Throughout the changes in role playing games over the years, there is one series that has walked its own line, confident in what it does, and how it operates in the bigger picture. You could hole up in any number of juice bars with a group of RPG fans and spend hours discussing which games are better, bigger, flashier, more important for the genre, without getting anywhere in a squillion years (give or take), but the folk at Squaresoft wouldn't care to join the debate. They're busy keeping their contribution on track. They've got plans. They've got worlds to put together so we can conquer them. They're working on Final Fantasy.
I've always thought the developers of this epic series had named it superbly: there are other fantasies, but this is where it stops. There is a sense of grandeur each and every time, and any of you out there who have played these games (and unless you're going around crying "Xbox 4 lyfe!" then you almost assuredly have) will know that the scope for adventure and delight is huge.
Final Fantasy III was released in Japan in 1990 for the Famicom, and until this remake, it has never been released in English. However, due to the popularity of the series, fostered by later releases the world over, it has been translated and distributed over the internet by technophiles interested in spreading the love. Kiwis never got an official taste of the series until FFVII in 1997, but now, thankfully, Squaresoft have blown the dust off III and re-developed it for the Nintendo DS, giving a fresh perspective on a real classic. It's not a straight port, although the story remains almost completely whole and unaltered; brand new, for example, is the deepened personalities of the characters, which were never shown in the original.
But really, what’ll first strike you is the graphics engine. For lack of a better description, it's Nintendo 64ish - in fact it reminds me a great deal of Ocarina of Time; the movement of the characters, the lighting effects, facial features, smoke and dust effects are all superb - for the DS, they're up there with some of the better graphics around. The sound and music also seems decidedly 64ish. Additionally, when booting the game up players are greeted with a rather spectacular video intro. Anyone who has played the incarnations that wound up on the PlayStation will be used to the beauty of the animations, but for us to see something just as sharp on the DS is pretty special. I haven't seen another, and shouldn't imagine they're in any great number simply because of the space limitations on those postage-stamp-like cartridges.
Your basic adventure party is a crew of orphans chosen for greatness by the authority that is the Wind Crystal. After an earthquake, Luneth, a young native of a small town called Ur, falls into a hole and completes a short hack and slash through a set of tunnels. This will serve to introduce anyone who is not familiar with the battle system and the basic controls to the rudimentary operation of Final Fantasy, and leads into a short story-forming phase and a convenient and altogether unavoidable accumulation of the three other core characters - Arc, Refia and Ingus. They embark on a short quest to rid a town south of Luneth's home of a curse that has turned all of the inhabitants into ghosts. There they meet the hollow form of an Airship captain named Cid and begin their journey.
By the time this prologue is finished, and you are well equipped to go on; each of the characters have levelled up through battling various enemies, they have been outfitted with weaponry and armour and the Crystal has spoken to them all, charging them with ridding the land of darkness. This is a slightly deeper launch pad than players of the Famicom version got; that was basically "Hey kids, there was an earthquake and now everything is all wrong and stuff - go fix it."
There are two types of level increases to be sought in FFIII. As with most RPGs, there are the standard character level-ups, increasing hit points, magic etc, and those are achieved though vanquishing enemies. In addition, there are job levels, which give a character certain skills and abilities. At first, all of your characters are Freelancers - Jacks (and Jills) of all trades - but as they increase in level, new jobs become available to them. Mages, monks, warriors, thieves: you can choose whichever you want and then battle through using the new attributes bestowed upon them by their jobs. Just as with the original, there are plenty of different jobs to quest for and play around with and each has its time and place.
Keeping true to the original, yet adding enough to make FFIII a worthwhile port when die-hards have been playing modulated versions for so many years must have been a fairly difficult job. Hopefully the fanatics that can’t look past the teeny changes will be in the minority anyway, considering the DS version will be the first time many gamers have seen it. What's important about ports like this is getting new gamers hooked into old franchises, with a view to making them fiercely loyal, as many gamers are wont to be once they have formed their allegiances. The DS is a great platform for such a game, but so would any handheld if it were capable of the same output. The DS as we all know has one unique feature - a touch screen - and FFIII the younger has been programmed so it can be used, but it is really no better than button control.
My only other real gripe is that the prologue, while useful, doesn’t feel much like a tutorial after you’ve gathered your party. I actually thought I was playing the game proper, and was pretty surprised when I vanquished the first boss and saw credits rolling. Perhaps, these days, no one finishes RPGs, and that’s why they’re seen just as often now at the beginning of these massive games. In this version of FFIII, they come as quite a shock, and you can’t skip them. Then, they seem to roll and roll, because all you want to do is get back to your game. In hindsight, I suppose the very linear way you get from point to point at the start of the game should be indicative of the fact you’re being steered through; as soon as you try and thrash off to some part of an area or dungeon you’re not yet equipped to handle, the enemies there will squish your party flat.
As far as the Final Fantasy games go, this one is up there. Other ports of this series have had better press internationally, but there are usually a handful of pros and cons for each. Games like this are always worth their price, no matter which platform you play them on, because they end up being the ones you spend real time on. Dollar for dollar, minute for minute, joy for joy they’ll always pay for themselves.