Fantasy, which I recently conquered on the Game Boy Advance, thanks to it’s inclusion in Final Fantasy I&II: Dawn of Souls, which was released in late 2004 here in the U.S.

Video includes: Intro, naming characters & selecting their class, the first town, talking to the King and purchasing equipment and magic to prepare our heroes for their long journey.

The story in the original Final Fantasy revolves around sacred crystals made up of the four elements: Earth, Wind, Water and Fire; that sustain the order of the world. However when their light fades, the world is plunged into a dark time . . . The winds die. The seas rage. And the earth decays. But the people believe in a prophecy and wait patiently for it’s fulfillment. The prophecy tells of Four Warriors of Light, who will one day appear after a long journey. And on that day each of them will be clutching a crystal.

You are the warriors of Light, and one day you do appear. You meet with the king of Corneria, the first town on your adventure, and you set off to restore the crystals of light by destroying the four Fiends of Chaos, who guard the Crystals and are actually the ones who have brought so much evil into the world.

From then on you will travel along the world map to many towns, talking with many people and working your way through various dungeons and caves fighting monsters, as is the standard with every RPG.

The game will feel somewhat familiar to you if you’ve played any classic RPGs of this style on systems like the NES, SNES, Genesis or Master System. The main difference between most RPGs and Final Fantasy 1 is the fact that there aren’t set characters in this game. So there is no character development whatsoever.

Dawn of Souls Title Theme on Guitar

You control the four characters you chose at the beginning of the game (you select what class you want for your four Warriors of Light, more on that in a bit) and ONLY them. No other characters will ever join, or leave, your party. In addition, your characters never speak, so all the story is told through other NPC’s (Non-Playable Characters) you encounter in the various towns throughout the world. Some of them are named characters, others are generic.

When you start the game, you choose from one of a variety of different classes. The classes are:

Warrior – High defense and attack, can wield any weapon, gains ability to use low-level magic later on.
Thief – Quick and nimble, meaning high accuracy and evasion, can use most weapons and gains ability to use magic
Monk – Highest attack, can use some weapons but excels in barefisted combat. Can’t use magic.
Red Mage – Can use both white and black magic, but not the highest level magic nor the Heal family of spells (which heals the entire party). Can use some weapons but is not physically or magically as strong as other classes.
Black Mage – Physically weak but can learn all black magic spells (eventually). Black magic is focused on attacking and time magic.
White Mage – Physically weak but can learn all white magic spells (eventually). White magic focuses on healing and protection.

You can mix and match classes, so you can say have all white mages or all Monks as your party, although the game does not warn newbies about having a balanced team. So on your first play through make sure you do not have all four of one class, and you’ll probably want a White Mage since they are the only class that can use the Heal family of spells, which heals your entire party instead of one individual.

The game has a sizable world map, and you will start your journey next to a town, complete with a castle, called Corneria (you will run into many towns that have castles). While on the world map your character appears large, and you can walk through the grass to different caves and other towns nearby. To enter a location you simply walk into it.

While on the world map you will go into battles (which don’t happen while inside towns).

Random Battles On the Overworld

The battles are as standard as you get. It’s all turned based, and there is no ATB gauge like in later Final Fantasy’s. You simply choose an attack for each one of your characters, and then the enemy attacks.

You can choose to either attack with your equipped weapon, cast magic (if your character can use magic), change your equipment (simply select Equip, select the weapon or piece of armor you want to change, and you’ll see a list of the equipment you have and can switch too), use an Item (which btw includes using weapons or armor. Some weapons or armor have innate abilities. To use those abilities though you have to use it under Items in the Battle Menu and not have the item equipped. This was never clear to me so I didn’t realize it until the end of the game) as well as Flee from battle, which you can also do by holding the R&L buttons to make your party try to run away.

The Magic system is also very basic although different than most other Final Fantasy games, or RPGs for that matter. During battles you gain experience points and gil (money), like always, but when you level up you don’t learn any magic, your stats simply increase. To learn magic, you have to buy them from stores. In towns you will find various shops. There are Item Shops, Weapons Shops, Armor Shops, and then Black and White Magic shops. These shops will be selling Magic at different levels . . . levels 1 through 8. The higher the level, the higher the cost. So a level 1 spell, say Fire, might be 100 Gil for example, while a level 5 spell, say Fira (a more powerful version of the Fire Black Magic spell) would cost 500 Gil.

You can also only hold four spells for any given level. This means that you won’t be able to learn all spells, and so you will have to pick and choose which to learn. If you want to get rid of a spell you already have, you can go into your menu, select Magic and choose “Discard”, however you will still have to pay full price for another Magic spell, so generally you want to get it right the first time.

In addition to buying Magic as stated above, you will also be buying Equipment throughout the game. These range from weapons, like Swords and Staffs, to various pieces of Armor. You will come across Shields, Headgear, Armor, and Accessories, each of which will raise one of your stats.

