Review: Final Fantasy III (SNES)

Still one of the best RPGs to come out of the 16-bit era

What can you say about the Final Fantasy series that hasn't already been said a thousand times before? The titles have become one of the best-selling video game series in history and have been largely responsible for making the RPG genre so popular with fans across the globe.

After having success with Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo, Squaresoft decided not to release the fifth Japanese instalment outside of Japan, preferring instead to wait and release the widely-praised sixth instalment instead. Released as Final Fantasy III in North America, the game took the series to new heights in terms of visuals and gameplay and has gone on to become one of the most highly-regarded releases in the series, and a game Super Nintendo RPG fans still clamour for to this very day. Thankfully Square-Enix must have sensed this and decided to give the game new life on the Wii Virtual Console.

From a gameplay standpoint, Final Fantasy III doesn't stray too far from the trademark formula that's made it such a beloved series among fans. You'll still spend most of your time travelling from place to place on the world map. If you're on foot, you will encounter random enemies that you'll be forced to battle. Of course this will come in handy since this will earn your characters valuable experience points for levelling up, not to mention money to purchase better armour, weapons and speciality items in the game's many shops. You can also locate Chocobos or even an Airship at certain points in the game that can make travelling around the world map a bit less tedious, since you don't always have to worry about the constant stream of random enemy encounters during these times.

While you'll still find the traditional emphasis on outfitting your characters with the best weapons, armor, and items, Final Fantasy III also introduces new items called "Relics". You can outfit each of your characters with up to two of these Relics, which can give them special skills such as the ability to run or make use of unique magical abilities. You'll definitely want to spend some of your time experimenting with different combinations of Relics on your various characters to see what each has to offer. It's a small touch, but a nice addition to the standard equipment function.

Of course, Square's unique ATB or "Active-Time Battle" system makes an appearance in Final Fantasy III and this time with a few new gameplay wrinkles as well. While you'll still have to wait for each of your character's activity meter to fill up in the game's turn-based combat system before you can make a battle selection, different characters have different menu selections that they can make use of, depending on what type of character they are. Some characters can use magic whereas others might use Tools or other useful skill sets. The game also introduces a new powerful desperation-style attack move that can be used when your character's health is running low. Each of these new twists adds yet another layer of strategy to the game's already enjoyable combat engine.

Square's decision to only make minor tweaks in their successful gameplay system keeps the game feeling familiar to long-time fans of the series while offering up at least a handful of new gameplay ideas to keep the series evolving. The ATB battle system is one most RPG fans either love or hate, but regardless of what side of the fence you're on, you can't argue that it at least gives the game a different take on the standard turn-based combat system that's been done to death throughout the genre, especially during this particular era of gaming. When you couple these unique additions with what is an absolutely epic RPG quest, what you get is yet another amazing Final Fantasy gameplay experience for role-playing game fans to really sink their teeth into.

Visually, Final Fantasy III doesn't try to re-invent the wheel. While the graphical details do go above and beyond those of the Final Fantasy II release, they still retain a lot of that same style fans of the series have come to expect. Each and every area of the game has its own unique look and visual style, which gives the game a huge degree of variety. The enemies in the game still don't animate at all, which is a bit disappointing, but they're all drawn with great detail and some of the bosses are absolutely amazing in their design and presentation. The world map itself also looks quite good when your party is on foot, but once you gain control of Chocobos or an airship, this is when the graphical quality tends to dip quite a bit. The Mode-7 world map used for vehicle travel looks very ragged and blurry and it can make deciphering specific locations such as towns, caves, and mountains, a bit difficult. It's definitely a moment when you'll wish the developers had just stuck with the regular 2D overworld map. That being said, it's a small gripe in what is an otherwise solid visual presentation.

Much like the majority of Square's role-playing titles, the soundtrack in Final Fantasy III is superb. Every track has that distinctive Square RPG catchiness and if you're one that can appreciate the time and effort Square puts into their game's musical presentations, then you'll love the musical score in Final Fantasy III. While not quite on par with Chrono Trigger, it does feature the kind of soundtrack that you'll want to listen to time and time again and one that perfectly conveys the game's many moods. From the up-tempo battle themes to the softer ballads, Final Fantasy III has as varied and moving a game soundtrack as you'll likely find in an RPG. It's no wonder this particular game soundtrack has gone on to become one of the most sought-after musical scores in RPG history.

Conclusion

Final Fantasy III did wonders for the RPG genre outside of Japan during the 16-bit era, and while the Chrono Trigger vs. Final Fantasy III debate still wages on, you can't help but appreciate how epic and enthralling a quest Squaresoft was able to cook up for this sixth release in the series. There might not be quite as much variety in the combat system as that of Chrono Trigger, but it's still a fairly big step up from that of Final Fantasy II, and ultimately an RPG adventure that's everything a good sequel should be and more. If you've somehow never played Final Fantasy III in any of its various forms over the years, you truly owe it to yourself to experience one of the best releases the series has to offer. And if you have played the game before, perhaps it's time to relive the magic all over again on the Virtual Console.

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