"Return to a time when Final Fantasy was true to its name. Relive the struggle between light and dark. Become one with the crystals…"

Let us go back in time…
A time when magic was commonplace, monsters were everywhere, airships flew in the skies, and the four main elements were represented by crystals that contained their power.
Alright, so it never really happened. However, this was the premise of most Final Fantasy games before technology became the primary theme later on (Final Fantasy 6 and onward, with a few exceptions).

This game is a remake of Final Fantasy 3, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) back in 1990. As everyone should know by now, this is the first time that Final Fantasy 3 has ever been released outside of Japan.

Unfortunately, it is a great shame that this game never graced our shores. It was one of the more innovative games Square (now Square-Enix) ever released on the NES. Although the premise was a bit bland, seeing how you are yet again the Warriors of Light (a term established in the first game of the series), it seemed to take the first game's style and develop it into a vastly different and more versatile game. The addition of the Job system, various airships, sub characters that followed around in the game, and of job-specific abilities was what made Final Fantasy 3 vastly different from the two prior games.

Enter present day.
Final Fantasy 3 is finally (pun intended) released on the Nintendo DS. While some might argue that the game is too late in appearing outside of Japan, it is only to be expected, especially when more recent games --series-wise-- with a similar premise have been released many times before it. Final Fantasy 5 borrows heavily from this title.

Now, it is to be wondered, should this game have even been considered for a global release so late into the series' life? It should not be taken as such. This game was the direct predecessor to functions and gameplay styles present in the subsequent Final Fantasy games that followed it. However, this game holds it's own in the series pantheon, with a storyline that compelled you to find out what was waiting within the next dungeon.

The game.
This game boasts many new features and revamps over the original.

Graphics
The most noticeable change is the graphics: they are now 3D. While most would consider this to be an affront to the original, the game is surprisingly accurate in its transition from 2D to 3D. The dungeon layouts, the world maps, the town layouts, and even the characters that were present in the original are all quite well transformed. They retain most of the feel they had in the NES version.

One thing that should be noted is the lack of accuracy of the hidden areas and treasures in the game. While they are easy to spot sometimes, the direct change from 2D to 3D left some areas very hard to find if you never played the original.

As for the rest of the graphics, one must consider the system that the game was developed on. The large amounts of imprecise 3D elements are basically the most that the DS could probably be able to dish out at one given time, especially when some of the more detailed models are in play, namely bosses combined with the magic they use. The 3D aspects of the game are by far the most advanced looking seen on this portable yet.

However, the 2D looks are another story. Due to the addition of a Zoom function, the entire game suffers from one of the most annoying problems that plague any game that supports it: massive pixilation of any 2D elements. Since most static objects on maps and in towns and dungeons are detailed 2D images, it often happens that pixels stick out on their own due to the angle shown or pixilation happens due to the finite amount of detail the graphics engine can take. This is unfortunately a shortcoming that could have been avoided altogether had they not put the Zoom function in the game in the first place, yet knocks down the overall quality of the game's look.

Also on the subject of 2D, the blatantly obvious pixilation in the backgrounds for each of the environments all end up looking like a panoramic shot that was quickly curved around the battlefield, thus breaking the intended illusion of depth that could have made the game look much more realistic than it currently is. The only time the illusion of depth is acceptable is when the zoom is at its farthest from the action, as if the game's entire level of detail was built exclusively from the notion that all of the action would be from a faraway camera overlooking the game, and the inclusion of close-up shots was included much later as a rushed addition to the game.

On the subject of the Dual Screen functionality, it is sparsely used. While this may come as a largely negative point for some, it can also be taken as a positive side when other considerations are taken into account. The second screen, while used sparingly to show the world map when roaming the world or in cities, or to show your exact location when you enter the menu, is largely unused. Some can criticize this as slacking off, but when the alternatives are to put a bland picture there or to turn it off entirely in order to conserve every bit of battery life, the latter becomes a more interesting option, especially when playing an RPG that requires many hours of gameplay.

Gameplay
Next up is the gameplay. This part of the game changed in many ways compared to the original, yet these changes are distributed among the older elements of the game. The most noticeable change is that you can play through the entire game without touching any buttons on the DS, only the stylus. While it can be slow for some of the more experienced Final Fantasy players (mash the A button to attack!), it can be used in tandem with the regular buttons. The greatest advantage of the stylus use in the game is mostly when walking around in the game, since you gain 8 degrees (diagonally!) of movement on a map and a 360 degree movement range in dungeons or towns.

