FINAL FANTASY : DAWN OF SOULS / Squaresoft / GBA
Dawn of Souls is a remake package of the first two Final Fantasy games for the NES. These remakes appeared previously on the Playstation (along with CGI cinema scenes, which are obviously not included in the GBA version), but the GBA versions make some small tweaks to the gameplay and add bonus dungeons to FF1 and a sort of New Game+ mode to FF2.
Final Fantasy 1, for some odd reason, does not let you name your characters, forcing you to pick from a list instead. You get a new dramatic animated intro, a smoother interface resembling that of Final Fantasy 4, and much improved music (surprisingly, this is one of the best sounding games on the GBA ... the sound samples used are really good). Dialogue and story elements have also been greatly expanded. You still can't defend in battle, but it chugs along at a much zippier clip than the original game did, and you seem to whiff a whole lot less than you did previously (that was probably the one point that made FF1 on the NES unplayable for me -- the slow combat and the constant missed attacks). Characters also auto-retarget another monster now if the one that they were set to attack dies, and the magic system has been retooled to be more like the other FF games (you have an MP pool for all spells instead of the Dungeons and Dragons style "X casts per level" system previously used).
Just about all of the game's art has been revamped, again in a style similar to that of Final Fantasy 4 (you'll even notice certain NPC sprites lifted directly from that game). It seems like you level a whole lot quicker now as well, although that may just be because the combat moves so much more quickly. Finally, there are now "Soul Shrines" that open up when you defeat each of the elemental bosses, bonus dungeons that contain random guest appearances from popular bosses of the various 16-bit Final Fantasy games.
This renovation of Final Fantasy 1 is a textbook example of how to properly unfuck a dated old game that had a lot of problems, and make it playable and palatable to modern gamers. It's still pretty simplistic and outstripped by modern RPGs, but it is a whole lot more appealing than the NES version was. It's really what a remake should ideally be. Final Fantasy 2 was given pretty much the same treatment, however the fundamental underlying game engine was so tedious and annoying that even with numerous enhancements it still winds up being a bore and a chore to play.
For those who are not familiar with it, I like to refer to FF2 as "the ultimate RPG for cutters" as the screwed-up experience system basically requires you to go out and beat yourselves up in battle to gain more maximum HP. The requirements for level-ups have been toned down somewhat in this version, but it's still obscure and unclear as to how much more experience you need to gain a level. This "learn by doing" system has been used to good effect in many other games such as the Quest For Glory series, but the way they implement it in this one just doesn't work out right. Certain stats like magic defense are hard to increase because monsters rarely use it against you ... so you pretty much have to bombard each other with spells to get it to go anywhere. Stats like evade and shield are pretty random as well and even self-abuse doesn't really help in raising those.
The game does have the same revamped graphics and very nice upgraded music that FF1 does, as well as a bonus mode that apparently changes the story quite a bit for a second playthrough though (don't ask me though, there's no way I'm actually sitting through this whole game). Unfortunately there's really no amount of upgrades that can save what was a really fundamentally flawed RPG to begin with, and it has possibly the most boring story and characters out of the whole Final Fantasy series.
So FF2 pretty much ends up just being dead weight, but for those who like really old-school console RPGs and can find this at a good price, it might be worthwhile just for the very nicely executed upgrade of the first Final Fantasy game.
FF1 Gameplay Video
FF2 Gameplay Video