Tuesday 29 April 2014

Final Fantasy III - NES - 1990

Final Fantasy III came out in Japan in April 1990 for the Nintendo Famicom – just over two months before the original Final Fantasy was released in North America.  It was the third and final instalment to be published on the 8-bit console before the franchise moved over to the 16-bit Super Famicom/SNES.  Like Final Fantasy II the game wasn’t released in the West so I will be using a fan translation.  The only English version was a 3D remake for the Nintendo DS from 2006.  There were quite a few differences but I will use those instructions as the basis for my playthrough.  The rest I will have to work out as I go along.

I was hoping this instalment was going to be a little more original.  The plot says that your party of four orphans have been tasked with 'sweeping away the Darkness' that is threatening the world.  So far, so very Final Fantasy.  The graphics are also pretty much the same…

Hopefully the story and the ‘job system’ will make things more interesting.

The first thing to do is to name the four protagonists.  Lacking any imagination, I took the names straight from the DS manual.  You are then plopped in the bottom of a dungeon which had been created after an earthquake.  The only graphical difference between the characters is their colour.  Their default job is listed in the game as ‘onion kid’.  I can’t begin to guess why the starting class is named after a pungent vegetable.  In the dungeon there were a few simple combats followed by a boss.  Combat uses the same system as the previous two Final Fantasy games.  As well as gaining Exp and Gil (currency) after combat, you also accumulate Capacity Points.

Capacity Points form the basis of the ‘job system’ as they are needed to change your ‘job’ or character class.  The longer a character remains in the same class the more proficient they become.  This is something I will need to experiment with as I go.  I can already foresee plenty of grinding.

After defeating the dungeon boss you come across the Wind Crystal who says the balance of everything is crumbling and the characters have been chosen to restore it.  The Crystal also gives you some of its power which allows access to the initial selection of jobs.

South of the dungeon is their home town of Ur.  As before, speaking to the citizens results in a stock response.  This normally changes once a related quest has been completed.  It looks like the option to memorise key words that was introduced in Final Fantasy II has been removed.

So far I have upgraded my party to three Fighters and a Monk.  My plan is for two of the Fighters to become a White Mage and Black Mage after a little grinding.  I have covered the first overworld area (there is boulder preventing any further progress) and have discovered a second town, a castle and the entrance to another dungeon which is blocked by a lake.

As is my wont with JRPGs, I began with some pre-emptive grinding.  One improvement over the earlier games is that if a character targets an enemy that is subsequently killed he automatically targets another - the attack is no longer wasted.  I also took this opportunity to experiment with the job system.  The initial choices are Onion Kid (the default class), Fighter, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage and Red Mage.  I retained Luneth as a Fighter and Arc as a Monk. I made Refia a White Mage and Ingus a Black Mage.  Although the whole party were gaining levels, only Luneth and Arc were gaining job skills from the combat.  It was the same when I tried a Red Mage even though they are able to use most weapons.  I therefore reverted the Mages to Fighters.  After finding a SLEEP spell in the Altar Dungeon I changed Ingus back to a Black Mage.  Ingus tends to go last in combat so is still not gaining skills as fast as the melee characters.

I used Ur as my base for grinding as one of the buildings contained a couple of springs.  One spring restores all hit and magic points, and the other resurrects dead characters.

I didn't even know that was a word

After my initial bout of grinding it was only left to fully explore the first area.  I had previously visited the Altar Dungeon north of Ur which offered up some good items and the aforementioned SLEEP spell.  Kazus was literally a ghost town.  The earthquake had broken the seal that held a Jinn who in turn changed the inhabitants into ghosts.  It was mentioned the Jinn could be defeated using a Mithril ring that was made for Princess Sara of Sasoon Castle.  The ghost of Cid said he had hidden his airship in the nearby desert and I could use it to cross the lake to the Cave of the Seal where the Jinn was hanging out.

