Final Fantasy III Revisited: A Bridge to the Future
All right! We’re now caught up on the earlier posts, and I’m fairly settled in to the new blog, so it’s time to move on to the next game in the series. This time I’m playing Final Fantasy III, because I played FF2 last time and that’s how numbers work. I’ll be going through the DS remake, but I have played the Famicom version before, so I’m planning to consider both in my posts.
Like Final Fantasy II, FF3 came west rather late—it didn’t arrive on this side of the planet until 2006, a full sixteen years after its original release, and even now it’s only available in the (significantly overhauled) remake version. It doesn’t have the negative reputation of FF2, but it also doesn’t seem to have much of a reputation at all. Maybe I’m just not as tuned into this series anymore, but the only time I ever seem to see this game mentioned is when the occasional port shows up on a new platform. Between the late release, the lack of polarizing features, and the fact that its biggest distinguishing element—the job system—was easily surpassed by FF5, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to make FF3 stand out.
As with FF2, I find myself wondering how this game would be remembered if we had played it when it was new, before the rest of the series came along and exceeded it. It isn’t hard to believe that it would be held in pretty high regard, as a late NES title that really pushed the limits of the system and set the stage for the next generation. After the experimental FF2, Final Fantasy 3 brought back a lot of what made the original game work, then polished and expanded it into something seriously impressive for its era. I could imagine this game taking its place in the 8-bit canon next to other definitive number threes, like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Castlevania 3.
The connections to the original game are fairly significant, and are perhaps part of why the game works as well as it does—rather than building things up from the beginning again, it was able to take a known success and grow from there. The jobs are back, only now there are a lot more and you can change them throughout the game to take on new challenges. The plot is similar, following nameless (in the original version) Light Warriors seeking out crystals to save the world. There’s a slightly stronger focus on the story, including a few basic narrative techniques kept from FF2, but the overall flow is much closer to the original game. As in the first game, progress through FF3 is mainly driven through discovery, as you gradually open up new parts of the world and find new places to visit and problems to solve—it’s just a much bigger and more complex world this time.
This is more than just an enhanced take on the original game, though, and this is another place where FF3 perhaps doesn’t get its due. In many ways, it set the stage for the classic SNES era of the series, moving beyond its relatively simple predecessors with some ideas that would be explored more thoroughly in the games to follow. Its many jobs don’t just have different stats and spells; they often have entirely unique combat abilities. Thieves can steal, dragoons can jump, and knights can defend other party members, all of which are a first for the series. The presentation, while still restricted to an 8-bit color palette, is often much nicer than its predecessors and at times doesn’t look too far removed from Final Fantasy IV. The dungeons are generally less mazelike and have a better sense of place. The overworld, much like in the SNES games, spans multiple maps that see a few significant changes over the course of the game. And this is even the first game to represent damage with those iconic bouncing numbers, though they were red rather than white for this outing.
Final Fantasy III could perhaps best be described as a bridge—it’s the peak of the series’s early days, but it also shows the way forward to what Final Fantasy would become. It’s a vital link in the series, but this may also be why it seems so underappreciated today: Most everything that made it special is now so fundamental that it just doesn’t stand out anymore. FF3 might be a victim of its own success, but without it Final Fantasy wouldn’t be what it is today—and hey, it’s still a pretty good game.