Review by BloodGod65

"If a crystal ever talks to me, Iím gonna smash it!"

Chances are that this isn't the first review of Final Fantasy III that you have read. If that's the case, you have probably heard the whole spiel about the history of this title. If so, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. If, by some miracle, you don't know what I'm talking about, a brief history lesson is in order. Back when Squaresoft started importing Final Fantasy titles to America, they didn't use the original Japanese numbering system. In fact, the American Final Fantasy III was actually the sixth title in the series. The real Final Fantasy III has never been released in America until now. While many RPG gamers love anything remotely retro, missing entries into beloved franchises are always greeted with an almost religious fervor. But, as with anything from the yesteryears of gaming, Final Fantasy III feels distinctly archaic in many respects. Your opinion on the game as a whole will likely depend on whether you embrace or shun outdated game design.

Modern Final Fantasy games are renowned for their epic, complex stories but when Final Fantasy III was first released, Squaresoft was still crafting youthful, simple narratives. The game begins with main hero Luneth falling into a hole. After exploring the cave he fell into, he discovers a giant crystal. Much to his surprise, the crystal begins to talk and gives him the traditional “impending spread of darkness, inevitable doom, you're the chosen one, save the world” speech and tells him to get busy defeating the forces of evil.

Mind you, this all happens within twenty minutes of starting the game. Though the story is very simple, it is refreshing to get right to the point instead of dealing with the bloated, tedious introductions many modern RPGs make players sit through. This snappy pace is also reflected in how soon Luneth is joined by the rest of his party. Within the first hour of gameplay, Luneth will be teamed up with the remaining three heroes.

The gameplay is also pure old school. The battle system dates back to the days of the true turn-based system. At the beginning of the player turn, you put in all the commands you want the party to take. After this, the characters and their enemies perform their actions according to their speed. While I've never liked this kind of battle system –the design inevitably leads to frustrating situations – it works much better than some of the recent versions I have seen.

Final Fantasy III also uses the traditional job system. Compared to some of the later incarnations of the job system, this one feels unrefined. As is to be expected, there are basic melee classes along with black, white and red mages. There are also many other jobs like thief, summoner, and dragoon. While the usefulness of many jobs is questionable, there are plenty to choose from. For those unfamiliar with the job system, a job basically determines what a character's strengths, weaknesses and abilities are. For instance, a black mage can use all sorts of attack magic, but cannot use healing magic and has a low attack power. Other classes have special abilities that come in handy during battle, like the thief's ability to steal from enemies.

The thing that makes the system feel crude compared to later incarnations is how skills are handled. In other Final Fantasy games that use the job system, you can gain experience in battles that allows you to purchase abilities. If the character decides to change their job, they can carry over a few abilities to use with that new job (as was the case in Final Fantasy Tactics). But here, you only have access to the class specific abilities as long as you're using that class. While there is nothing wrong with the idea, per se, it means there's no reason to go out of your way to try new classes.

A more pressing issue is how magic is handled. Instead of a process similar to the one I have just described – with a character class having a set of abilities that must be unlocked – Final Fantasy III forces the player to find and buy magic spells before being able to use them. But this is not like the system in Final Fantasy XII, where you bought the spell once and everyone could use it; you must buy a copy of the spell for each person you plan to assign it to. It gets even more irritating because spells are relegated to different tiers that correspond to their strength. You can only assign a few spells to a single tier. And that's not the worst part – not by a long shot. The worst part is the mana system. Rather than having a normal system where characters have a mana pool that they can use to cast any spell, as many times as required, Final Fantasy III instead uses a system that gives each spell tier a set number of times any spell from that tier can be cast. And, as if the system needed to be any more complicated, you can't restore your mana with restorative items, because there are none! Instead, you have to sleep at an inn, which are few and far between.

There are many more issues to deal with as well. The enemy encounter rate varies wildly, so you may get through several rooms without fighting a single time but suddenly be forced to fight several battles within feet of each other. And that gets monotonous because there is limited enemy variety in any given area – usually three or four enemy types that only appear in a handful of different group types.

Should a character die in battle, another of Final Fantasy III's missteps becomes apparent; the unbelievable hassle of resurrecting characters. Most stores don't carry Phoenix Down – the single most important item in any Final Fantasy game – so you must rely on the random drops and treasure chests to ensure you have enough of these items. There are wellsprings that can resuscitate characters, but these are even more infrequent than inns. Suffice it to say, when a character dies it is a hassle to get them back.

This becomes a scary prospect when you're in a dungeon. Realizing a character is close to death, and that none of them have any mana to cast a cure spell is bad news. But forgetting how to get out and not having a map is even worse. No, the game doesn't have a dungeon map (although there is an overworld map). While the dungeons aren't exactly labyrinthine, it still would have been nice considering the top DS screen is not used.

As is to be expected, Final Fantasy III implements some touch screen mechanics. You can use the stylus to move Luneth around and pick out commands during battle. However, this is very finicky and you can't always rely on the game to recognize the option you pressed – mainly because the tip of the stylus is as big as the menu options. The D-pad is preferable, even if it is slower.

The final problem the game has is its awful save system. Rather than having save points, or the ability to save anywhere, the game can only be saved while on the world map. That's right – once you're in a dungeon, you must leave before saving. This of course means that you must clear the dungeon and beat the boss all in one run. The quick save option does little to alleviate this problem. Using this, it is possible to save anywhere, but the DS shuts off after it is used and automatically erases the save once it has been loaded. So, you can't quick save before a boss and reload after dying.

Though the gameplay hasn't received many noticeable updates, the graphics sure have. The entire graphics engine has been overhauled from crude, 2D sprites to a modern 3D style. In terms of style, the game looks like the recent handheld Final Fantasy Tactics games. Everything is very colorful, and the character models are cute, but the monsters are very nasty looking.

As a classic Final Fantasy game, most people will know what to expect from the audio. There is no voice acting, but the music is good even for a handheld.

THE VERDICT
Final Fantasy III is hard to judge. On the one hand, the fact that it was never released in North America means it is an important part of Final Fantasy history most fans will want to check out. On the other hand, the game is still just a rerelease of a decades old game, albeit one with a facelift. Because of that, Final Fantasy III is utterly outdated, making its appeal limited to the most diehard of Final Fantasy fans and those who adore true old-school RPGs.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/19/10

Game Release: Final Fantasy III (US, 11/14/06)


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