Final Fantasy III: a title that can mean two different things. On one hand, Final Fantasy III refers to the now outdated and somewhat disfavored title of the SNES version of Final Fantasy VI. On the other, Final Fantasy III refers to the real Final Fantasy III, a twenty-one year old Famicom game that was never officially released in any market outside Japan, a fate its immediate predecessor Final Fantasy II once shared. Also on the list of previously unreleased, missing-in-action titles was Final Fantasy V.
Be that as it may, most fans know this page of history by now and how fallible a philosophy it was to renumber these games in the first place. Still, while three of the six games in the series were unavailable outside of Japan before the launch of Final Fantasy VII, the missing episodes would get their shot at western audiences in the years that followed. Final Fantasy V would be released in the Anthologies package and a remastered edition of Final Fantasy II would accompany the original adventure in 2003’s Origins. Both games would even see a few re-releases in the future on the GBA and PSP, but the fact remained that Final Fantasy III was still relegated to it’s homeland outside a back alley option like emulation or flat-out importing.
As sobering as time can be in a predicament such as this, I’m sure I’m not the only one that found this to be quite bothersome. For the lack of a better analogy, it was akin to having a series of books only to have one missing right in the middle. Granted, given that each Final Fantasy is its own self-contained entity (well… they use to be before sequels became the in thing) it’s not like Final Fantasy III was a missing chapter in continuous story. However, I’m sure there are those who would use such a word to describe a missing installment given the over arching themes and influences. Thankfully, despite some of the sins they have perpetrated since the damaging yet life sustaining merger, SquareEnix decided to right this wrong by releasing an updated version of the game on the Nintendo DS.
Now given how late I am to the DS party, I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to write about Final Fantasy III – a game that time has somewhat forgotten despite the facelift. About ten hours in I assumed I had enough information (or gripes) to do what I wanted: tear the game down and put another nail in the proverbial coffin of a series and company that has literally lost its way. Yet for some reason I waited; I didn't start writing this a third of the way through the game like I planned – the one third of the game I had played in its original form years ago. I can’t really explain why I waited – that great mystery remains unsolved – but I’m glad I did. Not only did I save myself the time I would have spent rewriting this review in a more positive light, but I was reminded that first impressions are often lousy to begin with.
As with anything that receives a fresh coat of paint, Final Fantasy III on the Nintendo DS takes a few liberties with its source material. First off, this time the player’s characters are given default names and basic, cardboard cutout personas. It’s no longer a boy’s day out as one of the characters (Refia) has been designated as female – so no one can anyone call Final Fantasy III sexist anymore. Anyway, as PC as this is in reality, beyond that lies the second major change: the fact that you no longer start with a full party like the Famicom original. In falling down into Altar Cave with Luneth, the player will find they must wait a bit to get the other members of their party. Because of this, the events that follow are switched around a bit and the future aspects of the story are ultimately placed under more scrutiny. How much scrutiny? In the original all four “boys” were raised by Elder Topapa in the village of Ur. In this rendition, only two of the characters (Luneth and Arc) are raised by Topapa; the others (Refia and Ingus) are raised by the mythril blacksmith Takka and the citizens of Sasune. Now why does this change take center stage? Because it makes the game’s first twist even more implausible than it was before. We’re talking Final Fantasy VIII-esque bad and anyone who’s played both games should have an immediate clue as to what I’m talking about.
Okay, so attacking a plot point in a game this old is rather moot given there aren’t too many NES games that are known for their plot. Still, I point it out because as weak-kneed as this moment truly is, Final Fantasy III is able to make up for it with the revelations that follow even though they break no new ground. I’ll admit I’m not completely pleased with the bad guy who seems a little too content in sending out his various cronies while he sits in his castle when other Final Fantasy villains like Golbez actually got their hands dirty. Disappointing and disposable as he is in the end, I liked the reasons behind his actions even though I couldn’t really identify with them.
Much like Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy III employs a job system that grants the player a tremendous amount of freedom. Unlike the original Final Fantasy, your characters are not locked into their given class for the duration of the game. Now you can switch jobs on the fly (minus a brief, statistical-based penalty) and tweak your party to face the challenges in front of them. Generally, the game lets you make your own decisions, but there are times where the game will make a suggestion. These cues range from the subtle (like presenting the player with certain equipment at shops or in treasure chests) to the blatant blathering of a no-name NPC who rambles on and on about a particular class. These types of hints are really divided upon themselves because while they’re both intended to make your life easier, not following a major hint can really throw a kink in your progress - especially if it’s early in the game. Still, following the given advice may not be enough - you may need to compensate in other ways to accommodate the given situation.
