Final Fantasy III Review: The best job system of the mainline games

Final Fantasy III Review: The best job system of the mainline games

Final Fantasy III, a graceful product of its time, revolutionized the RPG genre with its groundbreaking job system. To this day, Final Fantasy III has some of my favorite gameplay in the entire series, and a lot of great moments that set this RPG apart from the rest of the Final Fantasy games. Today, I will dive into this nostalgic adventure, where your characters can be anything from brave knights to cunning mages, and talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of this awesome RPG. One final thing to note is that this review will be covering both the PSP and Pixel Remaster versions of the game, but not the outdated NES version that was never released overseas. Now without further ado, RPG Ranked presents… a Final Fantasy III Review: The best job system of the mainline games.

Battle System - 6

The battles in Final Fantasy III are a mix of fun and spontaneity! Being able to change the fundamental roles of your characters in between battles is incredibly fun and adds a new layer of depth not seen in the original Final Fantasy. The enemies in this game are also a unique and crafty bunch, with enemies that split into two and enemies that challenge you while in a Mini-fied state. The best part about this battle system is its adaptability, each battle being able to be controlled to your whim by your job selection. However, even though the customization system is awesome and one of my favorite job systems of all time (albeit one of the most simple), this battle system has its flaws. First of all, the pacing of the battles have some flaws. The battles in the PSP version? Slow, with long and rather uninteresting animations. The 2D versions? Heaps upon heaps of enemies… but without much of a way to devastate them with multi-target magic until later on in the game, something both Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II did better. Also, lots of battles tend to be monotonous if you intend to level up your jobs, as you will find yourself repeating actions over and over just trying to increase your job level. On one hand, I really like the idea of the job levels and it works very well in terms of pacing out the job system and adding a layer of depth to “should I really upgrade my jobs?” On the other hand, it makes grinding even more of a slog than usual, which is never a good thing. Another issue found in the battle system of Final Fantasy III is the large amount of difficulty spikes, and on top of that, bosses that basically require the use of certain jobs (like the Garuda and Salamander bosses). The final complaint is only present in some versions of the game, but the penalty of changing jobs was an absolutely stupid idea. The fact the customization system is being locked behind a stupid mechanic? That was a little embarrassing. As much as I love the job system and its contributions to this great entry of the Final Fantasy series, the application of that system is much slower and uninteresting than it should be, and for that, I can’t score this category any higher than a 6.

Story - 4

While Final Fantasy III is critically acclaimed and loved for its awesome gameplay innovations and its great job system, it falls very short in terms of narrative depth. The characters lack any substantial character development (which I will cover later), which leads this game’s story to feel very generic and lacking in the emotional department. The linear and sparse plot leads to a rather uninteresting way of storytelling, as the story always feels like it is an almost needless backseat driver to the great gameplay of Final Fantasy III. Almost every plot point is articulated through brief dialogue segments, lacking intricate world-building or the narrative necessity of “show, don’t tell.” This is one of the more empty and less lore-based worlds in the Final Fantasy series, something that was luckily much improved in the next job-based entry, Final Fantasy V. The villain also does not really ground the story, as his desire for eternal life and his role in the story are so minimally explained that he is easily the worst villain in the Final Fantasy series. The villain is hardly present in the story, more of an entity that feels necessary to fuel the fire of the gameplay. However, there are a couple things that elevate this game from being above a 2 or a 3. First of all, we get a very solid mid-game plot twist that actually was one of the better ones in the series. I really loved that part of the game, and the scenes with Cid on the airship are awesome. I love the ending scenes (at least in the 3D version), with the Warriors of Dark being introduced and Desch, Doga, Unei, Sara, Cid, one of the four old men “Warriors of Light”, and Alus joining the Warriors of Light in the final battle. I also love the moment after the game is over where Princess Sara is hitting on Ingus and says something like “men are so obtuse” because he was so oblivious or something, that was humorous. But I digress. There are definitely some good moments here, but honestly? The story here isn’t even as good as in the original Final Fantasy, which is saying something because that story was pretty lackluster. While this game has two really great moments in the middle and the end of the game, overall, this story is one of the worst I’ve seen in an RPG to date… which is disappointing since Final Fantasy II was an incredibly compelling game and a very underrated game in the series that I personally like much better than this entry.

