When the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series was announced, one of the games caught my eye more than the others. While it’s natural to get excited over a more faithful rendition of the original game, or to want to see how the Super NES games would look with a new style, many Final Fantasy fans probably immediately jumped to Final Fantasy III. Historically it has been one of the less available games in the series, often skipped over for rereleases. The 3D remake was the first time it appeared in the West, and yes, that version has gotten around. But that version is also more different from its source than most Final Fantasy remakes. Thus, the Final Fantasy III ($17.99) Pixel Remaster represents the first time the original game has been officially made available outside of Japan.
If you’re familiar with the 3D remake, you’ll find a lot of differences here. First of all, Luneth, Arc, Refia, and Ingus are nowhere to be found. They were creations for the remake to try to give the main party members more distinctive personalities. The heroes here are a pack of virtually identical Onion Knights, all four of them ready to go at the start of the adventure. The rotating support members retain their familiar names, though you may find their characterizations less rounded out compared to the 3D remake. Wow, this sounds like a bad deal already, Shaun. Why do you like this version better?
It’s the gameplay, friends. The 3D remake of Final Fantasy III was a polygonal game designed around the limitations of the Nintendo DS hardware. And those were some considerable limitations. While the original Famicom game had battles against as many as nine enemies at a time, the 3D remake topped out at three enemies. In an attempt to maintain the balance, those three enemies tended to have three times as many hit points as their predecessors, among other tweaks. I won’t say the result was poor, but I don’t think they struck quite the same level. Some dungeons were really hurt by this change, and I feel the overall result was a more sluggish, less exciting experience. The job system had quite a few changes as well, again resulting in a game with a very different feel.
This Pixel Remaster brings things back to a feel more akin to the original, albeit with a number of sensible changes that don’t upset the balance nearly as much. We once again can have nine enemies on screen, the stats for said enemies are back to their normal non-sponge levels, and the overall pace of the game is much quicker and more enjoyable. The job system is different from both the original and the remake, removing the penalty for job changing entirely. Job classes have had their abilities shuffled around a bit, making for better balance overall. We’ve got the Vancian magic system back instead of MP as well. And of course, this remake gives us an outstanding new version of what was already an amazing soundtrack. By virtue of all of these changes, this is one of the better double-dips for those who own the existing mobile version. This really is a different experience.
The broad strokes remain similar, however. The plot covers mostly the same beats, just leaving out all of the added bits with the core party members. You’ll visit the same dungeons, though the layouts are quite different in most cases. At least in appearance, you’ll battle the same bosses. Their behavior and the necessary strategies to beat them differ in many ways. The jobs are also by and large the same in name and in terms of when you will unlock them, but the nitty-gritty of how they function is different from the 3D remake. More involved than the original, but better balanced and more appropriate to each job than the first remake. Don’t worry, ninjas and sages still slap.
Enough with the comparisons, though. How is the game itself? This was the Final Fantasy series’ swan song on the hardware that birthed it, and Square really went all-out here. While the main characters are a step back from the distinct personalities seen in Final Fantasy II, the plot itself is bigger and more epic than anything seen in the series before this point. From a gameplay point of view, the new job system gave players an incredible amount of customization options for their parties. Yes, Final Fantasy V went well past this, but for its time and place the Final Fantasy III job system really is impressive. I also appreciate how the game incorporates status ailments as required elements of your strategy, even if it does lead to some forced party compositions at certain points. Indeed, it’s important to be flexible about your job choices. Thankfully, that’s easier to do in this remake.
It’s a bit weird to talk about this game in the same way that I’ll be discussing the others, because most of the people reading this likely aren’t familiar with the original game. What I can say is that the quality of the remake here matches that of the other Famicom-era Final Fantasy games, with improved visuals, a lovely new version of the soundtrack, and a few other goodies. None of the extra content added in the 3D remake is here, but I also imagine there is less expectation of that with this installment. A far more faithful remake of a game that most Western players only know through another, considerably looser, remake. Which oddly makes this the freshest and perhaps most alien of these releases, and potentially the most appealing. The big flaws here are the ones shared with the other Pixel Remaster games so far. The font is awful, being both too small and too narrow. There’s no support for external controllers, either.
Now, I don’t want to sugar-coat things too much. This is still a JRPG from the 8-bit era, and in staying somewhat faithful to those roots this game does have a lot of friction that may not sit well with fans who came into the series later. For example, the final dungeon is an absolutely brutal test of endurance, among the longest and most challenging in the series. Even with the new helpful save options, it’s a tough haul. Some bosses essentially require certain party builds, so you’d better get comfortable with the job system quickly and pay attention when the game warns you. The balance has been adjusted such that you probably won’t need to do much grinding, but you are going to be getting into a lot of fights. That’s how things were, and that’s how things are here.
You may like the Final Fantasy III Pixel Remaster, or you may not. You may find it more fun than the 3D remake, or you may not. But this is certainly closer to the original game and no matter how you fall on it personally, we can surely agree that it’s fantastic to finally have this option available to Western players. You can get a more proper appreciation of the progression of the series in terms of its storytelling and character building ambitions through this game, and more clearly see the line between the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of the franchise. That alone gives this some value, I think. Personally, I think this is the game where the series really started to show its ambitions and break away from most of the pack. It’s excellent, and fans of the series would do well to check out this treasure.