Final Fantasy III Brings Classic Gaming to the iPad

Originally released in 1990 in Japan only, Final Fantasy III did not officially reach the United States until 2006 when it was re-released on the Nintendo DS. The Final Fantasy III for the U.S. for Super Nintendo, prior to this, was actually Final Fantasy VI chronologically. With that history in mind, players that are looking to revisit the classic or even play for the first time, can now do so on the iPad for $16.99 (the game has been out on iPhone, for $15.99 since March).

Released April 21st, the fantasy role-playing game from Square Enix has already done well on iOS top charts, currently holding the #34 spot for the top paid iPad apps list and reaching #13 on yesterday’s top grossing chart. As the Final Fantasy franchise has been around for decades, most players will be familiar with standard play — which translates beautifully onto an iDevice. However, the game is over 20 years old, and its age does show in terms of both story and design, making this game great for long time players and nostalgia, but a bit less so for new gamers.

The story to Final Fantasy III is of a basic variety, though one that most gamers will remember fondly. Players control a group of four youths as they are tasked with saving the world from some inevitable doom by a sentient crystal. Since Final Fantasy games tend to be best known for their plot lines, we won’t go into further detail than this, but most of the appeal will not derive itself from twists and turns in the plot, but more from character development and overall nostalgia.

Traditionally a turn-based RPG, the Final Fantasy games lend themselves well to the iPad. Though battles often require an intelligent use of tactics, the slow pace actually allows players to control the entire game with one hand, comfortably, from any position. It might not seem like much, but far too often are iOS games brought down due to gimmicky control set ups (e.g. arbitrary device shakes) or a tilt mechanism that requires a perfectly level device.

This game uses a virtual analog stick to steer, which appears anywhere the user presses. In fact, the only visible UI element is a single Menu icon. In battle, all actions and targets are selected with merely a tap or swipe, and while in the world, interacting with anything is prompted by a context sensitive tap (whenever the player stands near an object that can be interacted with, an exclamation point appears).

The only negative aspect to controls, and this does not stem from the iPad itself, is that some points of interest require the user to zoom in (via a pinch zoom) to even see and interact with in the first place. When zoomed in, players cannot really see where they are going, so it isn’t really an option to play this way.

So, Final Fantasy III is far from user friendly (at least by modern standards) and brutally difficult. The game, in no way leads the player by the nose on what to do, and they must go around towns speaking with almost every non-player character in order to find out what has to happen next. Additionally, learning the game is trial by fire — while there is a difficulty curve in terms of monsters one faces, the title never really tells the user how to do anything. In fact, it doesn’t even tell players how to save (which can be done manually outside any town on the world map).

That last part is a bit of a shame as like most old Final Fantasy games, the world is riddled with random encounters. Combined with the less clear direction on where to go and what to do, users will frequently come across enemies that are significantly stronger than they, resulting in quick and concise deaths. Saving frequently is a must because of this, as even one wrong step can result in a game over. Granted, users can attempt to run away, but the key word is “attempt.” Should the enemy be too much higher level than the user, they will often find themselves face down in the dirt before they can escape.

As for the battle system, it is fairly cut and dry in terms of turn-based RPG combat. However, one of the key differences with the game is the “job system.” Players control a party of four characters who each gain experience with every battle, which affects their raw stats, such as health. However, each character can level, independently, over 20 different jobs (warrior, black mage, white mage, etc.). With each job, different abilities will be made available, and beyond just changing their attire, the abilities add significant depth to pre-fight strategy and the composition of the party. Other than this, players can also shift characters to front or back lines (affecting what can attack them) and even change equipment, such as weapons, in mid-battle.

Another positive aspect to Final Fantasy III is that the new iPad version has been improved over the 3D, Nintendo DS version, in terms of both visuals and sound. Also, while the game may seem like a lot at $16.99, it is worth noting that the older DS version is actually about $20 on, with worse controls and poorer appearance.

If there were any other “downsides” to point out, the game’s random battles bookend themselves with repetitive non-interactive sequence that do grow old after a while. Namely this is because players will be battling a lot. Like all other older Final Fantasy games, the progression curve for III requires the user to do a lot of “grinding” (continuously battling enemies to level up) in order to progress in the storyline. Many old gamers will remember this as a love-hate relationship, and while a little grinding isn’t terrible, the amount needed at times dramatically takes away from overall game flow.

It might seem like we have a lot of complaints with Final Fantasy III, but the truth of the matter is that we don’t. Final Fantasy III is actually a fantastically made classic game, that any gamer should play. That said, because it has not changed in 20 years, all of the issues pointed out are more things that new gamers ought to be aware of. Final Fantasy III is hard, just as most games were back then. The story isn’t as involved as modern games and the app by no means ever holds the user’s hand in directing them on what to do. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy III is often praised as one of the better titles in the series, and for older gamers that do not own the DS remake, this iPad title is definitely one to buy — for nostalgia’s sake, if nothing else.