SPOILERS Nobody Wants My Thoughts on Final Fantasy III (DS) So Anyway Here's My Thoughts on Final Fantasy III (DS)

Belle T

head thoughts, no empty
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I owned this game on Nintendo DS when it was first released, but because of a rather hectic schedule at the time, I would often find myself forced to put the game down for months on end, leading me to forget the entire story up to that point and forcing me to start over from the beginning. So because of that, I eventually decided to just trade in the game, with the mindset that if I ever wanted to play it again, it would not be hard to purchase a second-hand copy. In that timeframe, multiple ports of the game have been released. After watching a bit of a playthrough of the game, I decided to cave and purchase the game again. For better or for worse, it's exactly as I remember it.

In order to properly assess this review and see if anything I say will mean anything to you, here's a few things to keep in mind.
  • I have not played the original Famicom version of this game, and as such I will abstain from comparing it too heavily to that version. I may bring it up at some point, but this isn't intended to be a side-by-side comparison.
  • I am a big fan of older, turn-based RPG's, so some things that I may be forgiving of might prove tedious and frustrating for others.
  • That being said, just because I am a big fan of these types of games does not by any stretch mean I am particularly good at them. So hardcore fans who are prone to memorizing every mathematical formula, statistic, and obscure gameplay mechanic might find themselves rolling their eyes rather frequently.
  • I only played enough to reach the end credits of the game, so if any side quests or optional content contradicts any praise or criticism I may give the game, then I will have no idea, but feel free to tell me anyway.

Presentation​

This game is gorgeous for a Nintendo DS title. Some may find the art style to be on the childish side (particularly when the opening FMV gives it a similar look to something like FFVII, thus radically altering player expectations), but I found it quite charming. The character designs are all pleasant and memorable in their own way. I simply like how this game looks and generally "feels."

The music is also quite good, though I did find myself wishing there were more unique tracks to individual areas. It's when I turned the game audio off to listen to my own music and podcasts while I was grinding that I started to realize that despite how much I enjoyed the music, I was growing rather sick of hearing it. One thing that does impress me about the soundtrack when I took a quick listen to a few tracks of the Famicom version for comparison is how loyal the orchestration is to its at-the-time almost 20-year-old counterpart. When upgrading the music to more modern hardware, it becomes extremely easy to lose what makes a particular piece unique. I would contrast this to something like Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen. Fine enough games for fans of the series and very serviceable remakes in their own right, but while their renditions of the original Game Boy music were all recognizable for the tracks they were attempting to emulate, there was a sense of sameyness and inorganicness in the music that just made it feel rather stale compared to its 8-bit predecessor. It was as if someone had just taken the music files, dumped them in a MIDI editor and changed a few variables with virtually no changes to the actual composition or instrumentation to make sure the individual melodies actually suited their newer instruments.

I guess if there's one thing about the music I would criticize for on the basis of composition is that it needs to learn to breathe. Yes, bombastic and epic music is great, but sometimes it's okay to have moments where the melody is sparse. Even the more gentle and laid-back town themes tend to feel a little overdone at points.


Story/Characters​

It's fine.

When I was doing some reading when questioning whether or not I should revisit this game, I heard a number of criticisms that described it as the most generic game in the series, and I can't entirely disagree with that. It's not necessarily "bad" generic, but it has very little to help it stand out from the huge catalogue of games that came before it. If nothing else, I think this game is an excellent case study for why themes are an important aspect of any narrative. FFVII may be clunky by today's standards, but I think its themes of despair and existentialism are a big reason why the game still resonates with many players today. FFIX's running theme of coming to terms with mortality and the transience of life is also incredibly impactful. FFIII hammering in some exposition at the last minute about having hope when times are bleak just does not land. The only sort of running theme that I can find that exists in some capacity in this game is the theme of equilibrium. Light and dark, yin and yang, etc. But these are only ever explored when the narrative feels the need to remind us that without light there can be no dark and vice versa.

