iPhone Game Review: Final Fantasy III Reviewed by Tim Harvey
Simply put, there is no more well-loved RPG franchise than Final Fantasy. That the first game in the series was originally created to be the only and, indeed, final entry has not affected the spawning of over a dozen sequels and many more spin-offs. So then, with such a storied history the most recent iteration of Final Fantasy III, released for the iPhone, has not arrived without considerable fanfare. There are, however, a few things we may as well just get out of the way right at the start.
First of all, this is not the same game as what we from North America know as Final Fantasy III. That game, released back in 1994 on the SNES was originally billed in Japan as Final Fantasy VI. This Final Fantasy III was released in Japan in 1990 and didn?t find its way to the US until a 2006 Nintendo DS remake. The iOS version is an enhanced version of that game, with uprezzed graphics and new story scenes, and is in all likelihood the definitive version of the game?a claim I will neither uphold or dispute since, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I had never played the game before it graced the screen of my iPod Touch.
Secondly, the game currently retails on the app store for $15.99 USD. That?s right folks, while many an iOS gamer has become accustomed to paying less than a dollar per game, this one will cost you almost 16. While I will not use this space to ponder on app store economics, let?s just say that?s an extremely high price relative to other iOS games. More to the point, however?is it worth it? I would say, as a player who loves turn-based RPGs and has not played the game before on any other platforms: absolutely. The asking price may seem extreme to some, but given the amount of content and fun to be had, it is hard not to recommend this game to those who appreciate a quality Japanese RPG (or JRPG) that combines old school sensibilities and a more modern visual approach.
You know the drill, right? You control a party of characters whom you will guide through a huge game world on quests that will allow them to level up and increase in strength, until your final battle with the forces of darkness to save the world. There is an overworld map to navigate in a bird's eye view, as well as numerous dungeons, caves, forests, and towns that you will take a more close-up 3rd person approach to. Battles are entered through random encounters, (or AHAs! as I like to think of them), at which time you will jump cut to a 3D interface where you navigate a menu with touch controls that allows you to select from a variety of actions to fight via physical and magical attacks, use items, cast spells to affect party member or enemy status (cure, poison, etc.) or try to flee.
As with prior games in the series, there are a number of considerations to take during a battle and when combined with resource and magic point management, as well as constructing your party--more on that in a moment--there is a good deal of strategy involved overall. Unlike the first two FF games, however, part 3 offers some new twists, most notably a customizable job class system and all the increased actions that come with it. The thief class, for example, will be able to "steal" during a battle, and open passages without the use of keys outside a battle. The result is an extremely large wealth of depth added to the game, and several layers of customization.
While the first two Final Fantasy games allowed for some strategy in constructing and deploying your party, part 3 is a virtual gold mine of individualist turn-based adventuring in that it allows you to not only select a job class, but to change it at any time and as you progress, unlock more powerful classes. There are well over 20 different job classes in all, which, when coupled with the 20 to 40 hours or more required to complete the game (time required to finish it varies greatly depending on how you train your classes and how much time you spend grinding up your levels) means you'll find a ton of replayability. I'm not sure how long it will take me, to be honest, but let me put it this way: it took over 2 hours just to reach the opening credits.
Something that some may see as an odd design choice is the save system. You are given the option to quicksave at any time, but doing so will automatically take you to the main menu screen. Furthermore, if your party is defeated in battle, you'll have no recourse but to start again from your last full save--something that can only be done at the overworld map screen. This means you'll have to be well-prepared when entering a dungeon to ensure you don't get to the boss only to be wiped out, necessitating a restart from a point before the beginning of the dungeon. Whether you take this as a design flaw or in stride as a worthy challenge is up to you, but I would suggest that it's not in any way game-breaking or even really detrimental, except for the most impatient of gamers, since it's only dying that will cause you to lose progress; the game is automatically saved as a quicksave upon exiting the app for any reason.
