Final Fantasy III
A numbered Final Fantasy game finally returns to Nintendo! Alas, it is not a brand new game. But, then again, this no mere port either. Final Fantasy III for the DS (herein, referred to as Final Fantasy III-D) is a complete remake of the Japan-only original which appeared on the Famicom back in 1990. The missing link has finally been rediscovered, but has time been kind to such ‘archaic’ gameplay? Yes… and no.
Have you seen the original Famicom Final Fantasy III? Let me tell you right now: it looks every bit as plain and unexciting as you’d imagine a 1990 RPG would look. Fast-forward 16 years – Final Fantasy III-D is now a reality, bringing together current-generation 3D graphics, an orchestrated re-scoring, a more user-friendly touch-screen interface and portable gaming-on-the-go.
Technically, Final Fantasy III-D does a fine job of showing off the prowess of Nintendo’s dual screened wonder. Everything is fully modelled in clean, colourful 3D and textured to near perfection. The main characters (with all their assorted job-related costume changes) look adorably cute, yet still maintain an air of heroism about them; the super-deformed look isn’t as obtrusive as it could have been, thank god. The other non-playable characters and enemies made the transition just as well, and overall the assorted inhabitants of this unnamed world are brimming with personality, from the Santa Claus-looking Cid to the multi-wolf-headed Scylla.
During battles, this game looks just as good as the PlayStation One’s Final Fantasy games – an incredible achievement, to be sure. The swooping views are noticeably absent, and you don’t actually see your line-up move in to directly strike your foes (a clear nod to the old-school Fantasies). But even though the camera angle is locked into one position, with an occasional close-up of characters charging up, the battles still manage to look mighty fine. The spell effects look special enough and every unique weapon you’ve equipped your heroes with will be displayed in a fury of pizzazz as they are used to rattle off the HP of the fiends you encounter.
As you roam about the towns and overworld, it’s amazing to see what some dedicated art and programming can churn out. Finally being able to see the old-style overworlds rendered in this way brings home some warm, fuzzy feelings. The same can’t be said for the numerous dungeons though; here the designs are drab, repetitive and full of empty black spaces at times. It seems that the team must’ve gotten lazy after spending so much time making the outdoor environments look as amazing as they are.
“[T]his game looks just as good as the PlayStation One’s Final Fantasy games – an incredible achievement, to be sure.”The visual splendour is perfectly complemented by enhanced sound too; obviously the original soundtrack would have been woefully insufficient in this day and age. The 8-bit tones are out, but the actual melodies have more or less remained unchanged. Every original Nobuo Uematsu piece has been completely redone with some very high quality orchestral samples; the audio quality is some of the best on the DS with some brilliant strings and sweet brass resounding throughout.
There is a small track selection when compared to modern day RPGs, but most of the ones featured here will be good enough for anyone’s ears for the twenty plus hours (and then some) it will take to complete this journey. This is a testament to quality of these early compositions; while they are far from the best in the series, they are still timeless classics (especially the main theme).
If you’ve played any numbered Final Fantasy from one to ten, then you already know what to expect. As you roam about the massive overworld you will frequently engage in random battles with previously ‘invisible’ enemies. The battles are turn-based as usual, but without the innovative Active Time Battle (ATB) system which was only introduced in later instalments. This makes for some guess work as to when your characters will be able to act, and in what order. It can be a bit random at times, and your strategies can be ripped apart because of this, though. I do realise that this game preceded the advent of ATB, but it would have been a nice optional addition in this remake to offer some more flexibility which could have made things more fair.
Battles are still rock hard as it is, especially for the uninitiated and under-prepared folk. Unlike recent instalments, it is of the utmost importance to keep up with the Joneses. That is, you must always ensure that your characters are always equipped with the best equipment possible at all times, as well as to keep your stock of potions and other curative items topped up.
“If you’ve played any numbered Final Fantasy from one to ten, then you already know what to expect.”However, one very important item used to revive fallen comrades – the Phoenix Down – is not able to be bought from shops, and is only dropped by monsters on rare occasions, or else, required to be stolen from certain enemies late in the game. This makes the first few steps of the game incredibly difficult. Characters who are knocked out (which can happen very easily – see later) and who are unable to be revived will make for a greatly diminished chance of survival for your party of four, especially in those long dungeon-crawls. Even if you do have some means of revival (especially with the all-important Raise spell earned much later on), the fact that members are revived with barely any HP, only to be easily knocked out again, can make for some very frustrating replays.
And some of the replays that you are guaranteed to endure will waste anything from minutes to hours of time spent getting up to that point of demise again. This is because of a very unreasonable save system. You are able to save your game anytime, anywhere on the overworld. Always do so before you enter any dungeon, since within these evil lairs, there lies no saviour. This means there will be many a time when you will wade through a ton of random battles, making your way through some boring looking tunnels, eventually reaching a boss, only to be owned up bigtime and having to replay your last faraway save, with all your hard work and levelling lost. This is something that definitely could have been addressed in this remake. Just because you can’t save before a boss does NOT make things harder, but more frustrating!