Pressing the Start Button will enter the menu, where you can use items or magic, equip or unequip weapons and armor (armor and weapons won’t take effect until you equip them), check your status, change your party formation (what order you guys are in), enter the Configuration menu where you can change some options and check on your bestiary, which fills in as you defeat enemies, and finally save. There are three save files and you can save your game at any time. Which is very, very nice, and fits the fact that it’s on a portable system.

Your ultimate goal in Final Fantasy is to find four dungeons which house the four sacred Crystals. Earth, Wind, Water and Fire, and then vanguish the Fiends at the end of the dungeons, which will “Restore the Crystals to Grace” (a saying you will hear spoken by many town folks), which will in turn effect the world for the better. But of course, it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.

Pirates Battle

A few hours into the game you will probably be thinking that the world map isn’t too large. You will quickly have a bridge build that enables you to cross the river, and you will find a bigger area than the initial one. Eventually you will find a pirate who will give you his boat, from which you can sail in four directions and get off at ports, giving you quick access to more towns. But you’re still confined. And initially it will seem like that’s as large as the game is going to get. But oh would you be mistaken. I was actually surprised by how big the world map is.

Eventually you’re going to come across a canoe. This will allow you to sale across lakes and rivers, directly from foot (but not across the oceans, that’s what the sailboat is for). I was surprised by this cause I didn’t think you’d be going into those rivers. But you definitely will, and it will open up a lot more areas.

Of course, anyone who has played a Final Fantasy game will know that flying ships always play a part in the storyline. I wasn’t sure if this initial FF game would be giving you an airship . . . I didn’t know how it would be pulled off either. But alas, you DO eventually gain an airship, and the graphics in this game and the overworld itself are just as big as any other game. With a full four continents to explore. Which means there are many areas to enter. Thankfully you do have a map that will list all areas you’ve been to and show their locations. To access the map you will need to hold Select and press the B Button.

The initial parts of the game send you on a few fetch quests. And it’s not always immediately obvious to the player where you need to go. My advice is to talk to EVERY person you come across and to actually really listen to what they are saying. If you follow what everyone says, you will have a pretty good indication of where you need to go or what you need to do to move the game along. So keep note of what everyone says, as hardly anyone in the game gives useless information. And besides, the text is generally fun and well written, making it fun to read. There still may be a point or two however where you’ll need to consult a strategy guide, but generally dedicated players will be able to get through it without one (unlike say . . the original Zelda! :P)

Fire Crystal “Maralith” Boss Battle

I also liked all the true fantasy elements that you will find in the game. You will come across an elvish city, a Dwarf Cave, a Giant Cave (though no giant city), mermaids, witches, an underwater dungeon, pirates, dragons, and even a city with a long lost civilization that speaks an unknown. I was actually surprised at how deep some of the game went. For example, you cannot understand the language of the people in the aforementioned ancient city at first. You gotta find a particular item to understand it (suffice it to say, check EVERY treasure chest in the dungeons and every staircase or you this crucial item). I was expecting the first Final Fantasy to be shallower than it actually is, which is cool.

There are some frustrating elements, for example you will encounter some areas where you literally fight every step, and I do wish the game guided you a bit more as to where to go or what to do, but that can be said for a lot of RPGs.

The magic system actually isn’t bad. It’s cool having to choose which magic you want to keep (since you can only hold three per level), although one bad thing is that some magic is a lot more useful than others. And it’s also possible to miss some shops entirely, and therefore not even realize that certain magic exists. Consult the instruction manuel, if you have it, for a full list, or write down the magic you find in each shop and what the spell does, so you can come back to them later if you need it. And don’t be afraid to discard magic for a different spell.

Final Fantasy will suit purists well, as it’s a game that has quite a lot to discover, and one where you’ll need to be very thorough if you are even to make it through the game. Search everywhere and talk to everyone!

The Game Boy Advance version is also improved over other versions (including the original for the NES and the Playstation “Final Fantasy Origins” re-release), although I haven’t played those versions and it won’t matter to you if you are new to the game anyway. If you have played them before, then you will notice the game has better graphics, zero load times, a completely updated translation (complete with some name changes) and a bestiary that you can access in the options menu. Unfortunately the bestiary only lists stats of the monsters and their weaknesses/immunities, but doesn’t have any description of the monster. Maybe Final Fantasy XII’s Bestiary has spoiled me.

But best of all, this new “Dawn of Souls” version of Final Fantasy 1 has four completely new dungeons. Called the “Souls of Chaos”, these complex dungeons have many, many floors as well as bosses from Final Fantasy’s 3, 4, 5 and 6. With the later bosses being extremely tough!

I really, really enjoyed these dungeons (well, outside of the Hellfire Chasm. Man that dungeon is annoying and frustrating!) as they have some really cool dungeon floors that are unlike anything else in the game.

