Review by Chauncey_Mo

"Worth getting if you haven't played before, but don't expect to be blown away"

So before I begin, I admit that I played the fan translation of the game on a NES emulator a while back, so the gameplay of the game was not new to me. Did this impact my impression? Yes. Does it stop me from writing a fair review? I hope not.

I won't delve into Final Fantasy history and the confusing numbering system; those have been covered more than enough elsewhere. I will say this: RPGs weren't as good back then. I know you have to look at it from a historical perspective, FF3 did a lot of very innovative things that improved the series significantly in the long term, but a lot of the basic gameplay is vastly inferior to the SNES Square games. If you are looking for a game that is better than FF4-6, stop reading now. If you are looking for a fun diversion for your DS, then carry on.

Graphics-
The graphics are good... for the DS. This is definitely damning with faint praise. The DS obviously has the capabilities for reasonably good graphics, see Mario 64 DS, but since that launch title I haven't seen anything remotely close to as good. Most games still look like GBA games, at least FF3 improves upon that with primitive polygonal graphics. Characters and monsters are all fairly blocky, though generally reasonably well textured. Animations aren't very good. Some spells look nice. Backgrounds are pretty, but not particularly breathtaking or detailed. All in all, it's like very very early Playstation graphics. Not as clean looking as early N64 or as smooth as later Playstation. Still, though, a step up from the average DS title to date.

Sound-
Very good, particularly for the DS. Not a whole lot of variety, but what there is tends to be well done updates of classic FF themes.

Controls-
Basic RPG controls, with some nice convenience features thrown in. Menu navigation is a little clumsy by modern standards, but a big step up from what it was like in the original. Battle controls and map controls are both totally fine, although the inessential one-button zoom feature on the map screens was a little clunky. The stylus, as with most DS games, wasn't particularly helpful or needed.

Gameplay-
Lots of pros, lots of cons. The gameplay is basically the same as other console RPGs of the time: wander around the world helping people and figuring out more about the Big Threat, then eventually confronting the threat. The story is reasonably compelling, if contrived, but again, relative to the era it's if anything a little above average. The new addition of individual character personalities didn't add a whole lot. As for specific highs and lows:

The biggest pro is the job system, which like everything else in the game feels primitive, but still makes the game much more interesting than the previous couple of FFs. All the characters begin identically skilled at any job you acquire, so you have complete freedom to pick and choose who in your party is going to concentrate on what. There is a reasonably wide variety of jobs, although quite of few of them go obsolete quickly (warrior, evoker) or are only ever useful in very specific situations (scholar, dragoon). The biggest difference between the job system in FF3 and FF5, though, is the inability to carry job skills over when you switch to a different job. This means that being level 50 in warrior doesn't help you one bit when you're a knight, for example. Each job is its own little entity, which both gives you the freedom to not worry about long term planning and takes away the interesting mixing and matching of abilities that I really liked in FF5. In the end, there's still a very FF1 feel of needing to just sit around and level until you can kill off the current encounters fairly easily. No amount of smart party planning can change this.

Another nice upside is the size of the world(s). There's a lot to do and see, and while the game feels more linear than later installments it's a lot more expansive than most games from this era. There are some pretty high-impact alternate quests late in the game, which is very cool.

Finally, I liked the challenge level. It's harder than the original, which is really a breath of fresh air in some regards. Most games are severely dumbed down and made easier when ported to a later console, but they instead made FF3 tougher. The downside is that they sort of raised the bar across the board, which I think disrupted the balance of the game pretty severely, but I'll cover that later. The main thing is that being at what I figured was an average level for any given part of the game, some random encounters and most bosses were no easy task to defeat. No magic bullet spells or items like in later FFs that turn the entire endgame into a cakewalk. Of course, you could always just get five or ten levels above where you should reasonably be and breeze through, but that's true of most any RPG.

The biggest downside, as I saw it, was the lack of variety. No doubt because it was from an era where enemies weren't expected to have more than one attack and a spell or two, enemies in the game almost all feel extremely vanilla. For whatever reason, there aren't any "swarms of medium-strength enemies" in the game, always just one or two (or on very rare occasions, three) reasonably strong monsters, few of which have any particular weaknesses or strengths, besides maybe getting an extra attack. I found this particularly bad in the final area, where every single enemy is nigh-identical: lots of hit points, two attacks a round, one high damage spell, and no elemental resistances. It made large stretches of the game, including the last couple dungeons (occasional dragon aside) feel like chores.

The second biggest knock is the aforementioned balance issue. Because they upped the difficulty across the board, the game always feels challenging, but besides a small number of bosses never feels substantially harder. Meanwhile, it's way too easy to get wiped out by random encounters, since things like magic resistance just can't keep up with the power of enemy spells. In fact, there are several dungeons where I found one of the random encounters more difficult or dangerous than the boss.

This brings me to the last big issue: no save points and no cottage/house type full heal items. I have no idea why they didn't include these, since they obviously existed since FF1, but it made the game at times very, very frustrating. Dying on the last boss means hours of slogging through generic enemies to get to it again, since the last place you can save is a long way back.

So overall, it was a mostly enjoyable diversion. I would never want it as a console game, but since it does feature a handy suspend-type quicksave feature it was great as a portable game, playing a few minutes here, a few there. Unless you are going to really power-level and try to max out levels or jobs the game won't take more than 30-40 hours, so while it's not a tremendous value it's certainly not bad. I recommend it for any DS owner who wants an RPG, although if you've played it on Famicom or an emulator nostalgia might be the only reason to pick it up.

A quick note on the gameplay changes between this and the Famicom version:

1) The characters look and act differently, they aren't just four palette swaps of the same sprites, and in general the story has been fleshed out a bit.

2) Menu navigation is much improved.

3) Secrets in the map view are visible as sparkles if you zoom all the way in.

4) "Quicksave" allows you to suspend the game anywhere, but you can still only do a regular save in the overland.

5) Switching jobs is an after-the-fact issue now, where after switching a job your abilities are lowered a certain number of fights, rather than a before-the-fact issue of needing to save up potential points or whatever they were called before switching.

6) The ninja and sage jobs have been severely weakened and included in the final main crystal, instead of being in a side quest, now they're more in line with the power of the other jobs in that crystal.

7) A few new special items and side quests that you can only get by sending "Mogmail", a wifi feature included in the game.


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


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