On the subject of movement, along with the greater amount of directions for movement with both the stylus and the D-Pad, you can also run in dungeons and towns. This again is a welcome addition to a game that used to be played while walking through it. As such, the game matches the level of movement available in the PlayStation 1 games of the series, with the addition of the Zoom function that can help when trying to find out what's happening on screen.

The job system was also slightly modified. Gone are the “Capacity” points when trying to switch jobs, enter the “Job Change Handicap” that occurs when you want to change your character's job. The most noticeable thing about this transition is that you can now change jobs multiple times, at the cost of a handicap that lasts a certain number of levels, depending on how much you've mastered the job you're changing toward and how “far” it is on the relative scale between jobs. For example: a Warrior will take longer to adapt to becoming a Black Mage without experience than reverting back to being a Freelancer with experience. While it is a welcome change to be able to switch jobs at any time, the fact that you must endure having lowered stats for a few fights is annoying at best if changed mid-dungeon.

The battle system was the least modified of the gameplay aspects. The game still relies on a turn-based battle system that was characteristic of the NES Final Fantasy games. While the original seemed to depend purely on a comparison of characters' agility in order to figure out who goes first in battle, it seems to be much more randomized than it used to be. Some slower monsters can end up hitting you before a high level Thief can react. However, the hit count was not changed in this version.

Unlike other games, this one had a characteristically strange way of adding up more hits as your characters gained more experience in wielding their current weapons. It can go as high as hitting dozens of times before a character is done attacking. While this is a crucial part of the game, the actual representation of the dozens of hits a character can make with one strike errs on the lengthy side when you simply want to dispatch a few weak monsters and get on your way.

It is also to be noted that monsters have become uncharacteristically good at eliminating party members instead of randomly slamming characters. If you are fighting a boss, its ability to hit multiple times on its turn can become extremely frustrating, especially when trying to revive and heal a member of your party.

Another minor addition is the Mognet. A function that is reminiscent of the Moogle service of the same name in Final Fantasy 9, this version features sending mail to people in the game, but also real people you know who have a copy of the game. You can not only send mail to people in your general vicinity with the local connection, you can also send mail to people across the world through the WiFi functionality. However, the interface for typing in letters is clunky and often inaccurate, with characters being hard to pinpoint at times and the odd addition of up to three times the same character when you tap the touch screen too lightly.

Adding a space character is also a pain, seeing how you must change menus to reach the space button. What's more, deleting unwanted written characters is also a pain if using the stylus, since double-tapping is required in order to either switch menus or to select the deletion of a character. This severely discourages many people from using the function on a regular basis, making people sometimes loathe having to send mail through this new function

Storyline
The story has stayed mostly true to the original's events. However, the most surprising change was the supplanting of the four Onion Kids in favour of four characters with specific background stories and personalities. They also have interactions between them and the sub characters they can encounter along the way. Aside from the character changes, nothing has truly changed around in the story. Interaction with the sub characters is developed somewhat, but nothing else is to be said about the changes.

The actual story is another thing. While outdated, the story still holds it's own as your usual “save the world” styled story. The style with which everything is told is representative of the older RPGs that were available in the NES era.

Sound and effects
This is where the game gets a little bit sour. The music, while very similar to the old tunes from the NES era, does not feel like it has the same polish as the rest of the games. It has been proved that the DS can do much better in the sound department than what is presented in this game. While the effort is clearly there, it is still not enough to warrant saying it was a definite and perfect upgrade to the older sounds of the NES.

One of the functions that was severely lacking from this game is the ability to control the volume levels of either the music or SFX in the game, relying exclusively on the general DS volume. This gets annoying when in battle, especially when fighting toward the end of the game and your team is doing hundreds of hits per turn when physically attacking the enemy. The slamming noise starts to grate after a very short while.

Odds and Ends
In conclusion, the game, while old, is a gold mine for someone who really wants to relive the old style of RPG gaming. However, this game is not perfect. It only caters to people who are die-hard fans of the Final Fantasy series, people who have already played through the original, or people who have a penchant for older style games.

It is very hard to consider this as being able to cater to a mainstream gamer. The sharp jumps in difficulty between dungeons and the need to “grind” (fight random battles in order to build levels and gain money to buy better items/equipment) might drive some away from this game.

Buy? Rent? Try? Ignore?
This is where the recommendation gets complicated.
If you liked RPGs back in the NES days or your love of the Final Fantasy series burns with a strong passion, buy the game.
If you are used to the newer Final Fantasy games, rent or try the game first.
If you are not comfortable with spending your time “grinding”, try or ignore the game.

Rating
Graphics : 8/10
Gameplay : 9/10
Storyline : 7/10
Sound : 7/10
Overall : 7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/28/06


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