Final Fantasy III Preview

We spend several hours with an English-language version of Square Enix's handheld remake of Final Fantasy III.

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Now just a couple of weeks away from its North American release, Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS is a 3D remake of a role-playing game that was originally released in 1990. Unlike other games in the popular series, the Nintendo Entertainment System version of Final Fantasy III was never released outside of Japan. So although the storyline is more than 15 years old, the experience will no doubt be all new for many of you. We recently had an opportunity to spend several hours with a near-finished version of the game, and we're pleased to report that it appears to have been well worth the wait.

At the start of a new game, Final Fantasy III throws you in the deep end when you assume control of the protagonist, Luneth. There's no intro movie to sit through, and your adventure won't be getting underway in some quaint little town. Instead, you'll find yourself in a network of underground tunnels where random battles with goblins are commonplace, and exploration is rewarded with treasure chests that contain potions, weapons, armor, and the like. In the absence of a tutorial, this starting area serves to familiarize you with the controls, the turn-based combat system, and the menus that are used for managing your items and equipment. It's all pretty straightforward stuff, particularly if you're familiar with other games in the series. And it's possible for you to use the stylus exclusively or not at all to play the game. We've been using the stylus to do just about everything with no problems whatsoever, though we've been using the left shoulder button to zoom the camera in and out rather than the icon on the touch screen that performs the same function.

The reason we're using the camera's zoom option is that exploration in Final Fantasy III involves a little more than just walking around. You'll find plenty of invisible (black-on-a-black background) corridors if you keep an eye out for rooms that do not have obvious entrances and other visual cues. But some of the most lucrative areas and most powerful hidden items can only be found by zooming the camera in and looking for environmental objects that you can interact with. Said objects, which include containers with items inside and hidden levers to open up secret passageways, sparkle when viewed up close. But they do not look any different from anything else in the environment when you use the default camera setting. Thus far, this mechanic is used quite liberally in many of the areas that we've visited. And as a result, it's certainly more interesting to spend time in the towns and villages where random battles don't occur.

Shortly after you visit the first town in Final Fantasy III, you'll be joined by the second member of your party. And within an hour or two of starting a new game, you can expect to have a full party of four characters under your control. Although all of the members of your party have quite different back stories, each one is essentially a blank canvas, and you get to choose a profession for each character. When characters join your party, they're classified as freelancers, who are jack-of-all-trades with no obvious strengths or weaknesses. But when the game's professions system comes into play, you'll have the option to start them on much more specialized career paths and, in the process, outfit them in profession-specific clothing. Initially, the only professions available to you are warrior, monk, white mage, red mage, black mage, and thief. But more professions become available as you progress through the game.

Your characters' outfits are determined by their profession.
Your characters' outfits are determined by their profession.

As your characters level up, so do their professions. And certain portions of the game can certainly become more or less challenging as a result of your profession choices. For example, in one of the boss fights, melee attacks were completely ineffective, so our thief and warrior characters weren't much help. We spent the entire fight telling our black mage to launch blizzard and fire attacks while our white mage used healing spells to keep him alive. However, our thief proved to be a very useful character in other situations because in addition to stealing items (potions mostly) from enemies and being very good at fleeing from combat when necessary, he's able to pick locks. This afforded us access to rooms that contained treasure chests and other goodies on a few occasions already.

Like other games in the series, Final Fantasy III starts out as a relatively linear experience. However, as the world map opens up from the access you gain to airships and the like, it becomes much less so. Right now, for example, we have a ship that we can sail across the random-battle-laden seas to reach new lands and previously unexplored towns and castles. There also appear to be plenty of side quests to get involved in alongside the main storyline. And there's certainly no shortage of large, good-looking monsters to do battle with along the way. We'll be spending a lot more time with Final Fantasy III as its release date gets closer, and we look forward to bringing you a full review soon.

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