Rewind Review: This is one fantasy that I wish never ended.
Long ago there was this little game that came out that only the true gamers knew of. It was called Final Fantasy VII. Now, all the school children had PlayStations, but little Jimmy didn't. It made little Jimmy sad when he heard his friends talk all day about their mysterious "Final Fantasy VII" game and all the exploits of Cloud and Tifa. Jimmy wondered what a Final Fantasy was. Seeing as he didn't have a PlayStation like his friends, Jimmy was forced to find some other Final Fantasy alternatives. Lucky for him, the local rental store had one remaining copy of one Final Fantasy- a certain Final Fantasy III. Now, of course, Jimmy was ignorant of the fact that Final Fantasy III was really Final Fantasy III in disguise (due to ridiculous naming problems), but that didn't stop him from curiously grabbing the game box and looking at the back. Scooping it up with his dreams pinned to his sleeve, little did Jimmy know, he'd soon be playing his soon-to-be favorite game of all time for the first time that dreary spring break day...
I must say, Final Fantasy III slams you over the head with its storyline pretty quickly. Lone magic user, Terra, must save the world from herself, the evil empire and the evilly insane General Kefka. Throughout the quest, each of the many characters you will meet will do some sort of soul searching and find a way to cope with their pasts and fight for the future. It's a slight deviation away from the usual "Evil Lord" plots of older RPGs. The story also seems to do things differently from other Final Fantasies, as the romance aspect appears to be dwarfed by the grand scope of saving the world. Heck, the main character doesn't really fall in love with any one person throughout the game. If you're like me, and tired of all of these force fed romances in your RPGs, it's truly a nice change of pace.
The characters are all endearing and well developed. Besides, where else would you find rabid children fighting alongside raging womanizers, frumpy old geezers, and ninjas? Ninjas man! Each aspect of the story is explained, be it from Edgar- the King of Figaro trying to come to terms with the death of his father his brother's rambunctious attitude, to Shadow's mysterious train robbing past- all told through dream sequences.
In terms of gameplay, the battle system works nicely. Your party consists of a maximum of four characters, each with one special ability as well as a special ?desperation' attack and of course the usual bevy of normal attacks, magic and items. It takes some time before the battle system really kicks in with the use of Espers, but when it does, prepare for some lessons in customization and management. One of the things many critics pound Final Fantasy III for is the fact that each character can learn any and all spells, preventing any one character from being better at magic. While this is true, each character's special ability will give players enough customization for their party, though some characters are obviously overpowered over others.
The Esper system should be familiar grounds for anyone who has played Final Fantasy VII, as it works something like material. Each individual Esper capsule contains one summonable creature and series of related spells that each user can learn. Since only one Esper may be equipped to a character at a time, it takes quite a while for every character to learn every spell, but no one ever said the road to being a mage would be a short one. Espers also give special stat boosts to their wearers upon level up, giving a bit the player a bit of careful management to deal with.
In conjunction with the Esper system, Final Fantasy III also introduces the relic system. Relics are special status changing items that have effects built into them. Relics range from simple speed shoes that make you have the spell haste automatically cast on you, to special armaments that allow you to jump, guard, or perform multiple strikes in per turn. The relic system is further enhanced by the fact that you can equip two relics at once, and they both can play off each other. A personal favorite of mine is the Gengi Glove-Offering combo that lets you equip two weapons at once and strike four times with each. That's amounts to eight individual hits per turn! Another personal favorite is the Economizer-Gem Box combo that lets you cast a spell four times in a row with a total cost of a whopping 4 MP!
One interesting side note about the fighting system is that players could chose to go 2-player in battles and set which player has control over which position in battle. Granted, this feature showed up as far back as Final Fantasy IV, and it never got used much, but it was Square's way of trying to get multiplayer RPG action back in an age when multiplayer RPGs were unheard of- especially on consoles.
Outside of fighting, the game is your typical RPG with dungeon crawling and light puzzle elements. The dialogue flows relatively well, and the narrative as expressed before, is one of the best in a Final Fantasy game, let alone an RPG. Truly, this is a classic title.
I will be willing to say, the game slows down a little during the last half, seeing as it becomes a regular free-for-all, letting you go anywhere you want, with no true path given. As long as you know where to look, though, it's not such a problem. Besides, you will have plenty of incentive to probe around the world looking for hidden treasure, rare monsters, and secret characters.
When it comes to the graphics, pixilated sprites have never looked so good. These are some of the best graphics on the SNES, hands down. I'm hard pressed to think of a better looking SNES game that made it stateside. There is such intricate detail in all of the backgrounds, ranging from icy snowcapped mountains to quiet pedestrian villages where each brick is accounted for. Battles feature great background work as well as some impressive monster designs. The world map puts the dated mode 7 graphics of the SNES to great task, giving players a surprisingly good view of the world during the many airship and chocobo rides.
Final Fantasy III features one of the best soundtracks within the past several generations, featuring a mix of epic tunes (the world map theme and Atma Weapon battle come to mind), a little rock (?Devil's Lab' as heard in the Imperial Labs), and even some ragtime (?Spinach Rag' heard in the Opera House) and jive (the catchy ?Johnny C. Bad played in most bars). The soundtrack definitely rates up there with Final Fantasy VII's moody and sometimes haunting melodies. The sound effects work fairly well for the game, though a few tend to get repetitive such as the menu navigation and wind effects. It's nothing that will detract too badly from the gameplay.
Now, normally I wouldn't do this, but just for nostalgia sake, I'm going to get nit-picky about the packaging. I mean, I can't figure out what Mog is doing on the front cover with a knife, or why they chose to make the whole package a drab black/purple hue, but one thing's for sure, they would have done well to keep the original Japanese Amano-drawn packaging featuring Terra in Imperial Magitek Armor looming over the imperial city. Also, I encourage players to pick up the official strategy guide. I'm not entirely sure who it's by (I suspect Nintendo Power, but the guide doesn't actually say), but it features some great art not found in the instruction manual (plus it's got some pretty good tips).