Review by ClessAlvein05
"Yes, it's as good as everyone says"
I had the fortune of first playing FF3, FF6, or whatever you wish to call it in early 1995, within months of its US release. A few rentals quickly turned into a purchase and many plays through. To this day I still believe it to be Square's magnum opus--yes, superior to Chrono Trigger and FF7--and somewhere very high on the "greatest games ever, any system, any time" type of lists. For all the credit the latter two games, particularly FF7, received for making the RPG genre mainstream in America, this 1994 release set the stage for many of those things 1-3 years beforehand. It had phenomenal individual storylines, audiovisuals that were as good as any game of the time, and fluid gameplay.
The graphics are outstanding for a SNES RPG. Only some later such games for the console could make a case for being better, and even then they're not consistent in that regard (even Star Ocean, CT and Tales of Phantasia are occasionally blocky, solid colored or small-sprited, or generally are rough around the edges in a few spots.) I remember being disappointed by how weak FF2 was visually, and FF5 was frequently not much better, but this title set the bar about as high as it could get in the SNES. In having screenwide attacks (the Absolute 0 ice attack, large fire attacks, etc,) rippling for objects or water/fire backgrounds, and so forth, the game manages sprites and backgrounds well during battle to manage enemies, spells, characters, and beautiful scenery (although characters continue usually do regular attacks from excessive distances.) Constant use of lighting gradients in menus, fade-ins and shadowing, and translucency for weapons and magic, mean that there can be hundreds or thousands of colors on screen at once. The Mode 7 rotation on the world map, and particularly with the lighting in the airships and other overhead scenes, is better than almost any SNES game. The player sprites are as big as they need to be, and are drawn well; for instance, Terra's downward stare or slouch on the ground capture her sadness very well despite their small size. The non-map and non-battle areas are beautifully drawn, be they the towns, bases, caves, forests (complete with reflecting water,) or Kefka's tower. The only place where the "reach of the game exceeds the grasp of the SNES," so to speak, is the hazy fake 3d train scenes, but Square deserves credit for trying and it only lasts for a minute or two.
Nobuo Uemastu's work is, as always, phenomenal; I have to try to not "write a book" about this, and balance the other sections of the review as well as I can. He has the usual stock of incidental songs--regular battles, bosses, caves, mountains, towns, upbeat and optimistic airship flights, sadness, urgency, death, inns--that capture the feel of the appropriate scenes. He recycles the best of the FF "franchise songs"--the victory song, prelude and prologue. There are multiple orchestrations of every character's theme, and while I don't find the Terra theme to be the be-all-and-end-all that some do--if only because there are so many other outstanding themes in the game, and because I found the "sad" variation to get a little annoying at first with its loud, high-pitch growth, despite its overall feel--it has spawned the most variations in the game, and the most remixes, all of which are in unique styles. (None of the unofficial remixes of it, nor of any other song in the game, approach the "Toki No Hourousha" on the Pray soundtrack, but hey, they're all solid, and it goes to show how well-received the track has been in the last 13 years--so why don't we go back to the game?) The game music draws from a larger set of motifs than perhaps any game, in any genre, at that time; there is obviously a massive classical influence (when I first heard the cave music I thought it started exactly like the "We Are the Light of the World" song I sang in church...and Dancing Mad, the opera, or the art house.) My only real complaint about the opera was the lack of real vocals, instead represented by a repeating chord at different pitches; but almost no SNES game short of Star Ocean or Tales had the resources to fix every single such vocal; when I first saw it was before I'd developed a real appreciation for opera, either, so I hadn't been as glad as I should've been for just the effort. When I first heard Dancing Mad it absolutely blew me away, and it still impresses me, from its similarities to Catastrophe and the usual Kefka theme, to the heavy echo present in many other parts of the game, to the game atmosphere accompanying it (I was shocked, to excuse any puns, when my characters first got smacked by HyperDrives, and Reverse Polarity made the screen ripple, all while those and the other sounds echoed loudly with the music.) Beyond the classical themes, there are also a lot of songs with upbeat, silly moods, like the Gogo, Mog, and even Kefka; and some Eastern moods such as Cyan's heroic theme or Shadow's dark tune. There are some technological or militaristic songs, ranging from high-brow to low-key, like Kekfa's Tower (a very under-appreciated masterpiece,) Devil's Lab (which is very popular due to a tune with machinery,) and the Gestahl songs. There are literally no "bad" songs in the entire game, and only a few mediocre ones...that's unheard of for a soundtrack this voluminous.
