Review: Final Fantasy III

System: Nintendo DS
Score: 3/5 3 (OK)

Final Fantasy III recently came out for the Nintendo DS and, while it's slightly different from the original version that was released for the Nintendo, it's almost the same game. Unfortunately, that counts more against it than it does for it.

When the original was released in 1990s, it brought a new concept to RPGs: the job system. The job system (where a character can essentially change classes) was a neat system at the time. It remains one of the favorite game systems, having been brought to perfection (in my opinion) in Final Fantasy Tactics. The version in this game is simplistic compared with Final Fantasy Tactics: you gain access to jobs by talking with crystals, and jobs contain a special ability. (White Magic for White Mages, Jump for Dragoons, Steal and Flee for Thieves, and so on.)

With the exception of magic, abilities are gained simply by selecting the job. Dragoons can always Jump, but that's it - otherwise they're essentially identical to any other combat class. Each character can only learn up to three spells per magic level, and since magic is divided into three types (White, Black, and Summoning) this means that a character's known spells limit their available jobs to a degree. (Spells can be unlearned and known lists can be swapped among characters, so a character won't be permanently stuck with a poor spell selection.)

While the job system provides a degree of customization, that customization isn't very useful. Most jobs are either useless or become eclipsed by a later, superior job. The Red Mage job is by far the most effective job for the first section of the game, until it's eclipsed by better jobs late in the game.

The combat system is, by far, the weakest part of the game - and, unfortunately, the combat system makes up the bulk of the gameplay. As all Final Fantasy games are known for, Final Fantasy III is essentially a series of battles between cutscenes. The section of gameplay that isn't combat related is effectively moving around on the world and field maps. With the majority of gameplay involving combat, having a weak combat system makes the game an effort in frustration more than fun.

When the game was released, the "round-robin" turn system was the combat system every RPG used: each round, each character would be allowed to take one action. The actions would be decided prior to the turn, and the actions would occur in a randomized order. As in previous Final Fantasy games, the enemies aren't forced to choose actions ahead of time, they pick randomly when their turn comes up during a round. This can cause much frustration when a recently revived character is immediately killed by an enemy without a chance to be healed.

Ultimately, the random move choice makes battles more a battle to be lucky than to use any real skill. You have to hope that the enemies will randomly not use their most effective skill and will randomly not all attack the same character. Battles can either be ridiculously easy or impossibly hard depending on what the enemy does. Many enemies will have a weak physical attack (doing 10% damage to a single character) and a strong magical attack (doing 60% damage to all characters), making battling them an effort in luck.

In the end, the game is really only interesting to Final Fantasy fans. Since this game had never been released outside of Japan before, it offers English-speaking Final Fantasy fans the first chance to play the game. If you're a large Final Fantasy fan, then by all means, pick up the game. If you're not, on the other hand, don't bother. The gameplay is dated and overly frustrating, with luck playing far too large a roll.