Square Enix released an iOS port for their franchise game Final Fantasy III last month. Peter Hurstak, Jr. gets his game on to determine if it’s worth the hefty price tag.
I’m sure by now everybody knows the sordid history of Final Fantasy III as it relates to its multiple US releases. The game game out on the Super Nintendo in 1994, but that wasn’t Final Fantasy III. It was Final Fantasy VI, but it was the third main-series Final Fantasy game released in the US, following Final Fantasy IV (which we called Final Fantasy II). The REAL Final Fantasy III, released in Japan for the Regular Nintendo, never actually made it across the Pacific.
A few years ago, Square Enix remade the game for the Nintendo DS and finally published it outside of Japan. Rather than spiffing up the original NES title’s sprite based graphics as they had with Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II (the REAL Final Fantasy II), however, they remade the game from the ground up with adorably stylized polygons. The remake was well received both critically and comercially. Five years after finally bringing the title to the states, Square Enix has repackaged and released the remake for the iPhone.
If you are unfamiliar with the DS game the iOS release has been ported from, but you are familiar with the other 3D Final Fantasy titles that have graced all forms of Playstation, you should definitely alter your expectations for what the tone and the style of this game are. As I stated above, the polygonal characters are adorably stylized, and I meant that. The characters look somewhat like dolls, which is unsurprising given the typical audience the game would find on the Nintendo handheld it was designed for. That said, the art direction is not out of place given the story it presents.
The game puts you in charge of the fabled four Warriors of Light, all of whom happen to be orphans. It features the classic Final Fantasy plot, where the four elemental crystals which govern the balance of the world are threatened by evil forces, and it is up to the aforementioned four to save the crystals and, ultimately, the world. It’s a old and perhaps kind of boring premise, but it’s not without its charm and it’s certainly bound to illicit warm and nostalgic feelings in those who were raised on the series before the arrival of the Playstation. These feelings will then be nurtured by the game’s excellent score, arranged under the supervision of original series composer Nobuo Uematsu.
The game also features a variant on the very popular job system that American gamers got a taste of in Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics. It does all the things that a remake of an older game should, touching upon and improving many of the aspects of a long-beloved series while also presenting an old story to a new audience. If you’ve ever been eager to relive the experience of playing a new old RPG, this title is certainly one to look at.
Regrettably, the iOS version of Final Fantasy III has its drawbacks once you get past the nostalgia. For example, I can’t help but wonder now how I ever managed to deal with random battles before. Several times, I found myself on the verge of throwing my phone as I fought imps, bombs and goos at an alarmingly frequent rate. This problem is unfortunately exacerbated by the games touch controls, as the virtual analog stick can often make it difficult to navigate your party through dungeons. It is not uncommon to run over and over again into walls (and, incidentally, into two or three random battles) just trying to go through a narrow doorway or even to stand in front of a treasure chest to open it.
The game also uses common iOS multi-touch controls like pinching and pulling to zoom into maps and reveal secret switches and passageways, but the constant random battles make the idea of exploration much less appealing than it should be. While none of this stuff bothered me when I was a kid, I feel as though I need to accomplish more when I play a game now. This is especially true in this case because a game played on a phone is played mostly in bits and spurts. When I have a free minute, I’d like to clear a floor of a dungeon or maybe locate a hidden treasure. Instead, I find myself fighting the same enemies over and over again. While the twelve year old Pete would love to spend his time grinding out levels and drawing out the dungeons for as long as they can go, I actually have other ways where I could be spending my time and would much prefer a game where the experience was rebalanced and the random encounters far less frequent.
Despite these concerns, I just couldn’t pull myself away from the game. Final Fantasy has always held a large, warm place in my heart, and for all it got wrong, it got so much more right. The price tag seems outrageous for an iOS game ($16?!), but I was able to justify it by telling myself that I was buying a present for a kid. Yes, I am the kid. I bought the game for the kid in me that’s still blown away by the SNES’s mode 7 effects as the whale ship in Final Fantasy II (Final Fantasy IV) took off for the moon. If you’ve got that kid in you, then by all means spend your money on this game. As an entry point to the series, you may end up more frustrated with it than somebody who has already been tempered by the thoroughly ridiculous design conventions of 8 and 16 bit era RPGS. Still, the characters and story are charming enough that you may yet find something to love in this package. There’s worse ways to spend $16 in the app store. Without a doubt, Final Fantasy III is the best repackaged Square Enix property available on the app store, and the price should be the only barrier to entry.