Review by darthjulian

"Impressive remake of a long lost RPG gem"

It´s hard to believe that it has been 16 years already ever since "Final Fantasy III" saw its initial release for the Famicom, and now the remake of exactly this title received hype and attention from the masses unlike any other Nintendo DS game. But it´s a Final Fantasy game, after all, and even after so many years of its existence, the series still has an impact on gamers like no other video game franchise. But popularity does not equal goodness automatically, so let´s take a closer look at the company´s first "big" Nintendo DS title.

Let´s come to the game´s weakness already: the story and the characters. It has been a simplistic and uneventful tale already in the original game, and not even the several enhancements in terms of character development really help to make this story any more intriguing. You´re pretty much being thrown right into the story without too much exposition (except for these mystic sounding quotes in the title screen from an era gone by...or something like that) as the game´s main character, Luneth, falls into a hole because of a recent earthquake, and after he makes his way through the underground maze he´s stuck in, he finds some sort of an altar with a large, glowing crystal floating in mid-air. The crystal reveals to Luneth that he is one of the chosen warriors of light, whose task is to save the crystals and the entire world as a result. There are three other persons who share Luneth´s destiny as the chosen warriors, and he will encounter them VERY soon after the first quest in the game. These are Arc, Luneth´s childhood friend, Refia, the adopted daughter of a smith, and Ingus, a noble knight of a nearby kingdom. The story is indeed very typical for an early Final Fantasy, not just because of the crystals playing a major role, but also because surprising plot twists or interesting side-stories are practically non-existent. While the characters were nameless and faceless individuals in the original, they now got their own personalities and background stories, but they still remain pretty unremarkable, unable to show any signs of charm or any interesting character traits. As a result of the boring main characters (and NPCs as well), most of the dialogue found in this game is extremely wooden and stilted, at times even ridiculous, for example when it comes to talking to villagers. It´s a bit difficult to judge the story and the setting here, since we´re talking about a game that is essentially 16 years old, and back then, good storytelling in RPGs was not that common, to be perfectly frank. But even though it would have been nice to see some more improvements in this department of the game, it was probably a good decision by Square-Enix to allow the story to stay true to the original, since it provides the game with a sense of authenticity, and it also shows how far the Final Fantasy series has come over the years in terms of storytelling.

The gameplay in the DS remake, much like the story and the setting, remains true to the original as well, with significant changes being absent most of the times. It follows the same structure as the original "Final Fantasy III", which means that you will find a perfect example of the good, old town-dungeon-town-dungeon formula within this game. Because that´s how you make your progress throughout the game for a large part, with any surprising dungeon visits or changes of the current location missing. The battles are another example for this old school approach. "Final Fantasy III" originally has been released in the days before the active-time-battle-system, which means that you will find a strictly turn-based system here, which means that you choose the commands for each of your characters before each round, with them executing during the current turn and with your enemies attacking at some point as well. That´s not even a bad thing, since it allows you to take your time while choosing a command and does not force you into making haste so the enemies don´t attack you while choosing, which means that you´ll have more time to develop a strategy for the next round. It´s necessary, though, since the difficulty level is very "old-school", too, or, in other words, very high. In order to survive the battles in this game, you´ll have to spend quite some training your characters and levelling them up, since the enemies are pretty tough and relentless, even right at the beginning, so newbies won´t get any warm welcomes here. "Final Fantasy III" also marks the first time the job-system has been introduced, and while the remake features even more different job classes for you to choose from, it´s pretty simple at heart, with some job classes even being useless for the rest of the game. The spell system is quite simplistic, too, as you can simply buy them from shops in towns - just like weapons, armor and items - instead of learning them or anything like that, and who is able to use what magic depends on his or her character class, like a Black Mage being able to use black magic, a White Mage being able to use white magic and a Red Mage being able to use both kinds of magic. As far as the dungeon design goes, the game remains very simplistic as well, as at least the early dungeons are pretty small and easy to make your way through, except for the tons of random encounters. Square-Enix did not exactly use the touch screen abilities of the DS for some innovative features, although you can use the stylus to control everything in the game, which is optional, of course - otherwise, it would be quite an annoying affair. The dual screen does not get much attention, either. The intro, for example, is being shown on both screens, as well as some story sequences (with the text normally appearing on the upper screen), and during the normal game, it´s mostly being used for the map. In battle, the upper screen even remains completely black, which is a little disappointing, as well as the fact that the game is being played on the lower screen, since it would have been nicer for the eyes to play it on the upper screen. Other than that, the gameplay is just perfect for RPG veterans who are not afraid of a challenge.

