Final Fantasy III Reader Review
I'm a firm believer in the prominence of graphics when considering video games. I know: no shit, Sherlock. But it's always worthwhile to take a position in one of the most contested areas of debate in the gaming world. Nintendo's Wii is perhaps the most brazen example of gameplay over technical prowess, giving a hearty 'fuck you' to the next-gen powerhouses of the 360 and PS3, and who succeeds will set precedent for a very long time after.
So, the point: Final Fantasy III is a 3D remake of the original NES game from 1990, and if it weren't a complete visual makeover I'm sure my tolerance for its somewhat archaic gameplay would be greatly reduced. I'm not a graphics whore by any stretch, but the importance of aesthetics is undeniable and never more so than in the genre of RPG. While the SNES Final Fantasies prove that 2D sprites are capable of representing genuine emotion and depth, it's hard to agree that the NES era games were capable of the same impact. And why would they be? Sakaguchi was well aware of his technical limitations and never aimed for the same story-telling heights as the later sequels. The point is, in Final Fantasy III's case, the universally praised aesthetic beauty of the Final Fantasy games is going to be your entry point to an otherwise staunchly traditional (in all respects) gaming experience.
FFIII's graphical presentation is hard to place. There are no pre-rendered backgrounds, so it's difficult to liken to its PSone brethren in particular (even if the similarities are evidently there), but I'd be inclined to say it has a lot in common with Vagrant Story in a technical sense. Design-wise they're worlds apart - FFIII's cherubic character design is a strong contrast to Vagrant Story's fantasy realism, but the jaggy, pixelated 3D environments share many of the same flaws. This isn't particularly upsetting, though, because FFIII uses its 3D engine well and presents much of the visual charm the Final Fantasy games have come to be known for. Nobuo's music is as beautiful as its been in MIDI form, and sound effects are decent in their subtly.
Gameplay-wise, this game is very much an issue of fan tolerance vs. actual forward-thinking gaming merit. To reiterate the abiding consensus: it's a NES remake, and a very close one, for better or worse. Shrewd gamers would've assumed this from the beginning and came to experience without the expectation most have when approaching a new FF instalment. The gameplay is either charmingly classical or rigidly archaic depending on your memories and patience for the Final Fantasy catalogue.
I'm quite an accommodating fan myself, loving the reliable degree of quality in all FF games above everything apart from their design flare, so this experience remained amiable and addictive throughout. I never had a distinct feeling of 'contributing' that often drives me through RPGs, but the sense of achievement is still there and as enticing, even amongst the limited design choices often feel clumsy and restrictive, objectively speaking.
Popular opinion suggests portable systems like the DS aren't suitable for the protracted RPG experience, but with the advent of the quicksave feature this isn't really much of an issue any more. If anything, the disposable nature of FFIII's story and inherent playability of its battle system make it quite suited for the pick-up-and-play mentality. If we were talking about a console instalment both these issues would be crippling flaws, but a twenty-minute levelling-up drive has never felt as comfortable when it's on the bus, or the dead zone between breakfast and work/school/life.
Final Fantasy III, in the objective, rational world of gaming journalism, is a 6 out of 10 game. In the world of nostalgia and fanboyish lenience, it's a good 8 or 9. The Final Fantasy charm is there in abundance; it's suitably challenging and enjoyably so - even within the confines of its own underdeveloped, restrictive design; the sense of history will make fans smile, and it's presentation is lovely. Before handing over the cash, you need to ask yourself why exactly you're buying this game. If you're hot off the back of Final Fantasy XII you need to stop yourself and play your way backwards up to this point as a form of rehab. Buying this game with the mindset of a modern FF fan is just a bit silly, really. It's the third game in a (current) set of twelve. I don't need to explain the relevance of this fact. If you're approaching FFIII as a novel curiosity, however, you'll be pleasantly surprised on most fronts. Bar perhaps Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, it's my favourite DS RPG so far. Final Fantasy games are usurping little fuckers, aren't they?