Review by mayonaiserhino
A respectful update to an old classic
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, Id like to take a moment to thank Square-Enix for not selling out here. Theres no doubt in my mind that one or two people at company headquarters proposed a complete overhaul of Final Fantasy IIIs game system. Thankfully, the system from the original game is mostly untouched. All of its strengths and weaknesses are here intact. In my mind, the impulse to water down the gameplay so that any twit could master it mustve been pretty powerful.
Since the onset of this decade, its been patently obvious that your average FF-fanboy holds Final Fantasy VII to be the pinnacle of the series in both gameplay and story. I wont bother arguing against the latter (although I have half a mind to). But in regards to gameplay? I find that kind of insulting and so should the developers. Final Fantasy III provided the first great leap forward for series gameplay system. It wasnt quite perfect yet. That would have to wait until Final Fantasy V. But the third installment laid the foundation for the classic job-based system. I admire Square-Enix for faithfully porting this onto a Nintendo DS cartridge. The whole point of this project was to give Final Fantasys non-Japanese audience the chapter theyd missed out on the first time around. It was a bold move on their part because this game is by no means accessible to todays role-playing audience. Regardless, I believe it was the right thing to do. If the developers had watered down the gameplay to be more like Final Fantasy VII, they wouldve been doing the game a grave disservice.
Sure. The visuals arent up to the level of FFIX or anything after that. But I dont think anyone expected them to be. What we have instead are visuals somewhere in between FFVII and FFVIII minus the pre-rendered backgrounds and FMVs. Ive seen the graphics for Phantom Hourglass and although FFIII isnt quite at that level either, what we have here is about as good as it gets on the Nintendo DS. Being a stickler for the old world maps myself, I love what theyve done with them here. Just cruising around fighting baddies on your airship and exploring new territories is a visually stimulating experience and quite simply a lot of fun. The style reminds me of FFIX and, at least in my book, thats a plus. I like how the character models each have their own unique spin on a given job costume. And although graphics are certainly not everything, FFIII kind of proved to me that a games storyline and situation are given more weight and immediacy if the visuals are as breathtaking as they often are here.
Navigating your sprite through towns and controlling vehicles both feel as natural as in any other FF game. However, if your sprite is walking on the world map, theres no way to make it run like in towns or dungeons. Thats kind of a bummer. Also, I get the impression the active time system in battles isnt as precise as in other FF games. I dont necessarily wish there was more use of the touch screen, but I feel like navigating your character with the stylus is a little imprecise. Still, if you find yourself using the stylus a lot, youll see that it works very well in battles, especially if youre taking an hour or so to level up and your thumbs feel a little cramped from mashing buttons.
Its not really fair to rate this game based on story. This is a gameplay experience, not a movie. There are some elements of the story that differentiate it from other Final Fantasies, but not many. I particularly like concept of the floating continent. This is really just another crystal quest, though. The good news is that its engaging enough to keep you from falling asleep.
This category is, obviously, what should make or break a game. Personally, I love the old school Final Fantasy system. For me, the more recent games in the series are lacking in gameplay depth. It all started with FFVIIs moron-proof system. The FFIII system separates the men from the boys. This game aint easy. My guess is that youll either play it all the way through or youll give up after an hour. In some of ways, it depends on how old you are. Not that you need to be a certain age to beat it, but this game is really marketed to people who grew up with NES and SNES Final Fantasies. I never owned them myself because they were either impossible to find or too expensive (upwards for $60 for an original Final Fantasy II cartridge on SNES). But I played them on emulators from a pretty young age.
The job system here includes most of the ones found in Final Fantasy V; however, theres no berserker and maybe a couple others. There are twenty-three jobs in all (including the Onion Knight). Theres a lot of diversity in the gameplay and could keep you occupied for dozens of hours. Its fun to experiment with jobs. But at the end of the day, its advisable to stick with the four you feel most comfortable with. I actually kept three of the four initial jobs I selected: monk, thief, and red mage. I upgraded my warrior to a dragoon because the thief can steal his most powerful weapon. I have to admit, though I wish the thief had more to steal that potions and spells. Regardless, it allowed for me to finish the game without having to upgrade to a more powerful magic user. In general, black magic in FFIII is pretty unnecessary. If your characters max out their job levels and have relatively high experience levels (around lv. 50), you can pummel virtually any baddie to death with just standard attacks. Even my thief could consistently deal out 9999 points of damage by the end of the game. So whats the use of magic?
I get the impression nowadays that the difficulty of an RPG is measured in how often you have to walk around in areas full of bad guys for the sole purpose of leveling up. Thats sad. Old school RPGs were all like that. Some of you may hate to hear this, but FFIII is like that. And I dont think its all that difficult until the very end. Yes. It would be to your benefit to level up from time to time. But the encounter rate is so high that you really dont need to do it as often as in some other RPGs (note: encounter rate is insanely high).
I cant really stress this enough: I love the job system. It works almost perfectly here. The only problem is that Ive already played Final Fantasy V and, as a result, Im spoiled. In FFV, you have the ability to mix and match your job abilities. For instance, you can have a thief that casts black magic. Its very cool. Unfortunately, you can only be one thing at a time in FFIII. But honestly, it works a lot better than I wouldve expected. This kind of system really allows you to recognize the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each particular job. After gaining a few levels, the monk is incredibly strong and doesnt even need to equip claws. However, the monk doesnt have much armor to equip. The thief doesnt have great attack power until you reach about level 90 (note: its not that hard to do), but he can really make up for not have a mage in your party because he steals enough hi-potions and powerful spells to last throughout the game. The biggest problem I have with this game is all the b.s. WiFi connection gimmickry. You cant obtain any of the characters ultimate weapons without sending letters to friends via WiFi.
Im sorry, Square-Enix, but believe it or not some of us are actually adults with other adult friends who dont play video games. I cant go to school and trade letters with friends during lunchtime. I might have time to blow thirty hours on this game over the Thanksgiving holiday, but sadly I dont have time to make friends with twelve-year olds.
Although the WiFi thing really irks me, Im pleased to say that FFIII exceeded my expectations and thoroughly rocked my world. Im looking forward to the Nintendo DS version of FFIV Square-Enix has in the works (Ive already seen pictures and Cecil looks pretty awesome!). But more importantly, I hope they intend to give the same treatment to Final Fantasy V. As long as they stay true to the original gameplay (like they did with FFIII), it should be a blast.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy III (US, 11/14/06)
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