The sound effects are not digitized across the board or anything the way Tales or Star Ocean are, but they are consistently appropriate. You'll get your standard weapon, item, and magic songs (the bubbling of Bio spells, the crushing of Ice spells, and the booming Bolt spells are all memorable.) I'm actually glad that Kefka's infamous phony cackle was used in place of a fully recorded laugh; it showed the bombastic silliness in his evil. There are some decent fully recorded sounds besides the outstanding instruments; for instance, there is a crowd murmur that appears during the Opera.
Most reviewers have rightly said that the story is nearly flawless. You've got 14 main playable characters (although I didn't particularly care for Relm in any way) with their own plans, who are all able to band together when it matters. You can't point to any of them definitively as the "main" hero, and you have to go long stretches without even Terra, which in this case is much of what makes the story so great; it's a balance of so many smaller stories. The translation is vastly better than in FF4, and like in that game its few flaws are much of what makes it so memorable. ("Son of a Submariner?" Cyan's heroics and bravery are no longer tempered by his human failings--those "hidden magazines." Duane and Katarin are not implied to be unmarried, but hey, it's still clear that Terra is not the product of two humans, eek...it's interesting in light of some of these edits that FF3 came out just before the ERSB era and before bloody fighters really started becoming common.) The script still makes Terra as one of the first true "emo" characters in a USA-released RPG, which some people may see as irritable, but I found interesting (her struggles with understanding love, feeling "hardly normal," losing the will to fight, and so forth made her one of the deepest RPG characters to date, and were executed better than any of Cloud's or other later "emo" characters' moods.) Nearly every other major character has catchy lines..."opera floozy," "treasure hunter," need I go on? The minor characters, like Duane, Katarin, and Leo are a lot of what put the story on top, in making it about real issues like power, relationships, and loyalty (but perhaps more impressively, it never gets preachy.) Gestahl, Ultros, Atma Weapon, the Goddess Statues...not much needs to be said about how well they drive the story. Kefka is always amazing...from when he first shows up in the corner of the screen early on, to the flashback where he first "crowns" Terra, to the day you slay him.
The gameplay is excellent. It gets virtually every bread-and-butter element of turn-based RPGs right; there are no long waits during or even outside battles (which its successor failed to do,) and has steps through gameplay that are innovative but not unreasonable. The critical attacks (I love Riot Blade,) along with Cyan's stages of attack, are impressive precursors to the later games' limit breaks. The spell and character building system is quality; there's not much to say on it that other reviewers haven't covered. There are a wide range of items, from relics with some interesting twists (why can you wear running shoes and sprint shoes at the same time? And you even get to have trans There are some simple but fun minigames, that are fair and not annoying (again, with all apologies to FF7, I'd much rather dine with Gestahl than try to march in formation with Shin-Ra soldiers or breed Chocobos, and I'd rather bet one item in the Colosseum than have to gamble through several rounds.) There are lots of minor bells and whistles, like hidden messages (The World Is Square,) and even being able to pop a squat on the john in jail cells. While the hidden secrets through such minigames or other avenues are not as numerous or difficult to obtain as, for instance, FF4, and the replay value is fairly finite, I remember when I first played the game that I knew how much I'd missed in way of secret passages and items. Beyond what you can find in a strategy guide, the "super-gameplay" and overall homage to the game has extended into speedruns of 5 hours and under, "proper" use of the Sketch Glitch thanks to debugging of the game, and a few mods and fanfics. The difficulty is not hard, but there are enough challenges to keep you going; watch out for Fallen One in the final tier before Kefka, prepare well for the boss fights in the tower, and watch out for Atma Weapon and some of the palette-swaps of early enemies in the World of Ruin. Yes, I know, you can vanish/x-zone your way through...but you don't have those spells or the MP all the time, and it doesn't really cheapen the game or anything. There are some non-battle areas that can be confusing if you don't know the ropes (I remember being frustrated by the Celes fish scene...)
As amazing as all of these individual elements are, the whole of the game is even greater than the sum of its parts. Almost everything is right in the correct place at the right time. It would deserve well above a ten if I could give one; the combination of all the elements makes it legendary. If you have not played this, either find the original somewhere or get one of its many remakes on a newer console!!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/23/07
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