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Final Fantasy III (NES) artwork

Final Fantasy III (NES) review

"At times, it seems that regardless of how many characters you have casting healing spells, you won’t be able to keep up with the damage caused by these baddies, especially when they’re whipping out powerhouse spells like Quake, Flare and Meteo on a turn-by-turn basis. If you DON’T kill them quickly, you can rest assured they'll be dining on the seared bones of your heroes that night."

Final Fantasy III doesn't beat around the bush. The game starts off with your squad of four anonymous youngsters falling into a cave. After a bit of exploration, interrupted occasionally by fights against enemies that make speed bumps seem imposing, they’ll go up against an extremely weak boss, talk to a magical crystal and unlock a slew of new abilities. All within the first 10 to 15 minutes of play.

Of course, after a couple of moments in control of these lads (known as Onion Kids for some strange reason), you’ll be glad things move along at a brisk pace early on. Simply put, these kids are boring. Being capable of doing little more than swing a sword might be good enough to beat up the overgrown turtle that serves as that initial boss, but it won’t get them much further in life. Fortunately, those abilities bestowed by the crystal will spruce them up a bit. After fiddling with them, you'll likely wind up with a couple of characters able to use magic, while the others will be far more potent in melee combat.

Then, the fun begins. Your four characters traverse the rest of the floating continent they call home before striking out to explore the vast world. They gain a ton of new abilities, pick up weapons of incredible power and save the world from being consumed by a power beyond their comprehension. All the while, Final Fantasy III hardly ever slows down from that early-game breakneck pace. Your heroes will be whisked from town to dungeon with scarcely a chance to collect their collective breath.

It’s sort of an adrenaline rush, which isn’t something I'd commonly say about retro turn-based role-playing games. With only a bare-bones story about an evil magician attempting to summon the unholy power of darkness (which doesn’t factor into your journey until you’re well over halfway through the game), it’s obvious Square was more interested in battles than anything resembling a coherent plot.

And, after getting through the initial stages of the game, those fights do get memorable. You won’t be in any epic 30-minute battles against an enemy that seems able to take every attack you can muster — instead, the main fights in Final Fantasy III are hard-hitting and short in duration. Even the most powerful of bosses can only take five to six turns worth of damage before perishing. The challenge for you simply will be surviving long enough to earn victory.

Those bosses hit hard and tend to enjoy using brutal attacks that damage all four party members. It sometimes seems that regardless of how many characters you have casting healing spells, you won’t be able to keep up with the damage caused by these baddies, especially when they’re whipping out powerhouse spells like Quake, Flare and Meteo on a turn-by-turn basis. If you DON’T kill them quickly, you can rest assured they'll be dining on the seared bones of your heroes that night.

Fortunately, your party won’t exactly be helpless in these encounters. As the game progresses, you’ll unlock more and more jobs. Some, such as the Knight and Master, are enhanced versions of those initial few you received from the first crystal; while others have different uses. A Thief can unlock doors, so you won’t have to waste money on keys, while a Conjurer can summon powerful creatures to turn the tide of a battle. By the time you’ve reached game’s end, it’s likely you’ll have unearthed the two ultimate classes, which grant characters the ability to either equip every weapon or cast all spells.

Characters can switch between one class to another with ease, only needing enough capacity points (earned after battles) to select their new profession. It's pretty much a given you'll always have enough of those points, too, as there simply are not many truly useful classes. For most of the game, it's likely you'll be content to stick with a vanilla party consisting of a Fighter, Monk, White Wizard and Black Wizard. Not only does this party cover all the bases, but a number of classes you obtain later in the game are enhanced versions of these guys, making the transition an easy one. Every once in a while, you might feel the need to go in a different direction (the Thief is great in a dungeon or two rife with locked doors, while the M. Knight is a necessity in a couple of late-game locations), but most of this game's classes seem little more than filler.

After going through the dungeons where the M. Knight shines, there's a good chance you'll wish that class also was unnecessary. M. Knights are the only class (besides the Ninja, which you don't get until you've nearly reached the end) that can equip dark swords. Those weapons are the only ones truly effective on many enemies in a couple of dungeons. Anything else hits them and unless the blow is lethal, those critters will be splitting into two monsters. Even with two M. Knights in a party for this portion of the game, it still easily is the most frustrating part of Final Fantasy III.

The game had a few other minor annoyances, but nothing that got under my skin as much as the M. Knight dungeons. It seemed my party was ambushed or attacked from behind way too often — to the point where I started noticing certain types of monsters almost always got some sort of advantage entering battle. I also didn't like how I had to manually remove each piece of equipment from a character before I could change their class. Maybe I've been spoiled by more modern games, but this just seemed a bit tedious, even by eight-bit RPG standards. And, I must admit I thought it a bit bizarre that this game relied on "instant-death" traps more than once in order to prevent a player from getting too ambitious in their exploring. Take a boat before the seas have been made somewhat safe and a seemingly-immortal sea serpent will appear to strike you down. Try to pass between two rows of statues before deactivating them and.....ZZZZZZZT, you'll be eradicated. Things like that just seem a bit out of character for a role-playing game. Fortunately, Final Fantasy III does offer players the opportunity to save their game at any time in the overworld, so falling afoul of a nasty trap like this probably won't be a game-ruining experience.

At least I hope it won't be — I know I had a ton of fun ripping through Final Fantasy III. The hard-hitting fights provided a level of tension that a number of today's more advanced battle systems have not been able to duplicate. When I find myself praying I can kill a boss the next turn because my magic-users can't come close to healing all the damage it's causing and I can't hold out much longer, that's when I know I'm playing a memorable game. Despite a number of annoying flaws, Final Fantasy III does fit that description and is deserving of recognition as one of the eight-bit era's top role-playing games.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 03, 2006)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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