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Super NES Classic Reviews Game by Game #14: Final Fantasy III

Join us as we review every Super NES Classic game. Next up: The reigning prince of 16-bit RPGs.

Review by Nadia Oxford, .

Join us as we review all the games on the SNES Classic Mini Edition in chronological order!

As I write this, pre-orders for the SNES Classic Edition have gone up a few times, and they've unfailingly been gobbled down in mere minutes. On one hand, I'm kind of cheesed. We're heading into another NES Classic Edition scenario, and nobody is going to walk away happy except the scalpers.

On the other hand, when I look back on the SNES Classic's menu of games, it's so easy to see why demand for this little console is through the roof. It's one thing to look at the line-up and say, "Wow, all hits, no filler!" but it's another to pick through the list game-by-game and dissect each one like I've been doing. These reviews have made me more appreciative than ever of Nintendo's selection. Super Mario World, Mega Man X, Secret of Mana, Street Fighter II Turbo – these games aren't merely good. They're 16-bit royalty. They either re-invented the genres they belong to, or they slid the bar up to lofty new heights.

Now we've arrived at one of the line-up's crown jewels: Final Fantasy III. Final Fantasy III for the SNES is canonically Final Fantasy VI, and it's rare to see the game still referred to as "III" in any context any more. Then again, the SNES Classic Edition is a nostalgia machine extraordinaire, and I suppose it'd do no good to confuse lapsed fans intent on giving the title another go.

Everybody attack the shell. Come on, don't be stuck up, it's going to be great.

If Final Fantasy IV and Secret of Mana are the games that taught me RPGs can tell cool stories about good versus evil, Final Fantasy III SNES is the game that taught me RPGs can tell epic stories about personal sacrifice and struggle. I'm not one to roll my eyes at the narrative in modern Final Fantasy games (well, not all of them), but Square-Enix has yet to weave another tale that has Final Fantasy III's power and emotion, and its maturity and clarity.

To be sure, Final Fantasy III shares some of the same tropes and clichés that still roost on JRPGs, but the story accounts for them. Yes, the bad guy has a god complex, but he's also a nihilistic jester turned advisor turned failed science experiment who wants to be god just long enough to burn everything into non-existence. Yes, the main character has green hair, but it's telling of her mystical heritage in a world of (mostly) average-looking people. Yes, the ninja character is a silent, brooding type, but you'd probably be tight-lipped if the gods decided to have a cosmic horselaugh by forcing you to fight alongside the daughter you abandoned in a fit of self-pity.

Final Fantasy III's story does not shy away from melodrama.

Final Fantasy III packs a lot of little lessons into its over-arching narrative about the literal end of the world. The importance of hope and persistence in the face of overwhelming odds is a major theme, but it's not simply spewed out during a big anime love-in towards the end of the game (though that happens, too). It's relayed through the characters' side-quests, and even through the NPCs' trials: Terra's determination to find her humanity, Celes' struggle with deep depression, villagers' efforts to reclaim poisoned water and soil, and two young teens coming to terms with a pregnancy in a world that no longer celebrates life.

("But how does the game play, Nadia?")

Oh!

Right.

Final Fantasy III is laden with options. Unlike most JRPGs to this day, you're rarely bound to a single main character. There's no job system; each character is already gainfully employed in a traditional Final Fantasy vocation, or a combination of jobs. Edgar is a Machinist, Sabin is a Monk, Locke is a Thief (ahem, "treasure hunter"), Strago is a Blue Mage, Relm is a Pictomancer/Beast Master, Celes is a Rune Knight, and so on.

Despite its fixed classes, Final Fantasy III still lets you tinker with character builds. Early in the game, you gain access to "Espers" – The essence of plot-centric magical beings that slowly teach you spells as you win battles. Even the game's few natural magic-users benefit tremendously from equipping Espers, because they essentially let you teach any spell to any party member you want. Sure, spells are more powerful in the hands of characters with a high magic attack stat, but an "Ultima" spell cast by a meathead is still going to blow holes in the hide of the toughest dragon.

Final Fantasy III's character sprites are a bit squashy, but its backgrounds, enemies, and effects are superb.

Now, wielding Final Fantasy III's most powerful magics isn't as easy as it sounds, as getting your hands on the game's best spells and weapons involves conquering tough side-quests. But it's still easy to wind up with a hilariously over-powered party if you half-ass your journey, because even the Espers you just find lying on the sidewalk offer bonus stat boosts when you level up.

Final Fantasy III's characters are practically built out of LEGO. You can shape them however you like, and even though it doesn't take much effort to assemble a party of tiny gods, it doesn't make your quest any less fun. Final Fantasy III hands you the reins early in the quest, and whether you build a sensible, well-balanced team or a party that can stun a brachiosaur with a finger-flick is up to you.

Sure, go ahead and listen to the sultry woman standing on the demon's head, what can go wrong.

It needs to be mentioned that LEGO is versatile and brittle – and so is Final Fantasy III's coding. Though not as problem-pocked as Secret of Mana, it has some spectacular bugs and exploits. The most infamous of these, the "Sketch/Vanish bug" that occurs when Relm attempts to use her "Sketch" ability on an invisible enemy, can bomb your save file beyond repair. This is troubling, since unaware players can theoretically stumble on the bug during casual play.

