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RELEASE DATE (JP): October 11, 1994 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Finality is relative.

Final Fantasy. Maybe you've heard of the series. It's only, oh, one of the most popular role-playing game series of all time, and it has helped push the genre into the foreground of the industry. Final Fantasy VI, released on April 2, 1994 in Japan and in North America in October of that same year as Final Fantasy III (renumbered to avoid confusing Americans who hadn't seen half the series prior), was more than just "that game before Final Fantasy VII"; Final Fantasy III helped bring turn-based RPGs into the public eye and deride the notion that they were too complex to play.

In a strange and much-lauded twist, Final Fantasy III follows the stories of not one, not two, but up to fourteen different characters as their fates are intertwined, not following a particular protagonist. You start with Terra Branford, an officer of the Imperial Empire with the ability to use magic spells, as you seek out a specific Esper (Espers being mythical creatures also with magical powers). As Terra and her team of fellow officers approaches the Esper, a reaction between her and the frozen creature causes the death of her crew. Terra is later brought back to good health by a local townsperson, only to discover she has amnesia and was being mentally controlled by the Empire. Certainly the Empire will want to retrieve their precious slave. Terra is then protected by the Returners, a group with the end goal of destroying the evil Empire.

Final Fantasy III takes you on a journey alongside the Returners and their allies against the Empire, led by Emperor Gestahl Kefka Palazzo, one of the Empire's top-ranking individuals, a strong believer in harvesting magic, and basically a nihilistic colourful jester set on destroying the world. He has little other motivation in his life than to watch the world burn by his own hand.

Interestingly enough, he has success in this regard: the game is split into two parts, one taking place in the World of Balance, where things seem all well and good and the Esper dimension is sealed off, and the World of Ruin, where the angry and revenge-seeking Espers are unleashed and, indeed, break the world asunder. For RPG enthusiasts, actually watching the world physically split apart and crumble was a surprising story twist at the time of this game's release. In a world where players were expected to hunt down the antagonist and give him or her a whuppin', seeing their delighted success in mass annihilation must have come as a shock.

As expected, the battle system, triggered whenever you randomly encounter an enemy out on the field or in a dungeon/cave area, is pretty straightforward. Each party member has a meter that slowly rises; when it's full, that member can pull off a move, be it a regular attack, a special move unique to that character, use an item, or cast a magic spell. Or try to run — I dare you. Most other RPG tropes are standard here as well. If you feel weak, get out there and fight on the field to earn experience and improve yourself. Buy better weapons and armor. Low on health? Cast a healing spell. Did a mean ol' witch poison you? Whip out an Antidote.

It's the finalest of fantasies.

Though a few spells are learned over time, most are actually gained by equipping Espers and going into battles. By earning Magic Points, characters can learn different spells based on which Esper they have equipped. Unlike Final Fantasy V, which used a job-based system, any party member can equip any Esper (provided no one else has snatched it up, but it's your duty to delegate who gets what) and grind away to learn magic spells. Everyone's a potential wizard. And it's not as though you start out with just one. They throw a whole bunch at you at once. Others with even greater powers are found in various places throughout the world, provided you know where to look...

Final Fantasy III was also a step up as far as graphics go. The game boasts bigger and more detailed sprites for each character, allowing particularly for more expressive facial movements to illustrate their various emotions, be they sad about an event or downright shocked with eyes aglow. Many areas are coated with drab colours to match the desperation of the situation. And of course, that sweet, sweet Mode 7 overworld.

It is also important to give credit where credit is due for the amazing soundtrack of Final Fantasy III. As usual, composer Nobuo Uematsu knocks it out of the park with an impressive score. Each character has their own theme music, ranging from the sentimental (Relm) to the downright uplifting (Locke), from the standoffish (Shadow) to the silly (Gogo). And in between, the precise emotion needed for each scene is pinpointed through the soundtrack, making excellent use of the SNES' sound chip. Perhaps the most memorable of the songs is "Aria di Mezzo Caraterre", complete with digital false voices, that accompanies an emblematic opera scene, something not yet done in a major RPG at the time. Two of the songs are rather lengthy, the ending theme in particular spanning 21 minutes, something not really heard of in video game music for space reasons.

It should probably be noted that the version of Final Fantasy VI received outside of Japan wasn't exactly 100% pure. Thanks to the strict policies of Nintendo of America regarding certain types of content, the dreary draping of censorship made its way to the game. The occasional female enemy would have shown far more skin that needed to be covered. Direct references to death were retooled (an example being the phrase "Then you can burn to death!" being modified to say "Then welcome to my barbecue!", which is actually a much more interesting chunk of dialogue in my opinion.) Religious references were also removed at the behest of Nintendo. The spell "Holy" turned into "Pearl", which... makes little sense.

Will this ever be my favourite RPG? It's very doubtful. But there is no denying that there's something special in this package. Final Fantasy III captures what makes a classic RPG great and somehow makes it very accessible, even to newcomers of the series. Final Fantasy III, despite its technical limitations, portrays despair, anxiety, fear, and hope while providing a very engaging story and solid gameplay. This is not one to be missed for RPG fans and has a firm place in the genre's history.

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