The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy III, part 1
Final Fantasy III is why this project is what it is.
We’re now entirely out of the realm of repeats from stuff I’ve written before; everything going down in these columns is totally live, so I’m not yet sure how long we’ll be exploring the world of whatever-planet-this-game-takes-place-upon. But we’re doing so on the note of exploring a game that had, easily, the most convoluted trip across the waters of any title in the Final Fantasy franchise. Which is a little weird when you consider that it more or less finished the foundational work started by Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II.
See, Final Fantasy III never came out in America. Sure, Final Fantasy II took a long time to come over in the form of Final Fantasy Origins, but that version of the game was a strict graphical update and the mechanics were identical. The original form of Final Fantasy III, however, has never been released – and at this point, odds are low that it ever will be, because the remake sort of has two sequels and is the general port of call. I told you this was convoluted.
When Final Fantasy III first came out, the game was far too big for the medium it was released upon. Launching in 1990 on the Famicom, the damn thing was massive, pushing the absolute limits of what could be done with a cartridge. It also came out when Square was struggling to adapt to programming for the Super Famicom instead of the older console, which is why Final Fantasy IV kind of looks like it was hastily ported up from the original NES games (since it kind of was). The net result is that there wasn’t any chance of the game being localized for the US, setting into motion a chain of hasty decisions that wouldn’t be fully rectified for another sixteen years.
See, Final Fantasy Origins consisted of two ports of two other ports. Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II had been ported to the WonderSwan Color, and Final Fantasy III was due for the same treatment… except that the game was too big, and before any sort of fix could be found, the handheld died. Porting Final Fantasy III was both difficult and not high on anyone’s priority list, and the only reason that the game finally came over was that Matrix Software completely remade the game from the ground up and released the remake in 2006.
The remake, however, opens up a big can of worms, and it’s why I set down the rules I had for the game as a whole. Because the alterations made to the game are significant. The entire game’s balance has been altered; where the original had two ultimate jobs at the very end, the remake rebalances every job to remain useful throughout. Abilities have been added or altered for several jobs, enemy group composition is different, bosses hit harder, and the story itself has changed from being a group of four anonymous heroes to a gang of actual characters. Thinly-sketched stereotypical characters, yes, but characters just the same.
Fascinatingly enough for series enthusiasts, the remake received a spiritual sequel in the form of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, which itself received another spiritual sequel in the form of Bravely Default. So the remake itself led to a burgeoning sort of alternate evolutionary path.
The original topic under discussion, however, was the fact that Final Fantasy III presented a challenge. Access to the original version requires going out, hunting down fan translations, and it’s never quite the same as what was originally intended. The remake is a very different beast, though, and can it really still be said to be the third part of the series progression?
I’ve gone with an answer in the affirmative. The game that we’re seeing here and now is the game that is the third installment now, for all intents and purposes. Lucky for me, I did play through most of a fan translation long ago, so some points of comparison can be made. Which is important, because even with the changes, this is a game that marks a crucial stepping stone for the franchise as a whole. This is where the Job system kicks off.
I wasn’t there for the development meetings for the game, seeing as how it was released when I was 7 and I was also not Japanese, but I think the whole idea was to capture the fun of upgrading your class in Final Fantasy along with giving you more fine control over character development as was shown in Final Fantasy II. As your party of kids encounters the elemental Crystals, you get to unlock a new set of jobs to change between. The mechanics for just how this works are different between the remake and the original – the original required you to spend a currency to change jobs, while the remake has you fighting at reduced strength for a few battles until you’ve caught up to the job – but in both cases, you can swap from one job to another with relative ease.
Of course, you need more diverse jobs to make this work, which is why the game also made every job far more distinct than the lineup in Final Fantasy. There are 23 jobs, and each one features some unique abilities and assets even in their original forms. The remake makes these classes even more diverse, but the point was that every new job has a new trick. Steal? Throw? Jump? Summon? All of those commands started in this game. It’s fair to say that the iconic non-mage jobs all got their start here, really; the conception of what classes like Knight and Ninja would be in the long run re far closer to these incarnations than those seen in the first game.
The remake puts this off for a bit, though. In the original your four AFGNCAAPs all show up together, but the remake starts you off with just one of the characters. Luneth – or Reks as I named him, mostly as a form of extended mythology gag – fights through the first dungeon and gets to the crystal, but he doesn’t get jobs yet. Running down to the game’s first town reveals a tiny bit of plot exposition and starts you along the game’s overriding mechanical theme: filch everything.
One of the big elements of the original was having a metric ton of items hidden away hither and yon. Hidden passages, hidden items, hidden switches, hidden stuff left and right, all of it powerful and none of it terribly logical or necessary. The remake adds in a little zoom feature that’s needed to access a lot of these hidden kelptomaniac bonuses, which is mildly annoying, but it’s not as if there was grand logic to all of the original’s hidden walls and clickys. You’d never find most of this stuff without knowing where to look, but part of the fun is realizing that pretty much every area has fake walls and things to steal.
The first town also contains the second member of Yon Merrie Band, Arc (renamed to Voyce), a rather soft-spoken young guy whose snappy fashion sense makes him an easy favorite. He runs off to the second town, you follow him, you find out in the second town that everyone has been turned into ghosts due to the curse of the Djinn. Cid, who was just passing through, really, he swears, suggests that you take his airship to go solve the problem. Yes, the game hands you the airship within five seconds, and it also contains your third party member, Refia (renamed Edea).
Something I always liked about the game is that it manages a very slow roll while also feeling familiar. Your first airship is awarded a few minutes in, but there’s still a ring of mountains that you can’t go over – but even so, you get that first airship in the middle of a desert, an obvious homage to Final Fantasy‘s version. You explore this small, limited world briefly, and it feels like an accomplishment, and bit by bit it opens everything up. It’s as linear as ever, but it’s elegant.
With your airship you fly to Sasune Castle, where things are just as dire. Your fourth party member joins (normally Ingus, renamed Gatta) and you’re sent off to find Princess Sara, thus nicely completing the references to the original game; pre-remake, you were even using the same class options, which made it feel nicely circular. There’s an optional mini-dungeon in the castle for a bit more loot, but it’s not mandatory by any means, just helpful to be even more kitted out before taking on the first major challenge.
Final Fantasy III‘s dungeons owe a lot to Final Fantasy II with the addition of numerous false walls and extra bits to be nabbed here and there, although they do tend to also have a lot of false backdrops along the way. The Sealed Cave isn’t terribly challenging, and once you pick up Princess Sara it’s just a matter of getting down to the Djinn and beating up on him for a bit. With all of the pilfered kit along the way, he’s a simple fight; toss out an Antarctic Wind and a Blizzard spell and the battle is nine-tenths in the bag.
Victory seals the Djinn away and teleports the group back to the Wind Crystal, where the first set of jobs is unlocked. You can probably guess what they are. So everyone gets back to the castle in their shiny new jobs and the Djinn’s curse is broken, leaving the team with the whol accessible map explored quite handily. Now there’s just the small matter of returning Cid’s airship, at which point the game starts to expand again… but I’ll save that for the second part.