Final Fantasy III Revisited: The Tao of Final Fantasy
After a very long time digging through a rather grueling final dungeon, it’s time to mark another one of these games complete. Our heroes stand victorious over the forces of darkness, showing that light will always triumph and—actually, that’s not true. Final Fantasy III doesn’t have a terribly complex story, but there’s a bit of philosophy at the heart of it that’s a little more interesting than all that.
Like much of the game, FF3’s story is largely an elaboration on the first Final Fantasy—darkness is threatening the world, so four Light Warriors appear, guided by the crystals, to venture forth and put things right. In the first game, this followed the generic fantasy trope of light as good and darkness as evil, dividing the world up nicely into moral boxes that leave no doubt about who’s right and wrong. And while FF3 doesn’t really deal in ambiguity—your heroes remain pure and just, and the enemies are little more than sneering villains—the way the concepts of light and dark play into this is a bit more nuanced.
See, the existence of darkness itself isn’t the problem, it’s that it’s out of balance—the bad guys brought too much of it into the world, threatening to overwhelm the light. The world is sustained by the two forces existing in harmony, the game will tell you, and the Light Warriors have been chosen not to eliminate this darkness, but just to return it to its normal state. Too much light would be just as bad—and in a nice touch, the typical calamity 1000 years in the past involved just this, forcing four Dark Warriors to save the day. I’d almost rather see a game starring those guys, but they do make a brief appearance toward the end, no less heroic than your own party. The Dark Knight class, too, suggests the potential of both forces working together.
I can’t claim any expertise on Taoism, but all this seems like a pretty direct reference to yin-yang—the idea that two opposite forces such as light and darkness are not enemies, but rather integral parts of a single whole. Neither is good nor evil, and neither can nor should ever triumph over the other; nature is sustained only by their balance. The game never refers to yin-yang by name, but the way it talks about light and shadow are certainly evocative of it.
This is far from the only game—especially from Japan, which has some history with Taoism—to work such concepts into its backstory, but the way Final Fantasy III builds this into the Western fantasy tropes at the fore of the story seems less common. FF1 was heavily inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, which largely draws from European folklore by way of Tolkien, so FF3 could perhaps be seen as Square taking those borrowed ideas and putting their own stamp on them with some philosophy that’s a bit more local in origin. The result is a flavor that isn’t quite like its contemporaries—including other games in the same series—and it’s something that still makes Final Fantasy III feel a bit different even in the shadow of its descendents. Because, after all, there’s nothing wrong with the shadows.
Seriously, the final dungeon in this game is sort of ridiculous—I spent about ten hours, a third of my total playtime, slowly exploring it and gaining enough levels to complete the game. And that means it’s definitely time for another break. When I return, this series will finally catch up with my own history: I’ll be playing Final Fantasy IV, which was (almost) my introduction to the series, and is the first game I’m covering that I actually played when it was new. This one might feel a bit different than the first three, which I’ve only ever known as retro.
In the meantime, I’d like to keep a few other things going here if I have time. In particular, I’ve been planning to repost some of my older 1UP.com stuff, going way back to 2004, so keep an eye out for those. I’m pretty busy these days so I can’t make any promises, but let’s see if I can’t get that started!