Final Fantasy III: a game sitting in my DS case forever but for some reason, never completed. “Why not?” I wondered to myself. “It’s a Final Fantasy game, I should love those.” So I pulled it out again and decided to beat it once and for all. Quickly, I discovered why I’d put it down in the first place: this game actively wants to spite you. I have never played a game that shows such continual contempt for the person running it.

Final Fantasy III is Slow AF

Everything about this game is slow, from the slowly-scrolling text to the slowly opening menus and the slow, non-automatable battles. For a game that’s being ported to a more powerful system, it shouldn’t feel as lagged down as it does. If that’s not enough dissuasion to avoid speedrunning this game, 90 percent of your time will be spent in those slow battles as you grind up your level and job levels just to avoid dying in the next area. Each and every area will require you to gain one to two levels on your characters to proceed without risk of death.

Don’t Stray Off the Path! But Also, Where’s the Path?

Because Final Fantasy III is so grind-heavy, it’s very easy to get wiped out if you venture into an area ahead of time, especially in the early game. If the game wants to level-lock regions, well, that’s a choice, but in that case, it needs to be clear where you’re supposed to go. For example, if you wander into the second town’s mines, not realizing that it’s a dungeon with levels above the first major dungeon in the area, I hope you saved first. The game does this at a number of points, but the second half is especially lacking in direction—I only lucked into finding the plot progression at one point.

Quality of Life, What’s That?

Minus the 3D graphical remake (which isn’t that impressive, honestly), this game may as well have been the same game it was on the NES. It lacks a number of nice features that the FFIV remake had (such as an autobattle feature and a bestiary), which isn’t surprising as the FFIV remake came after this one. But it also lacks features that were on the FFVI remake on the GBA, such as quicksaving. It feels like such a step back when the GBA, DS, and 3DS had so many Square Enix games that were improvements over their originals.

GIF of a post-battle levelup featuring the N64-esque 3D models.

But the Port Must Have Something New, Right?

Well… about that. There is some new special equipment for maxing a job level to 99, if you’re willing to hurt yourself like that, and a bonus dungeon. The problem: it, along with the special Onion Knight job, is locked behind a series of letter-exchanging sidequests. You have to get between four to six letters from four separate characters to unlock the content, which requires sending them at least four to six letters (but probably more). You can only send one letter per in-game hour. It’s fine, it’s not like you’re going to get through this game in less than fifty hours (unless you’re like me and give up.)

About Your Quest to Slay a Dragon…

At one point, you’re asked to kill a dragon that is terrorizing the port, as games often do. Thing is, if you engage the dragon in battle, you’re going to die so badly you’ll think it was a scripted death. (It’s not, so I hope you saved first.) The actual solution is to go into a temple north of the encounter, mentioned in one offhanded comment by an NPC, and crawl through a dungeon for the MacGuffin that’ll stop the dragon from being so pissed off. The kicker? When you go back to the group that asked you to kill the dragon, they’re very thankful to you for calming down their guardian deity.

You know when it’s a useful time to know that the dragon is a guardian deity and maybe you don’t want it dead? WHEN YOU’RE ASKING ME TO KILL IT.

And About that Dungeon You Have to Do to Calm the Dragon…

Three separate times, Final Fantasy III forces you to cast Mini on your party to access required dungeons, which is actually a pretty clever and unique idea. But it’s not just a size difference—Mini is a debuff, nerfing every physical attacker you have and making your party extremely vulnerable to physical attacks in turn. So what could have been a good idea turns into a massive handicap pretty much requiring you to use solely magic users in order to do any damage. Hey, guess who doesn’t have much physical defense to begin with? Magic users!

Speaking of Those Magic Users…

The Mini dungeons and a few other spots where specific jobs are useful, if not required, would imply that the game wants you to switch jobs often and try different things. This is a lie. The game will punish each and every job switch with a debuff that lasts from two to ten battles, and each job has its own exp-based level, which determines spell slots and a good chunk of your stats. Unless you want to grind further, it’s best to just stick with one job instead of switching around.

By the way, the best jobs in the game are acquired in the first half of the final dungeon, so hope you didn’t want to use them anywhere else!

And So Many Other Things….

There are just so many other things that felt like either oversights or “challenges” that make the game feel like death by a thousand cuts. Phoenix Downs aren’t purchasable, and neither are MP-restoring items (remember all those dungeons focusing on magic users?). There’s no inn or healing point in Tokkul, which means either going across the sea (through hordes of monsters) to an inn or across a desert (through hordes of monsters) to an inn. One of the boss battles in a dungeon takes place immediately upon going out to the overworld, thereby making sure you can’t Teleport back to the beginning after winning. The final dungeon is two dungeons, two final bosses, then a third dungeon with no save points and five (!) more bosses.

And then there’s this thing.

But the Plot is Worth it, Right?

Well… not really. I think this game had a few interesting ideas that didn’t really get expanded on well enough. The Party Chat is a great feature, but you only get to talk between NPCs, allowing little dialogue from or between the party members you spend the entire game with. The second set of crystals (an idea that would also be used in FFIV) was a great idea but barely comes up until the final-final dungeon, and then is only glossed over. Also like FFIV, Final Fantasy III loves its tragic sacrifices. But with the exception of the first one (who, spoiler, ends up surviving), none of them really had much emotional impact. The second felt like the writers simply didn’t want the character around anymore and wanted to get rid of them, while the third is a plot-mandated “Kill me!” death which just seemed contrived.

So much of this game is either sloppy or actively malicious, neither of which makes a great game, especially not one with the Final Fantasy label. And that would almost be forgivable for the NES release. But this is a DS port, done after the I+II release and at the same time as the VI release on an inferior system. It was a chance to show off both the DS system and a game that had never seen a release outside of Japan.

Sadly, the only thing it showed off was why it had never been re-released.