Later prints of Final Fantasy III eliminated the bug, and it's probably been squashed on the SNES Classic version of the game, too. But Final Fantasy III has some other problems that aren't as easily remedied. The spare party members who hang out on your airship don't level up alongside your main crew, which becomes a big fat issue when you go up against dungeons and major fights that expect you to form three separate parties. And Shinryu help you if you accidentally wind up with a weak party somewhere far away from your airship, because you can't unequip Espers from idle party members until you haul ass back to home base.

Again, Final Fantasy III does a lot with its resources – more than any 16-bit game should be capable of, really – so its bugs, glitches, and balancing issues feel inevitable. Yeah, Final Fantasy III has a glitch that causes all the characters to abandon the game (and it still kills me every time I see it), but it also has a gripping story, a legendary translation, an opera, an apocalypse, a four-tiered final boss battle, and an ending theme that plays for 20 minutes without looping. Don't look a gift kirin in the mouth.

Final Fantasy III has issues with bugs and balance, but those problems can't even nick the hide of this JRPG behemoth. It's hard to articulate just how important this game is for long-time RPG fans. Final Fantasy III is a special experience, and its story and themes should be more relatable than ever to its now-adult audience.

5 /5

Super NES Classic Reviews Game by Game #14: Final Fantasy III Nadia Oxford Join us as we review every Super NES Classic game. Next up: The reigning prince of 16-bit RPGs. 2017-08-22T20:05:00-04:00 5 5

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for riderkicker #1 riderkicker 3 months ago
    When I played FF3, it turns out I had to kill that demon in the sky in five battles. I killed it in the 6th and I didn't get the Bahamut Esper. I used the vanish and death glitch and it worked, getting the esper in my party.Edited August 2017 by riderkicker
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #2 Roto13 3 months ago
    I'll be honest. I didn't spend a lot of time with my NES Classic. But if my SNES Classic pre-order doesn't get cancelled, I'll spend a lot more time with it, because it has the best Final Fantasy in it.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #3 SatelliteOfLove 3 months ago
    Imma leave this here...

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  • Avatar for camchow #4 camchow 3 months ago
    I got that Relm sketch bug on my last playthrough half way through the second world and yet still that whole experience was better than 90% of RPGs out there.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #5 chaoticBeat 3 months ago
    Just put this, Super Metroid and Super Castlevania IV on the Switch and then I won't need a snes classic.Edited August 2017 by chaoticBeat
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  • Avatar for RushDawg #6 RushDawg 3 months ago
    If FF6 is the reigning 16-bit RPG prince, then Chrono Trigger is the king.
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  • Avatar for Sixtenfifty #7 Sixtenfifty 3 months ago
    There's a big reason my screen name is what it is.
    *Edit*: Since no one is biting, I'll explain it. In the city of Zozo, everyone lies to your party about what time it is. Everyone has a different time that they spout off, so when you get to a room with a stopped clock, you have no clue what time you are supposed to set it to. (I've heard the real answer lies in hints that a run-in with Gau's father gives, but it's slightly convoluted.) Anyways, long story short, the time the player needs to set is 6:10:50. Upon doing so, the party receives the chainsaw, which is possibly Edgar's greatest tool in the game.Edited 2 times. Last edited August 2017 by Sixtenfifty
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #8 SargeSmash 3 months ago
    This was my first SNES game. Bought it with the system at a yard sale for $55 around the time Chrono Trigger came out.
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  • Avatar for Number1Laing #9 Number1Laing 3 months ago
    I spent like $75 on this game, which is probably like $600 now, thanks Obama. Brilliant game and it might be the best one in this package, especially with the lack of Chrono Trigger. It also warms my heart a little to see it referred to as Final Fantasy III. It's real to me dammit.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #10 nadiaoxford 3 months ago
    @Number1Laing I spent $115 CDN, with tax. I'll never forget that number. Worth it.
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  • Avatar for Dorchadas #11 Dorchadas 3 months ago
    I remember playing this at sleepovers with friends. Each of us would name one character, we'd call out what actions "our" character would take in battle, and we'd fight over who to put in the party. Perhaps obviously, we never beat it, but that kindled an interest that led me to track it down once I went away to college years later.

    Still the best Final Fantasy.
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  • Avatar for JohnnyBananas #12 JohnnyBananas 3 months ago
    Got this game when I was 11 and it completely owned my brain for close to two years. Within a week of getting it I got stuck for a month in the first visit to Figaro Castle. At some point you have to go to the Western-most tower in the castle to advance the story and I could not figure that out. I had almost beaten the game when I got a PSone and FFVII for X-mas and dropped VI like an unfaithful lover. Had to finally beat it via the Anthology version on PSone (I guess by that point I was so used to ten seconds of load times at every random battle that I didn't even note the difference). It's no question my favorite RPG ever and right up there with Super Mario World for my favorite game ever. Hearing 'Coin Toss' still gives me chills.
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