Final Fantasy III
| Final Fantasy III
For some cinephiles, nothing will ever beat the black and white atmosphere of an early Buñuel, Welles or Hitchcock movie. Somehow the multitude of greys and starkness of the dark shadows encapsulates moral uncertainly and the harsh realities of post-war life.
We'd struggle to make similar highfalutin' comparisons with the world of video games, but there remains a small band of purists who still delight in the pixel perfection of flat 2D sprite graphics.
When it comes to Final Fantasy III, the remake of a title first released in Japan in 1990, they're going to be disappointed. Unlike subsequent games in the Final Fantasy series, which were ported in their original 2D guise direct to GBA, Final Fantasy III comes to Nintendo's dual-screened handheld in sparkling new 3D clothes.
There's no denying the result is a visual triumph for DS, which is hardly a format grown fat on eye candy. Appropriately, the gamemakers Square Enix and Matrix trumpet their achievement from the get-go with a sumptuous new opening cinematic sequence.
Other updates included 'Mognet', a wi-fi mailing system that you can use to send generic messages to various in-game characters in order to unlock side quests, and to mail real people on your Friends List using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. More subtly, you can now christen the four characters who make up your adventurers.
Nameless 17 years ago, today they're officially called Luneth, Arc, Refia and Ingus, but you can type new names in on meeting them. It helps you get that little bit more involved in the story – a wise decision, since being one of the earliest RPGs, Final Fantasy III's plot, which has notably not been given a makeover for 2007, is pretty feeble compared to contemporary efforts.
Four orphans have been mysteriously brought together by one of their world's four elemental spirits to defeat a great evil. That's about the sum of it (although a cynic might say it was enough to get Square through much of the subsequent 17 years). Your goal is to quest around various lands – shown in typical Final Fantasy pseudo-isometric map form – beating bosses and tracking down three evil-thwarting elemental crystals.
There's plenty to get on with. Some missions drive the story forward, such as getting your hands on vehicles like the airship or Viking boat necessary to open up new areas of the map. Other times you might help out worried villagers in a semi-altruistic effort to buff up your experience points or win groovy new items.
But the main game mechanic are the random turn-based battles, which in the past two decades have become a familiar Final Fantasy stalwart. In the case of Final Fantasy III, the order of battle is fixed (there's no Active Battle Time system here, whippersnappers). Rather, you select your characters' moves at the start of a turn, and each combatant then gets their crack of the (magic) whip in turn until one side has won. (See the PG Tips below for some tactical hints).
What makes the battles more than just conkers-in-fancy-3D is Final Fantasy III's job system, which the original game was the first to implement. Set aside fears of typing assignments and plumbing vacanies – with the jobs in Final Fantasy III you can hone your adventurers into a personal fighting force.
Each character starts out as a freelancer, but before long you can convert them to a thief, a monk, a warrior or various types of mage. Each of these classes has a special skill; for example, the knight has a massive Advance attack, while the thief can steal items in battle, as well as unlocking doors in the game's main exploratory mode.
Better yet, you can swap jobs on-the-fly. There's a small handover period – usually a couple of battles – before the transformation is complete, but after that any experience points gained are locked down to the new job, so you can happily swap jobs as freely as a trust fund kid on a gap year.
The job system also stops the game becoming too repetitive, because the further you progress, the more new career options become available. Yet even taking that into account, experienced RPG players will likely find Final Fantasy III a bit lightweight in everything except length.
While it's a visual treat, the huge number of decent RPGs available for DS, not to mention the three Final Fantasy games ported to GBA (most recently Final Fantasy V Advance), means this particular blast of the past is probably best left to completists, or RPG novices who fancy the kudos of playing the first Final Fantasy on DS. It's good, but not the great game we've waited 17 years for.