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Review: Final Fantasy III

Updated on July 22, 2014

Note: This is the third of a multi-part series featuring reviews of Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy III Japanese Boxart
Final Fantasy III Japanese Boxart | Source

The Forgotton Final Fantasy

Following the success of Final Fantasy and the relative lack thereof for Final Fantasy II, the development team, led by Hironobu Sakaguchi, went back to the basics and created a third game in the series that has a style and feel similar to that of the first game. However, Final Fantasy III takes the first game and adds so much more, that makes it the best Final Fantasy of the NES/Famicom era, and quite possibly one of the NES/Famicom's best games overall.

Its an absolute shame, then, that the game never saw an overseas release at the time. Although the game is rather difficult even when compared to the other two Final Fantasies, had it of been released overseas people might have considered it among the best NES games.

Instead, it took 16 years for the game to finally be released overseas, for the Nintendo DS, as a 3D remake. As the game is mostly the same mechanically, featuring most of the same difficulty as the original game, fans - who have been exposed to several other, newer Final Fantasies by this point - are unimpressed with Final Fantasy III's now-outdated mechanics. That, truly is unfortunate.

Combat in Final Fantasy III
Combat in Final Fantasy III

The New Class System

Final Fantasy III introduced a new, improved job system from the first game, one that would return in various form in several later Final Fantasies and spinoffs. As the player comes across each of the game's four crystals, the player will gain access to a new set of classes. The player can then switch classes out of battle, but at some cost. The NES version requires the use of Class Points for each class change, with CP acquirable in battle. The DS remake removes CP and instead imposes stat reductions for a set number of battles following a class change. These penalties are lessened if the new class is similar to the old class, or if that character has already spent time as the new class.

A problem with the jobs in Final Fantasy III, however, is that some classes act as "upgrades" to classes you get earlier in the game. Once you get the Warlock class, for instance, there's no real need to even consider the Black Mage class anymore. The same can be said of the Monk and Black Belt. There are two final classes you can acquire at the game's end: the physical powerhouse Ninja or the magic master Sage, which blow away nearly every other class in the game, especially in the NES version (the DS version balances the two, particularly the Sage).

The game offers 22 classes (the DS version has 23, shifting the Onion Knight to a secret class while making Freelancer the new default class), and these classes have commands unique to them (Dragoons can Jump, Ninja's can throw weapons, etc.) but a lot of these classes have little use in the game (Thieves can steal, but there's nothing worth stealing, Scholars in general), while other, more useful classes don't have anything special for battle commands. Furthermore, some segments in the game really need a specific class, or else things are much more difficult (Dragoon for a specific boss, Dark Knights for the splitting enemies).

Still, given when the game was released, its still a very innovative job system that sets a template for job systems in Final Fantasies to come.

Overworld of Final Fantasy III
Overworld of Final Fantasy III

A Sprawling Adventure

Compared to Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III's narrative is somewhat lacking. Its moderately similar to Final Fantasy I's basic premise, in that four Warriors of Light must go around the world to restore four crystals to help defeat some dark evil.

However, like Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy III emphasizes the adventure rather than the plot. Many of the game's scenarios are mostly self-contained, and there are quite a few scenarios. The four main characters, whom the DS version attempts to give personalities to, come across many different "guest" characters like in Final Fantasy II, though they are much more passive in battle in this around.

The game has the party getting into all sorts of hijinks, from turning themselves tiny to enter ant-sized locales, to restoring life to the larger world, to entering a palace of gold to supposedly retrieve the golden Earth Crystal. The game takes the party across all sorts of scenarios and adventures, that while the plot is mostly a sidenote you'll likely not notice.

Combat in the DS version of Final Fantasy III
Combat in the DS version of Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy III (DS) on Amazon

The Hardest Final Fantasy?

Final Fantasy III is considered the most difficult of the Famicom Final Fantasies, even more so than the unforgiving Final Fantasy II, and with Final Fantasies having become easier in general, Final Fantasy III could be considered the hardest Final Fantasy in the main series.

There are a few reasons for this. Final Fantasy III, like the two before it, does not allow for saving in dungeons (the ability to save at certain points in dungeons would be introduced in the following game, Final Fantasy IV). At the same time, dungeons in Final Fantasy III are often longer and more difficult than Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II. So, it can become a source of frustration to go deep into a dungeon only to fall near the end or at a boss, and lose hours of progress. This frustration is multiplied with the final area, which is full of areas, corridors, optional areas, sub-bosses and, of course, the final boss. A single mistake can ruin tons of progress. Making survival more difficult is that the revival item Phoenix Downs are rare in Final Fantasy III, because you can't buy any (nor can you buy the MP-restoring Ethers). As a result, dungeon crawling in Final Fantasy III is a taxing experience unlike most other Final Fantasies. The DS version retains these restrictions, but with battle animations in that game taking up much more time, a lot more time can be wasted if things turn sour.

This is combined with the fact that enemies are no pushovers themselves. There are several dungeons that add tough restrictions on the player, such as a couple of dungeons the party must traverse in the Mini state (thereby making physical attacks worthless), an enemy type later on that splits in two if hit by any weapon other than dark blades, and several late-game enemies and bosses taking two, even three actions per turn. Those used to later, easier Final Fantasies such as IV, VI or VII may find Final Fantasy III too difficult to complete.

Again, this difficulty is still present in the 3D remake of Final Fantasy III. As such, the popularity of the game has taken a hit due to its difficulty by those who have become used to later RPGs and the gameplay elements that make life easier that are not present in Final Fantasy III. In 1990, when this game was released, such difficulty was praised, but in today's world its mostly seen as a deterrent. I sound somewhat bitter by this, I know.

Where to Play Final Fantasy III (Outside of Japan)

Name
Platform
Version
Notes
Final Fantasy III
Nintendo DS
Remake
3D Remake, first overseas release, 16 years later
Final Fantasy III
PSP
Remake
DS version with DS-specifc features removed
Final Fantasy III
iOS/Android/Ouya/Windows Phone
Remake
Similar to PSP version, with touch controls
Final Fantasy III
PC/Steam
Remake
Similar to mobile version
There remains no legitimate means to play the original Final Fantasy III in an overseas release.

Ratings

 
Rating
Gameplay
4/5
Graphics (by respective standards)
4/5 (NES), 3/5 (DS)
Audio
4/5
Plot
2/5
Replayability
2/5
Challenge
5/5 (all versions)
4 stars for Final Fantasy III

Conclusion

As I've said, Final Fantasy III is the best Final Fantasy available for the NES/Famicom system. Its job system and scale of adventure eclipses the original game, and while Final Fantasy II still has III beat in narrative, the adventure of III more than makes up for it.

The DS version of Final Fantasy III, and its subsequent ports, are fine games as well, but I fear the modern gamer will be off-put by Final Fantasy III's intense difficulty as well as its simple premise. It really is a shame, too, as had Final Fantasy III seen an overseas release back in the early 90s - which wasn't going to happen with the SNES and Final Fantasy IV on the horizon - it would've been loved and enjoyed by many and people would've looked upon it like many more do right now with Final Fantasies such as IV and VI.

Instead, Final Fantasy III is seen mainly as a relic, a notable but forgettable piece of Final Fantasy history dismissed for being just that. Still, if you're willing to play it, you'll find that Final Fantasy III is one of the series' better games overall.

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