The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy III, part 2

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

Easy come, easy go.  After a quest to retrieve an airship that took all of ten seconds, you are deprived of your first airship shortly thereafter.  Yes, your constrained little world opens up by smashing your airship into a rock, revealing a much bigger world than you had thought you occupied.  This is a regular theme in this game, as it happens; you think you know what the world looks like, but soon thereafter you get something bigger.  It’s also the first of many airships that you ruin, but let’s not talk about that.

The important thing is that this opens up a path to head south and to Cid’s hometown, where he promises that he can conveniently build you a replacement airship if you can just get him an engine.  So we have a long-term goal, and astonishingly it doesn’t really involve the crystal at this point.  Sure, we’re supposed to be saving the world from darkness, but it’s not yet clear how we’re going to go about doing that.  Is there darkness in the optional little side-dungeon in Kazus (which I’ve been calling “the second town” the whole time because of laziness)?  Nope, just some Mythril Swords and a chance to wear out that job sickness.

Right, job sickness, that’s a thing here.  But it wasn’t in the original.  To understand why it’s here now, you have to understand the penalties for swapping jobs in the game, or more accurately, the complete lack thereof.

See, when you talk about a game with a job system, you picture the usual mixing and matching of abilities until you are a land-bound deity.  There’s nothing more distinctly Final Fantasy, is there?  Except that doesn’t exist here.  At all.  Mixing and matching jobs is something that wouldn’t be implemented until later in the overall progression of the series; at this point, what you’ve got are jobs and that’s it.  Someone who just spent twenty levels as a Black Mage can change over to be a Knight and the past won’t matter at all.  The usual momentum keeping you in a certain job is lost here.

Instead, Final Fantasy III used a different system where you acquired Capacity Points as you fought enemies.  As your job leveled up, it got more powerful all around, but it would also cost more CP to shift into that job.  A fine system in theory, but since you could go long stretches without swapping jobs, CP wound up accumulating in huge piles and made swaps in the late game pointlessly simple.  You swap classes, you handle a gimmick boss fight with one collection of jobs, then you’re done.  Dragoons were basically useful for one boss, and the strategy was to make a full group of Dragoons, kill the boss, then swap away forever.

The remake did away with that system and replaced it with a somewhat more sensible alternative.  Now, swapping to a new job has no cost, but you spent a bit of time being less effective in your new job based upon the level of the swapped job and, I believe, a couple of other factors.  I wouldn’t say it exactly makes life easier – strategies which require you to swap now need a bit of advance planning – but it succeeds in being an actual restriction, unlike the original version.

Look, at least I'm not breaking into your home whilst yelling about a man in a black coat.

Don’t mind me, folks, just your average group of teenagers armed with a bunch of weapons and magic, nothing to be alarmed about.

Anyhow, you smash your airship into a rock, and then you can continue to play the Escort Service of Light to bring Cid to his hometown, which is less of a euphemism than it sounds like.  It’s not much of a walk.  Once you’re at Cid’s hometown, you find out that some lady is pining after her boyfriend who ran off to the adjacent horrifying mountain, which is the home of a dragon.  Naturally, you head over there.  (It’s, like, right there.)

The mountain is where you learn a few important lessons about Final Fantasy III, despite the fact that it’s so short that it barely qualifies as a dungeon.  The first is that punching things is not terribly useful in this game, a marked departure from the many games in the franchise where it is super powerful.  The second is that this game has no qualms about killing you harshly and repeatedly no matter how much you might love it.  This isn’t even a full dungeon, but it’s packed with enemies that can petrify you on normal attacks and will absolutely swarm and kill you if given half a chance.  Your saving grace is magic, but this is still in the era of spell slots, and despite what you may have expected the remake does not replace that with an MP system a la Final Fantasy‘s later remakes.  So magic is limited, your enemies are dangerous, and if you hadn’t done some grinding before you may well find yourself having to go up a little and retreat after a few fights.

Still, it never winds up feeling cheap despite that, and as I mentioned, if you aren’t happy with how a class is working out you have less incentive than in other job-based games to stick with it.  Just swap to another, it’ll work out fine.  It’s a nice sweet spot of difficulty, where you’re never too far from retreat but at the same time never able to just say “peace out” at a moment’s notice.  It feels solid in ways that neither Final Fantasy nor Final Fantasy II managed.

What up?

Yo.

After a bit of climbing, you’ll reach the top and be greeted by Bahamut.  Yes, the King of Dragons is just waiting for you next to the third town you’ve visited in the game.  Boy, this game is moving fast, huh?

Unfortunately for you, this version of Bahamut is less “chatty dragon who wants to help you change your class” and more “roaring, angry dragon who is going to shred your face off in an instant.”  That’s less encouraging.  You’ve succeeded at locating your boy Desch, the missing boyfriend from before, and he gives you a Mini spell and helpfully advises you to run.  Doing so leads to your characters jumping off the mountain in a desperate flight, leaving you in a strange part of the map with the amnesiac Desch in tow.

Desch knows he needs to do something, but he doesn’t know what.  Rather than chalking that up to being 23, he elects to follow your group in the hopes that it’ll all work itself out as long as he sticks around long enough.  I’m not glossing here, that’s what he says.  It might sound odd, but when you’re trapped with a group of strange people in a dragon’s nest, a lot of otherwise strange things sound reasonable.

The forest just outside of our landing zone contains someone who helpfully informs me that the only way to enter the village to the south is to be a gnome, or to be minimized.  Aren’t we lucky, we’ve got the Mini spell.  That means that everyone’s going to be physically useless, of course, so everyone swaps into a magical class to retain some functionality during fights.  This is something I actually really like.  No more recent game would ever do this to you, since having characters be custom-built is part of the fun of job systems, but when you don’t really have any holdover between older jobs and newer ones you can present players with challenges that can only be solved via swapping jobs on command.

It’s kind of neat, honestly.  And there’s a certain earnestness to the game as a whole that still charms me, that in direct contrast to its predecessor it’s very much a romp.  Even more so than Final Fantasy was, in fact.  There, you had a pretty direct line to what you were supposed to be doing; here, you’re kind of stumbling forward, and your group is going to the Village of the Gnomes in part because it doesn’t know what it needs to do next.  It feels more light-hearted.

At any rate, the group gets minimal and heads on south to Tozus, which requires a bit of searching because it’s not clearly marked on the map.  The village of the gnomes is a bit cutesy-wutesy for my tastes, something that the franchise would visit again when it decided that we needed a short race in online offerings, but it still has some things for you to nab, and it gives you another destination.  In theory, there are monsters in the tunnel, but in practice I didn’t run into any, leading to a simple and uneventful jaunt to the home of the Vikings.  And really, who wouldn’t want to go there?

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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