This is a revamped version of the original Final Fantasy for the GBA (bundled with FFII)and, as such, has some significant changes from the original game. For a start, everything looks much more pleasing to the eye. The graphics are quaint, but agreeable. Sprites have been redesigned and recoloured, the most blatant changes probably being the green outfit of the Ninja and the Black Wizard getting a hat (and therefore keeping his black face and yellow eyes, instead of the Banana of Doom). The battles have backgrounds, the menus, the map, everything has been pimped up. Combat mechanics have also received an upgrade, as the team can now land a preemptive strike on enemies, getting a full turn of combat before them. Many things have been renamed, including enemies (Warmech becomes the somewhat bland Death Machine), jobs (Black Belt becomes the more traditional Monk) and spells (XXXX becomes the much less exciting Kill). Cid has been retroactively introduced, as it is now mentioned that a Lufenian bearing that name constructed the airship. A bestiary’s also been added, but I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of that is, other than eventually checking for rare items that enemies can drop. And yes, enemies can now drop items. Prices have been cut, and Phoenix Downs and Ethers finally make an appearance, as well as a fourth Ribbon.
Other noteworthy additions include short cinematics at key moments, such as an underwater view of the Sunken Shrine, or a shot of the airship rising from the desert sands. There’s also a jukebox, which you unlock by clearing both FFI and FFII. You can play the music from both games on a little Winamp-type screen, which serves to showcase the fact that they have brushed up the sound and made the tracks actually enjoyable. And for all players who can’t be bothered with thinking up names for the characters from scratch, there’s now an option for your game to automatically name them with names from later FFs. While it’s a commendable effort for the lazy, I immediately reverted to my all-Swedish cast with glee. Let the other games keep their character names in context.
The spell charge system has been done away with (oh joy!) and replaced with the more traditional, but also much more functional MP. The ‘hit-non-existent-target’ problem has been fixed. The jobs have been rebalanced: the Monk no longer suffers a magic defence penalty when upgrading to Master, and the Thief can now hold his own a lot better in combat, with the Ninja being actually able to credibly rival the Knight.
The game is noticeably easier, perhaps in part due to an increased random encounter rate. I’ve never actually spent any significant time levelling, which is a noteworthy achievement for a JRPG. The only short bout I had to undergo was before going to Elfland, on the peninsula near Pravoka, and that was mostly to get money for spells. Other than that, you really don’t need to worry about levels, even if you’re planning to face Death Machine, since your team will almost certainly be adequately prepared by the time they get to it. This is a major improvement.
Four new optional dungeons containing extra loot and extra bosses have been added. Each unlocks after the team defeats the corresponding elemental fiend: the Earthgift Shrine, the Hellfire Chasm, the Lifespring Grotto and the Whisperwind Cove. These bring back some of the challenge that has been taken away from the main game and add a hefty chunk of time to the game clock. They do have some annoying aspects, though. First of all, they are very long: the Earthgift Shrine, supposedly the shortest one, has five floors, but four bosses that you have to defeat one by one, so you could say it’s a 20-floor dungeon. The Whisperwind Cove, the longest one, has 40 floors, but thankfully, you only need to go down there once. This very quickly becomes a pain, especially since the floors are randomised. Another drawback lies in the extra bosses, which have been recycled from FFIII, IV, V and VI. While this is obviously targeted at people who have played the later games and want to experience a little pang of nostalgia, it doesn’t really bode well for the developers’ imagination. Especially since some of these bosses (like the Phantom Train) make no sense in the FFI storyline.
If you visit the dungeons after defeating Tiamat and Death Machine, they shouldn’t give you much trouble. Omega and Shinryu from the Lifespring Grotto, however…are quite another matter. Especially Omega. Man, did I suffer through that one. I actually found it easier to kill off my Ninja and fight with three characters, since he wasn’t doing any proper damage, and reviving him jeopardised the rest of the party.
Overall, though, the revamping was a success. It certainly makes the game more playable and more enjoyable than the original. So if you’re not into gaming archaeology and would like to experience a good oldie without the clunkiness of an old console, this is for you.