Final Fantasy III: A Role-Playing Blast From the Past

For better or worse, there is no bigger name in Japanese role-paying games than Final Fantasy. Originally debuting on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the Final Fantasy series has jumped from console to console for decades.

Now Final Fantasy III has arrived on the iPad. While Japanese players got the original game in 1990, Final Fantasy III didn’t hit the states until 2006 and is only available on the Nintendo DS, Virtual Console, and iPad. Is the game worth a twenty year wait? Did it survive the jump to the iPad? Let’s find out.

Those Crystal Things

It’s obligatory in any JRPG review to mention whether or not a game features the classic band of adventurers gathering power from some crystals in order to stop a malevolent force. Unfortunately, that pithy, off-the-cuff description applies to Final Fantasy III fairly well.

Are you sure it isn't just nighttime, mister crystal?

Are you sure it isn't just nighttime, mister crystal?

There are some undertones to the game, but the main storyline is fairly bland. Compared to later games – even within the Final Fantasy series – Final Fantasy III is clearly dated. The idea may have been original enough back in 1990, but in 2011 we’re all sick of magic crystals and child adventurers.

Fortunately, while the storyline may not be the best written, Final Fantasy III offers solid gameplay that will keep you coming back for more.

Presentation

I enjoy the way that Final Fantasy III looks. It manages to keep that pixellated feel of the original game while sporting slightly more sophisticated graphics, making it accessible to new players and nostalgic enough for pixel junkies.

The graphics are retro-styled without looking too dated.

The graphics are retro-styled without looking too dated.

The soundtrack is superb. Part of the Final Fantasy games’ charm comes from the beauty of the soundtrack. Final Fantasy III is one of the many games to feature songs from Nobuo Uematsu, famed composer and mad musical genius. It may not be as iconic as Final Fantasy VI’s soundtrack, but Final Fantasy III won’t disappoint in the sound department.

A Classic RPG on the iPad

Role playing games like Final Fantasy III don’t change too much between consoles. They’re highly portable, and since they’re mostly menu-driven, moving it from one controller setup to another is easy. My biggest concern with playing Final Fantasy III on the iPad was navigating all of those menus with my finger, but it turned out to be a non-issue.

Not only did Square Enix do the right thing and produce a game that had touch-targets large enough to touch comfortably, accurately, and reliably, but they also shifted elements of the menus so that it’s actually difficult to hit something that you aren’t trying to tap. All of the menus are readable, and if you’re familiar with other Final Fantasy games you’ll probably be able to figure your way around pretty quickly.

Menus are easy to navigate, with large targets and clear text.

Menus are easy to navigate, with large targets and clear text.

It occurred to me that many developers are missing opportunities by not building more turn-based role playing games for the iPad. Final Fantasy III has shown that they’re a natural fit, as games don’t feel cramped and menus can be made easy to navigate. Despite being developed for a vastly different console twenty years ago Final Fantasy III plays well on the iPad.

Because it’s a classic game, though, you’re going to need to be aware of a few things. First, there are random battles as you wander around the world that you have no idea are coming (hence ‘random’). Second, Final Fantasy III is from the old school game market where developers believed that if you weren’t ready to put your hand through a wall in frustration you obviously weren’t being challenged enough.

You have no idea how many bees you're going to have to kill.

You have no idea how many bees you're going to have to kill.

While it may not sound like fun, you can ask any fan of this type of game and they’ll tell you that it’s actually exciting and not nearly as tedious as you might think.

The Job System

The big draw of Final Fantasy III is the job system, which allows you to customize the characters in your party in essentially whatever way you like. While most role playing games feature jobs (or classes) in some way or another, Final Fantasy III really runs with it and places a huge amount of focus on experimenting with different jobs and parties.

These are only a fraction of the jobs available towards the end of the game.

These are only a fraction of the jobs available towards the end of the game.

As an example, let’s say that my playstyle tends to lend itself to fast, straight-forward battling. I’d be more likely to set up a party of Warriors than I would a party of White and Black Mage characters. You, however, might prefer using magic, and would choose the opposite of what I outlined above.

Is it just me, or do they look a little judgmental?

Is it just me, or do they look a little judgmental?

Each job change really changes how you’re going to play the game. The completionists out there will enjoy levelling all of the jobs (twenty-three, plus one secret job) up as much as possible, maxing out all equipment, etc. Based on this one aspect alone Final Fantasy III can provide dozens – if not hundreds – of hours of gameplay.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that I was a bit worried for Final Fantasy III, as I said above. Concerns about navigating the menu aside, I was also concerned about how well a game could stand up twenty years after its debut. I’m happy to say that the answer is ‘pretty well’, as Final Fantasy III didn’t let down in the gameplay department.

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, though. As I mentioned, the story is boring at best. I found myself skipping through cutscenes as quickly as possible in order to get to some more gameplay. The game is priced fairly high, and I was a bit miffed that there’s no universal version, but you end up getting everything that you paid for.


Summary

Final Fantasy III for iPad is a remake of the original game from 1990, featuring all new navigation and touch optimization with a classic job system and engrossing gameplay.

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