Review by RLegacy3

"The missing link in the Final Fantasy chain"

While Square-Enix has endeavoured to bring the world each and every Final Fantasy game over the last seven or-so years, one has always managed to elude us - until now. Final Fantasy III is no longer the missing piece of the puzzle, as it finally arrives on the Nintendo DS sporting up-to-date visuals and overhauled game mechanics.

The first thing that hits you are the lavish production values. It's clear that a lot of effort has gone into making this game look the bee's knees, as every drop of the DS's graphical power is pumped into the well-crafted character models and beautiful surroundings. Visually, everything is quite similar to Final Fantasy IX on the PlayStation. Although instead of using a multitude of different camera angles and pre-rendered backdrops, Final Fantasy III is essentially the same top-down adventure it was back in its NES days. The only time you get up-close with the game's characters is during important conversations.

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who's played Final Fantasy V, as the Job system makes a triumphant return (or should that be debut?). Your four playable characters all begin the game as Freelancers, who sport average stats and can only use low-level black and white magic. As soon as you finish the first couple of dungeons, however, a whole world of possibilities is opened-up for you. You'll gain the ability to change classes, inheriting their skills and characteristics during the period of time you choose to stick with them. Jobs rise in level just as your characters do, which increases the character in question's compatibility with said Job (which serves several purposes, although surprisingly none are stat-related). You can switch classes any time you like, but when you do, there's a short adjustment period before your character completely adapts to their new guise. This can take anywhere between 1 and 10 battles depending on the Job level and classes in question. It'll take longer for a Black Mage to adjust to becoming a Warrior, for example, since they're poles apart in terms of how they approach combat situations. Once you reach a higher level of proficiency in those Jobs, however, the number of battles will be steadily reduced, eventually allowing you to switch between them at no cost at all.

Initially you only have access to a few classes, but as the game wears on you'll obtain new and often stronger Jobs, giving combat even more tactical depth, and often forcing you to consider casting-off the class you're most comfortable with to dabble in more exotic Jobs.

The game's heroes themselves have undergone a dramatic change since the original NES game. No longer just four nameless youths, this remake grants them unique looks, names and (to a certain extent) personalities. Luneth is your lead character, and you start the game as him alone (as opposed to the original, where you had control of all four characters from the word go). After exploring the nearby towns, however, you'll quickly recruit Arc (a somewhat whimsical friend of Luneth's), Refia (rogue daughter of a local smithy), and Ingus (a castle guard). You get a short description of their character when you first meet, and they all have their share of moments as the game wears on, but on the whole they're not overly deep or even that important to the story. Although given the fact that these personalities have been added into an existing game, the results are by no means bad, and it is at least far better than controlling four soulless, identical characters with equally identical Job graphics.

At certain points in the game you'll also temporarily recruit a fifth party member. These characters tag along behind your lead on the field, but aren't visible in the menu and cannot be targeted during battle. They do, however, come to your party's aide by attacking or using a particular spell from time to time (think along the lines of Odin or Gilgamesh, for those who've played FFVIII). These characters only stick with you for a little while, but they're still quite handy to have around in certain situations.

Unsurprisingly, the battle system is almost a carbon-copy of the previous two games. Final Fantasy III goes back to a time before ATB, where you enter all of your commands at once and then simply await the outcome, with the order of attack being dependent on the agility stat. Very basic, but very effective. The difference here, of course, is that the DS allows for everything to be fully animated and gives combat a more cinematic edge. When the battle starts, you get a sweeping shot of your opponent before the camera switches to an angle not dissimilar to the classic side-on viewpoint. This is where you enter your commands, after which the camera shifts behind your party and the action begins. When attacking normally, your characters still don't make direct contact with the enemy, and instead appear to slash thin air while a fancy slicing or stabbing animation plays over the enemy. Occasionally when using a spell or special ability, you'll get a close-up of the character's casting animation, which is very nice indeed. And of course, there are some impressive summon spells to look forward to later in the game. Their slick animations are justifiably amazing, considering this was originally their debut appearance as a spell division.

When it comes to making use of the DS's features, Final Fantasy III is something of a mixed-bag, but the pros far outweigh the cons. On the downside, the top screen is almost always completely blank. Outside of towns and dungeons it's used to display the world map, and when fiddling about in the menu your idle lead character and their surroundings are transferred to the top screen. But aside from that it's pitch black, displaying nothing but your own reflection for the vast majority of the game. Nobody expects developers to make mind-blowing, innovative use of both screens, but to have nothing there whatsoever just seems rather lazy. There's no reason why it couldn't have, say, displayed the main menu page, allowing you to monitor your party's status at all times.

