The 12 games of Christmas #6: Final Fantasy Dawn of Souls

I don’t have any particular affection for the Dawn of Souls remake of Final Fantasy. To the game’s credit, the revamped visuals look a heck of a lot better than the terrible spriting inflicted on the PSP remake and everything that’s followed — charming rather than cheap and amateurish. But the underlying game was, to be frank, considerably compromised in the course of transferring it over to Game Boy Advance.

Unlike in the PlayStation Origins remake, Square (or rather, TOSE) radically rebalanced the difficulty for Dawn of Souls. I guess the idea was that Game Boy games are for baaaaabies so they needed to make Final Fantasy playable for baaaaabies… and didn’t bother to include the option to experience the original balancing. It’s a tragic missed opportunity. The original Final Fantasy suffered from a ton of technical errors and glitches, and if TOSE had included an amended but faithful version of the NES original it would have amounted to the definitive version of the game. Unfortunately, they defanged it. Spell levels and charges were replaced by a simple mana pool. Encounters were made easier from top to bottom, and experience and progression happened at a much faster clip. I mean, I beat Warmech/Death Machine without breaking a sweat. That just ain’t right.


Nevertheless, I snagged a copy of Dawn of Souls shortly before Christmas 2004, the year I visited family in Texas. Said family spanned from Lubbock to Dallas, and we drove there and back again — roughly a six-hour drive each direction. That’s a lot of car time. A lot of time to sink into a portable game, especially in the olden days of Game Boy Advance SP and seemingly endless battery life.

Whenever I think of Dawn of Souls, I think of the monotony of the West Texas landscape speeding past. It represents both the setting in which I experienced the game as well as the essence of the game itself. Dawn of Souls derived a lot of its design from the WonderSwan remakes of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, but it was the first time TOSE decided to try their own hand at adding extended content to a classic Square RPG.


Sadly, they’re not very good at it. While their add-ons always include a good feature or two — I loved being able to tackle Final Fantasy IV Advance‘s final dungeon with a free choice of party members, and the new Jobs in Final Fantasy V Advance were ridiculously weird — but they are such a slog. Repetitive, endless dungeons full of palette-swapped enemies and dumb sidequests that require backtracking. I spent most of my cross-Texas drive time mucking about in FF bonus dungeons, doing meaningless tasks for dwarves and mermaids that left me so hilariously overpowered for the main game it didn’t so much defang the difficult as punch it repeatedly in the mouth until all its teeth fell out.

Still, I can’t help but feel a little fondness for Dawn of Souls. The idea of aimlessly extending the play time of an RPG classic with drudgery was still fairly novel at that point rather than basically the industry standard for game design, so it was enjoyable in a mindless sort of way. Four years later, when they pulled the same crap on poor Chrono Trigger, though, I found myself much less tolerant of their nonsense.


That said, I really miss those TOSE remakes. I wish they’d kept doing them — sure, the new material in Chrono Trigger was garbage, but the remake itself was basically reference quality on a technical level. I could sure go for something like that for, say, SaGa Frontier and Chrono Cross on 3DS.

5 thoughts on “The 12 games of Christmas #6: Final Fantasy Dawn of Souls

  1. ” To the game’s credit, the revamped visuals look a heck of a lot better than the terrible spriting inflicted on the PSP remake and everything that’s followed — charming rather than cheap and amateurish.”

    I wouldn’t really call the spriting in the PSP remakes of I and II (and IV to an extent) cheap and amateurish. Weird, sure, but the visuals are very crisp, detailed, and consistent compared to the liquid poo PCs and poorly Frankensteined together art styles present in the mobile remakes of Dimensions, V, and VI. It’s just that more detailed visuals draw more attention to the animation, or lack of.

    Anyway, while Dawn of Souls isn’t a game I’d play if I was looking for a challenge, it’s decent enough if you just wanna kill some time. They’re not great, but the dungeon scenarios with random nonsense have a very SaGa/Final Fantasy Legend-ish vibe to ’em.

  2. I totally agree regarding the sprites, MetManMas. It’s a little TOO crisp, but it’s nothing like those horrendous looking mobile ports. The real crime of the PSP version was that I and II were sold separately.

  3. The Dawn of Souls version of FF1 was my first FF game. I enjoyed it quite a bit — not enough to replay it, or even hold on to it — but it was a palatable version of a formative game. I’d love Phantasy Star to receive this kind of treatment, because it’s probably the more interesting game of the two ’87 releases, but it’s just a hellish grind by today’s standards.

    I’m with MetManMas on the PSP game’s graphics — those sprites are neither cheap nor amateurish. Instead of blowing up a relatively low resolution sprite (like you would if you were trying to make a quick buck), they created high-res sprites suited to the PSP’s screen. A battle sprite in Dawn of Souls is about 24×24, while the same sprite in FFIV The Complete Collection is 46×46, and would’ve taken a lot longer to draw. Then there are the highly-detailed, screen-filling monster sprites, which are anything but amateur. The thing I most appreciate is that they’re still pixel art. Sure, you can see where an artists may have done a second pass on lighting/shadow, but those sprites are drawn by hand. Trust me, you can’t paint something so small and have it look that sharp, even at 200×200.

    I think where the problem lies (for some people) is the smoothness — the sprites have so many colours (gradients of 4 or 5 shades) that they start to lose the traditional 16-bit look that’s derived from a more limited palette. I tend to agree that the character sprites don’t look fantastic, but the monsters looks sensational so it balances out for me.

    If you want to see the difference between pixel art sprites and Photoshop-painted nightmares, look at a screen of FFIV PSP, then FF Dimensions.

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