Final Fantasy III (SNES) review
"Three Imperial soldiers advance upon the mining town of Narshe in search of an ancient being of pure power — just the thing to help their liege, Emperor Gestahl, solidify his tyrannical hold on the world. Two are mere lackeys of the corrupt ruler, but the third, a young female named Terra, is different. Far greater than her companions, this lady possesses a beauty that far transcends mere appearances. She is destined to help save the world from its corrupting influences — and it will be beautif..."
Three Imperial soldiers advance upon the mining town of Narshe in search of an ancient being of pure power — just the thing to help their liege, Emperor Gestahl, solidify his tyrannical hold on the world. Two are mere lackeys of the corrupt ruler, but the third, a young female named Terra, is different. Far greater than her companions, this lady possesses a beauty that far transcends mere appearances. She is destined to help save the world from its corrupting influences — and it will be beautiful.
It’s obvious that she doesn’t belong with the two oafish brutes that are her companions. She has little choice in the matter, though, as a mind-controlling device forces her to do their bidding — which she does with devastating results. The trio march through Narshe spreading destruction with every step. The townspeople try to mount a defensive, but are driven back at every step. As Terra and company reach their goal, a powerful magical being known as an Esper, it emits a powerful aura. The two soldiers evaporate with only their dying cries to show they ever existed. Terra, though, is special. The only effect this horrid magic has on her is to simply render her unconscious.
She wakes up in a bed — rescued by a kindly man who deftly removes the device that had made her a slave of the Empire. Knowing that the townsfolk would likely be a bit hostile towards Terra, he introduces a thief....errrr....treasure hunter named Locke to sneak her out of town. Desperate to find who she is and what her purpose on this planet may be, Terra eagerly clings to Locke, who seems to have an almost desperate need to protect those with nowhere else to turn.
And so begins a great adventure. Much of Final Fantasy III's (Final Fantasy VI in Japan) first half seems to move by in the blink of an eye. Square concentrates on introducing character after character to the plot, with brief dungeons thrown into the mix here and there so the player doesn’t forget this is a video game.
Your tiny group of characters grows into a formidable force during this time. The flirtatious ruler of the kingdom of Figaro, Edgar, and his brother, Sabin, a reclusive martial arts expert, offer a helping hand. After watching his kingdom destroyed by cruel treachery, the noble knight Cyan pledges his support. Celes, a beautiful general of the Empire, finds herself in conflict with her comrades, causing her to turn to you for support.
And as all this is going on, you also delve into a number of interesting subplots. While the Empire is “evil”, their General Leo seems to embody all that is good and noble about a soldier. While the resistance is “good”, doesn’t it seem as though they want to use Terra as a weapon — just like the Empire did?
But you’ll have little time to ponder on each little subtlety of the plot. Final Fantasy VI will zip you from one locale to another, as you stay one step ahead of Gestahl’s forces, usually led by Leo’s psychotic counterpart, the comedic, yet chilling, Kefka — a killer clown adept at combining quips (accompanied by one of the most famous laughs in gaming history) with horrific and soulless acts without blinking an eye. You’ll barely escape this madman at Figaro and you’ll just manage to fight him off at Narshe, as Terra and her growing circle of friends search for the key to stopping Gestahl’s quest for world domination.
As time goes on, Terra makes stunning revelations about herself — discoveries that force her out of action for some time. And that’s when you realize that while her story is integral to the game’s plot, she isn’t necessarily the primary hero. Unlike most RPGs of this (or any) time, there is no singular protagonist. At various points in your quest, many different party members will have their time in the sun — with their individual stories proving to add a lot of depth to what could have easily been just another generic “good versus evil” storyline.
Truly a wonderful concept, this form of storytelling perfectly illustrates how a number of diverse and interesting personalities can overcome their quirks and personal tragedies to band together in confronting a common foe. To add to the joy, rest assured that anyone in your party can be turned into a battlefield juggernaut (unlike, say, Breath of Fire, where only a fool would fight major battles with certain characters), allowing you to pick your personal favorites for those crucial moments.
While all of this storytelling and character development is great, don’t get the idea that is ALL Final Fantasy III has working in its favor. While I must admit that dungeons are few and far between in the early going, that will change in dramatic fashion after all the key players have been introduced and given their motivations (good or evil).
Your brave party will be standing on a mystical floating island, preparing to finally rid the world of Gestahl and Kefka. There seems to be no escape for the scheming villains, but Terra, Locke and the rest have no way to anticipate what happens next. To make a long story short, things turn ugly in a hurry and your band of freedom fighters are separated from each other. Celes wakes up on a desolate island. On the verge of losing hope, she finally decides to seek out her lost friends as there is one last battle to be had — the final confrontation to decide the fate of the planet.
For the remainder of the game, Square completely changed the mood of things. Instead of rapidly getting whipped from one place to the next thanks to a fast-paced story, you’ll now be expected to slowly and methodically explore every nook and cranny. Not only will you have to find all your lost party members (and a couple of extra ones for the truly dedicated), but there are plenty of secrets that only a thorough adventurer will find.
And the best thing is that after you get your hands on an airship, this second half of Final Fantasy III is completely non-linear. You can pick the order you do virtually all of the dungeons, depending on which characters you’re looking to retrieve and build up first. By doing a certain quest early on, you might get a powerful Esper that can teach your characters a spell (think Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system) to give you a leg up on the opposition. Or maybe you'll find a great weapon that turns a normally non-descript character into an all-powerful killing machine.
Oh, and in case you found the first half of the game too easy, let’s just say you WILL be challenged by some of the new foes that have crawled out of the woodwork. Eight powerful dragons roam the land, ready to make mincemeat out of an unprepared party. Secluded treasure chests hide enemies powerful enough to decimate an entire party before you can blink. Dungeons are long and convoluted — at times, forcing you to commandeer two or more groups of four at once in order to find your way to the end.
Not all of these challenges are perfect, though. Triggering an encounter with airborne baddie Doom Gaze can get boring, as it can take minutes of aimless flying before the beast finally deigns to show itself. One particular dungeon, in which you must feed coral to a hungry treasure chest (don’t ask) to access the boss, is a tedious exercise forcing you to repeatedly open treasure chests while fighting countless random battles — a process that continues until you can finally meet the bizarre creature’s strict requirements.
But those complaints are minor ones, as Final Fantasy III has a near-infinite amount of rewarding moments. With exquisitely-drawn monsters and battle-screen backgrounds, combined with one of the most epic scores ever created for a 16-bit system, you’ll never get tired of looking at or listening to this game. The aesthetic virtues of Final Fantasy III come to a head when you finally make your way to the final boss. A four-part battle, this encounter displays some of the best graphics and music I’ve ever seen on the SNES. Just don’t spend too much time gawking at the gorgeous visuals or savoring the perfect music, as your opposition has more than enough tools to send you to a premature grave.
And that would be a shame, as you’ve come too far to die. You’ve advanced through every facet of the story-driven first half and exploration-driven second half. You’ve painstakingly customized each and every one of your heroes to make them more brutally efficient in combat than you ever dreamed they could be. You’ve explored every inch of the world to find every Esper and all the best weapons. Every minute you spent playing Final Fantasy III was a labor of love — as you wanted....no, needed Terra, Celes and company to emerge victorious and save the world they’ve fought so hard to preserve.
So, draw your weapons and prepare your most lethal spells and summons. This is a confrontation you CANNOT afford to lose. Fight like there is no tomorrow — for if you lose, there won’t be. Fight with the knowledge that victory will finally bring peace to this war-ravaged world. And it will be beautiful.
Featured community review by overdrive (January 26, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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