Review by Arkrex

"Back to the Fantasy"

A numbered Final Fantasy game finally returns to the original Nintendo platform! Nope, it's not a brand new game, but then it's not a mere port either. Final Fantasy III (herein referred to as FF3D :P) is a complete remake of the Japan-only original which appeared on the Famicom back in 1990. The missing link has finally been rediscovered, but has time been kind to such archaic gameplay? Yes... and no.

Visuals - 8
Sound & Music - 9
Gameplay - 7
Longevity - 8
(20-30 hours)
Replayability - 8 (Go for a different set of jobs)
Difficulty - 8 (Unforgiving, but is it really 'hard'?)

Adorable characters - 9
VERDICT - 7.5

Final Fantasy III-D

Have you seen the original FC FF3? Let me tell you right now that it looks every bit as plain and unexciting as you'd imagine a 1990 RPG would look like. Fast-forward 16 years. FF3D is now a reality, bringing together current-generation 3D graphics, an orchestrated re-scoring, a more user-friendly interface, and portable gaming on the go. Just imagine playing this one way back then!

Technically FF3D does a fine job of showing off the prowess of Nintendo's dual screen wonder. Everything is fully modelled in clean, colourful 3D and textured to near perfection. The main characters (with all their assorted job-related costume changes) look adorably cute, yet still maintain an air of heroism about them; the super-deformed look isn't as obtrusive as it could have been. The other NPCs and enemies made the transition just as well, and overall the assorted inhabitants of this unnamed world are brimming with personality, from the Santa-looking Cid to the multi-wolfheaded Scylla.

During battles, this game looks just as good as the PS1 Final Fantasy games. The swooping views are noticeably absent, and you don't actually see the characters move in to directly hit each other (a clear nod to the old-school Fantasies). Even though the camera angle is locked in one position, with an occasional close-up of characters charging up, the battles still manage to look mighty fine. The spell effects look special enough and every unique weapon you've equipped your heroes with will be shown (which is expected, but still it just makes the whole thing sparkle so much more).

As you roam about the towns and overworld, it's amazing to see what some dedicated art and programming can churn out. Finally being able to see the old-style overworlds rendered in this way brings me warm, fuzzy feelings. The same can't be said for the numerous dungeons though; here the designs are drab, repetitive and full of empty black spaces at times. It seems that the team must've gotten lazy after spending so much time making the outdoor environments look as amazing as they are.

From 8 bits to a full symphony
Obviously the original soundtrack would be woefully insufficient in this day and age. The 8-bit tones are out, but the actual melodies have more or less remained unchanged. Every original Nobuo Uematsu piece has been completely redone with some very high quality orchestral samples; the audio quality is some of the best on the DS yet with some brilliant strings and sweet brass resounding throughout.

There is a small track selection when compared to modern day RPGs, but most of the ones featured here will be good enough for anyone's ears for the 20+ hours it will take to complete this journey, and then some. This is a testament to quality of these early compositions; while they are far from the best in the series, they are still timeless classics (especially the main theme).

Back in the days when life was 'hard'
If you've played any Final Fantasy from 1 to 10 (which I'm pretty sure you've done if you're reading this), then you know what to expect. As you roam about the massive overworld you will frequently engage in random battles with previously 'invisible' enemies. The battles are turn-based as usual, but without the innovative ATB system. This makes for some guess work as to when your characters will be able to act and in what order. It can be a bit random at times, and your strategies can be ripped apart because of this. I do realise that this game preceded the advent of ATB, but it would have been a nice optional addition in this remake given that it offers some versatility which could have made things more fair.

Battles are still rock hard as it is, especially for the uninitiated and under-prepared folk. Unlike recent instalments, it is of the utmost importance to keep up with the Joneses. That is, you must always ensure that your characters are always equipped with the best equipment possible at all times, as well as keep you stock of potions and other curative items topped up.

However, one very important item (Phoenix Down) is not able to be bought at any time, and is only dropped on occasion or needed to be stolen from certain enemies late in the game. This makes the first steps incredibly difficult for anyone. Characters who are knocked out (which can happen very easily - see later) and are unable to be revived will greatly diminish your chances for survival, especially in those long dungeon-crawls. Even if you do have some means of revival (especially with the all-important Raise spell earned much later on), the fact that members are revived with barely any HP, only to be easily knocked out again, can make for some very frustrating replays.

And some of the replays that you are guaranteed to endure will waste anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours of the time spent getting up to that point. This is because of a very unreasonable save system. You are able to save your game anytime, anywhere on the overworld. Always do so before you enter any dungeon, since within these evil lairs, there lies no saviour. This means there will be many a time when you will wade through a ton of random battles, making your way through some boring looking tunnels, eventually reaching a boss, only to be owned up bigtime and having to replay your last faraway save, with all your hard work and levelling lost. This is something that definitely could have been addressed in this remake. Just because you can't save before a boss does NOT make things harder, but more frustrating!

