Remember the beginning of the 90s? They were a great time, and at the start of the decade Americans received a gift from Japan. Final Fantasy made its way overseas and the series that had captured Japan’s heart was now stealing America’s as well. However, while North America was starting their adventures, Japan was knee-deep in it. In fact, Final Fantasy released in North America on July 12, 1990. On April 27th of the same year, however, Japan received Final Fantasy III. Yes, Japan had three Final Fantasy games before we even got the first one.
This is part of a continuous series. Please be sure to check out other entries in the Year of Final Fantasy!
That isn’t the end to our woes in America, though. Would you believe me if I said that Final Fantasy III was the 12th main title in the series to release in the United States? Yes, it was skipped for 16 years in the US! It wasn’t until 2006 when a DS remake of the game hit Western shores that we got to experience Final Fantasy III for the first time.
So, after seeing so many improvements to the series, it may come as a surprise that many of them started right here in Final Fantasy III! Does it hold up? There’s only one way to find out!
Final Fantasy III - April 27th, 1990 (Famicom, DS, iOS, Android, Steam)
Version used for article: PC port, 2014
“You must now set forth on your journey. Take your power, the light you hold in your heart, and use it well!”
Final Fantasy III is stunningly similar to the original game. Four Warriors of Light are chosen to combat the evil that is looming over their world. They band together this time instead of all knowing each other like in Final Fantasy! Two of them, Luneth and Arc, are childhood friends. Refia is the third, the daughter of a blacksmith in a nearby town. Finally, the fourth is Ingus, who is a knight serving Princess Sara in a nearby kingdom. All orphaned, the Wind Crystal picks them after sensing their inner strength.
Much like the original, Final Fantasy III starts off more or less right in the middle of the action. An earthquake rends a hole in a nearby cave, and Luneth falls in. He’s by himself at this point, and searches the cave where he finds said crystal that will choose the heroes.
And that’s about it! With their objective in mind, they set off to save the world. Compared to the original, Final Fantasy III has a little more focus on story throughout. We learn a tiny bit of backstory about the four main characters and the world around them as the game goes on, for instance.
That being said, I have some severe qualms about the story they try to tell. Rather, the main questline you go on which takes you around the world. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? You should be able to see a bunch of different people and undergo thrilling quests!
That just doesn’t happen, to put it bluntly. It feels like everything in this game flies by at the speed of light! I was stunned to see my playtime was longer than either previous Final Fantasy because of how quickly the story worked itself out. Granted, I know what probably caused this long playtime, but we’ll get to that in a bit… However, in a weird way, you can tell how strange the story’s speed sounds via your ship upgrades.
In the course of about 20 hours, you get an airship, crash it and destroy it, acquire a regular ship for water, then upgrade that ship to fly and float on water. Then, you ruin that ship and get a new ship that goes really fast and can dive underwater like a submarine. After that, you get another airship which can fly over certain mountains and is a floating shop and inn, basically. Free heals and several item and weapon shops is nice, but at some points you have to switch out the two airships several times, and it’s very annoying to say the least. So over the course of this game, you get no less than four airships. Over 20 hours! That’s kinda ridiculous if you ask me!
Anyway, unlike either Final Fantasy before it, Final Fantasy III doesn’t really have any crazy twists in the plot. There’s a minor one about halfway through the game, so IF YOU DON’T WISH TO BE SPOILED, SKIP PAST THE PICTURE TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH! When I first played the game, I thought the game world was incredibly small. Imagine my surprise then, when after you acquire the power of the Fire Crystal (the second in the game), you manage to find your way off the floating continent. That’s right, the area you’re on for the first half is just a single part to a much larger world!
Don’t get too excited, though. It turns out that the big open world you see halfway through the game is extremely empty. Despite having three extra continents, you end up with roughly the same number of areas as the floating continent you come from. What a disappointment.
So, with all that out of the way, I’m sorry to report that Final Fantasy III should have stuck to the barebones story of the original. This is some strange mishmash where it tries to get you to care about characters whose plotlines are wrapped up in a matter of half an hour, start to finish. I’m not joking when I say that I ended a civil war and reinstated a prince to his throne in 20 minutes. Then I never talked to the prince again until the end of the game!
