Here at GameCritics we're encouraged to delve deeper into the games we review—to evaluate themes and historical significance along with graphics and fun factors. Certainly, I think that most videogames offer something more than simple diversion: engrossing plots, enjoyable characters, the ability to reach audiences on a deeply personal level, since we are the actors in their stories. But when it comes to Final Fantasy III, I've got nothing profound to say. That's probably my fault. Despite my love of role-playing games (RPGs), I haven't spent much time with the Final Fantasies. (In fact, most of what I've learned about their universes and characters is via the Kingdom Hearts series). Be that as it may, Final Fantasy III hasn't kindled any deep passion for the series. Like a one-night-stand it was fun while it lasted, but it doesn't leave me wanting more.
We play as Luneth, an orphan who falls into a cave when an earthquake hits his village. The quake has also swallowed up four elemental crystals; with them gone, the world is thrown out of harmony and darkness is free to take over. It's up to Luneth and his three friends—all orphans, too—to find the crystals and restore the balance of power.
Final Fantasy III was originally released on the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1990. It's part of a series that's had tremendous influence on the console role-playing genre. Playing the game now for the first time can make one feel a little déjà vu; that's only because the Final Fantasy series helped create a lot of genre conventions in the first place. But Final Fantasy III still offers some surprises. Its open-ended class system is as unusual today as it was 17 years ago. Instead of designating one person a warrior and somebody else a healer or black mage, the game offers a variety of jobs the characters can learn, for players to dole out as they wish. As a character gets more practice in his or her job (i.e. by fighting battles), he or she gains experience points and becomes more powerful within that particular class. In this game, I really can be anything I want.
This job system isn't new to this installment of the series—it was introduced in the original Final Fantasy—but it's still pleasantly innovative. Having more potential classes than characters and being able to mix and match them any way the player chooses adds layers of depth to battle strategy. It's not enough to train characters to high levels and use uber-skills. Victory also depends on the classes of people in the party. Training as a Black Belt will raise someone's base hit points to stellar levels; Dragoons can jump, so they're impossible to hit while in the air and do massive damage when they come back down.
As a consequence of this equal-opportunity class system, nobody can get pigeonholed into some RPG stereotype. The main character doesn't have to be a warrior; he can be a white mage or an archer or a slow Viking that wields heavy hammers. Similarly, the one female in the party doesn't have to be a healer if I don't want her to be.
Unfortunately, the characters' personalities seemed as interchangeable to me as their jobs. Final Fantasy III has a rich story, but it was hard to care about that story when I didn't feel like I really knew the people involved in it. I sensed that each one felt isolated from the people around them: however, they all felt that way, because they're all orphans and they're all specially chosen to save the world. Their big-headed chibi cuteness was enjoyable, but there was never a sense that these people were any different from each other at all.
I also think that the game's innovation works against it by highlighting more typical RPG pitfalls. Trolling for experience points will always be repetitive and potentially boring; using four people to max out 20-odd different skills with 99 levels each just makes that flaw harder to overlook.
Final Fantasy III was fun while I played it, but now that the world's been re-harmonized and the credits have rolled, I feel no need to dig it out of my closet again. To play any more of it would involve maxing out my job and character levels for no real reason, since there's nothing else to do. (Since I don't have many DS-playing friends to trade letters with, unlocking the secret class and the uber-weapons is out). We were but two ships passing in the night, and it's like we never saw each other.