NEW YORK--The Nintendo DS has been strong in almost every genre, except, perhaps, role-playing. Luckily, the system's role-playing game lineup will be one game stronger later this year, and what a game it is. Final Fantasy III (the original one) will finally make its first appearance stateside in 3D-remake form, and we got to try a new build of the game in English right from the title screen at Nintendo's Wii press event this morning.
Unlike most Final Fantasy games, this one doesn't begin with an elaborate CG cutscene--or even a more modest in-game cinematic sequence (or at least, neither of those things were in this build). Instead, you're plunged right into the gameplay just as main character Luneth--an orphan from the village of Ur--falls through a hidden hole in the ground into an underground cave, where you'll immediately have to fight monsters, raid treasure chests, and eventually confront a land turtle boss in classic Final Fantasy fashion. At the end of this dungeon, Luneth ran into a giant crystal floating in the cave, which told him there were others in the world with a like mind for adventure. Luneth was tasked with finding these individuals and returning to the crystal, at which point the true quest would begin.
This seems like a Final Fantasy game in the traditional sense, with all the same mechanics you'd expect from the earlier, cartridge-based entries in the series. We found a longsword and a shield during our first cave expedition, and when we equipped them we saw Luneth using them in subsequent battles. We also managed to raise his job level a few times, though apparently the job system--which lets your characters learn different roles and their attendant special abilities--wasn't active at this early stage of the game. Luneth was listed as a "freelancer" at this point and didn't have any special skills at such an early level. But later on, you'll presumably have a lot of room to customize and build up your characters into real powerhouse combatants.
Final Fantasy III is doing a good job of taking advantage of the DS's touch-screen controls, since you can apparently play the entire game with just the stylus if you want. We got through a battle and some subsequent menu navigation simply by tapping enemies, menu entries, and so on. You'll just drag the stylus in the direction you want to run, and if you move it farther, Luneth will run instead of walk .We wish a little more were being done with the second screen, though. On the overworld, you see a nice big map of the world with towns and your present location clearly marked, and when you go to the subscreen, you can still see your character wherever he is on the top screen. But in our preliminary dungeon exploration, the screen remained black--which was odd, because that seemed like the perfect opportunity to show a map of the place. We hope that will change in subsequent areas, though.
We've wanted more solid RPGs on the DS for a long time now, and Final Fantasy III looks like it will fit the bill quite nicely. The beginning of the game has a suitably old-school feel to it, and we won't complain too much if that sense persists as the presumably epic quest progresses. Keep your eyes peeled for further coverage in the coming weeks, not to mention a full review to accompany the game's mid-November release.