Another point to accentuate the “gone in 60 seconds” attitude the game has is a spoiler, so I warn you again, SKIP PAST THE NEXT PICTURE TO AVOID SPOILERS! When you first reach the surface world, you have to do a segment where you must return the flow of time to the world, which is frozen To do this, you must wake a girl named Aria and go with her to activate the Water Crystal. Within five minutes, you reach your destination with her in tow. Now, when you think of an altar deep in a cave where a member in your party goes to pray, only for an enemy to swoop down and deliver a fatal blow, which Final Fantasy comes to mind? I hope you said Final Fantasy III, because that’s the big winner!
Yes, it would appear that Square Enix would go on to reuse its most emotional scene in Final Fantasy VII from this game. The difference, however, is that you have time to meet with and enjoy Aerith as a character before her untimely passing. Aria, on the other hand, is someone you meet within a couple minutes of entering the surface world. She then departs this mortal plane in a manner of five or ten minutes, depending on the number of random encounters. Yet, the game tries to play it off as some catastrophically sad scene when I felt nothing at all.
Because of moments like this, the game feels rushed in terms of its plot. It reuses the plot from Final Fantasy while trying to toss in random characters we’re supposed to care about, only to wrap up entire plotlines before the end of an episode of The Big Bang Theory. It feels disjointed, and it was a pretty big letdown for me. If you’re gonna have a basic story like the first game, that’s fine. Just don’t try to half-ass some plot into it or it’ll come out half-baked, which is exactly what happens here.
“Ahh... the power of darkness is a thing of beauty, a black tapestry of chaos!”
This being the third game on the Famicom, Final Fantasy III offered up a little more graphical prowess than its predecessors. The sprite work was better and each job got its own unique sprite. Well, that is, as unique as you could get with 8-bit. Some of them might look a little… familiar, we’ll say.
Now, much like the Final Fantasy IV remake that would come after, the Final Fantasy III remake used 3D models for its game. All other ports of this game use the 3D remake as their base, with the Steam version being no exception. The complete remake is… well, it’s not very pretty. Some things look perfectly fine, and others look pretty abysmal. You have to remember though, Square Enix made the game for the DS. Because of that, there are going to be limitations on the graphics.
Even given that, though, sometimes the game ranges from pretty decent to downright ugly. In a neat addition, each character looks completely different. Their outfits for their jobs are all unique, and I appreciate that they took the time to change it up. Some of the enemies and environments by comparison are vile-looking, and I feel like it’s not because they’re supposed to be.
All of this is capped at a very disappointing 30fps, by the way. I recently bought a 144hz 1080p monitor to game on PC with, and I figured that the PC port would at least be 60fps. However, because of the way the game is coded, it has to be played at 30fps and it just feels lazy.
I mean, there really isn’t much to say in this section. The screenshots speak for themselves. The graphics didn’t really have any stand-out successes for me. Then again, the version of Final Fantasy III that I played is a PC port of a mobile port of a DS remake of a Famicom game, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect much in terms of graphical prowess. It’s just interesting to see a company like Square Enix put out something with less-than-stellar graphics, even though they would later put the much better-looking Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded on the DS later on. What a shame!
“The walls... they speak!”
Though I had issues with the graphics of the game, the music is mostly a positive this time around! Nobuo Uematsu really understood the sound chip of the Famicom by 1990 and wanted to really push it as hard as he could. Because of this, we got some of the most melodic themes of the three Famicom games.
Sure, the original game’s battle theme is the most iconic by far, but Final Fantasy III holds its own against the other two games on the Famicom. It isn’t a perfect soundtrack, but it’s certainly a good one. One of my particular favorite tracks is one of the town themes.
Now, when it came time for the remake, Square Enix made the decision to orchestrate the soundtrack. This resulted in the ability to use many more instruments than could be used at one time using the Famicom sound chip, and for the most part it works wonderfully. That town theme from before? I like it even better!
Not only that, but Final Fantasy III was the first game in the series to feature a proper final boss theme! Final Fantasy only had one theme for all battles on the NES, and Final Fantasy II added a boss theme. However, the Big Bad of Final Fantasy III gets a theme all her own! I have trouble deciding which version I like better between the Famicom and DS versions, but both are great.