Now that we are clear about the unforgiving nature of the battles, let me now discuss the cheapness of them. Since it takes a lot of time to level up your characters and their job proficiencies, most of us would be in the same ‘average’ boat. Going through dungeons isn’t all that hard. There is always a risk of heavy, critical damage, but so long as you keep on your toes and heal constantly, all should go well. That is, of course, until you encounter a back attack. These ordeals are meant to put you into panic mode as you are put at a disadvantage in both formation and turn-time. However, since enemies tend to do massive amounts of damage as it is (one-quarter health damage per hit, on average!), a surprise ambush is pretty much a random death in some dungeons.
There was even a certain temple in which I was cruising along, gaining good experience and Gil as I made my way further in, when suddenly I came across a seemingly typical bunch of enemy triplets. My first attack happened to miss, which subsequently meant I wasn’t able to eliminate any of them before they started their retaliation. Three lightning strikes later… and my entire fully healthy party was totally wiped out. Talk about unlucky cheap attacks! This only happened to me on one major occasion, but I’m sure others will experience it at least once, if not multiple times. Murphy’s Law applies here, and enemies will decide to all use their strongest attacks in a row when you least expect it, to make the last hour of gaming you spent worth naught.
“Battles are still rock hard… [u]nlike recent instalments…”Final Fantasy III started up the whole choose-your-own-job phenomenon that eventually made its way into future titles. All up, you have twenty-two different jobs alongside your standard freelancer class. For those who fancy a dose of fancy magicks, there is the Black Mage or the Summoner. Others who would rather rely on purely physical powers can opt to go for Knights, Dragoons and Ninjas. The odd ones amongst us have the Bard and Geomancer. Overall, there is a lot of choice, all with their individual advantages, disadvantages, and synergisms (one job complementing another).
But all is not created equal, and the jobs you unlock later clearly make the earlier ones redundant. This forces you to always change up from time to time. I wouldn’t mind doing so normally, but after having levelled up a job to a reasonable standard, switching to another results in bringing your characters’ stats back to square one. This is because attributes such as strength, defense, MP and so forth are directly related to your job level, and NOT your base level. You are going to have to do a lot of grinding to bring them up to a respectable level again, and some of us aren’t into that sort of mindless ‘gameplay’, if you could call it that.
Even though a large selection of different jobs are available, the variety of equipment is strangely lacking. Oftentimes there will only be one or two feasible equipables per bodypart per job. Other times, you won’t have anything worthwhile to even attach, and you may go for hours without any functional gear of appropriate benefit. The job system was further refined in Final Fantasy IV, and nearly perfected in Final Fantasy V, but Square Enix could have easily added in a few more spears, robes and jandals – simple data – into this new remix.
With respect to the chosen platform, I really couldn’t imagine a more perfect fit than the DS. You are able to perform an instant-save at any point when not in battle or in a story sequence (unfortunately, this quicksave is erased as soon as you boot it up again), and for those exclusive times there’s always sleep mode. This makes portable grinding whenever you have a spare moment as easy as cooking up some instant noodles. From the moment you turn on your DS, you can be engaging in yet another random battle in less than thirty seconds, and resuming your current real-life activity in less than half that. Now, isn’t that something!
The dual screen set-up hasn’t been utilised much, but it doesn’t really bother me, nor should it do to you. Moving around the field and, more significantly, selecting options during battles can now be done at a touch. This addition is may be worthwhile to some, but I felt that it still wasn’t as particularly intuitive as the traditional d-pad and button controls; working the old-fashioned way is still the fastest method and just as comfortable.
Final Fantasy III wasn’t a role-model Fantasy back then, and it still isn’t one now. Although the interface and customisation is more manageable now (equipping in the past was a painful chore involving too much manual unequipping first!) and despite the extreme makeover graphically, aurally and plotwise (to an extent here, though), Final Fantasy III-D is still an old game. But, it’s still a good one.
“Final Fantasy III wasn’t a role-model Fantasy back then, and it still isn’t one now.”There were several other gameplay mechanics which would have been more enjoyable if some more tampering was done with the cheap ‘old-school’ difficulty. The magic-set swapping is an interesting feature to begin with, but unlikely to be used much later on, and I felt that this part could have also been improved upon.
The final area is something I must quickly mention too. You may manage to get to the end with a decent party if you adopt a well thought out strategy, only to find that the final set of bosses will annihilate you before you can get your second commands in. There is a consistent rise in difficulty up to this point, thereafter, if you can’t cut it, expect to grind for levels for oh… say five hours or so! Having the final boss about one to two hours away from your last save point (multiple fleeing inclusive) just adds insult to injury.
All told, I’m still delighted that this long-lost tale has been revisited with a lot of tender, loving care. For the most part, it still holds up by today’s high standards, but this is helped most by the fact that these sort of (random, turn-based) RPGs have grown out of fashion and are no longer milked like they once were. (Hope I haven’t spoken too soon, though!) As Nintendo is regaining the throne which they lost over a decade ago, it is great to see the renewed third-party support for both DS and Wii. Final Fantasy IIID is a flawed RPG, but still a fun one, and definitely a bright, shining semi-historical treasure whichever way you look at it.