My next stop was Sasoon Castle but the Jinn had got there before me as everyone here had also been turned into ghosts.  Princess Sara, who was protected by the ring, had already made her way to Cave of the Seal.  I found a Wight Sword which a guard said would help against the undead in the cave, but only a Red Mage could wield it.  I changed Refia to the Red Mage and returned to Ur to stock up on potions and spells.

It took a couple of attempts to get to the Jinn but he wasn't too difficult to defeat due to my earlier grinding.  Princess Sara then warped us back to Sasoon Castle.  For saving his life and the lives of his daughter and his subjects, the King bestowed upon us…a…a canoe?!  A poxy canoe!  At least we can cross the lake to retrieve the airship.  A guard revealed there was a secret passage to the King’s treasury which I cleaned out before I left.  That’ll learn the tight-arsed git.

In Kazus they were more grateful.  A smith made a mithril bow for the airship with which to ram the boulder that was blocking our passage.  The collision between the rock and the hard place resulted in both the boulder and the airship being destroyed.

I am now back on foot, but with the first area open the world is now my oyster – at least until the next obstruction.  Before heading out I will grind some more against the undead in the Cave of the Seal; the CURE spell harms undead creatures (which kind of makes sense) so I can use that to improve Refia’s White Mage job skill.  I will note my thoughts below…

  • While grinding it became apparent the enemy can now jump our party from behind and get a free attack in.  It confused the hell out of me at first.

  • There are a lot of hidden items and secret passages to discover.  Some can be seen, some are revealed by NPCs and others can be found by accident. For example, Cid allowed us into his already secret storage room after we cured his ailing wife.  This contained another secret passage leading to yet more items.  Although they have nothing to do with the main quest these little extras make rewarding diversions and can offer up useful items.
I knew there was a reason why some steps when into the water.

  • Job changes can be forced upon your characters.  I had to cast the MINI spell on my party to enter a couple of dungeons.  The small characters could only cause a maximum of 2HP damage with weapons so I had to make Luneth and Arc mages so they could cast offensive spells. 

  • Locked areas in Final Fantasy III are a lot smaller than in the earlier titles and can be quickly cleared before moving on.  At least for now there doesn’t seem to be any way to return to previously visited locations so it’s hard to determine the overall size of the game world.  As yet there has been no need for mapping.

  • Soon after writing the above I acquired a ship which opened up (almost) the rest of the ‘world’.  The ‘world’ turned out to be one of those floating continents that show up from time to time in fantasy games and novels.  This continent was quite small and could be circumnavigated in a matter of minutes on a chocobo (this was a side quest).
The edge of the floating continent.  Using chocobo avoids random encounters.

  • While on the subject of chocobos – there is a fat one you can summon in certain places to store items and ease the burden on your inventory.

  • A good feature I would have liked to have seen on some other RPGs is that equipping weapons and armour alters your Attack and Defence values, so you can easily compare items.  These values, and XP and HP, were the only stats I really needed.  For me, the main stats screen was mostly superfluous.

  • On the floating continent we discovered another crystal that gave us more jobs to choose from.  I only elected to upgrade Luneth from Fighter to Knight.  After completing all the quests, Cid converted our sailing ship into an airship allowing us to reach the world below. 
  • This world appeared to be mainly open ocean and the SIGHT spell proved invaluable in allowing us to locate the few pockets of dry land.  We came across a shipwreck and were told the populace had been turned to stone and the earthquake had caused the land to sink.  Reaching the Water Crystal caused the land to rise again and gave us more jobs.  I changed Arc from Monk to Karateka.
  • I had to cheat a bit and use a map from the internet to spare me the pain of creating one myself.  Apart from the floating continent (which didn’t need mapping) there is another large overworld area and an equally large undersea area.  For the most part dungeons were pretty simple affairs that could be memorised (apart from the Cave of Darkness and later the Dark World which both contained numerous secret passages).
The world had to be explored from both above and below the water to avoid missing anything.
  • There is a good selection of airships available during the game including the submersible Nautilus and Invincible that can be used to traverse mountains for a short distance.  Invincible also contains a bed, vending machines for (weapons, armour, spells and magic items) and a fat chocobo.
The Invincible contained everything you could need.

