Lost and found
Final Fantasy III was the last FF released on the NES, but for some reason (apparently, technical difficulties), has met with an even worse fate than its predecessor, despite being a better game. While FFII finally managed to make it out of Japan when Final Fantasy Origins was released, FFIII was never even scheduled for release in the West until the recent, vastly overhauled DS port, which resulted in temporary numerical confusion, as FFVI was known as FFIII to us Westerners for a good while. Shame, if you ask me, because, out of the three NES FFs, this is probably the most entertaining one, despite its messy storyline.
There is a fan-translated ROM of the NES version by NeoDemiforce available, but since there are such significant differences between it and the DS port, and since the DS port is, after all, the only official incarnation of the game on our shores, I thought it best to attempt to review both side by side. Text pertaining to the NES version will be in blue, while text pertaining to the DS version will be in green. Anything pertaining to both will remain in black.
FFs usually come in batches of three per console, and the third one in a batch is always the best in terms of graphics. The NES version of FFIII is no exception: the colours are softer, the outlines and sprites clearer, and the battle mechanics have been greatly improved. Message and movement speed is now perfectly decent, which represents a huge upgrade in playability. Of course, this all pales in comparison with the DS version, which vastly upgrades the graphics, introducing detailed, colourful environments and even a lovely opening cinematic (even though none of the character interaction it showcases is actually shown in the game). The most spectacular instance of this upgrade is Forbidden Land Eureka, which, with the new graphics, looks nothing short of stunning, with its waterfalls and the starry void surrounding it. The only minus I can think of is that character sprites have been maintained, thus keeping the game’s ‘kiddy’ look. Combat has also been spruced up, with tighter and more complex battle mechanics, as well as dynamic combat screens (the camera angle changes when the characters cast spells or use abilities).
This is also the first FF to introduce the job system as we know it. FFI allowed you to pick jobs at the beginning of the game, but you were then stuck with them for the remainder of the game. Here, you have the possibility to change characters’ jobs at will, and there’s a much larger selection of them too. This makes the game a far cry from its predecessors in terms of strategic depth and customisation possibilities. Speaking of first times, this is also the first appearance of moogles, who run Do(r)ga’s household, although you’re never told where he got them from. It’s also the first appearance of Gilgamesh, or Gigameth, as he’s called here, even though he has nothing in common with his later incarnations besides the name. More importantly, this is the first appearance of summoners as well, alongside their trademark summonable creatures. Yep, Shiva, Ifrit, Ramuh, they all started out here.
The DS version is obviously the better and more accessible game of the two, but if you’re curious enough to want to delve into some archaic NES fun, the fan translation works just fine. Unlike FFI or FFII, the NES version of FFIII is much less of a chore to get through. As long as you know what to expect (i.e. worse characterisation and graphics, mainly), it won’t disappoint. Overall, whichever version you pick, this is a pleasant game, which leaves a good impression in spite of its flaws.