This is FFI’s most recent iteration, released for the PSP on the occasion of – incredible, but true – the 20th anniversary of its original release. And the one question that springs to mind is: was it really necessary? My answer is a resounding ‘no’. Sure, the graphics have been revamped some more, and when you compare a screenshot from this version and the original game, you realise the full extent of the evolution between the two *insert obligatory praise for modern technology*. Some locations look truly lovely now, like Elfland, for example. But barring the eye candy, this remake is virtually identical to the GBA version, even though it gets a new logo, some minor menu upgrades and reverts the ninja’s outfit from green back to red (make up your mind!). Even the Soul of Chaos dungeons have been kept as-was, with the exception that the ‘imported’ bosses now keep their theme music from their original game. A truly groundbreaking addition, as I’m sure you’ll concur *rolls eyes*. The introductory cinematic from the Origins version has also been thrown in, which, while being fairly neat, is nowhere near justification enough for another remake. If only because, while rather pleasant, this is simply not a good enough game to fork in the extra effort.
The only new addition is yet another optional dungeon called the Labyrinth of Time, at the end of which, you guessed it, lurks yet another superboss, by the name of Chronodia. It’s located at the back of the Chaos Shrine and becomes accessible once the party defeats all four elemental fiends, by following a mysterious hooded figure. But if you thought the Soul of Chaos dungeons, with their randomised floors and plethora of bosses, were annoying, you’ve got another one coming. First of all, it’s strongly recommended to clear those dungeons at least once first. Secondly, expect a painful, gruelling experience.
There’s a total of 30 floors, subdivided unevenly into six types. Each floor features a timed puzzle. The type of floor the party encounters depends on how they did on the previous puzzle, but, within a given type, the floor selection is random. And there are no save points. In order to open the exit to the next floor, the party needs to solve the puzzle on their current floor, but, depending on whether they solve it within the time limit or not, they’ll open a blue seal or a red one. This is what determines the type of floor they’ll encounter next. The shortest possible run is seven floors (e.g. if you fail or solve every puzzle you encounter). The longest run I’ve personally encountered was 10.
Before accessing each floor, the party needs to sacrifice some of their abilities to gain more time. For example, sacrificing the Item command means that the party won’t be able to use any items while on the floor in question. The more handicapping the sacrifice, the more time gained, quite obviously. If using a walkthrough, the abilities you’re allowed to sacrifice allow you to determine which floor comes next. Once the party enters a floor, they need to find the puzzle, trigger it and complete it, then find the exit to the next floor. There are random encounters on the way to the puzzle and on the way to the exit, but not during the puzzle (with one exception). However, should the party run out of time, a miasma will fill the room, and there will not only be random encounters (including during the puzzle), but the party’s HP and MP will be gradually drained as well.
Every once in a while (usually after a streak of red seals, but not always), the party will be able to access the Inner Sanctum: a floor with no encounters and no puzzles that allows them to heal up and/or leave the Labyrinth (which cancels the current run), if they so desire. Alternatively, the hooded figure from the beginning of the Labyrinth may appear after the party accesses a floor and grant them goodies: an item, more time, removing all random encounters from the floor in question (even if the miasma appears) or allowing the party to leave the Labyrinth. I’ve only ever had it offer me more time, so I’m guessing the other options are extremely rare.
The puzzles run the gamut from laughably easy to painfully awkward. I’ve only encountered 28 out of the 30 possible ones, but out of those, one was so confusing that I couldn’t figure it out and had to reset my run, because I needed a blue seal from it. The rest is doable, albeit sometimes annoying. Although you definitely need to manage your time well. Which is the whole point of the exercise, I suppose, as the name of the dungeon implies.
Chronodia itself resembles a science experiment gone horribly wrong. In its most basic incarnation, it looks like a pale blue sphere with a red pattern and some sort of succubus attached to it. If you noticed the words “basic incarnation”, then you may already suspect the bad news: there are eight different versions of Chronodia, each stronger than the previous one and with a varying number of ‘attachments’ to tell them apart. It can have one or two of the four Fiends attached, or all of them plus Chaos (the final version). Each form gives a different piece of equipment as a reward, and which one the party encounters depends on how many red and blue seals they have unlocked. Seven red seals lead to the weakest version, seven blue ones to the strongest. All the other combinations have to be figured out. Or helpfully looked up in a walkthrough. I’ll say this much though: with the right preparation, Chronodia isn’t difficult and can be beaten with minimal hassle at level 60+. Which is probably a good thing, considering how much of a pain the Labyrinth itself is.
The Labyrinth can be cleared and Chronodia fought as many times as you like (or can bear), and, once you’ve cleared a puzzle with a blue seal, it becomes available for replay under the Time Chamber heading on the title screen of the game. The difference is that every puzzle will have a 10 minute time limit and no abilities will have to be sacrificed. You don’t get anything out of replaying these puzzles, though, so there’s really no point in trying to unlock them all apart from completionism or (morbid) curiosity.
To sum things up, all I can say is ‘why?’ This is probably one of the most tedious gaming experiences I’ve ever had, and I simply can’t fathom why anybody would think this fun. Sure, challenge is nice from time to time, but this is not challenge, it’s punishment. I’m guessing the developers were trying very hard to offer something original, considering the game’s been milked for cash remade several times now, and they simply went overboard. Well, here’s a piece of advice: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! As far as I’m concerned, I was perfectly fine with the GBA remake being the definitive version of the game. And the fact that most of it has been simply copied over into this one only serves to confirm that. So if you already have Dawn of Souls, do yourself a favour: pass this up. You won’t be missing out on anything good. On the other hand, if you’ve never played FFI before, then this will do the job perfectly adequately. Just don’t come crying if the Labyrinth of Time kicks your butt.