Cons: Doesn't come even close to living up to its hype
The Bottom Line: Final Fantasy IX is the best Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger the best RPG, Super Mario World the best video game
It's 2009 now. It is the 15th birthday of Final Fantasy III, and after all this time it continues to have its boosters for greatest video game of all time. That's of ALL TIME here - not just the best RPG ever, not the best Super NES game, not even the best game of the 16-bit days. The many, many fans of Final Fantasy III are saying that if they were cast away on a desert island with just one video game, they would want it to be Final Fantasy III of all the video games ever created. If the apocalypse came and they hid in an underground bunker, Final Fantasy III would be the one game they would choose to preserve. In 1994, Final Fantasy III was one of the greatest trailblazers in the industry for its epic movie-like storyline, amazing soundtrack, deep characters, excellent graphics, and freewheeling play style. At the time, it spellbound gamers who were captivated by the entire experience. In fact, it still continues to enrapture newcomers to the RPG genre. A good friend of mine recently acquired a Super NES and a series of games, including Final Fantasy III. Being a latecomer to the Final Fantasy series - Final Fantasy III was his first FF - he blew through most of the game in a couple of weeks, excitedly giving me periodic updates. He never said it outright, but he seemed well enough blown away by the grandiosity of the whole experience.
It probably helped that, not being a FF regular, my friend didn't quite know what to expect the first time he loaded Final Fantasy III. It is in his unsuspecting mindset that I envy him. I was a Gamepro subscriber back in 1994, when the magazine was actually informative. I had the first wind on FFIII when it appeared, making me desire a Super NES instead of my Genesis for the first time. I read the reviews and strategies tucked in the back of the game rags. The hype was inescapable, and within months I could tell you all about the various espers, the incredible opera sequence, the best strategies to employ in the Coliseum, and the secret passages of South Figaro WITHOUT HAVING EVER PLAYED THE GAME. AT ALL. FFIII topped off my must play list, through the end of the 16-bit era, through the arrival of RPGs to the gaming mainstream, and through the arrivals of Phantasy Star IV, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, and the handful of other best game-contending RPGs that appeared between 1994 and the time I finally got my chance to play FFIII for the first time in 2002. That's a lot of built-up hype and yearning. People may tell me to try to look through nostalgia eyes, imagining myself playing FFIII back in 1994, but that's the problem. I can't imagine that, ignoring the hype that continued long after it should have. By the time I finally played FFIII, I was a veteran of FF who had seen eight years of best-ever chatter. I had expectations. High expectations which, given what people were telling me, I thought were justifiable. On the 15th anniversary of what many people call the greatest game ever made, I cannot sit here and pretend I was not let down.
Final Fantasy III was a great game. But it is a serious candidate for the The Godfather Part III award: Great, but merely great, unable to back up its hype or its spot behind timeless masterpieces. Many people say FFIII is the greatest game ever made. But through the eyes of a person who went through what I did, FFIII isn't even the best game in its own series - I wildly prefer Final Fantasy IX for the series, Chrono Trigger as best RPG, and Super Mario World as best ever. Again, you may tell me to put on my 1994 goggles to see through the eyes of people who played it back then. But just once, I would like you to try on my eyes. Try to see as a person who was excited about FFIII back in 1994 and remained so through eight more years of endless best-ever chatter before finally being able to play it. Welcome to my world.
Final Fantasy III has one of the more unique backstories in video games, and I give it all the credit in the world for that. In the world of FFIII, we see a drastic change from the elements of fantasy that give the Final Fantasy series its title. In this world, magic is a thing of the past. There has been an industrial revolution which has taken over civilization. A War of the Magi was fought in the past, and it released a kind of magical power into the world which turned any human it touched into an esper. The espers were then used as soldiers. After the war, the espers hid themselves and left the world to humans, who built their new civilization on science, technology, and industrialization. The best technology is in the hands of the Empire, an imperialist dictatorship led by Emperor Gestahl and his right-hand man Kefka. When an esper is discovered, Gestahl invades the land of the espers, capturing a number of them and initiating a research program which combines yesteryear's magic with modern technology. The Emperor plans to use this to form a line of soldiers called Magitek Knights, but the problem is the Emperor rushed it. It is still in its experimental stage, and therefore highly unstable. The Emperor makes the mistake of using it on Kefka, and the result is one of the most screwed-up villains ever produced in a video game.
The story of the game in progress is very impressive, and the buildup can keep a gamer playing for hours on end. Then the scene on the Floating Continent arrives. As most gamers know, the Floating Continent crashes to the ground and then... That's it. This is my biggest knock against Final Fantasy III, and THE primary reason I think the game isn't all it's cracked up to be. There's plenty more game after the fall of the Floating Continent, alright. The problem is that much of the story is effectively lopped right off at that particular moment. The game brings you to an apex and fakes you out, and for the rest of it you are thrust into this ruined world where nothing is where you remember it, and with minimal hints of where to go or what to do next. I know this endeared a lot of people to the game, but I like my RPGs set on rails. It gives me a sense of direction, and it helps me feel important. For an enormous chunk of FFIII, you are simply left out in the world without a hint of where to go next. The story doesn't exactly cut off at the fall of the Floating Continent, but instead of guiding you through it, the game kind of forces you to piece the rest of it together.