Chocobo: "Kweh... Cheep... Cheap!"
Now that we are clear about the unforgiving nature of the battles, let me now discuss the cheapness of of them. Since it takes a lot of time to level up your characters and their job proficiencies, most of us would be in the same 'average' boat. Going through dungeons isn't all that hard. There is always a risk of heavy, critical damage, but as long as you keep on your toes and heal constantly, all should go well. That is of course until you encounter a back attack. These ordeals are meant to put you into panic mode as you are put at a disadvantage in both formation and turn-time. However, since enemies tend to do massive amounts of damage as it is (1/4 health per hit normally), a surprise ambush is pretty much a random death in some dungeons.

There was even a certain temple in which I was cruising along, gaining good experience and Gil as I made my way further in, when suddenly I came across a seemingly typical bunch of enemy triplets. My first attack happened to miss, which subsequently meant I wasn't able to eliminate any of them before they started their retaliation. 3 lightning attacks later and my entire healthy party was totally wiped out. Talk about cheap attacks! This only happened to me on one major occasion, but I'm sure others will experience it at least once, if not multiple times, when the enemies decide to all use their strongest attacks in a row to make the last hour spent worth naught. Lightning strikes thrice in the same spot in this game, so make sure your feet are firmly grounded and that no loved ones are seated close by to you during these grinds.

What I'd like to be when I grow up
FF3 started up the whole choose-your-own-job phenomenon that eventually made its way into future titles. All up you have 22 different jobs along with your standard freelancer class. For those who fancy a dose of fancy magicks, there is the Black Mage or the Summoner. Others who would rather rely on purely physical powers can opt to go for Knights, Dragoons and Ninjas. The odd ones amongst us have the Bard and Geomancer. Overall there is a lot of choice, all with their individual advantages, disadvantages, and synergisms (one job complementing another).

But all is not created equal, and the jobs you unlock later clearly make early ones redundant. This forces you to always change up from time to time. I wouldn't mind doing so normally, but after having levelled up a job to a reasonable standard, switching to another results in bringing your character's stats back to square one. This is because attributes such as strength, defense, MP etc... are directly related to your job level, and NOT your base level. You are going to have to do a lot of grinding to bring them up to a respectable level again, and some of us aren't into that sort of mindless 'gameplay', if you could call it that.

Even though a large selection of different jobs are available, the variety of equipment is strangely lacking. Many times there will only be 1 or 2 feasible equipables per part per job. Other times you won't have anything worthwhile to even attach, and you may go for hours without any functional gear of appropriate benefit. The job system was further refined in FF4, and nearly perfected in FF5, but Square Enix could have easily added in a few more spears, robes and jandals - simple data - into this new remix.

Game on in 30 Seconds
With respect to the chosen platform, I really couldn't imagine a more perfect fit than the DS. You are able to perform an instant-save at any point when not in battle or in a story sequence (unfortunately this save is erased as soon as you boot it up again), and for those exclusive times there's always sleep mode. This makes portable grinding whenever you have a spare moment as easy as instant noodles. From the moment you turn on your DS, you can be engaging in yet another random battle in less than 30 seconds, and resuming your current real-life activity in less than half that. Now isn't that something!

The dual screen set-up hasn't been utilised much, but it doesn't really bother me, nor should it you. Moving around the field and, more significantly, selecting options during battles can now be done at a touch. This addition is may be worthwhile to some, but I felt that it still wasn't as particularly intuitive as the traditional d-pad and button controls; working the old-fashioned way is still the fastest method and just as comfortable.

Retold, but still ancient
FF3 wasn't a role-model Fantasy then, and it still isn't one now. Although the interface and customisation is more manageable (equipping in the past was a painful chore involving too much manual unequipping first!) and despite the extreme makeover graphically, aurally and plotwise (to an extent here), FF3D is still an old game. But it's still a good one.

There were several other gameplay mechanics which would have been more enjoyable if some more tampering was done with the cheap 'old-school' 'difficulty'. The magic set swap is an interesting feature to begin with, but unlikely to be used much later on, and I felt that this part could have also been improved upon.

The final area is something I must quickly mention too. You may manage to get to the end with a decent party if you adopt a well thought out strategy, only to find that the final set of bosses will annihilate you before you can get your second commands in. There is a consistent rise in difficulty up this point, thereafter if you can't cut it, expect to grind for levels for oh, say 5 hours or so! Having the final boss about 1-2 hours away from your last save point (including multiple flees) just adds insult to injury.

All told, I'm still delighted that this long-lost tale has been revisited with a lot of tender, loving care. For the most part, it still holds up by today's high standards, but this is helped most by the fact that these sort of (random, turn-based) RPGs have grown out of fashion and are no longer milked like they once were. As Nintendo is regaining the throne which they lost over a decade ago, it is great to see the renewed 3rd party support for both DS and Wii. FF3D is a flawed RPG, but still a fun one, and definitely a bright, shining treasure whichever way you look at it.

7.5 - A few dirty tricks spoil what is otherwise a brilliant revitalisation

17/12/06


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/18/06


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