Final Fantasy 3's programmer is so legendary that people are starting to think it took 16 years to bring back the JRPG because nobody else could replicate his code

Final Fantasy 3
(Image credit: Square)

There was a 16-year gap between the 1990 release of Final Fantasy III on Famicom and its 2006 remake on Nintendo DS, and a 31-year gap before the Pixel Remaster brought something more akin to the original game to a new platform. That might be because the original game's legendary programmer was so good nobody could replicate his code.

That programmer is Nasir Gebelli, an Iranian-born man with royal ties who moved to the US to study computer science and avoid the 1979 Iranian Revolution. His early games were legendary among PC enthusiasts of the time, to the point where Doom co-creator John Romero once called him "my number one programming god, my idol."

Nasir - the name by which he was typically credited in his games - eventually began to work with Squaresoft, first on games like 3-D Worldrunner and Rad Racer before programming the first three entries in the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy 1 and 2 would enjoy numerous ports and remakes for other platforms in the years that followed, but it wasn't until 2006 that Final Fantasy 3 ended up on another platform, and it wouldn't be until 2021 that the Pixel Remaster brought the original game to a new audience.

According to an article from Japanese outlet MagMix, translated by Automaton West, Nasir's programming skills might just be the reason for that gap. Rumors have long held that the high speed airship movement in that game was impossible to replicate on other post-NES platforms, and as Automaton summarizes, Nasir's code for this system astounded other programmers.

"Although it is rumored that Gebelli exploited a bug to achieve this, he managed to fit the processing of the airship’s movement into 1/60th of a second, which included the loading and displaying of map data, ocean and waterfall animations as well as the shadow casted by the airship. A programmer interviewed by MagMix attests that fellow programmers at the time were unable to recreate what Gebelli had done, and that even those who were in a position to read his source codes found them difficult to comprehend."

There was actually a port of Final Fantasy 3 in development in the early 2000s for the WonderSwan Color handheld, but it was eventually canceled - despite the fact that Final Fantasy 1, 2, and 4 all made it to the platform. In a very old Eurogamer interview, longtime Square dev Hiromichi Tanaka explained that "When we developed FF3, the volume of content in the game was so huge that the cartridge was completely full, and when new platforms emerged, there simply wasn't enough storage space available for an update of FF3, because that would have required new graphics, music and other content. There was also a difficulty with how much manpower it would take to remake all of that content."

Is Nasir's penchant for programming tricks the reason it took so long for Final Fantasy 3 to reach other platforms? There's no way to put a definitive 'yes' or 'no' on that at this point. But it's a great story, and I think that's the most important part.

Our ranking of the best Final Fantasy games will surely cause no strife or dissent.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.