Retro Review: Final Fantasy III (Famicom)

Though it is just as obscure as its predecessor in the U.S., Final Fantasy III seems to get less attention than Final Fantasy II despite being a much better game. FFIII is in many ways the progenitor of the 16-bit Final Fantasy games, despite being 8-bit itself. Systemically, the game is almost identical to Final Fantasy IV, and aside from the requisite clunky UI, this game plays much more like a modern RPG than its predecessors.

The big innovation that really sets FFIII apart is the introduction of the job system. This isn’t quite the refined system of Final Fantasy V or Tactics, as each set of jobs makes most of the previous ones completely obsolete, but many classic jobs such as Dragoon and Summoner got their start here. Rather than being a system to customize party members, FFIII’s job system is largely used as a puzzle of sorts. At most points in the game, there is a “correct” set of jobs to use, but that combination is not necessarily obvious. Things open up later when the less direct jobs like Bard and Evoker show up, but the game is fun even before this. The biggest flaw of the system is that, in the end, there are two semi-hidden jobs that completely outclass everything else, which takes a lot of the fun out of experimenting.

FFIII plays around with a lot of interesting ideas. Some, like having multiple world maps to explore, are really awesome. And some, like dividing monsters (which split whenever you hit them with most weapons), are not. This is a very uneven game, and a number of dungeons stand out as being especially frustrating. The aforementioned dividing monster dungeon is one, but the final dungeon is of special note. Unfortunately, save points were not among FFIII’s innovations, and the final dungeon is incredibly long and includes five nasty bosses after the point where you can’t even leave and heal up or save if you want to. The final boss is unimaginative and is virtually impossible to defeat if you’re underleveled (not that you’re likely to be, if you did the various sidequests).

In the grand scheme of things, perhaps FFIII gets less attention than FFII because there just isn’t as much to say about it. It’s a solid game, and obviously a huge influence on the games that followed it, but even the introduction of the job system isn’t really that interesting. Final Fantasy III is a rough draft – the core of a good game is there, but it’s not so refined that it’s truly great, or even particularly memorable. The plot is a throwaway, the gameplay is notable mainly for its few frustrating bits, and the game just lacks “it.” And it’s unfortunate that we’ve never gotten a port of the original version. This game is worth checking out if only because this is perhaps the most referenced game in the series.

Review Score: B