Music - 10

I’ve said it many times and I will say it again—this is my favorite soundtrack of the Final Fantasy series, and my third favorite of Nobuo Uematsu’s. Here are some of my favorite tracks: Aria’s Theme, a beautiful and hauntingly emotional piece of music that captures the essence of the tragic heroine Aria but simultaneously creates a sense of longing and hope; the Crystal Tower theme, a song that captures the immersive sense of grandeur and mystique of this game’s final dungeon; the phenomenal Eternal Wind, the world map theme with undertones of friendship, bravery, and adventure; the Town Theme, which perfectly creates a warm, whimsical, and cheerful atmosphere for each of the game’s towns; Deep Under the Water, an eerie and immersive song that encapsulates the sense of the unknown that the underwater area brings; the Forbidden Land of Eureka, an enigmatic and otherworldly tune that creates an aura of intrigue and danger in one of the best dungeons of Final Fantasy III; and my favorite of all, The Boundless Ocean, a theme that perfectly characterizes the soothing, wondrous area of the ocean. Overall, the music in Final Fantasy III is phenomenal, and in my eyes, has never been topped in the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X come pretty dang close, though.

Art and Graphics - 9

The Pixel Remaster of this game has awesome pixel graphics… and the PSP version? A phenomenal remade art style that is casual and cute and fits perfectly with the more laid back tone of the game. While some may argue that Final Fantasy IV’s 3D art doesn’t fit very well with the tone of the game, which I understand, Final Fantasy III just fits perfectly. While I definitely can’t give this a 10 because the DS version looks pretty terrible compared to the PSP version (and the NES version is rather bad), I just love the art in this game. Maybe it wouldn’t score so high on its own, but its inspired and fantastic interpretation of the original NES classic is just so tonally perfect, and for that, I think this game more than deserves a 9 in the graphics department.

Characters - 2.5

The 2D versions of this game? There are literally no playable characters. They are nameless like in the original Final Fantasy game. The 3D versions? There are named characters, but they are so bland that it was almost better without them being named. There are some very brief and temporarily AI-controlled party members as well, but they are mostly uninteresting. Princess Sara? Super basic and uninteresting. Cid? Nice for his narration of the mid-game plot twist, but otherwise, he’s boring. Desch? I actually got to give it to Desch, he’s my favorite character in this game (which isn’t saying much, but hey, it’s still an accomplishment). Aria? A character with a noble sacrifice, but a character that was so bland it meant almost nothing outside of giving us the fantastic Aria’s Theme. Alus? I forgot he existed until I was writing this article, to be honest. Doga and Unei? A little intriguing, but not enough to move this score up too much. The four old men? Kinda fun and quirky, but minimal in terms of plot relevance. And the most egregious sin of all is the utter lack of a main villain grounding the plot. Where the original Final Fantasy introduced the players to Garland from the very beginning and made him into a serviceable villain, Xande and the Cloud of Darkness are so terrible (albeit fun to fight in battle) and are just there to actually give the game an antagonist. Overall, while I understand this is an old game, coming off of Final Fantasy II’s iconic cast of characters, this was utterly disappointing. Since Desch is a vibe and Doga and Unei are pretty solid, this game deserved more than a 1 or 2, but the fact I almost considered putting them so low? That’s honestly depressing, and quite frankly disappointing for a series with so many beloved characters. Thank heavens this was fixed in Final Fantasy IV!

Sidequests - 5

There are some decent side quests here! We’ve got the awesome job mastery weapons, the Forbidden Land of Eureka, the Iron Giant, the Sunken Cave, unlocking the Onion Knight and its Onion Equipment, unlocking the different summons, et cetera. It’s better than nothing! It’s fun! But is it distinct? Not really. Final Fantasy III does a good job with the sidequests it has, but it just doesn’t have many very meaningful or memorable quests. Also? About half these quests are only available in the 3D versions, which is a huge issue with Final Fantasy games—they won’t stop getting rid of them in newer versions! I can’t with the Pixel Remaster versions, I wish I could love them but I don’t… but I digress. Overall, Final Fantasy III has some good quests but nothing outstanding.

