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Final Fantasy III Review Rewind

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On 04/28/2022 at 03:00 PM by Jamie Alston

Final Fantasy gets a job.

One of the best Famicom RPGs despite a few antiquated blemishes.

When Final Fantasy VII appeared in the late 90s, my initial reaction was that of shock at the significant gulf in sequels for the US. It was a harsh reality to learn that, of the three mainline Final Fantasy releases we received, Japan had double that number by the start of the PlayStation era. As time marched on, Square (now Square Enix) eventually released the sequels we had missed. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing a nearly 30-year-long game of catch-up since 1997. A particular blind spot for me was Final Fantasy III- the last one to be developed for the Famicom. However, after finally getting around to playing it, I now have a new appreciation for this long-running series.

Initially released on April 27, 1990, the game tells a tale of four young orphans who discover a light crystal while exploring a cave after a major earthquake. A voice from the crystal reveals that they are the Light Warriors destined to restore balance to a broken world. After bestowing the last of its strength upon them, the light crystal sends the adventurous foursome onward to the dangers ahead.

Final Fantasy III’s vital contribution to the series is the job change system- a feature allowing each party member to switch between multiple character classes instead of being locked into one. The only caveat is that the ability to change job classes depends on your party’s pool of Capacity Points. Thus, as you collect more crystals, additional classes become available.

Certain job classes make for quite an interesting display on the battlefield. Words fail to describe how satisfying it is to change a character into a scholar and watch them slap enemies around with a pair of books for respectable damage points. The job system makes level-grinding a little less daunting since you can reconfigure your party to meet the challenges of the current dungeon. Also introduced were class-specific battle commands (Jump, Steal, etc.) to diversify the battle system even further.

Overall, the job system is a brilliant expansion of gameplay mechanics from the two previous games. Final Fantasy’s initial freedom of choice is combined with the skill-based character growth system that the sequel attempted. What resulted was a nuanced - but still accessible - battle system throughout the journey instead of being forced to use the same commands for everyone across the board for hours on end.

The game is full of nice little touches that add up through the adventure. For instance, hit points appear above characters when taking damage or healing. The party is frequently joined by guest NPCs who are crucial to completing the current leg of the journey. Eventually, the heroes acquire all manner of transportation, including an airship that turns into a submarine and an even bigger airship that fires cannon blasts at enemies. With all of these new gameplay elements introduced here, a sense of grandeur permeates throughout Final Fantasy III from start to finish.

The game’s unique use of status effects is noteworthy outside of battle. Sometimes the party must use Toad or Mini on themselves to either move through tiny spaces or swim through certain areas. The caveat is that random battles during these moments are rather formidable due to the party’s inability to inflict significant physical damage or use any offensive magic while in that state. As much as I groaned any time a scenario called for the use of those status effects, I appreciated that such a thoughtful- and frankly, logical- use of Toad and Mini was implemented so early in the series. Square had truly mastered its craft by this point in the Famicom’s lifespan.

One of the most significant shortcomings of the early series’ battle system is auto-targeting. This feature ensures your party characters don’t waste turns attacking an already-defeated enemy before that character can take their turn. It is entirely absent in the first two games. In Final Fantasy III, the situation isn’t quite as dire. Auto-targeting is active for physical attacks. However, there’s no auto-targeting for offensive magic, debuffs, or items. It’s frustrating to have precious magic charges wasted when the intended enemy is destroyed prematurely.

The game doesn’t offer much in terms of character or plot development. Instead, it more closely follows the beats of the first game, with the main characters being nameless Light Warriors to whom the player assigns names at the start. Besides being orphans raised by the village elder, not much else is known about them other than that they were “the chosen ones.” You’ll travel from place to place, solving whatever unique problem plagues the townsfolk, which in turn happens to align in some way with the overall goal of the heroes. While not the most original story ever told, I at least had a good time with the game’s presentation of it overall.

Another quirk I noticed is that this game loves its secret passages- sometimes to the point of obnoxiousness. In particular, two dungeons later in the game make extensive use of hidden mazes, with entrances and exits only discernible by minor dents in the walls. The latter instance is especially harrowing to navigate without a guide.

