|By Zach Patterson||Friday, 9 Mar 2007|
Out of the numbered Final Fantasy games, this is the only one that never was translated to english for release in America. There of course was a Final Fantasy III in America, but that was the Japanese Final Fantasy VI. That’s it for the obligatory brief Final Fantasy numbers lesson today. Final Fantasy III was the last of the Famicom series of Final Fantasy games, and also presents the most ambitious game of the three 8-bit games in the series.
Enhancements over the first two games are very obvious in this DS incarnation, perhaps the easiest “gee whiz!” factor are the new 3D rendered graphics. The graphics are similar (but less detailed) to the Playstation Final Fantasy games, and feature character designs by Final Fantasy Tactics artist Akihiko Yoshida. The look actually works very well, and while not overly detailed, leaves less of the story to the imagination and allows you to get a better feel for the game almost instantly. Additionally, there is now a job system here that first made its debut in the series. Though Final Fantasy allowed you to change your character’s class at the beginning of the game, there was nothing like the job system in Final Fantasy III where you could freely change jobs. Characters also now have specialized attacks that correspond to their jobs, and can specialize in dozens of skills (just not at the same time). Additionally, the game world is much, much larger than the previous games, and even has multiple levels (floating continent, the second overworld, underwater). This in turns leads to a much longer game as well, clocking in around 10 hours longer than the Final Fantasy II. Finally, be prepared to be frustrated, because this game is really difficult. There will be several times when you need to change party classes or do some mindless leveling to continue.
Perhaps the best (and worst, depending on how you look at it) feature of this new edition of Final Fantasy III is that all I described above is exactly the same as the Famicom version, aside from the graphics. The game is just as hard, the cities are largely the same, and the storyline has not really changed. Square-Enix really did a good job of keeping this true to the original game while making some updates for today’s gamers. Changes are of course added, and they are for the most part very welcome. Instead of 4 nameless, story-less characters, 4 new characters have replaced them with back stories and emotions and personalities. While this seems like it could strongly alter the game, it in fact only really comes up often in the beginning of the game and individual characters do not really take the main role of the game. Instead, the focus is still on your team being the Warriors of Light and restoring balance to the world via crystals, etc…you know the drill for the early games. The story is probably a bit tighter than the second game, but it’s still a little sparse at times, and boils down to being a “go here, kill this guy, take this thing, go to next town.” Not surprising really, but after beating the first two games you may be a little disappointed. On the other hand, the main non-playable characters and enemies are much more detailed, storywise, and provide a good bulk of the interest in the game. Characters like Hein, Unei, Doga, Desch, Xande, Cid, and Goldor all are great personalities that add to the world of Final Fantasy III and keep it from being too much like the previous two games.
The music in the game has been kept very faithful to the original game, but has been reorchestrated to use the power of the DS. The result is a very classical, orchestral score that fits the game well. If there is one complaint I could say about the music is that the source material had a lot of pretty forgettable tunes. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good songs, like Eternal Wind and the Final Battle music is one of my favorite video game songs, but there is a fair share of generic, middling themes mixed in here. There are times though, especially watching the opening cinema (which to this day still is captivating and amazing to me) where the music is perfect and you can’t imagine hearing anything else.
The battle system basics haven’t changed much at all from I and II. It’s still a slow paced, turn-based combat affair that lacks a certain dynamic that later games provided. In its defense, it’s more sophisticated than the first two games, and there are a lot more options with classes added on what you can do in on particular turn. The classes, with the sheer number of options, also provides a great amount of depth when considering going into a boss fight. Will you need a dragoon to avoid a deadly one hit kill attack? Will you need a black mage for a lightning-weak boss? This is much needed in a battle system like this. The downside is just that we have had the benefit of more than 15 years of improvements on class based systems in Final Fantasy and this seems downright primitive at some points. It seems unfair that I had a level 91 Warrior at the end, but that if I changed classes, there was no benefit to all that leveling and I would essentially have to start over again with a new class. In short, it is a very basic system and there is not a huge level of complication to it. Some may appreciate it, and to a certain extent I like it very easy, but others may also find it a bit too rudimentary.
The biggest problem I have with the battle system has nothing to do with the battle system at all, actually. It has to do with the graphics engine and the flow of the game. Honestly, with the amount of random battles in the game (there is a lot), the transition between character attacks and from battle screen to field map is far too slow. I definitely enjoy how the game looks now and the attempt to make battles more dramatic with dynamic camera angles and effects, but when you are trying to run through a dungeon (perhaps after being killed by the end boss for the fourth or fifth time and having to start over at the beginning of the dungeon) and have to go through a fight that would have taken less than half the time in 2D form, you begin to get a little annoyed. Add this to the victory part of the battle that gingerly takes its time announcing who has leveled up and the allowing each individual character to celebrate, and it begins to be a hassle in long, heavy battle dungeons. Also, with more than 3 enemies on the screen at once, you definitely see some lag in performance in the game. Some attacks slow to a crawl and occasionally your character will get frozen in a stance for no particular reason. While most everyone adjusts to the pace of the game, you cannot help but feel that the game could have definitely been faster.
This problem is compounded by the high difficulty of the game. The bosses in this game will almost always take you by surprise and mercilessly kill your party unless you are well prepared and have been leveling up beforehand. Bosses will often offset a moderate attack by being able to attack multiple times in one round and have the ability to attack your entire party. You learn early on that a balanced team is absolutely crucial to surviving. The difficulty of the game could have definitely been eased up a bit with the inclusion of save points either before boss battles or midway through dungeons, but this is not the case. There were no save points in dungeons in the original game, and rather than sacrifice difficulty like in Dawn of Souls (where you could save anywhere), you can only save on the world map. In some areas, this isnt really a problem. But when you get to the final dungeon, which took me over 3 hours of leveling, wandering, and no saving, well, you can imagine what would happen if you suddenly lost a battle to a certain overpowered final boss. This is just a case where the game is being made unnecessarily difficult due to its structure, which is much more unsatisfying than losing because you simply were unprepared or werent using the correct class, and then returning to close save point and trying again. The game also has a bad habit of stringing you along with a lack of items, which also makes the game unnecessarily difficult at times. Sometimes, especially early, you just do not have Phoenix Downs or Elixirs to restore MP. I would rather lose knowing i did everything in my power rather than losing because there was no way possible i could revive two of my party members.
One minor note about the wifi in this game: it’s terrible. Like, really bad. The system is set up to be like an email program for you to talk to your friends who have FFIII as well, but its hard as hell to get mail, it’s not very user friendly, and if for some reason your message doesn’t send, it’s completely scrapped and you have to rewrite it. Not fun and not well made. Worse yet, you need to use it if you want to unlock certain things. Perhaps a good idea in theory, but it definitely needed more refinement. Luckily, you can completely ignore it and not miss a thing.
It’s hard when considering a final score for this game, because this is a terrific bit of service to a classic Famicom game that was cutting edge at the time. It’s an important game for several reasons to the franchise, and this 3D remake is a loving tribute to that and really shows you the allure of what the early games were all about. At the same time, it’s limited by its source material and the fact that so many games after it have improved upon what was innovative in this game in 1990. Still, the game is 30 hours of good, simple, solid role-playing action with a decent story and should at least be considered by anyone who has a DS looking for a quality RPG.