  • The last section of the game took part in three interconnected dungeons - Forbidden Land Eureka, Sylx Tower and Dark World.  These are surrounded by yet another dungeon - The Ancient's Labyrinth.  I had heard this last section was very difficult as the game cannot be saved in a dungeon - only on the surface.
The final save point.

  • Attempt one did not go very well.  I can't remember exactly how far I got, but Arc and Refia were turned into frogs rendering them harmless.  Lacking any Maid Kisses I had a trying time getting back to the airship to track some down.  While I was at it I picked up some extra items to counter-act other status effects.  The next time I was better prepared.
  • On exploring Eureka I found it contained some healing springs and shops selling the most powerful spells, armour and weapons.  You could also gain the best jobs - Ninjas were able to use all weapons and armour, and Sages could cast any spell.
  • At the end of the Sylx Tower is the Dark World.  From here there is no return to the surface to save.  Companion NPCs from earlier in the game helped gain entry…

  • I discovered the final boss, Dark Cloud, very easily after moving north from the entrance.  My second attempt at this last section also went pear shaped as none of my spells or weapons had any effect on her/it.  I had to reload from outside the tower and make my way through Eureka and Sylx Tower again.
  • For my last try I explored the rest of Dark World before heading north.  I found there were four dark crystals, each guarded by a tough boss.  I had a few deaths but the LIFE 2 spell bought characters back to life with full health.  If Refia was killed a Fenix Down followed by an Elixir did the same thing.  Many CURE spells and Potions were also consumed.  As each boss was defeated the crystal released a Warrior of Darkness. 

  • My next crack at Dark Cloud went better as these Dark Warriors had weakened it.  It was a long battle including one death (followed by a LIFE 2) and a round when all the characters needed to drink an Elixir but I got there in the end.  Here is the 10 minute ending sequence.....

Since my last Final Fantasy game I have completed three Gold Box games so it was refreshing to get back to an RPG with an intuitive interface and decent sound and graphics.  I’m glad the developers did away with the flawed levelling mechanism of Final Fantasy II and went back to the more traditional system of the first game.  The job changing mechanic also adds an interesting twist to the proceedings.  Graphics and sound effects haven’t been updated much but they were good by NES standards anyway.  The music, however, seems much better and more varied.

Bad points?  As with the earlier games the random encounters started to become monotonous towards the end of the game.  I also preferred the plot, if not the execution, of the earlier titles - in your travels you had the feeling something evil was abound in the world – especially in Final Fantasy II.  In this game the populous seemed to be behaving as normal even after they had returned from being submerged under the sea.  The last criticism applies to any RPG I have played and that is the currency.  I have yet to find a balanced system and halfway through this game I was a millionaire, though to be fair I did spend it all on shurikens in Eureka.  It would have been better balanced had every single monster not dropped money.

Overall, Final Fantasy III has renewed my interest in a franchise that was beginning to wane after only two games.  I am now looking forward to see what Square can do on the SNES.


  1. It's going to be really weird trying to compare this game on the DS to other Final Fantasy games that came out around that time. I barely noticed the story or paid any attention to the job classes. I went straight monk, power leveled, and plowed through the game. Next time I'll take the time to explore each job.

    1. As it was my first play through I mainly went with the jobs that I knew worked in Final Fantasy I - I didn't touch classes like the Viking, Bard, Summoner etc. If I play it on the DS I may experiment a bit more.

  2. Japan's Final Fantasy V revisits the job system in a somewhat more balanced manner, though the game itself has a huge game breaking mechanic that I won't spoil just in case you get to the game eventually.

    I actually have the translated ROMs of Final Fantasy II and III on NES cartridges, along with a fixed copy of the original Final Fantasy. I keep meaning to do a playthrough, but Dragon Warrior III currently has me hooked.

    1. Not another broken FF game! To be fair I didn't realise the original FF was so bugged until I read the comments on Zenic Reverie's blog. Hopefully FF IV is ok.