Locations - 7.5

From forgettable to fantastic, the locations in this game are pretty bipolar. I’ll get the bad out of the way first and then get into the awesome locations of this game. We’ve got boring locations like Tozus Tunnel, a slog of a dungeon where you can’t use physical attacks and, quite frankly, has absolutely no substance; the Amur Sewers, Sunken Cave, Ancient Ruins, and Temple of Time, four dungeons I forgot even existed; Molten Cave, an annoying dungeon with a huge difficulty spike of a boss at the end; Nepto Temple and Ancient’s Maze, two locations that are very cool in both concept and design but very flawed in terms of gameplay; and worst of all, Mythril Mines, a completely uninspired area that adds nothing to the experience of the game. However, there’s tons of awesome dungeons in Final Fantasy III as well! The Crystal Tower, while hated by many, is honestly one of my favorite Final Fantasy dungeons for its difficulty and for truly testing how well the player knows the systems of the game! I know, I’m so controversial. The World of Darkness, the difficult and aesthetic final area of the game that hosts four bosses that you probably should fight before you can truly take on the final boss! The Tower of Owen, a dungeon that utilizes magic outside of battle in a much less annoying way than the Tozus Tunnel and Nepto Temple areas and has an actually great character moment in Desch’s sacrifice (I know, shocking… sadly it doesn’t matter in the end, but still!). We have Bahamut’s Peak, an awesome mountain where you get to take on and flee from Bahamut very early in the game! And the best place to get Phoenix Downs! Just had to mention that. There are so many more, but for brevity’s sake, I will conclude this section. Final Fantasy III truly has some good sections, but not enough good sections to justify scoring this game’s dungeons any higher.

Quality of Life - 6

There are definitely some quality of life problems in Final Fantasy III. First of all, in older versions, there are limited inventory spaces, which is extremely annoying. However, that doesn’t matter, as the original version as a whole was extremely annoying and I wouldn’t be wasting time writing this review for that game. I’m only talking about PSP and Pixel Remaster versions here, so I don’t care about that QoL issue. Second of all, some versions of this game limit what you can truly do with the job system. The NES version has the capacity point system, and the PSP version gives you a downgrade in your stats each time you change a job. While the former is fundamentally flawed, the latter is just mildly annoying and makes you fight a few extra battles—something that didn’t take too much away from this awesome game. Also, there are a few difficulty spikes and a few too many places that require you to use certain jobs. Tozus Tunnel and Nepto Temple force you into using mages. The Salamander fight is pretty unbeatable without mages, the Hein fight basically forces the use of the Scholar, and the Garuda fight basically forces you to use Dragoons. For me, this wasn’t a huge issue, as I thought it was kind of fun that certain jobs were recommended at times and made each job feel useful in certain situations, but this really removed the creativity for so many people and ruined their experience with Final Fantasy III. While these three QoL issues aren’t a big deal for me (especially since they were both fixed in the Pixel Remaster version), they tarnished the experience for a lot of players. That doesn’t mean I think this game is perfect however, so let’s move on to some big issues I have with this game.

First of all, when you change between a physical and magical job, you either lose all your MP (changing from magical to physical) or have no MP to actually use (physical to magical). This is really annoying, and takes away from the creativity that a party could have. Luckily, Final Fantasy V fixed this to an extent, but this just really annoyed me. One of the other issues is this game just felt slow. It is kind of hard to explain, but the battles felt slow and the world map traversal was just not all that fun. The only time I actually felt like the game wasn’t slow is when I was flying on the Nautilus. While this shouldn’t be a big issue, I just found myself a little bored sometimes because it felt like such a long time to get through certain areas. My other biggest problem is the complete lack of save points. While this was fixed in the Pixel Remaster version, it was almost over-fixed because, well, I like save points but saving anywhere just ruins the idea of character management. So it was “too good” in the Pixel Remaster version, and non-existent in the PSP version. This caused a lot of frustrating moments in the game, and it made the slowness even slower if you ever happened to die or have to turn your game off preemptively. Or get a power outage during the Crystal Tower. I speak from experience. Overall, this game is pretty well-made, but not perfect by any means.

