The opening credits to Final Fantasy III (which is in fact VI, but the Virtual Console release sticks to the original name) are accompanied by a little tune, Terra’s Song.
Despite being limited by the SNES’ hardware, the composition by Nobuo Uematsu continues to have a deep impact, resonating with an epic, sweeping majesty that sets the game up in a way no introductory story sequence could ever hope to. This is the game where the Final Fantasy franchise peaked, and while later games have remained at a very high standard since, III has a unique, magical quality that is a genuine X-factor – it’s intangible, but it catapults this game to the ranks of superstardom.
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Final Fantasy III remains a character-driven exercise, and like with Terra and the spectacular opening, it’s the unique musical theme that accompanies each character that is integral to the continued value of the game after all these years. From the mania of Kefka to the heart-wrenching story of Cyan, the wide range of characters and archetypes of this Final Fantasy remain amongst the most fully realised and involving the series has managed.
Which is just as well, because after all these years, Final Fantasy III is starting to show its age. Random battles are no longer just an irritant; they’ve been obsoleted. Character portraits and tile graphics, while still charming, are charming in the same way a black and while photo from the 40’s is – as an antique, and a memory of good times long gone.
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Combat itself has aged too – characters lack customisation and enemies feature distinctly uninteresting weaknesses, attack patterns and personalities. The ATB combat system – an early attempt to find a balance between action and turn-based RPGs has wisely been done away with in favour of more dynamic experiences. The dungeon-boss-new town-new equipment-new dungeon-new boss formula is now a pastiche. Were the core gameplay of this game cut, and then pasted into a modern visual and aural masterpiece, the game would fail horribly.
It’s a testament to the relative unimportance of the combat then that the raw gravitas of the characters and story that Final Fantasy III remains a deeply compelling experience. Few will forget the opera scene, even after so many years since the last play through. Fewer will forget the antics of Kefka, who remains one of the most compelling villains of all time.
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Final Fantasy III proves that cut scenes don’t need to be half an hour long to be genuinely touching – dialogue is snappy and to the point, but the words are chosen carefully and demands you invest in the characters.
The port to Wii Virtual Console is good, too, although where remakes of the various Final Fantasy games have modernised item and character names, this time around the translation is exact. It’s a little strange to see “Fenix Down” where we’re used to “Phoenix Down,” for instance.
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On the plus side, unlike the woeful PlayStation port of this classic, and the limited-release GBA game that came too late in that console’s lifespan to attract the attention it deserves, this version is readily available, cheap, and suffers from no loading times.
The Wii’s digitally downloadable software hasn’t been stellar at the best of times, and has really lacked of late, but this game is arguably the greatest RPG of all time. Buy it, download it, and fall in love with some truly great characters all over again.