I have been replaying Final Fantasy III (or VI, if you must be canonically correct) lately and I am having a hard time pinning down just exactly why I love it so much. I am not saying that it’s a bad game, not by any stretch of the imagination. I am saying just the opposite; it’s a really, really, really good game. Great, even. But I am not exactly sure why precisely.
Ten hours into the game, and I have not been annoyed once by the typical irritations that all of us get when playing through classic (read: old thymie) RPGs. Last year I pushed through the original 4 Dragon Warrior games for NES, and I do mean that I pushed through them. I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as my memory seemed to indicate I would. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of the Dragon Quest series, but the original 4 NES games (especially the first two) have not aged particularly well.
It is worth noting, then, that I was somewhat hesitant in starting up a new file in my beloved Final Fantasy 3. It had been a couple years (5+ maybe?) since I had last played the game in it’s entirety and well over a decade since I had first beaten it. What if I have been coasting along on the crest of pure nostalgia all this time? What if there is a layer of tedium that, like a ghost, haunts the game just beyond the perception of my adoring memory? I don’t think that I could take that kind of revelation.
Final Fantasy 3 has some of the most memorable moments of any RPG of the 16 bit era, perhaps of all time; the opera house scene, Kefka, the branching story lines, the realization that once the world ends the game is only half over. Beyond these pivotal moments there are smaller, perhaps incidental portions of the game that I always think of when reminiscing about Final Fantasy 3. Like the eerie feeling of encountering the phantom train, grinding on the Veldt to max out Gau, the stunningly beautiful graphic design of Narshe, the poisoning of Cyan’s wife and child at Doma… so many small moments that together make Squares masterpiece something other than a whole. Remembering these scenes pushed me to replay Final Fantasy 3 to see if my memories held up. As I played through the game, I realized that it was not dissimilar to a children’s wooden puzzle, whose pieces are colorful and each have a life of their own, but when pieced together form a larger picture that is truly grander than it’s parts.
Perhaps that is exactly the reason why Final Fantasy 3 is so good… it’s a series of page-corner sketches that make a notebook cartoon. When flipped, the memories blur together to make something truly special, almost magical. It is in those individual sketches, those memories, those moments, that the game reveals it heart and masterful narrative. Final Fantasy 3 is programmed proof that it’s the brush strokes that make the masterpiece, and not the artist, subject, or time period.