A Glorious Fantasy, Part Three: Final Fantasy III


Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’.

For those who are unfamiliar with my premise (read: probably everyone), here’s an almost comically thorough recap:

Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:

– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. Since it is now obvious to me that I’m going to play a fair number of ‘remakes’ in the early Final Fantasy games, I’m also going to research the differences and try to note some of them here. This was a big part of my experience with FF1, which I am now intending to revisit as a part of this series later.
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck!
– Is the answer to that question, “It just doesn’t hold up”? Why? <– This question is not going to last into the more modern games, but I suspect it could affect games even as recent as FF7, the graphics of which I'm afraid will hurt my brain.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn't involve spending a bunch of money acquiring and (especially) subscribing to games.

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research.

FF3

Version played: ‘Unofficial’ NES fan-translation by Alex W. Jackson and Neill Corlett.

This time, I played Final Fantasy III – not to be confused with Final Fantasy VI, which was originally brought to North America and Europe as “Final Fantasy III” on the Super Nintendo (as was done with Final Fantasy IV, brought over as Final Fantasy II). No, this was the original Final Fantasy III, another game in the series that I had never played before (this is becoming a thing with me! And here I always called myself a ‘fan’!). After my experience with a questionable remake of Final Fantasy I, and the relative ordeal of playing a long JRPG on my phone, with Final Fantasy II… I decided that with this installment I would try to get the ‘true’ experience.

Much like Final Fantasy II, it’s not particularly surprising that I, and presumably many others, have never played this particular installment in the series. It was never translated in its original form, leading (ultimately) to the confusing disparity in the main series’ numbering, which in English releases goes FF1, “FF2” (actually 4), “FF3” (actually 6)… then Final Fantasy 7. I think everyone is familiar with this by now, but it’s worth pointing out. The very first ‘official’ translated release of FF3 in North America was in late 2006 (it was originally going to be released on the WonderSwan Colour… a system presumably no one ever actually owned). The 2006 release was over 15 (!!) years after the game was originally released. This version was on the Nintendo DS, and was a full remake, using 3-D graphics. My research indicates that they also re-balanced classes, changed the relative power of individual enemies, and created backstories for the heroes of the piece. Well, screw that noise, am I right?

No, I played the original NES experience.

The Onion Kid is an iconic Final Fantasy image... from a game many people have never played!

The Onion Kid is an iconic Final Fantasy image… from a game many people have never played!

Like Final Fantasy 2, Final Fantasy 3 uses the basic connective tissue of a storyline to take us from place to place. As is the case in the first five main series games, the plot revolves around elemental crystals, which have a dramatic impact on the world. In this case, the crystals were used by an ancient civilization, which was both advanced and powerful. Unfortunately, they inadvertently created a ‘flood of light’ which washed over the land. In order to prevent this from destroying the world, four Warriors of Darkness arose, countering the effects, and bringing the world back into balance. Prophecy speaks of a time in the future when the world will be threatened instead by a wave of darkness, and that Warriors of Light will go ahead and take care of that nonsense.

However, unlike Final Fantasy II, which does not really advance the premise of the game beyond its initial shell (Palamecia has declared war on everyone, watch out!), but simply takes us through a series of events related to it, the basic premise of Final Fantasy 3 evolves as we go along. While the player characters are still just proxies or avatars of the player (for the last time, at least in the main series) and lack distinct personalities or backgrounds, other characters in the world are fleshed out well beyond the basics. This game is also the first one of the series where the motivations of the villain are explored in any detail (it’s not much detail, but it’s definitely there). Later Final Fantasy villains are often explored in a great deal of detail (not all of them, but many!), so this was definitely something that struck me.

Final Fantasy 3 is much more significant, however, because it introduces the famous ‘Job’ system. While Final Fantasy 1 contains many of the same classes, they are picked at the start, evolved once in the story, and otherwise cannot be changed. Final Fantasy 3 introduces the concept that characters can change jobs at almost any time outside of combat. Each character gains levels within the specific jobs in addition to advancing in character level. The ‘job levels’ don’t do as much in this game as they will in later ones (notably Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Tactics, among others), seeming to determine mostly damage dealt or healing performed. More jobs are unlocked as the player progresses through the game, culminating in the ‘ultimate’ jobs, Ninja and Sage, which are capable of using all weapons and armor and casting all spells, respectively. Also introduced in this game is the Summoner job! Yes! It’s the dawn of Chocobo, Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Titan, Odin, Leviathan, Bahamut, the mighty summons which can have a dramatic effect on the battle. Bahamut, in fact, seems clearly to be the strongest magical attack in the game!

I really enjoyed this one, guys! I will admit that the game can be quite difficult. I found a number of bosses throughout the game that I was forced to grind before I could realistically challenge. This was particularly true of the final boss, who could be the most (unfortunately, mindlessly) challenging final boss in the whole of the franchise. I think that honour is generally considered to reside with Zeromus, but I honestly found the battle with Cloud of Darkness to be much more frustrating. Other bosses, I felt like I defeated with little more than dumb luck.

Also, unfortunately, jobs just not that well balanced… later jobs are strictly better. To an extent, this is understandable: as your party’s level increases, it’s fitting to gain more powerful abilities, but it’s to the point where there’s little reason to overthink your party composition. Aside from a couple of very specific challenges which can be made easier with specific classes, I found it was generally best to adhere to three powerful physical attackers, and one healer, until the very end, when it made sense to have two Sages since they can both Summon and heal. At times, my party actually consisted of four physical attackers with one off-healer and Hi-Potions serving as my only means of recovery… and I honestly felt like I was better off that way. Magical attacks in particular seem pointless after the first third of the game or so (this logic does not apply to Summons, which become one of the most effective forms of attack later in the game, especially against groups of regular enemies).

I spent a fair amount of time on Google for this game, but I would say definitely less so compared to Final Fantasy II or (especially) Final Fantasy I. I guess I just don’t like big maze-dungeons anymore, if I ever did… I like to know where I’m going, avoid some random encounters, and keep progressing steadily. I already spent enough time grinding in this game, so I’ll make no apologies.

Oh, and as for the game holding up? Obviously, the graphics are totally primitive when you decide to play the original NES version! However, the parts of this game that really feel a little ‘primitive’ (not the right word, I need a better one, one thing I really liked about this game was being able to see the origin point for stuff like the job system, the focus on the villains and their sad/tortured motivations, etc., that are hallmarks of many later games) were more mechanical. The job system here just isn’t as good or as fun as it is in later games where it becomes much more customizeable, and Xande and the Cloud of Darkness are certainly not going to rank among the ‘great’ video game villains of all time. The game was good, clean, fun though… I’d probably recommend it to any true fan of the JRPG form.

And that’s it for FF3. Comment away. Join me next time, when this ongoing series will take on a true juggernaut of the Final Fantasy franchise… Final Fantasy IV!

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