In its first week onsale in Japan, Final Fantasy III sold over two million units. This figure would ordinarily make dollar signs flash up in the eyes of any software salesman in the West. Until you mention the fatal phrase ‘roleplaying game’. RPGs, we’re told, don’t sell outside of Japan. You can get get away with action-oriented titles like Secrets Of Mana or Zelda, but true roleplayers are regarded as a lost cause.
But if any RPG is destined to be an exception to the rule, it’s Final Fantasy III (which was actually called Final Fantasy VI in Japan). This is a game that it indubitably at the pinnacle of its genre. The graphics – a sophisticated combination of digitised images and traditional artwork – are arguably the most detailed ever seen on the SNES. Battles – which take place in realtime – are fast and offer a huge variety of magic, weapons and attacks. And the music is sumptuous (although not quite as good as Mana’s score).
The only real drawback is the structure of the game. Because you’re taking part in a story, FFIII is essentially linear. Although the random battle sequences add an element of unpredictability to the proceedings, many people will find them irritating compared to the ‘fight when you want’ gameplay of Mana – there’s nothing more frustrating than being flung into one scrap after another just when you’re trying to explore a new location.
Square has to be applauded for bringing FFIII to the West so soon after its Japanese release. Although the translation of the text exhibits a lack of sympathy for the feel and tone of the original game, FFIII is a vital game for anyone bitten by the RPG bug.