Antagonizing as these moments are, I found I had a lot more success – and fun - blazing my own trail. Yet a lot of my success was due to certain classes proving way too useful. Perhaps more than any other Final Fantasy I can think of employing a Thief in my party was a pure pleasure and paid off huge dividends. Stick with the class long enough and you’ll see how easy it is to master it long before any other. Related to that success is just how invaluable it can be to wield two weapons. This is something I've often avoided in past Final Fantasies because it seemed somewhat unnatural not to have a shield but once you start scrapping enemies left and right you start to warm up to it. Another class worth its weight in gold is the Warrior. The game tries to offset the offensive power of the Advance command by lowering the defense of the character prior to it’s activation but such an attempt is futile – much like trying strike a balance between spell casting and attacking with the disappointing Red Mage.
While there are obviously some class/team set ups that won’t work, there really isn't a “brick wall” point in the game for most classes when it comes to usefulness. I bring this up because the writers of the official strategy guide try to dive home the idea that once you enter the final stage of the game you need to give up on certain classes (like those from the crystal of wind) in order to advance. This simply isn't true. Sure, you’ll want to upgrade your While/Black Mages to the Devout/Magus classes in order to gain access to level eight magic (that’s a no-brainer) but that’s about it. I never encountered the “invisible wall” they alluded to until the last battle but that was due to other, rather ill-explained gameplay factors like…
…Magic Resistance? What’s That?
Most Final Fantasy veterans know that magic resistance is the statistic that determines how much damage their characters will take from a magical attack. In past games I (and others I’m sure) have looked at this number with secondary importance compared to things like attack power and physical defense. Well, those days are over. Magic resistance is of the utmost importance in Final Fantasy III because the field before magic resistance is even factored in is completely skewed. Confused? Let me explain…
In role-playing games (and in D&D where a lot of role-playing mechanics are lifted from) it is generally believed that a “magically oriented” character should take less damage from a magical attack than one that’s “physically oriented.” Okay, I’m not the smartest cookie on the face of the earth but I generally believe that makes sense to a certain degree – a magician should excel at defending against the kind of techniques they employ themselves. This idea can be seen in nearly every role-playing game in existence and Final Fantasy III is no exception. The problem? The degree to which it is practiced. On average, melee characters take five times more damage from a spell than their spell casting counterparts. That’s a four hundred percent difference! So if a spell does one-hundred points of damage to your spell caster (which excludes Red Mages) expect to see a five hundred pop up on your fighters. This is ridiculous in the purest sense of the word. At the most I would expect a spell to do 1.5 or double damage to a physical character at the most but five? The real kick in the pants is when your levels are high and spells start doing zero damage to your mages yet still take a sizable chunk out of your fighters.
Bad as this may seem, there’s more to the story. As much as I talked up dual wielding earlier forgoing dual wielding is actually the key in helping amend a fighter’s defense against spells. Despite the fact it doesn't show it in the equip screen (the game only shows your physical defense power on this screen) equipping a shield will increase your magical resistance. You’ll have to switch between the equipment and status screens in the menu before and after to see the difference numerically but its there. Anyway, while this helps the situation (trust me, it makes the last fight a heck of a lot easier) the gap between fighters and mages is still quite wide in this respect despite what the numbers would have you believe. My suggestion? Feel free to dual wield during random encounters but ditch the extra weapons for shields during boss fights. It’s amazing how the additional damage adds up and causes a nightmare scenario for your healer. Random encounters are usually over before they begin and if you focus on eliminating spell casting foes first there really is no threat. As for the boss-fest that is the end of the game it’s best to drop the extra weaponry altogether and opt for shields – the extra bit of resistance is invaluable and the weapons you have at the point should be more than enough to get you through despite being solo affairs. The official strategy guide suggests this in its section on the final confrontation but doesn't really explain it fully.
Another Final Fantasy Completed!
Despite the bump in the road that is magic resistance, I enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy III. While I don’t really enjoy being schooled I’m glad the game put me in my place for wanting to fire a volley in its direction solely based on the company that made it. Still, Final Fantasy III doesn't succeed because of its facelift (in fact, a remastered version of the game like Final Fantasy I & II on the PS1/GBA/PSP would have been fine if not better) but because the core game is worth experiencing despite all the advancements the genre has seen since its original debut. I won’t deny all the faults listed above, but if a game like Final Fantasy II can still work despite its myriad of problems than who’s to say Final Fantasy III can’t as well?