Final Fantasy 3—that is, the real Final Fantasy for the Famicom and not the renamed Final Fantasy 6 for the Super Nintendo—is 30 years old this week. To celebrate the occasion, Square Enix posted an extensive interview with two of the developers who worked on the game, Hiromichi Tanaka and Koichi Ishii.
Final Fantasy 3 isn't a very popular Final Fantasy title in the West. The original 8-bit version never received a translation because by the time it released in April 1990, the Super Nintendo was mere months away from launch. To date, Final Fantasy 3 is one of the more difficult Final Fantasy games to get your hands on. Aside from fan translations, your only option is to buy the 2007 Nintendo DS remake. It's since been ported to phones and Steam.
Even if you're not big on Final Fantasy 3, it's an important game because it introduced a lot of new mechanics to the Final Fantasy series. The interview with Tanaka and Ishii is filled with cool tidbits that paint a picture of what game development was like on the cusp of the 16-bit revolution.
One of the most interesting passages in the interview talks about the creation of Summons, a mechanic that originated with Final Fantasy 3. Summons are a major part of Final Fantasy games, including Final Fantasy 7 Remake. In Final Fantasy 3, they can only be called forth by characters who choose the Summoner job. Summons were added because Tanaka wanted monster sprites to appear on the right side of the screen (i.e. the side where the heroes line up) and give the impression of "monster versus monster."
Odin, the Summon named after the Norse god, was the first one created. Tanaka says, "Odin's visual design came from a picture that happened to be in Mr. [Yoshitaka] Amano's illustrations of a man riding a horse which looked close to the design we wanted."
There's a major discrepancy between Final Fantasy 3's depiction of Odin and the Norse god, however. Odin wields Zantetsuken, a blade that can slice enemies in half and end the battle immediately. In mythology, Odin wields the legendary spear Gungnir. Tanaka says other people on the team pointed out Odin uses a spear, but the sword-wielding interpretation of Odin stuck around for a while in Final Fantasy mythology.
Interestingly, a lesser-known Squaresoft game, Rad Racer for the NES, had a hand in making the "slice" effect that pairs with Odin. "Getting into the technical side of things, before FF3 when we were making Rad Racer, at that time we were developing for cathode ray tube screens, so to animate the road turning we would integrate scrolling by individual scanlines," Tanaka recalls. "Using the same technique, for Odin's attack we realized perhaps we could shift the scanlines in the middle of the display and make it look like the screen is splitting in half."
The interview yields a lots more neat facts about Final Fantasy 3's development, and how it's impacted Final Fantasy since. The reason Final Fantasy's class change system was abandoned for Final Fantasy 3's revolutionary job system is because, according to Tanaka, "[T]he way [Final Fantasy's characters] changed from a small character to an adult character, from a sprite size of about two heads to three, just wasn't cute at all."
Tanaka also admits he never expected Moogles to gain any sort of a fanbase, let alone become the mascot of the Final Fantasy series. He just created them for Final Fantasy 3 because he needed a cave-dwelling species for the heroes to meet. Additional trivia: Moogles have excellent night vision.
Check out the interview for yourself. It seems unlikely Final Fantasy 3 will get any sort of refresh in the West: like Final Fantasy 6, it seems condemned to a life of limited port options. Final Fantasy 3 still forms the roots of the series as we know it today, so it's worth reading about the surprising ideas that went into its design.