So, while the graphics of this remake may have disappointed, it’s safe to say that the music did not. I recommend checking out the soundtrack if you can! It’s not the best the series has to offer, but it’s still pretty fantastic!
“Oh, bother. Well, have it your way. I'll just skip to the part where I kill you all!”
Final Fantasy III introduces a lot to the series, including one of the most famous battle systems! This time around, Luneth and company gain the ability to change jobs! This system allows you to customize your party exactly how you want, and you can change at any time you’re not in battle. Each time you activate the power of one of the crystals, you unlock more jobs to use for your characters.
These jobs range from the normal fare of Warriors, mages and thieves, but there are some other interesting jobs. There’s the Bard, who can buff your party with several different harps. You have the Geomancer, who can do elemental attacks based on where you’re fighting enemies at any given time. Dark Knights have an ability to cut a chunk of their HP in order to do a bunch of damage to multiple enemies. There are also Evokers and Summoners as well! Evokers can use summon spells to have a random effect depending on the spell. Summoners, the more powerful form of Evokers, can do exactly what you think with those spells and actually summon a beast or dragon to attack.
All in all, there are 23 different jobs to mess around with. While a few are just upgraded forms of earlier jobs, each one is unique in some way! It’s fun to mess around with, and soon you’ll find your party that you’ll really like. For me, I ended up with a Dragoon, a Bard, a Devout (upgraded White Mage) and a Ninja, because of course I’m having a Ninja!
Now, each job has its own separate level from each other one, as well as your character level. You level your character with EXP as well like normal, as well as whatever job you’re currently playing with. Job levels rise much faster than character levels, so getting a high level job isn’t too terribly difficult. For instance, by the end my characters were about level 52-53 but Luneth was a level 73 Dragoon and Arc was a level 99 Bard. Since Devouts and Ninjas are some of the last jobs you receive, those weren’t as high but they were still in the 20s with little to no grinding.
As for the difficulty, it’s really not too bad. As long as you have a half-decent setup, you’re gonna be fine for the most part. I say “for the most part” because for as smooth a ride as the game can be, there are several sections where you may have to retry now and then, which is fine. I can't expect the game to hold my hand, it is a Famicom game remake after all!
That being said, some parts are downright silly and one section in particular will be the next paragraph of discussion. Some areas require you to have spells like Toad or Mini. There’s either a small pond you have to swim through to get to a cave, or you have to shrink to escape a prison cell via a hole in the wall. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s to make sure you have an understanding of changing jobs if you don’t have a mage handy. However, it comes off totally half-baked, as literally all these roadblocks do are waste your precious MP, which is done via per-magic-level charges again like the original. Sometimes it’s a small dungeon where you have to remain small, but generally it’s just “shrink, go through hole, use spell again to unshrink”. It’s pointless!
While that’s just a small annoyance, there’s one huge, looming, towering rage-inducing section at the end: The final dungeon, which is a complete nightmare. The Crystal Tower starts you off with the ability to go to an optional area with the best weapons for some characters. However, each weapon is guarded by a boss, who range from “aggravating” to “argh!”. Still doable, and it’s the only way to get these weapons. At the end of this optional area are the best spells and summons in the game, though the summons you can get via sidequests as well.
So you retreat back and probably use an Elixir on your healer after using her MP to heal everyone. I would recommend going to your airship, but that’s through a long, annoying “maze” which is literally one long hallway filled with annoying enemies. So, use an Elixir (I had 19 by this point) and save up. Then, go into the tower, make your way to the top while getting a bunch of treasures.
Now, I recommend teleporting out and healing/saving again with all your treasures. It’ll help you get ready for what can only be described as the most infuriating part of the game. So, after you save, up you go! Fight all the powerful enemies, get to the top. Here, it’s time to enter a point of no return! Watch a long unskippable cutscene and then fight a boss. Then, without warning, fight another boss that party wipes you because of plot. After that, you have to go to an area where you must run around and find four more bosses to fight in order to weaken the final boss.