One is a palace in the sky with floor tiles that appear and disappear. You gotta follow along without falling off the edge, if you do the game immediately puts you back at the beginning of the path. Another has you fighting various dragons (that you can see on-screen) while Dark Behemot sits on his throne, not allowing you to pass until you vanguish certain dragons types. Another floor has you in your canoe, with various buildings underwater (and some not). You gotta find the correct house to enter, which will take you to the next floor. These dungeons are highly creative and definitely worth traveling through. The bosses can be tough, but if you are high enough level the regular enemies shouldn’t bother you at all, and of course you’ll level quite a lot making your way through them. Most of these Souls of Chaos dungeons can be accessed as soon as you defeat one of the Four Fiends and relight the Crystal, however it’s recommended that you don’t go into the dungeons un-prepared. Once you enter one of the dungeons you will not be able to exit it, however if you die, then you are taken back out of the dungeon with no penalty. So you are definitely encouraged to try and tackle them. I saved them for last personally.

Players who were weaned on the newer, modern Final Fantasy’s (including Final Fantasy VII and up) will notice quite a lot of difference when playing this older title. First off, there is no ATB gauge (this is pure turn-based) and, as mentioned, no characters (although you can name your character anything you want, you will even notice pre-set names you can choose, some of which are lifted directly from other Final Fantasy’s, like the name Yuna and Lulu, which are characters from Final Fantasy 10). There are also no Summons in the game, no Chocobo’s, no Moggles and no Cid! Yes I know, quite a shock, eh. You will however recognize spells (Fire, Fira, Blizzard, Blizzera, Stop, Slow, etc.), some weapons (Excalibur) and items (Phoenix Down, Hi-Potion) and a few other names of people and places. But largely, a lot of what you will encounter in Final Fantasy 1 will seem new and or different, depending on your level of RPG experience and Final Fantasy knowledge.

I also have very few complains, although one of them is the fact that if a character dies, and you selected to use some magic or an item, it will be “wasted” since it will miss the character. I wish they would’ve simply had it cancel, or at the very least switch to another character. Also, as mentioned, the game could have used a bit more guidence, especially since this will be the first time many gamers tackled the original game. I wish you highlight spots on the map when scrolled, and see a pop-up of it’s name. I also wish the game gave you a list of what Magic is available, since it’s entirely possible to miss Magic that will be crucial to your success later on. Thankfully Dispel helps. There is also sometimes a bit of annoyance with people in towns, who will sometimes block your way. Although the game is pretty good at not trapping you.


Graphically FF1 actually . . . looks pretty good. You’d never guess it was originally an NES game, that’s for sure. It looks more like a Super Nintendo one. There are even some pretty cool effects for some of your later magic spells (and spells used on you by bosses). Probably the biggest drawback though graphically is the fact that all the enemies in the game are still pictures, with no animation. But their moves are animated. You will also notice that your characters weapons will change in battle depending on what you have equipped, which has been a hallmark of the series ever since this first installment. And luckily your characters do have animations for their attacks. Another cool touch is the fact that you can change the color of the text box in the options menu. Even the transition into a battle is cool looking.

The music in the game is excellent. I love the palace them, the opening music, and some others. There’s not a lot of it, but what is here is good and there is a good enough variety that you won’t get sick of it. I’m surprised at the battle theme too, I thought it’d be a lot simpler than it is, although I don’t particularly care for it.

I’ve so far spent nearly 50 hours on Final Fantasy 1, and my characters will be level 99 by the time I finish the last Souls of Chaos dungeon (right now they are at levels 96 and 97). It will likely take a player who doesn’t play RPGs slowly about 20 hours or so. But as you can see you could easily spend a lot more than that if you want to complete the game. And once you do, your bestiary is saved and is carried over (so you can continue filling it in). And of course, you can play through the game again with a different set of character types for a completely different experience and challenge.

Final Fantasy 1 is an oldie, but a goodie. Even in this day and age, it still is fun to play and it’s very cool to experience the roots of such a beloved series. I definitely recommend Final Fantasy 1 & II: Dawn of Souls to anyone who has not experienced the first game in the series. But even if you have, you could do no wrong in adding these two classics to your modern-day collection.

An old-school classic that is still fun after all these years, and it holds up remarkably well. On top of that, there is much replay value thanks to the tough new dungeons. However stay far away if you don’t like turn-based battles.

Graphics – 8.5
You’d never know this was originally an NES game. Graphics are as good as you can expect from something like this.

Sounds & Music – 9.0
Very, very good indeed. The music never seems to get old. There could be more tunes, but what’s here is extremely well done.

Voices: Music From Final Fantasy. “Prelude” Theme.

Ingenuity – 7.0
Hey it’s the first Final Fantasy, what do you expect? I did find the Magic System to be quite unique though.

Replay Value – 8.5
It’s an RPG . . . with lots of treasure chests, lots of rooms, and lots of enemies to find and fight. Having a bestiary is a cool incentive to keep battling enemies, and finding everything in the game is quite a feat. As is defeating all the Fiends in the added Souls of Chaos dungeons, which restrict how many bosses you can defeat on each pass through the dungeon, meaning you’ll have to go through each dungeon more than one time. Only the most dedicated players will beat all four Souls of Chaos dungeons!