Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Final Fantasy III DS remake review
Fans of old school Final Fantasy RPGs knows what to expect when they unwrap that shrinkwrap that adorns a newly purchased Final Fantasy classic - deformed characters, knights and wizards, fantasy setting, airships, kawaii protagonists etc. And lucky for many of us, Squenix did a faithful remake of a game, that has been absent from any sort of official English release for 16 years. And no, they did not replace the four orphaned characters with Cloud-like emo characters. Thankfully.
Final Fantasy III DS begins with an earthquake, which causes protagonist Luneth to fall into the Altar Cave nearby the village of Ur, where he grew up. After battling a number of burly enemies, he is summoned by the Wind Crystal, who immediately tasked him the extreme burden of saving the world. Rounding up his fellow Warriors of Light team, Luneth and his new mates set off, exploring the floating continent in which they live, and attempting to restore balance to the world.
First impressions counts and when Final Fantasy III DS is booted, a nice pre-rendered clips opens the game. FMV clips are all good but pre-rendered clips doesn't mean squat to gameplay and thankfully Square Enix decided to only limit the FMV to the intro, and instead put more effort into retooling the in-game engine. Here we have something similar to that of Final Fantasy IX - with all those cute super deformed characters. Character designs, while in 3D now, are still positively 'Famicom like'.
FF III has never been a character driven game (those are reserved for even numbered Final Fantasy games - applies only to pre-Playstation era) but for the DS remake, the developers added background stories and personalities to each of the four protagonists. You do get a surly character, but be thankful that at least he isn't an emo nut. Even then FF III DS is first and foremost a technical RPG, and not the plot driven melodramatic narrative is could have been.
The graphics here are fantastic and I am glad that Squenix has decided to retain the deformed look. Facial animations and expressions on our cute little characters are even evident during cut scenes (which uses the game engine). All characters are in full 3D and the surrounding areas are a mixture of pre-rendered sprites and polygons (with lovely textures). The developers at Matrix Software really took advantage of everything the DS has to offer. The only complaint I had was, in order to get things smoothly, top screen is switched off for most of the time. It would have been nice to have either a dungeon map/stat page on the top (like Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow).
Battle system is still old school menu driven turn based combat, which could potentially put people off (especially those introduced to the series during the PS era). Some has complained that Square Enix did not bother to update the combat system to reflect that of more modern Final Fantasy games, or that it is too difficult (mainly by western reviewers). I have to admit I was never a huge fan of menu driven combat games but with FF III and it's whole loads of customisation, I really embraced it. Battles can be hard at first (not helped by not featuring a save system in the dungeons), especially with those irksome random battles, but hei, you do need to level up. The game can also be played with either stylus or face buttons.
The job system is most impressive. Supposedly overhauled from the original 8-bit version, FF III DS features (as Squenix marketing maintained in an EGM ad I saw) 279,841 possible party configurations. As many of you know the job system debuted in FF III and I am glad that Square Enix only tinkered with it slightly, by balancing the system and adding a couple of new jobs. You do get penalties for switching jobs but only for the first few battles. It is complex and frustrating, but it is also an utterly addictive system which rewards players with results.
So is Final Fantasy III worth the 16 year wait? You bet. This is a great return to the old school fantasy pre-PlayStation RPG we all love, and a fine example of how not to screw up a remake. If Square Enix plans to remake more games (Chrono *cough* Trigger) then they should do so with the same loving care as they applied on this. Import this today.
Buy now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK
Update: Check out this chibi Final Fantasy III toys!