E3 06: Final Fantasy III hands-on

The history of the Final Fantasy series is notoriously spotty in the US. But we all know the series is a mega-hit, now, too. The last game to make its journey to the U.S. is Final Fantasy III, which is being remade from scratch for the Nintendo DS. Featuring full 3D graphics and tweaked gameplay, this is another adventure that fans who loved the GBA remakes will gobble up.

According to the team behind the game, the idea was not to give a whole new experienced but instead to offer the original classic experience in a new way. The result is a game that's about as traditional as can be. But if you've played the GBA Final Fantasy remakes, you know that's nothing to complain about.

Though the original version, released almost 20 years ago, is light on story, the developers have crammed more in to the new version. The four characters in your party all have their own personalities and motivations - normal these days, rare then. But the most exciting thing about the remake is the full 3D graphics, which are so detailed that, according to Square Enix, they've pushed the Nintendo DS to its limit. In fact, they had to be careful to put 3D graphics on only one screen to keep them running smoothly. We're not surprised, after playing the game - it looks fantastic. As a bonus, a full CG intro movie has even been crammed onto the DS card.

Since this is a DS game, you can control it with the stylus - where you point, the character will move, and of course it's extremely convenient in the game's menus. All the same, there's nothing you can't do with the buttons and pad, and that's intentional - according to the team, they wanted to preserve the original's gameplay.

So what's the attraction, then? The main thrust of FFIII is the job system, which you might recognize from FFV, FF Tactics or FFX-2. You'll be able to change your character's job - and thus his or her entire set of abilities and equipment - throughout the game. We know it's addictive from past games, but the demo Square Enix is showing has absolutely no hint of the job system thus far. We've confirmed that the team will be adding a variety of new different jobs, and balancing everything so that any job will be worth seeing through until the game's very end.

One place the developers refused to give up any details is bonus content. Final Fantasy IV Advance, released last year, had a ton of great new stuff after the game's traditional ending. What's in store for FFIII? We don't know. What we can confirm is that it's a gorgeous traditional RPG with an excellent pedigree, and on that basis alone, we're ready to recommend it. We just hope it's as full of excellent detail, new and old, as Square Enix has hinted it will be.

May 10, 2006