The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy III, part 11
Fun story about the endgame area here: while the game was still in design, it was discussed whether the last area should feature a save point or not. It was decided against because it would make the game “too easy.” So instead, you have to fight six bosses and climb through a huge long dungeon with no chance of saving, and if you die for any reason you have to do the whole thing all over. Thanks, guys. That was a great decision and I’m super glad you made it.
Those irritations I’ve had about the remake come full circle here; these bosses posed enough of a challenge in the original, but giving them all extra attacks results in the degenerate state wherein one of them can literally kill you in one turn if you get unlucky. Seriously, you could at least have added a “continue” option for groups that get unlucky. Throw us a bone here. I suppose it is the source of darkness, though, you can expect certain amounts of unfairness.
At any rate, the World of Darkness is laid out in an X-shape – the teleporter to the final boss is in the center, while the other arms each lead to a fairly linear path and another boss. Killing the four satellite bosses is how you weaken the Cloud of Darkness enough that the rematch isn’t another curbstomp battle like the first. It’s a kind of neat concept, and if there was a save point I’d actually praise it as a really neat if now-common way to handle a final boss. Ah, well. The satellite paths also contain the vital Ribbons, which allow you to weather status effects that the boss will use on you repeatedly.
I started in the northwest corner, pitting the team against Cerberus. He uses the “attack three times” thing to much greater effect, but he’s still mostly a punching bag to beat on with a pile of health. Killing him introduces one of the Dark Warriors, who explains a healthy dose of pseudo-philosophy to the group and vows to help us against the Cloud of Darkness, so that’s nice. Back to the center, then, and on to the northeast corner, fighting several minibosses along the way. Seriously, this remake is in love with miniboss fights, it’s frustrating as hell. It does mean that those lower-level summons are relevant, at least.
Northeast nets us another ribbon and a fight with Two-Headed Dragon, who is exactly what it says on the tin. Regular readers will note that these are the bosses who show up at the end of the bonus dungeon in the Final Fantasy remake, which as I noted sort of creates a ring of references that are eating themselves. Double Dragon himself is unremarkable, relying on hitting super-hard with physical attacks – it’s the sort of fight that cries out for having a proper tank, and that’s exactly what I have in the form of a Viking. Another Warrior of Darkness shows up and explains how much Xande fucked things up (answer: so much) before absconding.
Southwest. All right. Remember how I mentioned a boss here can kill you in one turn? This is where that boss is. In the remake’s defense, things have to happen exactly right for that to be a concern – your party has to be hit by Tornado, which reduces your collective HP into the single digits, and then Echidna has to break out Quake immediately thereafter. Odds of this happening are somewhere south of 1%. Still. I would think that’s something you want at a 0% chance when you’re designing a game, you know?
Of course, any luck-based fight also has a chance to basically do nothing, which was the case when I fought the spiny hedgehog. Another Warrior of Darkness down, and it’s time for the southeastern pass. This time I can bypass the Ribbon chest altogether; my party’s kitted out with four of them, and there’s no need to add an extra fight, you know? Ahriman, the last of the side bosses, offered no meaningful resistance, and that meant the last Warrior of Darkness was on my side.
All right, then. Rematch time.
Well, first we have to approach the final boss, which means frequent encounters with what amount to mini-Cerberus fights. Not difficult, but irritating. The assault of the Warriors of Darkness weaken the Cloud, but the task of defeating her still, ultimately, falls on my group. Not surprisingly, of course, since it’d be a silly final boss otherwise.
Cloud of Darkness, as one would expect from the final boss, hits hard and fast. Depending on level and approach, it’s very possible for party members to drop unexpectedly and require an Arise to get moving again. This is not a fight won via a straight rush against the boss’s health; sometimes you have to spend a couple of turns being kicked around, and if you’re unlucky you can get kicked back down and wind up having to do the whole tower and boss rush all over. It’s a fair deal harder than the NES version of the fight in some ways; there’s more stuff coming at you at once, for one thing.
In the end, though, she has to die. A bit of philosophy about hope is put forth, the cast goes back to their homes, and everyone welcomes the heroes that saved the world. There are little character scenes here and there which are cute, but not particularly insightful regarding these characters, not that you would expect otherwise at this point. The light of the Crystals return, the cast of characters is shown off, and everyone gets to go home and be miserably depressed in a couple of years when the whole experience of living in a tiny village no longer compares to the rush of saving the world back in the day.
Final Fantasy III hits a lot of firsts, but the one that hit me the most as I played through it is that it’s the first game which feels really large. The scope of the game and the conflict keeps expanding outward and upward, moving from a relatively low-scale problem until you’re facing off against a monster from another world. The scope of the game is the first time that you see what the series will make commonplace by the modern day, where world-shattering conflicts rule the roost.
Beyond that, it’s also the first game the job system shows up in, and a lot of the elements that seem distinctly part of the franchise come directly from here. Dragoons jumping, Geomancy, Summoners and all they bring along… you get the idea. It introduced the idea of gaining and losing airships over the course of the game, of adventures spanning more than one world if necessary, of floating continents, ancient civilizations, and so forth. My point is that it’s a big deal.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the remake does the best job of capturing the original version. The remake adds a lot of ill-conceived elements in the name of “balance” when half the fun was that you weren’t balanced by the end, and a lot of parts that just plain aren’t any more balanced than the original. They’re just messed up in different ways, quite frankly. It’s harder in the ways I usually point out as not actually increasing the overall challenge. So I’m not in love with the remake, or at least not as much as I might want to be.
Oh, and is there ever grinding required. You’d think while the team was “balancing” things they could have done something about wandering around to grind, yes? Maybe? Possibly?
Despite those minor misgivings, I still think it’s important. Final Fantasy is the root of the series, but it hasn’t held up in depth or in themes compared to later titles, and Final Fantasy II is a mess, but Final Fantasy III plays in no small part like a more modern title. You can see the points of commonality with the modern game, elements that for a long time seemed like inviolable laws about the franchise. It’s aged well.
So, sure, I’m critical of the remake, there’s stuff I don’t like about it, but it’s a game that deserves your affection mixed with just a bit of irritation. And when it’s on, oh, it’s on.
Next week is not going to be about Final Fantasy IV just yet, though. Before I get to that, I want to talk a little more about the franchise, because we’ve reached an important point in the development history. Something that deserves exploration, even. You thought I would just be doing a travelogue?