The post-Floating Continent parts of the game hang you out to dry in the gameplay as well. Final Fantasy III takes a kind of open-world approach from that point onward, especially after you first get the airship back and begin finding your lost party members. It bears a resemblance to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in this way. Whenever you complete a task, you're not given a lot of hints about where to go next and so you can hover in the middle of the world map in the airship, wandering for hours and performing a lot of trial and error work - a situation not helped by the fact that the World of Ruin uses a completely rearranged world map. It's tough not only to figure out where to go next, but just where the place you're going actually is even after you've already been there. Some landmarks don't change - The Opera House is still directly south of South Figaro, Edgar's castle never loses its desert location, and Zozo can always be located in the mountains - but mostly you have to go about unlearning the locations you've learned to that point in the game.
The customization system in FFIII is nothing to write home about. Now, I realize an excellent RPG doesn't necessarily have to require hours of working on a character just to get him the way I want him. Look at my personal tastes here - my favorite FF game is FFIX, which not only has a relatively simplified character customization system, but one with many striking similarities to FFIII. My next favorite FF game is Final Fantasy IV, which has about as bare-boned a customization system as it could possibly get. I liked Final Fantasy X and its cool sphere grid customization, but otherwise the game had trouble living up to my expectations. My least favorite FF - and one of my least favorite games period - was Final Fantasy VIII. That game had the junction system, which theoretically allowed some incredible customization. Though the system proved to be terrible and shortsighted in practice, it was good in theory and probably could have worked well with some tinkering. There's nothing wrong with the espers in this game, it's just that it felt a little too familiar. The relics used to give the characters special abilities are useful and fun to toy with, but again, its been done before. We're not working with an original customization system here.
In battle, each character uses a unique special talent. Cyan uses different sword techniques. Sabin uses strength techniques, in which you input commands like you would in a fighting game. Setzer uses slots which can help or harm your party in a variety of ways. But all of them can grow their magic talents using the espers. Some characters will be able to cast more powerful magic than others, but this is a good system because it means you can build up a number of all-purpose spells for everyone in the party.
The greatest strength of Final Fantasy III is probably the way it develops its characters. Instead of revolving around a single character and developing other characters through shared time with him, FFIII periodically switches between characters. This is effective because it allows you to see the way different characters think without the influence of others around, and the result is a group of characters who really change in the way they interact with others. It helps that FFIII doesn't have a central character because you get attached to all of them instead of just a central character with a bunch of groupies. You get to know everyone in a more personal manner. You also get to really hate Kefka, who distinguishes himself as one of the great video game villains for all time when his first major action in the game is to demonstrate his no-fail way of ending a siege by poisoning an entire kingdom. Love or hate the characters, you'll know all of them in a very cerebral fashion. Two characters, however, seem shoehorned in. This is excusable with Ziegfried because he disappears after your initial encounter with him. But Ultros is a guy you meet time after time and fight several times. He didn't need to be in the game at all. In fact I'm halfway convinced his inclusion was just an excuse for the designers to extend the opera sequence.
The graphics and sounds in Final Fantasy III are excellent. The sprites are bigger and more detailed than in previous Final Fantasy games, and the scenery is bright and colorful. The battle screens feature well designed sprites and beautiful backgrounds, and the game switches to a great mode 7 graphic screen whenever you ride a chocobo or fly in the airship. The sounds aren't quite as good, but they're strong. The opera sequence - which I otherwise think is overrated and whose importance I think is greatly exaggerated - features an incredible crescendo complete with warbled lyrics which stands among the best musical tracks of the entire Silver Era. The sounds have a few standouts but are otherwise very ordinary.
Final Fantasy III is menu-driven for a lot of the game and really feels like it. I've felt delayed in inputting numerous commands. The chocobo and airship sequences control really well but in the overhead view, the game is on a grid. This means that if you're walking forward and suddenly change direction, you won't turn around or even stop until your next step is completed. Trying to turn can sometimes be a hassle, and Final Fantasy III is also one of those annoying games where running into a small rock on the ground will not only stop you but completely hinder your turning a corner. You have to take extra steps to get around even the flimsiest of obstacles. I realize this was a common effect in RPGs of the Silver Era, but it feels badly amplified in FFIII.
Final Fantasy III is a great game, and for the most part I really enjoyed it. The story is excellent when it's on track and the characters are far more three-dimensional than the two-dimensional sprites they're drawn as. Something I especially loved was that no punches are pulled for the kids. Final Fantasy III has noticeably grown-up characters with very mature and adult themes and ideas and emotions. But the flaws tend to glare when you're in my situation, and there are so many things that I found problematic with the gameplay style and story that I simply can't put on my nostalgia goggles and give this thing a free pass. Final Fantasy III has aged. A lot. More so than other games in the series. Out of good conscience, I can't give Final Fantasy III a perfect score when it can't even top the out-of-nowhere sleeper in its own series, let alone its genre or medium.
Please note that Final Fantasy III is for some reason NOT listed in the video games section, or in fact any other section. This means the vertical information will be unavailable and I will not be able to read comments - also the case with my recent reviews of Killer Instinct and Shining in the Darkness. Send me any comments by email please. I contacted Epinions three times about this but they STILL haven't gotten back to me. This review will also appear on The Phoenix Inquirer, my blog. Yes, I'm going to keep posting MY reviews there.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
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FINAL FANTASY III has been reborn incorporating the latest in portable gaming technology. FINAL FANTASY III features graphics that have been reworked and remodeled in 3D while maintaining the mythical FINAL FANTASY look and feel. Format: NINTENDO DS Genre: NO GENRE Rating: E - Everyone UPC: 662248906133 Manufacturer No: 90613