INTRODUCTION: Once again, an evil empire is aggressively expanding its territory, this time through the use of Magitek, a technology that apes the force of magic - magic having disappeared from the world some time before, after the legendary War of the Magi.
The Empire "recruits" a girl named Terra, who is the first human in many years to be able to use magic. Controlling her actions with a Slave Crown, Emporer Gestahl and his deranged right hand man Kefka Palazzo send her to the remote and snowy town of Narshe.
Narshe contains two very relevant things: one, a recently-uncovered frozen creature believed to be one of the Espers, a race of highly magic-sensitive beings, and the other a resistance group called The Returners, who have sworn to bring down the Empire!
RELEASE: 2 April 1994, Nintendo Super Famicom (JPN); 11 October 1994, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (USA, as "Final Fantasy 3"); 1 March 2002, Sony PlayStation (EU, remake)
MY FIRST PLAY: 2002, naturally, again, with completion being delayed until 2004. Chief amongst the delays for this and the last two, I now remember, was the release of Final Fantasy 10!
|Courtesy Square Enix, via Logopedia.|
Get ready for more numbering controversies: this was sent to America, released as Final Fantasy 3 over there (if you remember from previous entires, they'd only had FF1 and FF4 previously). Unlike FF4, the gameplay and difficulty were not changed too drastically, though some representations of the female form as espers and monsters are presented in a more fully-clothed fashion.
THE GAME: This game begins a transition into joint fantasy/sci-fi setting for the series, mixing technology with magic in was only briefly touched upon by previosus games, particularly FF1 and FF4. The setting is in fact 100% steampunk, with Industrial Revolution-style trappings mixing with hi-tech, such as robot enemies and a moving castle.
And if you like playable characters, hold on to your hat... There are fourteen "main" playable characters, all but three of whom can be considered to have fully-developed storylines and arcs, and another fourteen on top of that if you count all the Moogles, General Leo, Vicks, Wedge and the mysterious ghost that joins the party in the Phantom Train.
The de facto main character, for the first time in the series' history is female - Terra is a woman with the natural ability to wield magic, whose journey is key to the storyline. In fact an argument can be made that the de facto secondary character is Celes Chere, who is also female, and has artifically been granted the ability to wield magic.
The contrasts between the two characters, and the key moments in their progress, is the engine that powers the story along, though treasure hunter Locke, thrill-seeking gambler Setzer, sterm ronin Cyan and the two sons of the Figaro royal family also have huge stakes in the outcome.
All the characters have a fixed "job", a la FF4, so the different combinations of these you will use throughout the game - some forced, some freely - make for a vast range of different combat experiences.
This also marks the debut of what would become known as "Limit Breaks" in the next installment - a desperation attack that is immensely powerful and randomly replaces the "Fight" command when a character's HP is low. Bizarrely, I have never, ever seen this happen myself - but I trust the eyewitness accounts are correct.
|Courtesy Square Enix, via techcrunch.com|
Magicite is essentially an Esper's remains. Characters can only equip one at a time, and it gives them the ability to summon that Esper (like summoned monsters in the last three entries). Combat gleans not just EXP, gil and items, but also Magic Points, a separate upgrade system as per FF3 and FF5. Gain enough AP with a Magicite equipped, and the character will learn spells related to that Esper's elements and personality.
MUSIC: "Dancing Mad", the final boss theme which clocks in at SEVENTEEN MINUTES, is a huge achievement - but the best bit's got to be the opera, hasn't it?
In a somewhat contrived but charming sequence, Celes replaces an opera singer she apparently bears a startling resemblance to, and has to perform said opera until it's ruined by an octopus, because reasons:
TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 9/10
Magitek, robots, the subjugation of humans and mystical beings through technological superiority... It's got the lot!
MEGABOSSES: There are a few things that might fulfill this in the original - for instance, there are eight dragons that can largely be avoided, but if conquered grant access to the magicite Crusader. There's also the prospect of DoomGaze, but encountering it is so likely that I don't think I can count it as "optional".
The GameBoy Advance version added the Kaiser Dragon - or should I say, activated it, as it was an unused asset in the original code - who definitely fits the bill.
REMAKES: Again, the PlayStation version is a pretty straight port, as is that recently released on the SNES Micro, and also again, GBA owners get the best deal, with extra espers and two new end game dungeons.
WORST BIT: It's likely that you'll be grinding an awful lot in the end game - which is pretty easy, but does wreck the flow of the game a bit, as it will have been at a relatively breakneck pace throughout up until that point.
BEST BIT: The final dungeon is immense, requiring three separate parties of characters to work in unison to reach the final chamber, in which the epic final boss battle will begin. Also worth mentioning the Floating Continent section, which is wonderfully inhuman in design.
OPINION: Here we are at the end of another console generation, banging on about the increase of scope and maximising of technological potential. This will happen at least once more before we're done...
With the increased emphasis on character-based storytelling, the more tech-savvy setting and the introduction of a cornerstone of the combat system for the next five entries, it's fair to say that this game represents the start of the "modern" era of Final Fantasy.
Many will tell you this is the best entry in the series - and it's damn hard to form an argument against that standpoint. Unless, like me, you played the next one first...
Join us next time for a journey into a new dimension, including a guy that are sick, another guy that is just Mr. T and a massive bereavement still felt to this day. Poor Cait Sith...