Thursday, August 21, 2008

Final Fantasy III DS: Equipment Woes

Because my brother has been playing Final Fantasy IV DS, I have been inspired to go back and finally play through Final Fantasy III DS, which I have owned for quite a while but never played too much. It has been a very interesting experience. Even with the new 3D graphics and modified main cast of characters, this game still has all of the elements of an old-fashioned RPG made for the NES. Some of these are a nice change of pace, such as the loose directions that tend to encourage exploration, but there are just as many elements that remind me of exactly how far videogames have progressed since those days.

At one point around halfway through the game, the plot dumped me in a new place with access only to a single town right after I acquired a new set of Jobs to play around with. The jobs I just acquired were the Evoker, the Dark Knight, the Dragoon, the Bard, and the Viking. The town, though, only had armor and weapons for Thieves, Rangers, Monks, and Vikings, as well as a spear for the Dragoon and a harp for the Bard. As such, the town provided enough equipment for three of these new jobs to function (because of equipment available earlier, everything but the Evoker and the Bard works, but I will get to those two later), but there was a problem: the enemies around that area and in the next few dungeons were much deadlier than previous enemies, so much so that anyone without improved armor would quickly get torn apart. As such, only Thieves, Rangers, Monks, and Vikings were really viable until I could reach some new towns. I could have bought a spear or two and had a Dragoon who could fight, but he would die so quickly to enemy attacks that it would be pointless.

The problems for Bards and Evokers were much more severe. The Evoker class needed an entirely new set of spells in order to be able to do anything, but these spells can only be acquired a few dungeons after you acquire the Evoker class. Similarly, the Bard requires harps in order to function, since its "Sing" ability depends on the equipped harp, but the only harp available in that one town merely provides a protective effect, which isn't something that can carry a character through several dungeons. In addition, neither job can benefit from the armor available in that town, and are stuck with a set of armor that was outdated long before the sudden increase in enemy power. As such, it would be almost suicidal to try to bring either of these classes into a dungeon when they first become available.

This lack of viable equipment actually becomes a recurring problem for several classes. Warriors, Red Mages, White Mages, Black Mages, Knights, and Dark Knights all have to go quite a long time from the point enemies get a sudden large increase in power to the point that they get a full set of armor capable of protecting against attacks. One glaring example is the Dark Knight job, which, from the point I acquired it (9 or 10 hours into the game), had to make do with armor I acquired a long time prior (6 hours into the game) all the way until I reached a new town recently (17 hours into the game and several dungeons and bosses later), and even then that armor upgrade was incomplete. In the meantime, I acquired several full armor upgrades for the Dragoon, something like five new kinds of lance, five or so Viking weapons, two full upgrades for the pathetic Bell and Tome weapons, and three whole levels of new magic spells.

The real problem with this lack of equipment is that it severely delays the player's ability to have fun with new Jobs. The various Jobs are the most exciting new toys to be had in the game, but because of poor equipment and spell availability the player isn't really free to have fun with them. It is something much akin to giving the player a new kind of gun in a First-Person Shooting game and not giving them any ammo for it until five more hours into the game. It just destroys the fun of experimenting with new things and enjoying hard-earned rewards.

Overall, the more widely-usable equipment should have been available across the entire post-Water Crystal section of Final Fantasy 3. Instead of providing a lot of class-specific equipment that favored eccentric and unusual classes, the game designers should have included a lot more armor and equipment that could be used by a large number of classes, as well as made the equipment necessary for certain classes (Evoker spells, Bard harps, and Dark Knight dark blades) available earlier.

One thing that I will say the game does well, though, is that it tends to use equipment availability as a way of hinting at optimal class choices very well. The game gives you Scholar gear around the time you need a Scholar. It gives a sudden increase in Thief gear right before the point where having a Thief is handy. It makes good Dragoon gear available right before a period in which Dragoons are extremely powerful. Dark Knight gear finally appears right in the midst of the time where it is most needed. This kind of hinting is quite effective, though I wish they didn't sacrifice overall flexibility and class viability for the sake of it.

No comments: