Final Fantasy. Some consider the moniker the epitome of the role playing genre, and hail it above all other things. Others see the franchise a little differently, perceiving the adventure and stories as drawn out, repetitive, or mundane. That might seem slightly irrelevant, considering that Final Fantasy is going into its thirteenth installment. But instead of taking a look into the future of the series, let’s peer into the past at one of the most anticipated games released for the DS in a short while. I give you: Final Fantasy III.
“But wait, Chris! You are so stupid! Final Fantasy III was already out for the SNES!”
Ah, touch?. But even the lowliest of Final Fantasy fans know that Final Fantasy III for the Super Nintendo was actually the sixth installment of the series. Unfortunately for us, we never saw, what was in Japan, the true Final Fantasy III. Until now! Completely redesigned on the Nintendo DS, the release of Final Fantasy III has caused quite a stir not only in Japan, but on the American shores as well. Previously, the only way to play this game stateside was on choppy emulators with bad translations (or no translations at all). Now that it has been released, how well does it stand against the test of time? Draw forth your long sword, adventurer, and let’s find out!
Upon starting the game, you’re treated to a very stunning CG sequence showing the four warriors of light in various action sequences. I can honestly say that I was extremely impressed at the quality of the animation and the detail it portrayed, even with the DS’s limited hardware capabilities. However, even the DS Lite’s improved speaker placement doesn’t help the poor sound quality that resonates from the game. All of the music, battle effects, etc. are pretty mediocre, and nothing really sticks out as far as the melodies go. After the lightshow, you delve into the actual game play graphics, and FFIII doesn’t disappoint in this area as well. The character models are all adorable, but not sickingly so. FFIII really puts the DS’s hardware to good use: every character, while being simplistic in design, shows an acceptable amount of detail and “life”, which is really quite endearing. The monsters that you battle are also attractive as well, and most look pretty menacing compared with the cutesy nature of your party. The contrast is somewhat awkward, but it would be more of a personal preference than an actual game play issue. Seeing a cute little bobble-head battling a ferocious dragon with razor sharp claws is almost comical, and all the character designs couldn’t be done better.
With the well designed character and monster models, you would think that the rest of the game would look stellar too, right? Well, it’s really a mixed bag. In town, there’s usually plenty to look at. Houses are large and detailed enough, plenty of foliage and “townly items” (some of which will get in your way more than once), but there isn’t really a whole lot to do once you’re in the town. Most of the houses you can’t enter, save the critical quest giver, and the obligatory magic and item shops. The townsfolk are not interesting and spout hackneyed one liners that makes you wish you’d never talked to them in the first place. You can zoom the camera in to get a better look at everything if you so desire, but the only real benefit of doing this is to see hidden “shiny spots” which yield secret items or switches. This seems like a spur of the moment feature, and it adds no depth to game play, becoming slightly annoying because the camera always defaults to the zoomed out mode.
While you’re outside of town in the “over world”, well, it just doesn’t look up to snuff. With the amount of detail put in to everything else, you’d think that the over world you travel in would look stellar as well. That’s not really the case. There are several different terrain types, but it’s always just one tile texture repeated over and over. So deserts, mountains, the ocean, all look bland and uninspired after you first see them. While the town/dungeon graphics are so detailed, why can’t the rest of the game be the same? When I first got to the over world for the first time, I literally said to myself, “Is this it?? To add to this, I even experience some slowdown on the over world at certain points! Slowdown! Unacceptable. There must be a reason for it, but I honestly can’t see a good one. I digress…
Since we’re on the topic of blandness, I want to cover one last part of the DS’s hardware configuration for this game that really irks me. The DS has a fairly innovative touch screen, as well as (obviously) another screen that games can utilize. FFIII, even while being made by one of the forerunners of role playing games and innovation, fail to take advantage of BOTH these features. Granted, the touch screen is supported, but not in any useful way, and it doesn’t provide any function that the D pad can’t do (and the D pad does it better). The dual screen is almost never used throughout the game, and when it’s not in use, it remains black. Just a black, empty screen chilling drearily at the top of your DS, completely useless. No map, no art, nothing. I’d almost rather it have a sign saying “All your cash are belong to us!” instead of being empty. At least then it’s doing something. It makes me wonder how serious about this game SquareEnix really was, and seems rather lazy on their behalf.
