Sunday, April 06, 2008

Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy III

Chocobo a go-go!

Pluses: Redone artwork looks great on the DS, the music is nothing short of amazing for a Gameboy title.

Minuses: The game suffers from a poor 'fun-to-grind' ratio that becomes exacerbated as the game progresses.

Continuing with my journey through classic Final Fantasy games, I mooched my son's copy of Final Fantasy III for the Gameboy DS for a play through. For those not boned up sufficiently on the Final Fantasy universe, this is the first time Final Fantasy III has been released in the states, so it's a bit of a hidden treat with none of guilt of having missed it the first time around (the original Final Fantasy III that was released in the states was actually Final Fantasy VI). This re-release stays faithful to the original, but updates the artwork for the Gameboy DS platform.

This game opens up with one of the most amazing cut scenes I've seen, let alone on Gameboy hardware. Although it can be viewed online it doesn't do it justice without seeing it run on its native hardware. From there it starts out reasonably strong with a 'one man party' in a beginning dungeon. The game then follows a rather typical path for RPGs where the starting character gradually adds other members to his party (in this case three). One of the strong points of the redone artwork is the added facial expressions and body gestures to both the characters and NPCs, adding a level of depth which would have been non-existent in its original NES release back in the early nineties.

New to me for this release was a job class system where different members on your team could be one of several jobs. As I suspected it would be when I saw the high number of job classes available, most of them are a waste of space that merely serves to justify the existence of the job system itself. Most players will inevitably want to boil the party down to typical brawlers and magic users, especially since the leveling curve is so steep no one will want to spend hour after hour grinding away only to discover that the job class they were upgrading is worthless against more powerful opponents.

And speaking of level grinding, this game has it in spades. Supposedly one of the reasons the game never found its way to the States after its initial release was because of the perception of the Japanese developers that American gamers weren't hardcore enough for a game that required so much serious game play as their masterpiece. Truth be told, they were right, but for the wrong reason. This game requires a high, but not abnormal, amount of grinding early in the game; but by the time the endgame comes around it's all but expected that you'll be doing hour after hour of rather pointless and monotonous grinding against the same dozen or so monsters with an early gen RPG combat system that lacks the strategic depth to keep it interesting.

As I was approaching the end of the game I got in the habit of just half-playing by leading my party into a random battle (usually by just moving them back and forth in the same limited area) and then pressing the 'A' button (attack) a lot without looking so that I could at least watch TV at the same time to keep myself awake. This large scoop of unfocused game play was probably more acceptable back in the NES days when it was originally released. Even now, though, I can picture many a gamer back then as now not wanting to sink so much of their time and effort into a game for a comparatively limited set of rewards.

However, if the repetitive game play is the rough tasting medicine, then the standout music is the sugar that helps it go down more smoothly. At first it sounds like typical Gameboy music, but upon putting on headphones I discovered that it has a surprising amount of depth that doesn't come across the DS's small speakers. It’s a far cry from the ‘less is more’ strategy that’s typically employed to Gameboy soundtracks and is about as close as a Gameboy game is likely to come to having an orchestrated score.

For as much as the some of the excessive grinding may seem to put a bit of a drag on the game, this may actually work out to be a plus instead of minus, depending on your point of view, for the platform on which it was released. After all, what's Pok√©mon but a RPG with all 'grind' and no ‘story’? Seen in this light Final Fantasy III compares favorably to the competition and adds a level of casual game play to what would ordinarily be a product only for dedicated gamers.

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