In these four areas are four Ribbons, which are basically mandatory for the final boss as well as they protect against all status effects. Of course, they’re all traps and you have to fight a clone of the same boss you fought at the beginning of this crystal nightmare each time. So, after all that, you can face the final boss who, unless you’re properly trained, will annihilate you. Even with my setup, I ended up locked in an endless limbo where my Bard had to keep us defended and my Devout kept us healed, but our two damage dealers were dead and there was no opportunity to heal them up fully. If we got them up, they would die instantly to the group casting attacks that the final boss does. So, I died.
That’s when I lost about an hour and a half of progress. Gritting my teeth, I started getting PTSD flashbacks to when this game came out and I beat it originally. The last section of the game is an incredible test of patience and requires you to at least grind up a bit before engaging the final boss. Because of this, all that generally smooth sailing grinds to a halt for several hours. This only lengthens if, as I said, you die at some point since you can’t save.
And so I of course died again to some frankly BS comboing from the final boss, despite leveling a bit more this time around. There really just aren’t words to describe my shaking anger the second time around, knowing I would have to write this article without having beaten the game before the deadline. Make no mistake, I am going to beat it, but as of the time of this writing I just did not have it in me to make another hour and a half of my life disappear before my very eyes. It’s maddening!
Regardless, the game does introduce other new elements that I want to discuss to get my mind off that tower of evil and hatred incarnate. So, guest characters! Final Fantasy III was the first to introduce guest characters. These are plot-related characters that walk around with you for a while and help out every now and then in battle. The issue is, like in the story section, they enter and exit your party faster than you can blink. You get a total of seven guest characters throughout your quest, and it feels like they hang out in your party for a total of about an hour. They just blink in and out of your party because the story moves along at such a rapid pace. It’s a neat addition that the series would expand upon later, but here it feels very rushed.
Another minor thing that I liked was the discount system. In Final Fantasy III, buying items in bulk will give you a discount on your purchase! When you buy 4-10 of an item, you get 10% off. Beyond that, it’s 20% off your purchase. Pretty cool addition if you ask me, and not one that I recall seeing elsewhere in the series!
However, these neat additions can’t fix the fact that the game’s final hours are nothing short of grueling. I always knew it was bad since I had beaten it as a kid, but I forgot just how bad it really was until playing it again recently. Needless to say, a decent, if somewhat basic game gets dragged down hard at the end. Prepare to grind!
“Hah hah hah! I admire your persistence...”
Final Fantasy III is still short enough that multiple playthroughs shouldn’t be too bad. The super-rushed story means you get to play the game more often than not, which means you can constantly try out new team setups to find the best possible team. On top of that, there are several sidequests you can embark on as well. While you can buy the best summons near the end of the game, you can also challenge Odin, Leviathan and Bahamut themselves to get their summons.
As mentioned previously, you can also enter the Forbidden Land of Eureka in the Crystal Tower. Here, you can find several powerful weapons guarded by several bosses. You can also learn Level 8 Black and White magic spells here as well. These include Meteor, Holy and Arise (a full-heal Raise). Most importantly for me, however, is the Bard's best harp which is here as well.
Beyond that, though, there’s not much else to the game aside from one superboss. The Iron Giant is admittedly a very tough battle if you’re not prepared! Even if you are, it’s still not very easy. Be prepared to grind up for hours if you plan on taking him on!
In terms of content, there really isn’t much here in terms of extras. I expect it from a game originally on the Famicom but it’s still disappointing to see that they only added one superboss and nothing else.
The Final Word
“Humm... That was taxing. I sometimes forget my age. Heh heh heh...”
I remember playing Final Fantasy III as a teenager and really enjoying it. However, looking back at it with a more discerning eye has revealed some very large blemishes that I missed before. The game is easy for the most part, so you cruise on through with little issue until you reach a few roadblocks. These are no big deal with the proper setup, so change it up and give it another go.
That being said, the shoehorned story moves along far too quickly to be interesting. The half-hearted attempt to give your characters backstory is almost insulting. Instead of sticking to minimal story like Final Fantasy or heavy story like Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III tries to do both and it just doesn’t mesh at all.
However the gameplay, while good, is much more basic than later games with the job system. While it seems unfair to compare it to those titles since it came first, it’s hard to come back to this one after playing Final Fantasy V or X-2. I appreciate what this one brought to the table, but its descendants have thoroughly outclassed it. Except for the Crystal Tower. Nothing in the series has ruined my day quite like that yet.