Was there ever an RPG as desired as Final Fantasy III? When all of the other games were receiving ports to the Playstation in the golden era of gaming this title slipped the net and it wouldn’t be until it saw eventual release on the DS that gamers could get hold of it and play it for themselves.
Since that time of course it has received a large number of ports, across largely Nintendo systems but also onto Ouya, iOS, Android, PSN for the PSP, Wii-U and more. Almost impossible to come by in its original form, the game was rebuilt from the ground up using a 3D graphical engine that would later be used again to remaser Final Fantasy IV on the DS as well. It is this version that all subsequent ports have been based on and the root port this review will look at.
Graphically the game has taken a complete overhaul when compared to anything that was even remotely possible on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES or Famicom) upon its original release. The whole game has been scrapped and rebuild using a 3D engine and squat, chibi-like character models that give the game the style of a children’s fairy tale. Due to the use of an in-game job system the four main characters (each relatively non-descript on their own) take on a number of redesigns that are pleasing to the eye and lean heavily on Final Fantasy series nostalgia rather than trying to do anything starkly new. That said, as in Final Fantasy V, each character has their own unique take on a job, so a Dragoon will look different on each character. Menus are semi-transparent or textured blue to reduce their clashing with what is happening on screen and the remapped menus on touch-device editions work nicely, although some feel a little cramped. The game does suffer on devices with a higher screen resolution, with the shading looking very pixelated and the characters not seeming as well formatted, a problem stemming from the DS’ generally low screen resolution and the basis of all subsequent ports. Monsters feel very much akin to some of the designs seen in Final Fantasy IX, although there are less crazy enemies to find as the game overall plays it safe with a medieval European fantasy theme with slight Asian influences throughout. The game has a cinematic pre-rendered opening sequence that infuses a lot of character into the game in a very short time.
Audio is a little tinny in comparison to some of the other titles, but overall the sound effects are extremely well done and designed with a high quality in mind. Nobuo Uematsu does an excellent job with this games soundtrack however, keeping elements light and breezy for the most part but not being afraid to delve into some dark tones when the situation demands it. The game has a very upbeat vibe for the most part with the focus on the four children in the lead roles, and aurally the whole thing holds up very well next to modern day releases. Tsuyoshi Sekito and Keiji Kawamori have re-scored and re-recorded the soundtrack for the DS release and brought the melodies out of simple ship-tunes into synth style tracks. ‘The Skies Above’ and the ‘Rocking Grounds’ remain the standout musical numbers from this title.
The story in Final Fantasy III puts the focus back onto 4 orphans, much like the opening of Final Fantasy II, however this trio appear younger and less jaded than their forbearers. On the NES they started out as Onion Knights, but on the DS this is renamed to Freelancer. Similarly although the 4 characters were given no official names in the original release, preferring to focus on a player driven party as seen in the original game in the series, the DS attempts to give each of them a name and a personality. These are Luneth, Arc, Refia and Ignus, who symbolise Courage, Kindness, Affection and Determination. When an earthquake opens up a previously hidden cave Luneth (previously all 4 heroes) investigates and stumbles across a mysterious wind crystal that informs him that he is one of the Warriors of Light and grants him a handful of potential jobs to master. He then collects the other three characters over the next hour of play and together they set about restoring balance to the world. This takes place across more than one world map and puts a heavy emphasis on the use of airships for the first time in the series. Additional crystals grant additional jobs and there are some side quests to undertake as the adventure gets rolling. It’s not the most inspirational of stories and honestly feels a little of a step back in terms of narrative compared to Final Fantasy II, but the remake does what it can to spice it up and bring the characters to life. An amusing early incident sees a town full of people who have been cursed and turned invisible. One of them is Cid (a series staple introduced in FFII), who will let you know where he’s hidden his airship and give you the most immediate access to a flying vessel I’ve ever encountered in the whole series. There’s also some inventive use of spells for problem solving, with casting Mini on the party shrinking them for a section and allowing them to progress and fight ‘giant’ rats.
Gameplay is extremely traditional Final Fantasy or JRPG fair. Exploration, NPC chatter and turn based combat are all present with the advent of the ATB system still a game away and the title dropping the interesting ‘ask’ and ‘remember’ word mechanics from Final Fantasy II. The levelling is also more regular than that title’s and puts a heavy focus on maxing out individual jobs in order to gain new skills and abilities. Swapping jobs is quick, easy and fun to do, and it does make the grind of the game significantly easier to stand. This title has a high encounter rate and sticks with a strict save at crystals or on the over world policy that couples with large dungeons to provide a challenge. Many monsters in new areas feel overpowered compared to the party and require grinding at set points to continue, which can stop progression dead. The DS version adds the Onion Knight back into the game as a hidden additional job class, as well as adding a Moogle-based mail system for item swapping with friends and NPCs over Wi-Fi. This feels oddly reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX’s Mooglenet feature, but taken to a new local extreme in the modern digital age. Some items only become available to players after they have maxed out specific jobs now too, making mastering them something of a necessity.
Overall Final Fantasy III is a solid game but it’s been battered by others in the series and its strongest point (hard dungeons in the traditional style) are a niche already better served by the Dragon Quest series. In stepping away from a story focus it’s lost a lot of the appeal that makes even Final Fantasy II fun to play, and fans of the job system would have more fun with Final Fantasy V. That said it is a superb remake that sets a high standard for re-releases across the board and certainly worth the effort of a play through if you’ve never done so.