Moving away from the aesthetic aspect, let’s shift gears to what made FFIII one of the most innovative RPG’s of it’s time, and set forth a path that a lot of role playing games today even follow. Final Fantasy III was one of the first games to implement the “job system” as one of its integral functions. Using the job system, players could, at a whim, change the role of any of their party members. From fierce warriors to whimsical bards, you have complete control over what your party setup is like. While there are many jobs that you can choose from (you unlock them progressively through the game’s quest) only a handful are actually useful. With the job system, you must gain experience not only with your character, but in your job as well, which determines how effective you are at that particular job. However, from experience, if you level up on one job too much and switch to a new job that you’ve obtained, more often than not you’re immediately behind the power curve and must spend time leveling up that job to continue, as the tougher monsters will annihilate a more nubile party. Also, with this job system, weapons and armor are class specific, so you’ll find yourself spending time farming for gold and selling items to get your party properly equipped, especially if you want to level up all your job classes. With four party members, it’s almost easier just to stick with one or two jobs per character and equip them effectively, rather than switch between jobs all the time. While the job system was probably a killer feature back then, by today’s standards it really isn’t anything innovative as they’re touting it to be in this (re)installment.
So you have all these job classes to play with, right? What about baddies to slaughter mercilessly? Well, there are plenty of enemies for you to fight, to be sure, but sometimes the game seems a little…cheap…during the course of battle. For example, you might have a black mage in the fourth slot of your party in the back row, but that doesn’t stop an entire monster party from taking cheap shots on that one character to knock him/her out. And because it is turn based, it’s very difficult to determine when you can heal specific party members. Generally, the rule of thumb is if you have a White Mage, you should always cast Cure every turn, no matter what. Even then it’s not hard to loose a party member. Needless to say, the difficulty of the game remains challenging, and a lot of the random encounters can still be a little tough when exploring a new area. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because the remake of the original Final Fantasy for the GBA made the game so easy that it was almost a joke. At least this time around they kept the challenge intact. The flow of battle is a little slow, because the camera always has to shift around views and look dynamic. After battle you’re treated to a victory screen of your party, and experience and gold is dealt. You’ll learn to hate this screen as it’s completely unnecessary and adds even more time to each battle. Occasionally, after many random encounters every three steps, I’d forget where I was going because the battles took so long!
Now that we’ve hit on just about every facet of the game, let’s get on to the soul of the game, and the very thing that Square tries to do better than anybody else. The story. I hope you all have your popcorn ready, because it sure is a doozy! This is the gist of it (without trying to spoil anything): a young lad walking alone one day falls into a sinkhole. After defeating the giant turtle residing in the cave, a mysterious talking crystal crystal tells the young lad that he has been chosen as one of the four warriors of light to bring balance to the world, light to the crystals, yadda, yadda, yadda. Afterwards, it seems like the next 3 people you see become the rest of your party, consisting of your foster brother, a blacksmith’s daughter, and a noble knight. Fate led them all together, blah, blah, blah, and all that good heart-melty stuff. So off you go to restore order to the world and stop the dark forces from being so unruly. Okay, so not an epic story by any means, but it’ll do. I’m sure we’ve all had worse reasons to hack’n’slash. The really disappointing part is the “character development”. Throughout the story, the game tries (haphazardly) to make an attempt at developing the characters every so often, but they all have about the personality of cardboard and the attempt falls flat. It’s really a shame, because the character designs are just so likeable and cute. The little quips and jokes they make aren’t funny – at all – and I almost felt a little embarrassed for the little people being so one dimensional. A lot of the dialogue and story was added in, but to be honest, I’d rather it just be left out. The content added to “enhance” the game is trivial at best and does not help the story along. With cutesy graphics, cutesy text, and mean ferocious monsters that can wipe you out in no time flat, it’s really like a hodgepodge adventure. Even the wireless features are sub par, being limited only to MogNet, which lets you send messages to NPC’s in game or real life friends. Hmm…Nothing a quick phone call or text message can’t get across, in my humblest of opinions…
Even though this game does have its flaws, it still is a fairly enjoyable experience to play. It’s extremely challenging and has enough variety to keep from getting stale early on. The story is right on par with the early Final Fantasy series and kicks you in the gonads with its old school feel. Not only that, but it’s the first time we North American consumers get to experience the full version of FFIII, though it’s anyone?s guess why it took this long. Although the game play mechanics we see here aren’t as innovative and fresh as they used to be, they still hold up strong enough by today’s standards and is definitely worth a look. If you’re a fan of the series, you’re going to love it. If you’re still wondering what the hell a moogle is, pass.