Review by bluej33

"Insanely fun, in a twisted, psychotic kind of way"

Every once in a while a game comes along that lets us relive gaming as it was years ago (or experience it for the first time, for some people). Porting old games is nothing new for Nintendo owners. Some remakes are better than others, but Final Fantasy III stands out largely because it's a game that so few US gamers played because it was released only in Japan.

Final Fantasy III is one of the best-looking games on the DS, but don't let that fool you. Hidden beneath the cute, nose-less character models and impressively-designed and animated enemies is a seriously hardcore adventure. If The World Ends with You is the only sort of RPG that you could enjoy, turn a blind eye and for your own sake, don't bother with Final Fantasy III. But if you've got an appreciation for games that were released some twenty years ago, you'll likely find something to enjoy in Final Fantasy III.

Frankly, it's easy to see why Final Fantasy III has previously not been released in North America: because it's pretty much the same freaking game as Final Fantasy I. Yes, we get pretty little updated visuals and a surprisingly fun job system, but in many ways it doesn't differ much from the original Final Fantasy. And though you could buy that game and get the awesome Final Fantasy II thrown into the mix for less than twenty bucks on eBay, it's still easy to justify spending the pretentious asking price of forty dollars for Final Fantasy III.

Aside from the job system which I'll touch on later, Final Fantasy III is role-playing in its most basic, stripped-down form. You'll fight monsters, gain experience, fight some more monsters, buy equipment, and use your new powerful equipment to fight more powerful enemies and gain even more experience. It's a circular, constantly-repetitive experience, and it's going to turn a lot of people off. Again, there's clearly a niche market that's being targeted here and frankly it's surprising that Square was brave enough to release a game that will appeal to so few people who own a DS (most owners of the system are too busy having fun with Nintendogs or Super Frickin' Princess Peach to pay attention to a real game).

The job system is one of the few mildly unique aspects of Final Fantasy III and is the only draw of the title to people who brag about playing every Final Fantasy game released. The game features some 25 different jobs, all of which their own weapon abilities and a special action or two. Experimenting with different party options is pretty fun, but there are some jobs that are clearly better than others while some jobs are absolutely useless and you'd have to be an idiot to actually use them. Still, constraining your ideal party is enjoyable enough, and checking out all the different job costumes is one of the most exciting parts of the game.

And then there's the problem of difficulty: the bulk of the game is decently fun, if your idea of fun constitutes killing the same group of pretty-looking monsters over and over and over freaking again. But then Final Fantasy III shows its true colors: even the beautiful visuals can't hide the fact that this is a really old game. You're expected to grind to insane levels to get through the game's many dungeons and defeat incessantly-attacking enemies. It's hard to get into the lame save-the-crystals-story or connect with any of the poorly-written characters when you're attacked by a threesome of foes hellbent on your death every three steps you take.

In many current-day RPGs, a little level-grinding is required. In many, there's a setup where “it'll be a lot easier if you gain a couple levels-up now and then but it certainly isn't a requirement and you'll have just as much fun facing off against epic bosses at a lower level”. Such is not the case with Final Fantasy III. You MUST grind. There's no way about it. If you just try and play through the story without stopping to level you'll probably have killed yourself out of frustration by the time you reach the second boss. You're expected to grind. A lot. Hell, the entire game is one big freaking grind. There's no puzzle solving and only a few side quests. You'll level-up for hours in preparation for taking on one big, overpowered boss. Even worse is when you fly through a dungeon, reach the end of it after an hour and are absolutely SLAUGHTERED by a boss because you spent too little time leveling.

And thanks to the archaic save feature, it's back to the beginning of the dungeon for you. You can only save in the field and because nothing ever really happens there -- it's just the way to get from dungeon A to dungeon B -- it's kind of useless. You'll just save before you enter a dungeon and pray for the best. Admittedly, it's a different sort of difficulty than many of us may be used to. You always know where to go and what you have to do -- the difficulty is in actually doing it. Compare that to the mess of an adventure employed by many current-day RPGs where you'll go through several dungeons, obscure puzzles, and boring story bits before fighting a boss. To its credit, at least Final Fantasy III keeps things simple.

Final Fantasy III is kind of like a very attractive member of the opposite sex whom, when you get to know him or her, turns out to be a massive jerk. Square-Enix advertises the beautiful graphics and the fact that this is a “brand new” Final Fantasy but conveniently forgets to mention the fact that if you've got the patience of one of the millions of ten-year-olds who actually own a DS, you'll hate this game.

But if you do stick with it, Final Fantasy III improves significantly. There's no way to revive your characters outside of Phoenix Downs and two reviving spells. But in a cruel, misanthropic move by Square, you're never given access to these spells until halfway through the game. So for the first half of your time with Final Fantasy III, you'll have to be a perfectionist. If a character dies, you'll reload so as not to waste any precious Phoenix Downs. And then once you gain Raise, the game throws a mountain of Phoenix Downs at you. I feel degraded.

One of Final Fantasy III's most redeeming aspect is the fact that if you were to distill any Final Fantasy game out there, even the recent, much-beloved Final Fantasy XII, to its real essence, Final Fantasy III is pretty much the end result. It's a grind. A big, huge, freaking, endless grind from start to finish. And I respect that, in retrospect, because having played the majority of the games in this series it's easy to appreciate that Final Fantasy III doesn't really do anything to mask what it is. And that's a good thing, when you've got games like Final Fantasy XII pretending to be this progressive RPG that's really just the same as every other game released before it with a few nominal tweaks. It might seem like the pretty graphics or half-assed story are attempts to conceal Final Fantasy III's true colors, but upon further experience with the game you'll realize that there's no attempt made to hide what it is. Three paragraphs ago I was ragging on the fact that Square-Enix takes some less-than-kosher advertising approaches with this game. Maybe that's true; maybe they want you to think that you're getting something brand new. You're not. But that's not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. The real point behind my love for Final Fantasy III is multi-faceted, but perhaps what I appreciate most is that Square-Enix is attempting to make one of the most hard-core RPGs out there accessible to people that own one of the most casual systems on the market today.

If you're willing to stick through it and slog through five or ten exceedingly painful hours at the beginning of the game, then go ahead and play, rent, or steal from a friend Final Fantasy III. I've been ragging on it a lot but it's really not a bad game. In fact, it's actually a pretty good game. It's just that under all the pretty, its age definitely shows. If you appreciate the brand of old-school gaming that Final Fantasy offers and are willing to put up with some seriously frustrating moments (Final Fantasy III is easily the toughest Final Fantasy game released in North America), then it's a fun adventure. Everybody else can just keep playing their freaking New Super Mario Bros.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/28/08, Updated 07/31/09

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

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