On the bright side, Square have worked wonders with the touch screen, both in and out of battle. On the field, you simply hold down the stylus in the direction you want to run, and when it comes to cornering you simply slide it round to the angle you'd like and your character will make the turn. To speak to NPCs, open chests or examine objects, you just need to tap them. When stationary, you have two options appear in the top corners of the screen. To your left, you have a camera icon, which allows you to zoom in and out on your character (which admittedly serves little purpose), and on the right you can tap the "Menu" icon to, unsurprisingly, access the menu. From here you simply tap the various options to get the desired effect. Need to use a Potion? Tap "Item", "Use" and "Potion" followed by the character, and voila. It's fast, effective and extremely intuitive.

Battles work in a similar fashion to the main menu, only initiating a regular attack is a simple case of tapping the enemy you'd like to hit. Otherwise, you touch the command you wish to use beforehand. In order to strike entire groups you basically hold down the stylus and drag a square around them. Aside from the odd slip here and there (a couple of enemies have pretty weird contact points), it all works perfectly.

Compared to the d-pad, using the stylus to control your character on the field is far smoother and allows for a greater degree of accuracy. In comparison, the d-pad's eight-way movement feels restrictive and (dare I say it) archaic. Combat takes a little more time to get used to, as the pad can at first seem like the faster option. But persistence pays off, and before you know it you'll be breezing through each battle, tapping commands in rapid succession. It's great to be able to control the entire game via the stylus, but for all those doubters who continue to stubbornly snub the DS's most stand-out feature, the pad and button controls also work just fine.

In all honesty, when it comes to music, the Final Fantasy series didn't really start to produce mind-blowing soundtracks until the fourth instalment. All the same, what Final Fantasy III has to offer is nothing to be sniffed at. Some of the later tracks in particular have plenty of style, and the DS's superior sound output ensures that the quality of the music is far better than that of the GBA Final Fantasy ports, even if the soundtrack itself isn't quite up to the same standard.

So how long does the whole thing last? Well, you'll get about 25-30 hours from the main quest, and it provides quite a challenge compared to many of the later games. See, the godsend that is the save point wasn't introduced until Final Fantasy IV, and unlike the GBA remakes of the first two games, FFIII does not feature the ability to save anywhere you like (aside from the temporary quick save option). It's the world map or nothing. This can create problems when it comes to tackling long dungeons, as not being able to save anywhere inside and then being flattened by a difficult boss could be seen as something of an annoyance. Those with experience in the series will know not to rush head-first into such situations without thorough preparation, but for newcomers or those not wise to the ways of the old-school RPG, this will be a harsh introduction to the series. Thankfully, the random encounter rate isn't irritatingly high, and the dungeons are far easier to navigate than in previous games, doing away with the annoying dead end/encounter point traps which were all too frequent in Final Fantasy II.

And so we get to the inevitable flaws. First off, all of the bonus material is unlocked via the Moogle Mail service. What does this mean for people who don't have access to WiFi or plenty of FFIII-owning friends? Well, you won't have any extras to look forward to, basically. Why this decision was made, I'll never know. The Moogle Mail service is a novelty at best, and seemingly only there to promote the game as being WiFi-enabled. It's frankly unfair to assume that everyone has regular access to WiFi, or even that they want to take their DS online at all.

Secondly, the game's storyline is something of a step back from Final Fantasy II's. It's more of an expanded version of the first game's, to be honest, with four elemental crystals once again playing a central role in both the upkeep and potential downfall of the planet. The plot is divided into several sub-stories in a bid to break-up the heavier sections, but it's all still pretty clichéd by today's standards, and it's disappointing that Square originally chose not to expand on the foundations set by Final Fantasy II. That said, Final Fantasy III does still serve up a charming tale with a variety of interesting character and villain designs, and when all's said and done there's not really too much wrong with it, especially considering its age.

Fancy visuals aside, this is classic role-playing at its finest. The Job system is as marvellous as ever, even if it isn't quite as refined as the likes of FFV or Tactics. It's disappointing to see that the extra content has been reserved for those who are able to take their DS online, but the main adventure is more than enough to keep the average RPG fan happy, and seeing as this is FFIII's first official release outside Japan, it's a bonus in itself just to experience the game at all. With addictive gameplay, an enjoyable storyline and breathtaking graphics, Final Fantasy III is a treat for both existing fans and newcomers alike, and definitely not one to be missed.

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/25/07, Updated 10/29/07

Game Release: Final Fantasy III (EU, 05/04/07)

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