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.