Final Fantasy III ReviewJoe Shaffer
If you're an old school RPG fanatic, then you're probably like me. When you're not playing a game packed with stabbing, destruction, platforming, explosions, fist-to-face combat, and anything else that boosts your ego, you're sitting in a quiet, dark room with Ben & Jerry's ice cream and playing a 16-bit legend like a hopeless romantic watching a tearjerker. Admit it! Even though you want to turn your nose up and say that we've advanced beyond typical J-RPGs, you still tuck yourself in a corner and play them gleefully. You remember what it was to be a teenager rushing home from the rental store on your bike, with games like Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star IV, Breath of Fire, or Shining in the Darkness in tote. This means you undoubtedly remember Final Fantasy III (Final Fantasy VI in Japan and in later US versions), and still feel the impact it had on you. For us older RPGers, it's the gaming equivalent of James Cameron's Titanic.
You probably still know whole lines of dialogue word for word. No, it isn't poetry, and playing later releases of Final Fantasy III showed us how spotty the translation was. What made the lines memorable was the cast of unforgettable characters, because each line was befitting of the character. Square didn't craft new archetypes or design groundbreaking RPG mainstays where characters are concerned, but took familiar ones (the thief, the martial arts master, the technologist) and reworked them. It's because this that we meet such memorable faces as Locke, the confident treasure hunter with a gloomy past; Shadow, a cold and enigmatic ninja who hides his true emotions and motives; Terra, a mage manipulated by the antagonist from birth, now trying to find her niche in society; and Kefka, a Joker-like sociopath bent on causing as much harm as possible.
Through each scene, we witness the characters form bonds and sometimes break them. They learn, they grow, they win, and they lose. Each one has experienced loss and grief, and each one learns how to best deal with the complications of life in a tumultuous world. At the same time, the story isn't so complex or overwhelming that we sit through long cutscenes before getting to the action. This is due to tight writing. There are very few idle scenes where characters mosey about and establish nothing. Everything furthers either the plot, the current scenario, or the characters in as little time as possible. In a sense, Final Fantasy III's journey isn't defined by the paths you take, the caves you explore, or the beasts you destroy, but by the growth of its cast.
Our heroes play out their drama in a wondrous steampunk world brimming with danger. For ever gorgeous Victorian-like town and impressive fortress, there's a cave filled with demonic horrors or a mountain pass plagued by the vicious wilds. At times your battles are practically handed to you. You slice through myriad carnivorous rodents or scores of imperial troops, gaining levels with ease. You lower your defenses, expecting the rest of the battles to be as manageable, but Final Fantasy III tosses you screwballs now and then. For every easy-to-kill crustacean, there's a floating zombie that can cast instant-death spells. For every weakling, there's a nuke-slinging monstrosity rendered in grim detail.
You learn that all is not safe in this world of wonder. You can't decide if you'd ever visit the place or stay home and forget you saw it. This becomes even more apparent gazing upon terrifying bosses like Doomgaze. Each one, designed by Yoshitaka Amano, captures the essence of evil and chaos. Every maligned body part comes together to form a ghastly horror. Or, in cases like Ultros, a silly yet malicious caricature of evil.
They're every bit as tough and mean as they look. Where killing normal foes is a matter of dropping the right spell or having the right character, battling bosses is an affair in itself--assuming you don't cheat and use the Vanish-Doom combo.
Setting the pace for all of this--every dramatic cutscene, desperate battle, and even a simple stroll across the countryside--is a masterfully composed soundtrack. From the world map BGM to the antsy battle theme, each track captures Final Fantasy III's fantastical and desperate atmosphere. They don't simply tell you what to feel, but invoke that emotion as though the music is aiding all of the other elements in telling the story. Towns become homey, deep dungeons become dark secrets that haven't seen light since time out of mind, and battle has more at stake than the lives of the combatants. Jumping into boss battles turns up the tempo and the sense of urgency.
You think that there couldn't be a more epic combat piece, but then you bump into Atma Weapon and hear the major boss BGM. The first time I caught this track, titled The Fierce Battle, and saw that hideous hybrid of flesh and machine, I went ghost white. I knew I was ill-prepared and in for it. He mutters on about being as old as the cosmos as the haunting anthem plays, then proceeds to decimate my party like I didn't matter. I will never forget that moment, and certainly never this track. Thankfully, I've since given Atma what for.
I know, whenever I call something 'epic' it sounds hyperbolic, but that's the best way to describe Final Fantasy III. Even were I to suffer a major cranial injury and forget just about everything, I'm sure I'd still remember this game. All of the pieces--the dramatic story, the fabulous world, the incredible soundtrack--add up to a marvelous experience that many gamers will never forget. Even gamers now can permanently etch this experience in their brains, thanks to re-releases and ports. However, I will tell you that the SNES version on Wii Virtual Console is the best version, more so than the slowed down PlayStation port or the GBA version which, while good in its own right, features a less than impressive rendition of the soundtrack. RPG fans and old schoolers, you owe it to yourselves. Find any way you can to get a hold of 800 Wii points and download Final Fantasy III!
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.