Like most RPGs from this era, dungeons with particularly tricky enemies are often mapped to ensure the paths leading to the best treasure or that dungeon’s boss involves an ungodly amount of long stretches, twists, and turns. This nearly guarantees you’ll run into multiple ambush encounters that can wreck your party if you aren’t adequately leveled and use optimal job classes.

Final Fantasy III features some of the best music I’ve heard on the Famicom. A masterful soundtrack considering the medium, Nobuo Uematsu’s musical score once again elevates the journey. I love the reverb in Crystal Cave- the tune of the opening scene and certain dungeons. Eternal Wind (the world map music) especially stands out for its melancholic tone that contrasts with lighter compositions in other areas of the game. It works as a compelling reminder of the underlying plight of the world despite the absence of heavy drama among the protagonists that would later define the series during the Super NES years and beyond.

Musical talent is even a base ability for the light warriors, as can be demonstrated any time you walk into a pub that has a piano. If you so choose, you can have your heroes jam out a tune or two- one of which (Swift Twist) is a direct nod to the rock and roll craze of the 60s, complete with a scene where the bar patrons spontaneously dance in sync. I never knew they could be so light on their feet after a few pints of ale.

As much as I enjoyed this game, I must admit that the vanilla Famicom version isn’t the easiest to love. The razor-thin plot elements, non-existent character development, and arduous battles in certain parts of the journey won’t likely attract anyone lacking the patience to power through it. However, those issues aside, the job system, expanded gameplay elements, and masterful soundtrack makes Final Fantasy III the best of the original trilogy. It learned the right lessons from the previous entries and succeeded as a polished swan song for the Famicom series.

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04/28/2022 at 05:12 PM

I have only played the DS version. The Famicom version apparently did max out the abilities of the Famicom. 

That said, I still stand by my assertion that Dragon Quest was a much better series than Final Fantasy on the NES/Famicom.  My favorite NES FF was actually FF2, which is generally considered the worst of the series. It had the closest thing to a story of the NES FF games, and I liked its soundtrack better. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

04/29/2022 at 12:49 AM

That's what's great about having so much variety even among gamers who love the same genre of games. Although FF2 may not be every RPG lover's favorite, there's plenty of folk out there who enjoy it for competely valid reasons.

I like both Dragon Quest and FF series for different reasons. I like DQ for it's consistancy in story and battle system. As for Final Fantasy, I appreciate seeing how it's grown over the years leading up to FF VII, where I got formal introduction to the series. Playing the older ones now, I can see how gameplay elements I had taken for granted eventually made it's way to FF7 and beyond.


04/30/2022 at 04:04 PM

When I first played Tactics in 1998, I did a lot of the "side quests" in the taverns. These would often unlock information on locations and artifacts in the earlier games of the series. At the time I played Tactics, I had only played VI and VII, and I might have rented IV from Blockbuster. So I didn't recognize any of these except what came from those games. Due to VII being pretty new and VI not being as popular in Japan as soms of the earlier games, most of these references came from 1, 2, 3, and 5. So that meant that i recognized very few of the references until I played V, which came out the following year as part of Anthology, or Origins. 9 had a lot of callbacks to older games as well (a lot of the Tactics staff worked on 9). It was interesting seeing how old some of the thematic elements of the PS1 games really were. I guess it would have felt the same seeing 8-bit Lynels for the first time if my first Zelda game had been Breath of the Wild or A Link Between Worlds, but I have been a Zelda fan since the first game released in the US. 

Cary Woodham

04/29/2022 at 09:09 AM

I only played the 3DS version of FF3, but never really got into it.  I call myself a Final Fantasy fan, but the only ones I really liked were FF4, FF6, and FF9.  I did play through FF1, FF2, and FF7, though.  I never played a FF game past 9.  

Speaking of which, my newest blog I just posted is Final Fantasy related, so check it out if you can!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/12/2022 at 12:05 AM

I'll definitely check out your post about Fanal Fantasy! I apologize for the delayed response but I was out on some much needed time off from work last week.

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