Even more than the first two Final Fantasies, FF III encourages extensive exploration throughout the game. This is done via a system of many secret items and passages observable as "sparkles" when one pinches to zoom the screen. The mechanic couldn't be more at home than it is here. What could normally become a slog through a cave or tavern, then, becomes a sleuthy investigation through one's surroundings. It also makes revisiting earlier areas (especially when farming character levels or grinding up) vastly more rewarding if you forgot to check them your first time through. This new and welcome aspect to the game is a simple addition, but an excellent one.
A hallmark of the Final Fantasy series, of course, is the story. Although relatively weak by the standard of the series, the story in Final Fantasy III does have a good deal going for it, especially compared to other iOS RPGs. The characters are somewhat less well-defined than in later games, but there are excellent touches of humor and Square Enix's trademark quirkiness, which are highlighted even more so by the exceptional character designs and animation.
Controls are basically identical to those found in Square Enix's earlier iOS exclusive, Chaos Rings, with a virtual joystick that appears anywhere you swipe onscreen to move your character and interactions with objects of NPCs initiated with a simple tap on the screen. This method works well almost all of the time, although on occasion I have had some trouble with attempted taps registering as movement swipes, which moved me away from interactions rather than initiating them. Menus are all touch-activated, making them easy and intuitive to navigate. While the controls and menus in the first two FF ports to iOS were somewhat mixed bags, FF III is nearly flawless in these regards.
Although the game started on the NES as sprite-based and 2D, it received a complete overhaul for its DS release, and this iOS release has only been given further refinement. While some may find the character models a bit blocky or even twee compared to later FF games, I personally found them extremely charming and I really like the way the game manages a feel that is somehow modern and yet doesn't stray far from its roots. As I mentioned before, the character animations are exceptional, and there is even a fair bit of facial expression that is somehow made evident during cut scenes. Backgrounds are fully 3D, and look nothing short of wonderful. Sometimes the environs can become a bit same, but there is a fair bit of detail packed into each one, which keeps things engaging enough. The only blemish on the graphics is that some textures appear quite blurry, and I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps not everything was fully uprezzed from the DS version. Regardless, however, the majority of the game, including the text, runs in full Retina Display and the blurry bits are hardly noticeable.
You'd only expect the soundtrack of a Square Enix game to be epic, and this one doesn't disappoint. There is hardly anything so satisfying as the always slightly modified, yet extremely familiar opening screen music and fanfare that accompany a newly revisited Final Fantasy game. Sound effects have a nostalgic and joy-inducing effect as well.
A complete triumph of a game, Final Fantasy III is an old and for many, undiscovered classic made with love for iOS. Some quirks in the save system and a few noticeably low-res textures as well as the need to adjust a bit to the controls make the game just shy of perfect, and players should be aware that grinding is required to complete the game, but who am I kidding?this game is deep, involved, addictive and tons of fun--in short it is in fact the perfect companion piece to an iDevice for anyone who remembers fondly the early entries in the Final Fantasy series, or almost any RPG fanatic. Perhaps not well-advised for those who will not want to cozy up with their phone or media player for dozens of hours, I can yet only give a complete thumbs up to this game for anyone out there who, like me, seeks to use their apple device as a legitimate gaming console. Let's just hope that Square Enix shares this desire and expresses it by way of porting the entire FF series to iOS, eventually.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4.5 - A few low-res textures can't diffuse the excellence of the old-school aesthetic made new in gorgeous, full 3D Sound: - 5 - A soundtrack fit to be listened to all on its own, (in fact you can buy the soundtrack for the DS version on iTunes here), just might send chills down your spine. The sound effects only enhance the experience. Controls: - 4.5 - A possible need for the player to become accustomed to the virtual stick in a 3D environment and one occasional tap/swipe quirk mean the controls are not perfect, but only just, and I can't think of a better way to manage things than Square Enix has here. Gameplay: - 5 - A bit grindy, perhaps, and certainly a bit difficult for those unfamiliar with the genre's yesteryear as it is represented here, but in every way it counts to the serious RPG fan, Final Fantasy III delivers in a big way. Overall: - 5 - I?ll make this short and sweet: $15.99 and worth every stinkin? penny.