Looking at the visual appearance of "Final Fantasy III", veterans of the original Famicom version might have problems to recognize this title again. After all, Square-Enix did not just enhance the graphics to 16-Bit standard, like they did with the remakes of "Final Fantasy" and "Final Fantasy II" for Wonderswan Color, PlayStation and Game Boy Advance. Instead, the company decided to give this long lost RPG gem a complete graphical overhaul in order to make it worthy of being the last Japan-only Final Fantasy title to finally reach the western world as well. The effort Square-Enix put into accomplishing this task becomes obvious already once you start the game and you´re being greeted with an awesome 4 minute FMV intro. The quality of this rendered sequence that introduces the four main characters to you is simply outstanding and easily on par with almost any CG cutscene we´ve seen on the PlayStation 2, featuring a smooth frame rate, bright colors and amazingly detailed character models. It´s a perfect introduction to the game´s setting and characters, and it makes you yearn for more such FMVs, but unfortunately, the intro remains the sole CG sequence in the game. But at the very least, you´ll be amazed by the sheer quality of the in-game graphics when the game truly starts. The entire game world, including the battle sequences, has been completely remade in 3D, with an artistic style that resembles the PlayStation entries of the Final Fantasy series. The environments are crisp and lush and look simply gorgeous at times, even though they can get a little pixilated if you zoom in. The same goes for the character models. Since realistic seeming character models like in "Final Fantasy VIII" would have been a little inappropriate due to the DS capabilities, SE chose to give them a slight chibi touch that makes them really likable, and they also offer a lot of details that were of course missing in the original game. The only thing about the character models I did not like was the visualization of their legs during the winning pose after a battle - it´s simply ugly, honestly, but maybe it´s because of the hardware. Where the graphics truly shine, however, are the battles. Especially some of the (boss) enemies have been designed with so many details and so much care that it´s simply stunning and up on par with any PlayStation Final Fantasy. Even the first boss in the game, the Landturtle, will impress you with its detailed textures and features. Equally impressive are the battle backgrounds, astounding again with a vast variety of detail, even though they can pretty pixilated as well when you zoom in too close. And what would a "modern" Final Fantasy be without its terrific spell effects? They´re here as well, too, and once again, they are easily on a high PlayStation level. The only bad thing I can say about the graphics is that they tend to be slightly pixilated at times and especially when you use the zoom function, but other than that, Square-Enix truly outdid themselves with the visual resurrection of "Final Fantasy III" and offer the best 3D graphics in any DS game so far.

And much to each gamer´s delight, Square-Enix also improved the audio in "Final Fantasy III" greatly, to an extent that it becomes an entirely new and pleasant experience for the ears. The soundtrack itself remains largely the same as in the original, but what´s different here is the audio quality of each piece of music here, and that´s what counts. Gone are the days of the annoying and sparse melodies consisting of simple (and bad sounding) tunes. Instead, the soundtrack now has an orchestral quality that sounds crystal clear and crisp, being almost of CD quality. Apart from the hugely improved audio quality, the tracks themselves are very fitting and enjoyable to listen to, even though they´re not among the best Nobuo Uematsu has ever composed. Overall, though, they´re excellent and always manage to underline the current mood in the game. The only minor disappointment I had with the sound department was the lack of any voice acting in the game, and even though this would have contradicted the game´s clear old-school approach, it would have been at the very least a nice addition in order to make the characters more appealing, but that´s not really a negative aspect. The music alone will more than make up for that, as from the beautiful opening theme to the fast paced battle tracks, "Final Fantasy III" is an aural delight.

From a certain point of view, "Final Fantasy III" is quite ambiguous. On one hand, you have old school RPG gameplay and a simplistic story, and other hand, you have a terrific presentation featuring stunning visuals and music - it´s practically a classic RPG at heart that has been given a completely new look. Whether that´s good or not depends on each gamer´s stance toward old school RPGs, but there´s no doubt that "Final Fantasy III" still is an enjoyable experience and a worthy entry into the Square-Enix gaming library - and by far the best RPG available for the Nintendo DS!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/02/07

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