Final Fantasy III (J) Final Fantasy III, not to be confused with Final Fantasy VI, is considered to be the missing link in the popular, long-running RPG series. Originally released for the Famicom (NES) in Japan, it never saw daylight in the US or Europe. Unlike Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy V which were remade and packaged for Origins and Anthology respectively, there was never any Western localization for Final Fantasy III. That is, until now. Nintendo and Square-Enix have teamed up to remake this classic game for the DS, for release in all major regions. With 3D models and environment, redesigned characters, and unique-DS features--what more could we ask for? Was the wait worth it? Since we're still a month or two away from the North American release, here's a preview of what to expect--directly from the Japanese version. Gameplay: 8/10 The basic mechanics of this game follow any other traditional Final Fantasy game: you explore a town, traverse a dungeon, kill a boss, and fight random battles throughout the way. In this respect, nothing much as changed from the original. There isn't anything that is truly new or innovative--after all, it's a remake! However, speaking with respect to the original Final Fantasy III release for the Famicom, this game introduced a very important gameplay element that would echo throughout the Final Fantasy series: the Job Class Sytem. This system should definitely sound familiar. Job Classes have found their way through many games in the series, including Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Basically, you choose a job such as a Warrior, and you can train as that class to gain more abilities. The more experience you gain as a Warrior, the more skills that will become available. Your stats are also adjusted depending on which class you choose. For example, mage classes will notice a hefty boost in MP, but of course, have a drastic decrease in attack and defense. Pretty straight forward, I'd say. However, there is one very important difference from the original--capacity points are gone! In the Famicom version, you had to accumulate enough "capacity points" in order to switch jobs. Thus, this caused a lot of frustration amongst players--you couldn't freely adjust your party on a whim. The DS version changes all that and lets you change jobs whenever you want, as much as you want. Certainly makes the game a bit easier--but ultimately, more enjoyable. The MP system has not been changed from the original. This means it follows the "stock" system of Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy III. You don't just have a big pool of MP, instead, you have a certain amount of MP per skill level of magic. For instance, "Cure" is a level 1 magic. Even if you have level 2+ MP available, you cannot cast it if you're out of level 1 MP. Many players found this system to be old and dated, hence the change made for Final Fantasy I+II Advance (GBA). However, Square-Enix felt that this MP system was a very important part of this game, so they decided to leave it in as is. Plus, Western players haven't had much experience with it, it should be something marginally new and refreshing. The shortcomings of this game have already been stated--it simply does not offer anything really new. Even for fans who've never played the original version, this feels like your typical Final Fantasy, unlike the soon-to-be-released Final Fantasy XII which went through heavy renovations. Random battles can get a bit stale, especially since they're rather frequent. But it's a traditional RPG--I'm sure we're all used to it by now. And actually, this game is heralded as one of the most difficult Final Fantasies. You'll need the leveling. Story: 8/10 Much of the plot follows the original. Same towns, same NPCs, same crystals. Instead of revamping the story entirely, they redesigned the main characters. Before, all four characters had the same sprite, except with some palette changes (you notice this a lot in older RPGs..). The heroes were nameless, much like Final Fantasy I, and they didn't have much personality (except being clumsy, I suppose). In the DS version, the four Light Warriors have names, personality, and their own histories (like, Ingus serves King Sassoon and Princess Sera). Without giving too much away, here's a short summary of the characters' personalities: Luneth, the character you start with, is a very casual, easy-going guy. Speaks a bit rudely though, even to Princess Sera. Arc is sort of... a wimp--at least, that's the impression I got. You find him in Kazus with a rather scared look on his face. Refia is a bit spunky, kind of like Rikku from FFX/FFX-2, but not nearly as energetic. She does have her "girly"-moments though--she's won't step into Kazus while it's still "cursed." Ingus is your typical devout knight. He serves King Sassoon and seems to have a personal relationship with Princess Sera. Very formal, and very loyal, it seems. Presentation (Graphics/Music): 8/10 For the DS, these are amazing 3D graphics. I emphasize--for the DS. Everything looks great if you remember that it's on a Nintendo handheld, but ultimately things do look a bit grainy. Personally, I would have preferred clean sprites, but ultimately, I'm satisfied with the 3D take on the game. The opening movie, especially, is very impressive to see on the DS--even though it's just a simple matter of the right compression scheme and codec. The music in this game is absolutely wonderful. The DS speakers simply do not do the game justice--you must play this game with headphones or stereo speakers. I'm not sure what sort of audio format the developers used, but it sounds fantastic. Something you only hear from Square. (Left: opening movie, Right: Refia casting cure) (Left: World map, Right: Menu) DS Features: 1/10 - Stylus control for the entire game. In my opinion, rather useless. You have to have the stylus at the edges of the touch-screen for the character to run, and it seemed a bit too imprecise for my tastes. Useful if you're feeling lazy I suppose, but I prefer the dpad/button control. - Mail...? That's what the wifi connection is for. And that's really just what it is. You can send short little letters to your friends (via friend code, of course), and that's about it. Cute feature, but nothing important. Exactly what you expected when you heard about it in the news before the game's release. No real surprises here. In short, this game could've been on any system. The DS features are pretty insignificant, and much of the game doesn't even make use of the second screen. When you're in a town, the top screen will show you the world map. When you're in battle, the top screen is just... blank. When you access the menu, the bottom screen "scrolls" into the top screen, so you can still see your character. Sound useless? Yes, useless indeed. Changes from Famicom (NES) Version: 10/10 (Everything is an improvement, I'd say) - Start with only one character, Luneth. Have to recruit the other Light Warriors through the story. (first hour of play) - All characters are unique, rather than having the same templated sprite. Their names are Luneth, Arc, Refia, and Ingus. - No longer begin as "Onion Knights"--instead, the universal starter job is called "Freelancer." The "Onion Knight" class is actually the final, secret unlockable job. - Access to jobs after beating Jinn in the Cave of Seals, rather than the first dungeon, the Cave of Altar. - Changes to the order of jobs. For example, you get "Thief" from the wind crystal, whereas in the original, you get it from the water crystal. - Changes to job traits. For example, "Ninjas" can no longer equip any kind of equipment. Available Jobs: N/A Starter: Freelancer Wind Crystal: Warrior (Senshi), Monk (Monku), Thief (Shi-fu), White Mage (Shiromadoushi), Black Mage (Kuromadoushi), Red Mage (Akamadoushi) Fire Crystal: Ranger (Karyuudo), Knight (Naito), Scholar (Gakusha), Geomancer (Fuusuishi) Water Crystal: Dragoon (Ryuukishi), Viking (Baikingu), Dark Knight (Makenshi), Evoker (Genjyutsushi), Bard (Ginyuushijin) Earth Crystal: Martial Artist (Karateka), Devout (Doushi), Magus (Majin), Summoner (Makaigenshi) Forbidden Land Eureka: Ninja (Ninja), Sage (Kenja) Secret Job: Onion Knight (Tamanegikenshi) (Changing classes) Overall: 8/10 Great game for a great system. The DS always been lacking in the RPG department, and hopefully this game will satisfy RPGamers. The poor DS features weigh the score down, but of course, the core of the game is solid. Highly suggested for any RPG fan, but it's not like you weren't going to get it anyway.