Final Fantasy III

December 6, 2006

I haven’t played a “proper” [i]Final Fantasy[/i] title in over ten years, since [i]Final Fantasy III[/i] (or VI, as we now know) on the SNES in 1994. I’ve hit [i]Crystal Chronicles[/i] on the GameCube and [i]Final Fantasy Tactics Advance[/i] on the GBA, even skirting other Square(-Enix) properties like [i]Chrono Cross[/i], but never a [i]Final Fantasy[/i] that wasn’t [i]I[/i], [i]IV[/i], or [i]VI[/i]. I’ve even somehow managed to avoid both the PS1 and GBA remakes of [i]FFII[/i] and [i]V[/i]. And, truthfully, I had no intention of picking up (the “real”) [i]FFIII[/i] on the DS…

…until I didn’t get a Wii on launch day. I bought [i]FFIII[/i] more or less as a consolation prize to myself — something (anything!) to distract me from not being able to play my copy of [i]Twilight Princess[/i], which was pre-ordered over a year ago and in my possession despite not having a system for it.

On the one hand, I’d say that I really missed this franchise. On the other hand, this game is not representative of what the series has become in recent years, as it is officially the last 8-bit title in the franchise, so what I’ve missed isn’t exactly what I’ve been missing, so to speak. But that’s a flamewar debate for another time.

In [i]Final Fantasy III[/i] for the DS, Square(-Enix) releases the last “Japanese” [i]FF[/i] title that had never made it to Western shores previously; their marketing campaign/sub-title for it is simply and appropriately “A Tale Untold.” Yes, the graphics have been substantially upgraded from the old sprites into the world of polygons, there are optional touch screen controls and a limited Wi-Fi/wireless functionality, and a few aspects of the original game have apparently been tweaked here and there (including more character development, from what I understand), but by and large, this is simply the prettiest “8-bit” game ever released. If your memories of that era’s games aren’t obscured by a fuzzy cloud of nostalgia, then you know that means one thing: this game doesn’t have a good deal of the features that we’ve come to take for granted in recent years.

Features like [b]save points[/b], for starters. In [i]FFIII[/i], you save on the World Map or not at all. Square-Enix has added a portable-friendly “quicksave” option when not in combat, but that’s not the same thing, and we all know it. If you fall to a boss at the end of a dungeon in [i]FFIII[/i], be prepared to make [i]the entire dive[/i] all over again. I’ll come back to that point later (and it will not be a happy memory when I do), but there are other “missing” features as well, like the now-traditional hand-holding walkthrough of the game’s mechanics; [i]FFIII[/i] [b]literally[/b] drops you into the story right at the very beginning without any explanation and expects you to know what to do, presumably from having at least skimmed through the manual (that’s why those things are printed, after all). Finally, there are no Phoenix Downs to be purchased anywhere in this game; you either find them all in chests or steal them from monsters, so use them wisely. Once you have access to Level 5 White Magic (and find the right spell shop), you can buy the Raise spell, but even then you’ll be operating under the old D&D-style “spells per level” MP system rather than the global pool of MP that you may be used to (although thankfully without the 9 spell/level cap that I remember from [i]FFI[/i]). There are other hallmarks of 8-bit RPG goodness/nightmares in the game as well, but those are the big three.

Outside of the hype of being “the last [i]FF[/i] to be released in the West,” the main selling point of [i]FFIII[/i] is its job system, which is the origin of the system of the same name (although obviously improved in functionality) in [i]FFV[/i] and other similar systems thereafter. There are twenty-three jobs available to you once you near completion of the game (plus I believe a twenty-fourth that can be unlocked). You can switch between them more or less at will or as needed, with a slight “adjustment” period that varies depending on the differences (and probably levels) of your current and new jobs, during which your stats and performance take a slight hit. Each job has its own strengths and weaknesses as well as restrictions on armor and weapons (and type[s]/levels of magic), plus a special command (or, rarely, two) and occasionally an automatic extra ability (like a Thief at the front of your party being able to pick locked doors or a Knight defending a near-death teammate like Cecil in [i]FFIV[/i]).

