I have always been a fan of the Final Fantasy series, but I had never played the third installment of the franchise because it was a Japan only game for the NES. Well now it has come to Steam almost 25 years after its initial release. It has all the tropes and staples of the early NES Final Fantasies such as pick a party of four, visit a town, go to a dungeon, kill its boss to progress the shell of a story. Lather, rinse, repeat
For those uninitiated with the series, the old Final Fantasies have turn based combat with a party of four generic characters. Fighters should attack, magicians should use magic. If you remember it, you can guard, use items or equipment and you can always run. While traditional classes return like the warrior, thief, black mage and white mage, Final Fantasy III brings in some new and interesting classes like the geomancer, summoner and dark knight. The geomancer can use terrain magic, even if somehow terrain magic uses wind and dark spells. The dark knight can damage all enemies at the cost of their own health and the summoner can summon creatures to do things like run, attack or heal.
These new classes exploit the game, because they use limitless skills that feel more powerful than anything else. Mages can use a limited amount of magic before you need to replenish it by visiting an inn, but with these new skills, feel free to keep using them with no sort of consequence. I suppose the petty way of balancing the skills is dark knights take damage when a skill gets used and geomancers cannot select their attack and sometimes its ineffective. Summoners still use magic.
With so many new diverse classes, the game lets you set a character’s class whenever you want to. There is a brief penalty of a few battles before the character starts leveling up their class. In this game your characters level up as does their class. Mages can use more magic when they level up while everyone’s health and stats increases. Its traditional RPG fare.
Combat feels super shallow. You can use the same strategies for hours without changing them from enemies to bosses. I suppose at this point, you’re playing the game to relax rather than to get enthralled in story or combat. Play through a charming episode and move on with your life. The most enemies I can recall in a battle was three, which seems simple enough for a party of four. Bosses and larger enemies can attack twice.
With an upgrade of technology comes a new look for Final Fantasy III. The visuals are basic 3D and some people have frame rate issue, but you get used to the low frame rates when playing. Old school RPGs don’t need to be 60 fps. The visuals are okay for 20 years ago and they make the characters look like dolls, which turns into unintentional comedy as you see one doll try to murder another doll with a knife in its sleep.
The PC version offers a quick save feature along with a save game that you can save whenever you’re in the overworld. The quick save is a neat feature if you have to exit immediately, but series veterans will most likely take the time to save to one of the three slots.
Without spoiling the story, it feels like the story is loose, you go forward, episode to episode helping characters while looking for crystals. There’s no sort of side side quest, nor is there any character development as you have four generic placeholders. The story boils down to your four characters are the warriors of light, because you came from the light world into the dark world. The dark world is a second normal world settled beneath the light world, so its odd calling it the dark world other than the fact its in the shadow of the world above it. The shadow being a metaphor as there’s no actual shadow.
Traveling from world to world makes it seem a bit like the Final Fantasy Legend / SaGa series, even if its only two worlds. If you count the ocean floor as a world, that’s the third. You will get a wide variety of vessels that carry you through shallow water with a canoe, travel through the ocean with a ship, fly around with the first airship, maneuver underwater with another vessel and get upgrades to go over mountains. There is a lot of upgrades to make travel feel interesting, because there’s a lot of vehicle travel from the start. Another method of travel is the chocabo that lets you run through the overworld without enemy battles. Its a nice new way to fast travel.
With all this vehicle travel, the dark world is a much grander place with vast oceans that leads to a lot of time spent getting from point A to point B, but its better than walking. The world of light is smaller, more dense and seems to get built in a circle like a giant chocabo track.
Across these two worlds, you’ll discover a lot of settlements which adds flavor to the game. There’s a settlement of tiny people, a hidden settlement of wizards selling spells, another settlement of summoners, another of geomancers and a few safe havens of subterranean dewllers for one reason or another. There are towns in the least expected places.
Final Fantasy III offers more of an interactive experience with dungeons. There is a zoom in feature that can find shinny objects that will open doorways. You can use the mini spell to get into hard to reach places, but remember you’re vulnerable to enemy attacks when using the spell. The game seems to forget about its tricks and they become rarely used if at all past the initial few dungeons. Other series staples such as traveling through dark, hidden hallways to find secret rooms are still here.
Another way the game feels like the Final Fantasy Legend series are the stairwells going down through dungeons and walking through deeper water to go under bridges. Its a simple thing that adds a bit of fun to the game when you can walk through water to explore. The exploration with Final Fantasy III is here and manageable. Dungeons seem to have a single staircase to each floor with a few out of the way areas with treasure chests. The areas with treasure never take that long to find and they’re usually around the next corner.
Some of the early hurdles with the game involve the mini spell and its use is mandatory early on. The game puts you in bad situations where you must push forward through difficult dungeons without returning to the safety of towns for shops, health and reviving dead party members. Once you get through the first few hours, you’re able to back track, but it can be a steep hill to climb at first.
Final Fantasy III is enjoyable to play, even if its the blandest flavor of RPG vanilla out there. The game looks bland, combat is bland with little strategy for veterans, the stories are forgettable and its just coasting along on its hefty customization.