"As if we really needed more proof of Square's failure since the merger."

When Final Fantasy 3 was first announced for the DS, Final Fantasy fanatics everywhere rejoiced as it marked the occasion where we would finally have all of the Final Fantasy titles on American shores. And Final Fantasy 3 promised to be a far cry from its archaic NES model in that it was not a port, but a full remake. Unfortunately, this promise fast turns to disappointment when the time comes to actually play the game.

The story --- what little of it exists, that is --- centers around Luneth and friends saving the world from the power of darkness. More specifically, the balance between light and dark has become broken thanks to the evil forces of villainy, and the power of darkness has overcome the world. The world is a flood of dark energy, and the light crystals will be under siege from the powers of darkness at every moment. In a plot event strangely similar to the original Final Fantasy for NES, the world's only hope are four seemingly teenage kids known as the Light Warriors.

It's a cheesy, prototypical Japanese RPG storyline that we've come to expect from said JRPG genre, but Final Fantasy 3 does as bad a job of moving the story along as its NES RPG counterparts. None of the events coincide with one another, characters are plopped into the world with little rhyme or consequence, and events are little more than a random non-playable character (NPC) spouting off what's going to happen next. There's no real flow to the events, and everything seems forced all the way through the game. Worse yet are that there's no real plot twists in FF3; your task is to find four crystals and save the world from the final boss, and you'd best believe that barring a couple of very pointless sidequests, your one and only role in the game will be to find four crystals and save the world from the final boss. It's an overall mockery of the excellence we've come to expect from RPG storylines.

And if the story isn't bad enough, the gameplay in Final Fantasy 3 is easily the game's big black eye. For lack of a better term, the gameplay in FF3 is a god-awful bastardization of the job system formula perfected in other Square titles such as Final Fantasy 5 and Final Fantasy Tactics. When the game begins, you start in a job class called Freelancer (unlike in the NES version, when you began as an Onion Knight), with technically means you start in no job class at all. As you progress through the game and gather the four light crystals, more and more job classes including the well-known Knight, Black Mage, White Mage, Summoner, Thief and others, and some new classes including Scholar, Sage, Devout and Warrior will all become available. Aesthetically, a job class system is always a good idea. Final Fantasy 3... pretty much does everything wrong with it.

When a character first changes into a job class, there is an adjustment period of several battles in which that character suffers weaker stats. This is meant to emulate a difficult time tuning into a job's nuances, but a character will have the job "mastered" if you will when first donning the uniform. In battle, each job has a secondary skill on top of the basic Attack command (Thief can Steal and a Summoner can Summon, for example), and in rare cases such as the Knight's Defend skill, Guard gets replaced. But unlike lateral job systems in other games, there is no option to learn abilities in your own order or to even learn abilities at all --- there are none to learn. What you see at Job Level 1 is what you get at Job Level 99. No more, no less.

Speaking of job levels, this is another travesty that FF3 does incorrectly with the job system. To increase a job level, a character must perform six actions in battle. Given that battles in FF3 rarely if ever last past one or two rounds of attacks, you have to put a conscious effort to take extra actions in battle in order to gain job levels. Because jobs are typically weak as hell at low levels, you'll need to do this to make your chosen jobs effective. But because enemies in FF3 are usually difficult to fight (because of graphical limitations, Square put in less enemies for random battle formations, but made them much stronger than they were in the NES version of FF3), this puts your party at risk an forces you to level jobs against lowlife enemies and get little to no reward for it. The same holds true for money and experience, as you get little of either in random fights. This would be a welcome addition if the economy of FF3 made sense, but it doesn't. Items cost about what they do in your average RPG. And because enemies are so difficult in this game, you'll want to be leveled well to fight them, but this takes ages to accomplish.

Long story short, it takes forever for your party to be effective in Final Fantasy 3. Grinding will become a regular part of your routine in this game, and if you choose not to partake, you'll find yourself stuck at many a boss with many a useless job class. An increase in job level might only cause your character to do a little more magic damage or a little more physical damage via an extra hit or two, but it all adds up over time. In our gaming culture of doing everything quickly and having fun while doing it, Final Fantasy 3's battle and job systems manage to be neither quick nor fun.

A small saving grace comes in the dungeons. They're breathtaking to look at, and you can really tell that Square put a lot of effort into making the overall landscape of FF3 look nice. If this same effort were put into the gameplay or story, the game might be worth playing. A similar complaint can be made about the music, which is passable overall but finds itself playing out much like the gameplay: flashes of being good, but boring and uninspired most of the time. The tracks are very short, which makes the looping very noticeable, and very few tracks in the game meet the standard set by Square themselves in other soundtracks that they themselves produced. Final Fantasy 3's soundtrack is a far cry from Final Fantasy 7 or Tactics, or to compare FF3's soundtrack to one closer to its technological level, it doesn't even match such soundtracks as Final Fantasy 4 or Final Fantasy 6.

But in typical Final Fantasy fashion, it ruins the one thing it does right. The dungeons are done well and manage not to be tedious for most of the game, but Square sought fit to put no save points in this game. None. This means that if you die near the end of the final dungeon (which is unbelievably long and obnoxious), you're stuck starting over from the beginning of it. The best you can do is get all the treasure prior to the point of no return, then leave and save before the final push to beat the game. But everything before that final push is only around 60% of the final dungeon. If you die repeatedly while trying to beat the game, you're stuck doing one of two things: cursing yourself for playing Final Fantasy 3 in the first place (which isn't a bad idea by any means) or powerleveling some more until you're strong enough to win. Given that most of FF3's gameplay consists of grinding, this won't be a new task. In fact, you should be used to it by then.

And if all this weren't bad enough, one cannot experience all of Final Fantasy 3 without going through the horrendous Wifi online system that Nintendo has on the DS. In a way, FF3 is brilliant in that it shows off the worst of Nintendo and Squaresoft at the exact same time. To get the best job class in the game, you have to hook the DS up online and fight with Wifi for awhile. Same thing if you want to fight the optional super boss. One of these days, Nintendo and their fans will wake up and realize that Nintendo's current method of online needs a dramatic overhaul. It's not like Xbox Live isn't giving all of gaming a perfect example of how to do it right or anything...

Final Fantasy 3, much like most everything else Square has put out since the Enix merger, is a vast disappointment. Not that this is all too big a surprise given how bad the NES version of FF3 is. You can put all the makeup you want on a pig, but it's still a pig; a filthy animal that enjoys crawling around in its own feces and sucking down mud for lunch. But that's what FF3DS is: a filthy bastardization that can't compete with the brilliant RPGs of Square's past. And with each passing disappointment that Square releases, their glory days of the late 1990s grows farther and farther away. Before long, we'll forget that they used to be the best company in gaming.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 08/06/07, Updated 01/19/10

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

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