In 1990, Squaresoft (now Square Enix) produced its third and final Final Fantasy installment for the 8-bit console generation targetting the Japanese Nintendo Famicom. Like its predecessor, Final Fantasy II, FF3 was not translated for western audiences and was exclusive to the Japanese market. In 1994 Square produced Final Fantasy VI and released that title in North America as Final Fantasy 3 creating the confusion that we have today. (American audiences only received original version sof FF1, FF4 and FF6 named FF1, FF2 and FF3 – and then suddenly jumped to matching version numbers with FF7 on the Playstation.)
Unlike other early Final Fantasy titles which were ported to alternative gaming systems in subsequent years (Final Fantasy II reached American audiences via the Game Boy Advance in the “Dawn of Souls” cartridge and Final Fantasy V and VI were released for the GBA each on their own) Final Fantasy III remained exclusive to the Famicom and to its Japanese localized version until a North American version was released for the Nintendo DS handheld game system in 2006 (several months after the remake was released in Japan.)
When playing FF3 it is important to keep in mind its 8-bit console roots. Gameplay is shallow and much grinding is necessary. Characters are flat and uninteresting but this is how jRPGs were in 1990. When the era is taken into consideration FF3 turns out to be rather mammoth and much more deep and immersive than almost any other game of the era. The DS port includes some interface tweaks, balance changes and updated sound and graphics including 3D rendered fight scenes and dungeons but mostly the game remains rooted in the 8-bit era.
Considering the age of FF3, who is going to be interested in playing it? Anyone nostalgic for the 8-bit era (if you loved Final Fantasy 1 or the original Dragon Warrior games on the NES) then this game is definitely for you. Or, if you are like me, and a big fan of the Final Fantasy series in general and want to play the series in its entirety now that it is officially available outside of Japan then you definitely need to play. If you are looking for a modern, cutting edge RPG honed by decades of genre maturation then you will want to look elsewhere. In FF3 the world plays like a transparent image of a real world being displayed for the benefit of the observer. The shallow emptiness of early RPG games.
Graphically Final Fantasy III is a great improvement on the DS over its Famicom (NES) original. The world map is updated to look a little better than it used to and looks, more or less, like an FF game of the 16-bit SNES era. Once in a town or in a dungeon the game switches to a simple three dimensional style that works moderately well. It is nothing too impressive but this is due more to the DS’s limitations than to the game’s design. The new graphics work well and do not distract from the game. Playing FF3 on the DS is likely far more enjoyable than it was on the Famicom eighteen years ago.
I am very happy to report that Square Enix did not add any unnecessary touch-screen controls to FF3 which so often happens with games when they appear on the Nintendo DS (or Wii.) The mere existance of the interface so often prompts its use no matter how inappropriate it is for a given task but not so here. There are some elements which can be controlled from the touch screen but nothing that requires its use. The game can easily be played completely through intuitive and simple standard controls.
FF3’s gameplay is updated somewhat for the Nintendo DS to improve the original Famicom version. Most of the changes, according to Wikipedia, are balance related to make the game work more smoothly. There is a tiny bit of new material added to enlarge the game but only slightly. The remake is very true to the original.
One new feature of FF3 on the DS is the addition of the Mognet system which is used to send “email” via WiFi connection to other FF3 players or to send pretend email to characters within the game. Yes, this feature is as strange as it sounds and does distract from the game to some degree. I doubt that anyone will actually enjoy spending the time to email each other through the game in this day and age of ubiquitous email communications but, unfortunately, some of the additional sidequests and special features are available only through this system and it ends up acting like a “cheats” input that is used for no other reason that to unlock hidden areas in the game.
One of the most interesting features of FF3 is the “jobs” system which is analogous to Dungeons and Dragons classes. In FF3 you start out with a basic job (called Freelancer which is very general purpose allowing your character to do a little bit of everything.) As you progress through the game new jobs will become available. You can switch between jobs at any time but you must gain experience in the job that you wish to use in addition to your regular experience so changing often is not a useful strategy.
Final Fantasy III is the first Final Fantasy title to include the jobs system which became popular staples of the Final Fantasy series. Unlike Final Fantasy itself (FF1) in which you could select a class at the beginning of the game you have more flexibility in the later titles which also allows for the addition of special, more powerful jobs that only become available later in the game such as FF3’s Geomancer job.
The concept of class changing was not new to Final Fantasy III, of course, and was a popular component of the RPG classic The Bard’s Tale which released in 1985. In The Bard’s Tale only certain classes could switch mid-game and they likewise took penalties for doing so and needed to gain experience again in the new class in order to be effective with it.
In general, Final Fantasy III is an impressive game considering its age and the era from which it came. I cannot say that all is rosey, however. When I reached the end of the game what I found is that the very last portion of the game, that which exists after the player believes that the game has been won, is disproportionately hard and confusing leaving the player in a multi-hour long ending without opportunity to save that relies upon the old tradition of being frustrating and obtuse rather than clever and challenging like modern games.
I must confess that after dying from unbalanced battles, spending approximately five hours grinding to prepare myself for the game ending and then getting stuck wandering aimlessly and pointlessly around a “final” dungeon without any clear direction or purpose I deemed the game not worth finishing. After forty hours of investment it was not worth my time to even attempt the final battle because I could not determine if there was one, what it was or if I was even supposed to do anything in particular.
It is unfortunate that a game that does so well for its era ends on such a sour note leaving players who have been willing to put in the time necessary to reach the end with a bad taste and poor memories of the game. Only the most dedicated historians of the JRPG genre should put time into this title.