And I think the part that makes this frustrating in the DS version specifically is that there actually are attempts to flesh out the world and characters. Unlike the Famicom version, the 3D remake gives the characters their own unique names, personalities, and backstory. I've heard some story beats are also more expansive in the DS remake, but I don't have any idea as to which ones those are. The problem is that it's simply not enough. The easiest example of this would have to be when the Warriors of the Light meet their dark world counterparts, the Warriors of the Dark. This moment would have been the perfect opportunity to make these four actual characters, but just as they are on the Famicom, the Warriors of the Dark are just four generic soldiers who each share the same character model after showing up for five minutes towards the end of the game.

Not helped is the genuinely well done opening cinematic, which is not indicative at all of the game's tone and scale. Princess Aria plays a prominent role in that intro, but her introduction and eventual tragic demise are lacking in any kind of narrative weight when her time in the story seems to only extend to about five in-game minutes. Again, this game would have been the perfect time to give her more character, but they just didn't.

The thing is, I don't think that a very basic and bare bones story is necessarily a bad thing. Especially when the original game was released in the 1980's, when JRPG's--and to an extent video games in general--relied much more heavily on the player's imagination to fill in the gaps where story and gameplay could not. It's the fact that this game is remake is repackaged with the attempts of making it appear more narratively fleshed out than it really is that I think makes it a much greater blemish than its older counterpart.

As for the main characters (Luneth, Arc, Refia, and Ingus), they're fine, but after the first hour of the game, it feels like they just stop trying to give them personality. In the beginning, they bicker and squabble like new friends tend to do. But after that, they just sort of agree with each other all the time. No conflicts, no emotional tension. Just sort of "We need to blow up this rock." "Yes."

Basically, it's not bad. It's escapist fantasy. But it's also not terribly exciting or emotionally enthralling.


Gameplay​

The first thing that struck me about this game was the lack of an ATB system. The original game didn't have one, either, but it's interesting that with the success of FFVII and this remake being an apparent attempt to remake this game to be in a similar vein as that game, they didn't opt to revamp the battle system to have one. On the one hand, I think this might make the game more welcoming to newcomers, but at the same time, I think the game suffers for it. The battles in FFIIIDS are just... very rote. While they're not completely mindless or without any form of strategy, there's not a lot of thought or input required for most encounters, including boss fights. I don't think they needed an ATB system to rectify it specifically, as there are plenty of ways to mix up even the most basic of turn-based strategies. But I think just implementing an ATB system would have changed things up dramatically, even if everything else remained the same.

The number of secrets and nooks and crannies in this game will make those who treasure exploring above all else quite happy. It's probably the best aspect of this game. It's not particularly deep, but it's dense with little things to find and secrets to uncover.

I'm not a fan of the magic system, which treats spells more as items, rather than simply giving you a set number of magic points. The fact that Phoenix Downs and Ethers can't be purchased from the store also makes some areas more frustrating than they ought to be. Elixirs can be found in the hub world from time to time, but you're going to want to hold on to them in order to complete some story beats. There are also no tents or shelters that you can use to serve as a makeshift inn, so long gauntlet challenges are brutal.

I also just wish this game had some more save points. As is, the ability to save your game is restricted to outside of towns on the map screen. But especially once you get to the Crystal Tower, the inability to save will drive you to the brink of insanity.

As far as level pacing goes, I rarely ever found myself having to grind, but the times that I did, I also didn't find the grind to be too long, and usually only about five additional levels would be required to get the proper edge on the boss that was giving me trouble. Except in the Crystal Tower, because of their tendency to throw boss after boss at you with no chance to save. That should go a ways to say that the final act of the game is just an absolute slog. It is easily the weakest part, and there is absolutely no shame in cheating if you have to.

Really, the interesting thing about this game is that I was told that it was comparatively harder than other games in the Final Fantasy series, but the final moments of the game notwithstanding, I found it to be considerably easier. But the parts that are daunting are very much so; just some little quality of life improvements to be more respectful of the player's time and energy would have gone a long way.


Overall, Final Fantasy III is a solid enough entry in the Final Fantasy series, but as a remake I think it fails to deliver any significant upgrades that make it superior to its more antiquated counterpart. Its story is also just kind of bland, so I wouldn't blame anyone for skipping it on that basis alone.
 
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