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Review: Final Fantasy III (DS)

Posted Sep-12 2007 by ron
For Nintendo DS (remake; originally for NES)

Lali-ho, warriors of the light and the crystals and stuff!
The third part of the venerable Final Fantasy saga (i.e. not the sixth part, which was called Final Fantasy III in some thicker parts of the wood) took forever to be released in the west, at a time when all of the other 2D Final Fantasys had already been remade and re-released for various systems, multiple times even. Was there a reason for holding this one game back for so long? Hehehe. "Maybe" he said, smirking and giggling madly.

If you've read any BCN review so far, you've been trained to expect a screenshot in this exact spot. Unfortunately our experiments and trials to produce screenshots of DS games have turned out to be worthless so far. For this reason we're very sorry to say that this review will be our first one to not be accompanied by any images.
*cries slightly*
Please hang in there. Through devious mix-ins of images, we've tricked you into reading 2500-word reviews many times before, you just didn't quite notice it. With that training well behind you, you'll manage this relatively miniscule mountain of text here just fine.

So. The DS remake of Final Fantasy III marks, at the very least, an interesting point in the early development in the series. Final Fantasy I, as revolutionary as it seemed at the time, was still rather short and straight-forward. It did not fully implement the "epic", story-heavy formula we associate with the series today. To create an experience both more substantial and also more customizable, and thus replayable, its sequels would have to be significant extensions in both gameplay and narrative.
The first attempt at doing so, Final Fantasy II, was pretty much an all-around failure, reviled by all who touched it, and shall wait in the corner of darkest shame for the remainder of this. Even so, the train had left the station; for better or worse, the series would not return to former simplicity.

Basic gameplay

Final Fantasy III implements many now familiar Japanese-console-RPG paradigms which we'll quickly summarize here for those with little prior contact with the genre.
The game places our aspiring heroes in a huge, mystic world to trek through, with many towns to visit, shops to glare at and people to talk to. When outside of civilized encampments, the player can explore the fields, wander the forests and steer ships across the oceans, constantly subject to random battles against area-specific enemies. These encounters are strictly turn-based, i.e. you enter commands for all of your four party members before a combat round plays out. As is the way of all RPGs, fighting enemies nets you bunches of gold, items and experience points which make your characters stronger.

You start your Final Fantasy III journey on foot, but later on various obstacles require you to find new vehicles (or upgrades to your existing vehicles), new spells, or to complete certain story events to progress. The accessible portion of the world is thus very limited at first and incrementally widens, providing freedom and non-linearity almost purely in a cosmetic sense. You are allowed to mess around in the woods, maybe uncover an optional cave with some nice loot, but you eventually have to resume following the designed linear path to progress.

All exploration, be it on the world map, in a dungeon or in a town, takes place in a top-down perspective that has been spruced up to use the DS's 3D graphics capabilites. Backgrounds and characters are fully polygonal, though some props remain as sprites. Unfortunately this perspective reveals somewhat less of your surroundings than you'd be used to if you played a 2D Final Fantasy before, but the dungeon designs are all linear enough to make this seem acceptable. There's an option to zoom in even further, and while this is a worthless perspective for finding your way around, the game expects you to use it at some points to reveal secret switches and hidden loot.

The unique twist

The one feature of Final Fantasy III's gameplay that stands out is its job system: unlike FF1, where you commit to a choice of character classes at the start of the game, here your characters can change class at any time outside of combat. You receive your first batch of classes at the end of starter dungeon, and each time you gain access to another one of the elemental crystals, another series staple and throwback to Final Fantasy I, a number of new ones are added to your repertoire.

Once they have been bestowed upon you, Final Fantasy III's character classes come without minimum requirements. Every character can enter any class freely. Final Fantasy III still rewards specialization somewhat, by means of job levels in addition to the primary character level. Job levels are separately retained per character and per class, and as they go up, driven by the same battle experience points as the primary character level, the class-specific stat bonuses will grow. Thus if you at some point in the game find you need to have one character of a certain class, this role will be filled most effectively by a character with prior training.

Your party of four, once assembled, is constant throughout Final Fantasy III's entire quest, which is good because the player will have to invest significant time to level up and customize these few characters already. Despite the different looks and personalities, the variations in stats are minor enough to make all characters functionally interchangeable, which would be boring if it weren't offset by their specialization in some classes. Which classes exactly they respectively master is driven by your own choices along the way.

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