As mentioned, this remake for the DS features much-improved graphics on par with the original PlayStation or N64, including a pre-rendered opening montage when you start up the game that could have come straight from the latest PS2 titles. The music has also been updated, with [i]FF[/i] master composer Nobuo Uematsu taking his own score from NES-quality to nearly CD-quality (and a joy with headphones). Other concessions to the new format include the available stylus control (which is complete, but not documented as well as it probably should have been, especially where selecting multiple targets is concerned), scant use of the upper screen (mostly for a full map when on the World Map and displaying the bottom screen’s info while in sub-menus– although occasionally disembodied voices will address you from “up there,” which is cute), and a wireless/Wi-Fi e-mail system that is both fairly blatantly tacked on as almost an afterthought (the “space” character is on [b]a separate page[/b] from the alphabet characters, making typing even a simple sentence a royal pain) and unfortunately a [b]requirement[/b] if you want to unlock everything like a good obsessive fanboy (which I clearly am not, so screw that; besides, I finally got my Wii the day after I completed this game, so I have other things to do right now).

And yet for all the work that went into prettying the game up for its new console and concessions to modern RPG design like character development that was added to this title, one would think that Square-Enix might have perhaps corrected one or two other oversights (“mistakes”) that may be lurking in the code; the remake(s) of [i]FFI[/i],for instance, corrected the annoying “ineffective” attacks made against enemies that had been killed prior to that character’s actions, updating them to re-targeting a new enemy at random like every game since then. They added the ability for “guest” party members to occasionally (and randomly) help out in battle, so clearly they weren’t afraid to tweak the actual gameplay. So why is it, then, that there is (presumably) still a “point of no return” in the endgame that forces you to climb the final tower, sit through multiple (obviously unskippable) cut scenes of varying lengths, and pass… I’m searching for a value that wouldn’t be considered a spoiler… let’s go with “several” boss fights more or less in a row? If you fall [i]at any time, for any reason[/i] after this “point of no return”, you have to go through [b]all of that[/b] all over again, starting at the bottom of the tower (assuming that’s where you actually saved it last). There is [i]absolutely no chance[/i] for you to save your game once you reach that point! Even the original NES version of [i]FFI[/i] allowed you to cast “Exit” right up until the moment you started your encounter with the final boss, saving the fact that you’ve opened X chests, gained Y levels, and beaten Z bosses along the way — I know, because I used to do so after getting the Masamune every time. That kind of endgame marathon would (should?) have been inexcusable sixteen years ago and it’s doubly so today, remake or not. Making this potentially even more irritating is that your party might be perfectly capable of handling each and every task on that list — except defeating the final boss. This in turn causes you to just assume your failure was “bad luck” (after all, you took care of those other guys easily enough, right?) and not because you’re under-powered and need to grind some more, which is most likely the real case. My party was Level 50 (52-3 by the time they reached the final boss) and simply could not get the job done; after the third failure, I finally accepted that they simply weren’t strong enough and ground them up to level 60… at which point I believe they were [i]just barely[/i] strong enough (there was one point where the boss’s attacks had left two of my characters with <200HP; fortunately, I had a massive Curaja spell waiting to go off and heal everyone, but it was a close call; if a character actually falls in that fight, you're pretty much screwed in my experience). That outright [i]spike[/i] in enemy power level combined with the lack of the chance to save for a good [i]hour[/i] before you first discover it (never mind the elapsed time before you [i]accept[/i] it) creates an incredible amount of frustration that could have been avoided very easily but for some reason was not. Fortunately, the game itself is more than good enough to overlook what is effectively "required grinding" towards the end. This is [i]Final Fantasy[/i] as I remember it, before the days of pre-rendered amnesiacs with spiky hair and cut scenes that bore little resemblance to actual game play (not that those are necessarily bad things; to each his/her own). If you have fond memories of those early [i]FF[/i] titles as well, then [i]Final Fantasy III[/i] needs to be part of your collection -- although something tells me that it was before you even started reading this.

Score: 5/5

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