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Final Fantasy III

Released: 1994
Company: Squaresoft
Genre: Role-Playing

I find it hard to drool over a game. Or more accurately, I find it hard to write about a game that I drool over. I usually like to review a game with both positive and negative facets. That way, each side is balanced out by the other, so my coverage appears neither too sadistic nor too flowery. If you've read my two previous reviews for this title, you'll have noticed that they were both in a little more of a dumbfounded tone. The graphics were great, the music was great, the plot was great - everything was great. Of course, all but two categories of Final Fantasy III's rating earned a perfect score, so I obviously do think that everything is great. However, I was operating under the assumption that everyone else saw it in much the same way.

That assumption was proven quite false when I browsed through a game review site maintained by a fellow NES fan. I knew going in that this take on FF3 was not going to be as rose-colored as mine was, but you could imagine my shock when I got to the end of the review and found that the game scored a <Anne Robinson>PATHETIC</AR> 6.5. Needless to say, I was quite perturbed that my most beloved game was doled out a score that - by my standards - is reserved for games like Rad Racer.

That inspired this rewrite. While I'm not going to waste time by rebutting the other reviewer's opinions - I already sent him a e-mail doing so - I will try to focus on the areas which seem to be sticking points for the detractors to this game. In other words, this isn't just a review - it's an attempt at persuasion.

First off, let's tackle the presentation of the game. Final Fantasy 3 came out during a revolution on the Super NES: more and more games that were coming out were utilizing more rendered graphics as opposed to previous games which appeared drawn or airbrushed. In fact, FF3's first major article in Nintendo Power had Donkey Kong Country - the game that started all the rendered graphics - on the cover. FF3, however, rebelled from this trend, and proved that a game need not resort to digitization in order to look positively beautiful. In fact, some of the landscapes that serve as backdrops to the enemy battles look even better than they would if they tried to go overboard with the photorealism.

The music is the one aspect of the game where just about everyone agrees. The musical director for the game, Nobuo Uematsu, has developed what appears to be an almost cult following among video game fans, and FF3 is probably the main reason for that: this game has some of the best music ever composed for a video game. Although I tend to dislike the themes that involve the Empire anthem, that makes up only a small portion of the soundtrack; all the other themes are truly magnificent. Moreover, they do a terrific job of putting the right track in the right situation, and they don't overuse any one piece. FF2 had a tendency to use two or three themes in a multitude of scenes: FF3 has about eleven or twelve to pick from.

The game's play control is one of the two categories in which the game loses a point in my book. For the most part, the reasoning behind this is the use of control pad and button combinations to activate the Blitz moves that Sabin uses. I thought that this sort of thing was out of place in a game of this genre; if I want to play a game where I have to worry about swinging the joystick in a clockwise circle, I'll play Street Fighter 2. But I'm sure they could've figured out a different method to use Blitzes than this. Besides that, I've little complaint with how the game handles, only that I would've preferred that the Sprint Shoes be a permanent fixture instead of a Relic.

Now that the technical stuff is out of the way, I can talk about the intangible elements of the game, and Final Fantasy III has the best aesthetics I've ever witnessed. For one thing, the plot is spectacular. I've never gotten so emotionally involved with video game characters before or since this game. Here, you have 12 (or 14, if you count secret players) completely different personalities, all focusing on one goal. Much ire is made when the game begins the World of Ruin phase, but to me it's an opportunity to peer into each character's individual subplots. You have Locke, a man whose one purpose in life is to resurrect his past love; Shadow, haunted by his previous cowardice; Cyan, wracked with guilt for failing to protect both his liege and his family; and Terra, coming to grips with emotions she'd never experienced before. Sure, some characters (such as Mog, Strago and Relm) provide only comic relief, but that's another thing: the humor in this game is actually funny.

But there's another side to the plot, one that few have delved into, and that's the three figureheads of the Empire: Gestahl, Leo, and Kefka. (Get ready for some Dief-like pedantry here.) I only realized it in talking with the other critic that these three people play different parts of the human psyche: The Ego, Superego and Id. Gestahl is the Ego: the strategist, the one who devised the gleaning of Espers for power in the first place. And lo and behold, he rules over the other two, much as the Ego serves as the balance to the Superego and Id. Leo is the Superego, the Empire's conscience. From the get-go, he's the only one (apart from Cid, maybe) who treats the other characters with respect, and has his own scruples with his compatriots' actions. Kefka serves as the Id, the savage part of the human spirit which has no use for strategy or conscience - it simply wants what it wants, and will stop at nothing to get it. When you understand what each of these people represent, it makes their interactions much more powerful.

OK, I'm done bullshifting now. One more thing I want to say about the plot (which, as you may have guessed, is my favorite part of the game): the ending is the best I've seen anywhere. It's triumphant, emotional (I usually choke up in certain spots), and without a doubt makes the time you put into the game more than worthwhile.

Also much maligned is the game's challenge - and that's the other score in my rating that isn't a 6. Usually the complaints are centered around the fact that all characters can learn all 54 spells, and that when the party can manage to find enough Economizer relics, the game's just about won then and there. But that's not my complaint with the game; in fact, it serves to its benefit. Just because a character can learn every spell doesn't mean he'll be adept at it: If Cyan's magic strength is left unattended, his Ultima spell barely cracks 5500 HP damage against a single enemy. And I've always been of the impression that a game should never be impossible to beat, and this game gives even complete novices enough opportunity to beef up the players and wax the floor with the enemy.

No, my real problem with the challenge lies in the final battle. Put simply, Kefka is a cakewalk. I've owned this game for almost 7 years, and butted heads with Kefka probably several dozen times, and not once has he annihilated my party. (The top part of the Esperoid has done it a few times, though.) I remember in FF2 always having at least a somewhat difficult time against Zeromus - even if my levels are ridiculously high, and even if I cheated and cloned about 11 or 12 Xcalbur swords for Edge to throw, the final battle to FF2 was always a challenge. But when I get to Kefka, he usually goes down in under two minutes.

Two scores remain - Thrill and Longevity - and if you can't guess what kind of scores I gave those categories, then you're a hopeless case. From the moment I turned this game on for the first time, this game has been extremely fun. Maybe not the most fun I've ever had playing a video game, but certainly enough fun for both scores to earn a 6. Sadly, I don't get to play this game as much as I'd like, since a campaign usually takes a month for me to complete from start to finish, but this is not a game I ever turn down if the circumstances are right. Even level building, which is the RPG equivalent of studying for a Statistics final, is fun to play through.

I may not have convinced any naysayers with this rewrite. After all, no game pleases all of the people all of the time. But what I hope I've made clear is that this game, to me, encompasses all that is right and good in video games, and how they ought to be done. From now until the video game industry finally runs aground, I challenge everyone out there to find me a game better than Final Fantasy III.

And no, Chrono Trigger doesn't count.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 17
Challenge: (Easy)
Aesthetic Score: 23
Overall Score: 96%

You are now listening to the World of Balance theme to Final Fantasy III.