Final Fantasy III DS Review
One Last Missing Piece
Change has always been a constant for the Final Fantasy series. Game to game, it changes more than perhaps any other series, causing rifts and arguments between gamers who want something new, and those of a more traditional slant. Given the major changes the series has seen over the last three years, the NES-fresh turn based combat system and gameplay of Final Fantasy III feels like a genuine throwback to an era where pixels were cutting edge, though whether this is a good thing or not depends largely on a player’s taste. Final Fantasy III introduces a number of updates to the old game, both in plot and combat system, all of which help to make the game far more playable than its NES predecessor. It does still suffer from some of the same problems; a combat system that can make battle plans difficult to execute, somewhat poor player prompting, and a plot which, despite the introduction of a far better cast, still comes off as somewhat flat and pointless. In the end, how much a player enjoys Final Fantasy III will hang primarily on their feelings about traditional turn-based gameplay and NES-style challenge.
Final Fantasy III uses roughly the same basic combat system as the first Final Fantasy, being a highly traditional turn-based system with a largely random turn order. Final Fantasy III made a significant change to series tradition up to that point by allowing the player to change character’s classes mid-game. Though it lacks the flexibility and customization of later Job Class System incarnations, the ability to easily shift characters between vastly different class types makes for an unexpectedly complex and engaging combat system. There are a few problems to deal with, mostly stemming from the aforementioned random turn order. Since there isn’t any way to accurately predict how each round of combat will unfold, there’s an element of luck that can be particularly irritating in some of the game’s tighter battles. Overall, though, the combat system of Final Fantasy III works well as a glimpse of highly traditional gameplay in a genre moving ever further away from the turn-based system.
Most of the gameplay in Final Fantasy III is to be found on the DS’s touch screen, with a map being the only real thing the top screen is used to display. The game uses both touch controls and traditional control pad and button control, but each have their problems. Of the two, the button control is probably the better to use, as its only real problem is a slight sluggishness when moving on the field. Conversely, the touch controls work very well for moving about the landscape, but using them for menu selection and item use tends to be a little inaccurate. Menus in general aren’t that spectacular, though. The inability to see current Job Level or max MP on the main menu isn’t that much of a problem, but the lack of an Optimize command in the equipment screen can make frequent Job changes a bit bothersome.
The plot of Final Fantasy III revolves around four orphaned youths, destined to take their place as the prophesied “Warriors of Light”. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it roughly mirrors the sparse plot of the original Final Fantasy. While the concept of a small group of people prophesied to save the world forms an underlying theme throughout most of the games in the series, this newly expanded version of the FFIII storyline doesn’t take the idea much further than the first game did. On the other hand, this version of the game does exchange the four identical Onion Kids of the NES game for an actual cast of characters, which is certainly welcome even if the cast isn’t what you’d call large. There isn’t much of anything in the way of character development, and the cast as a whole lacks motivation and backstory, but it is an improvement. The storyline of Final Fantasy III helps maintain the classical feel of the game, but isn’t very compelling or meaningful.
Edited and arranged by Tsuyoshi Sekito and Keiji Kawamori, the original work of Nobuo Uematsu goes through some significant changes in this game, and the end result is very nice indeed. From the symphonic opening suite to the tinkly bells of the Ancient’s Village, the soundtrack of Final Fantasy III evokes an earlier era of gaming without resorting to cheap bleeps and bloops. The sound quality isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a big step up from that found on the GBA. Sound effects are largely solid, and even though the game forgoes some of the minor voice acting found in other recent DS RPGs, it still manages a reasonable level of personality. Overall, the sound of Final Fantasy III is one of its stronger points.
Final Fantasy III walks a precarious balance, being a remake of an NES game that most outside of Japan never saw. By moving too far away from the original, Square Enix would risk alienating its die-hard fans. On the other hand, tying itself too strongly with its source material would risk alienating gamers who never had a chance to play it. On the whole, Final Fantasy III may lean just a little too closely to the original, as it inherits a number of flaws that are typical of NES RPGs, such as poor player direction and somewhat irritating luck-based aspects of combat. It is possible that Square Enix thought of this as a sort of insurance, given that the game was chosen for rebirth based on a poll of fans, but it does make the game feel a bit elderly at times.
The shift in the visual style that Final Fantasy III experiences in its journey from NES to DS is highly significant. Where the visuals of the first incarnation were highly constrained by the technology of the time, restricted to the same color palette and blocky style of sprite as every other title on the system, the DS version constructs a world of brilliant green earth and delicate pastel sky. In short, the game’s overall visual style feels less classic Nintendo and more classical art. On the technical side, the character models tend to be a bit angular and blocky, but they animate very smoothly and the overall effect is quite good. Final Fantasy III also does something quite well that others have struggled to do at all, integrating pixel sprites with polygonal backgrounds to the point where it can be difficult to tell them apart. All this, along with some CG of a quality unparalleled on the DS, makes Final Fantasy III one of the prettiest games on its system.
At between twenty-five and thirty hours to complete, Final Fantasy III isn’t a particularly long game, but it does offer the chance to continue the adventure after the closing credits. Given the rewards for mastering Job Classes, as well as the sidequests available through the game’s WiFi email system, MogNet, it is entirely conceivable that a player might continue well after the final battle. The game’s challenge provides another reason to keep playing; though a strongly luck-based aspect of combat provides some of the difficulty, Final Fantasy III has enough in the way of genuine tactical challenge to keep anyone looking for some turn-based action satisfied.
Final Fantasy III is a title in a style that isn’t seen often enough these days — a challenging, well-made, highly traditional RPG. While this brings problems of its own to the table, such as a lackluster plot and a sometimes irritatingly random combat system, the fact that gamers haven’t seen an application of basic RPG mechanics this solid in a long time goes a long way towards making its problems more palatable. In the end, players who are going to get the most out of this game are those with an interest in turn-based combat and the Job Class systems of yore, as Final Fantasy III feels like nothing so much as a return to the earliest traditions of the genre as a whole.