Customization System - 8

Usually, I put the customization system near the middle of the review, but since this is by far the best part of Final Fantasy III, and the reason I revisit this game so often? I had to save the best for last. This is my favorite job system in the series so far (keep in mind I haven’t got around to playing XII or XIII yet, so I can’t comment on XII’s jobs or XIII’s paradigms)! There’s one fundamental reason I enjoy the job system in this game so much more than that in Final Fantasy V: it is more restrictive. While that sounds stupid in concept, I promise I have a worthy explanation of my feelings about this awesome system. But before I talk about that main point of restrictiveness, I’m going to get some of my miscellaneous feelings out of the way first.

First of all, the balancing in this job system is astronomically better than in Final Fantasy V. Each job in this game only has one core ability, unlike in Final Fantasy V where different jobs had random amounts of skills. For example, the Berserker only had 2 skills, but the Knight would have 6. This led to some pretty horrible balancing issues in Final Fantasy V, with about half of the jobs being worthless. However, almost every job in Final Fantasy III had their own moments as long as you knew what you were doing! Freelancer? A solid starting job that, if you max its job level, you can get the best stats of any character in the game outside of a level 99 Onion Knight by equipping the Celestial Gloves. Evoker? If you know what you are doing, you can cast some of the best spells in the game like Ifrit’s Healing Light or Bahamut’s Aura and become an amazing support character. Scholar? With the right steals, you can dish out double the magic damage of spells. For example, Chocobo’s Wrath casts Flare, but because of Item Lore, the Scholar can do the most single-target damage of any magic class in the game, even if they aren’t as accessible as other characters. Thief? While its stealing isn’t all that great outside of Phoenix Downs and the Gungnir, this iteration of the Thief actually does great damage because of its high agility factoring a lot into the damage output of the class… and they can also unlock any locked door in the game. The Red Mage? They are great for about half the game, and come back to being solid characters later in the game when they can equip powerful weapons like the Ultimate Weapon, allowing them to be slightly better healers than the Knight! Okay, the Red Mage is a bit more of a stretch than the others, but that’s really the only job in the game I can’t argue a case for full-game application. On the other hand, how is the job balance in Final Fantasy V? Questionable at best, unfortunately. Berserker, Dancer, Beastmaster, Dragoon, Oracle, Necromancer, Geomancer, and Thief are all essentially worthless outside of very, very niche situations. This led to me using so many more of the jobs available in Final Fantasy III in comparison to Final Fantasy V’s line-up. Also, outside of the fact that changing job classes wastes your MP, Final Fantasy III’s magic system has my favorite MP system by far in the Final Fantasy series. I adore the idea of having to manage magic in this way, as it truly makes choosing which spells to use that much more strategic. I really wish more games used this system, because the limited amount of spell charges really make lower-level spells still very viable and worth using. I can’t really think of any magic system that I like better than this, other than maybe Golden Sun or something. This is just amazing. But I’ll stop ranting about the magic system.

One more thing before my main reason I love this system… I just find the jobs more interesting in Final Fantasy III. I love the Evoker so much because, quite frankly, this game has some of the best summon gameplay in the series. Why? Because each summon can have three outcomes! I wish this was carried over to other games in the series! I also love the Viking, who effectively is the coolest tank in the Final Fantasy series… and I also loved that this game stuck with some of the job upgrading ideas of the original Final Fantasy. I liked that we effectively got upgrades for each of the magic jobs, and it added a complex choice of “should I use my highly upgraded weaker job or my not-very-upgraded powerful job.” I thought that was cool! I also liked the independent job levels up to 99 in Final Fantasy III much more than the scatterbrained up to 7 or 8 job levels in Final Fantasy III. I loved that leveling up your jobs actually impacted your stats and such! Anyway, I could talk about this all day, but I need to get to my main point of why I like Final Fantasy III’s job system more than V’s: its restrictiveness.

Final Fantasy V has this overarching idea that everything is eventually going to build up to just a party of 2 Mimes and 2 Freelancers. Every skill learned is just preparing your characters for the endgame, and there are so many broken abilities that this game honestly becomes a little boring and trivial. You can bring skills over to other classes, which could have been executed fantastically, but it wasn’t—a singular skill slot does not come with any strategicness in my eyes. The strategy only truly comes when you can have 2 or 3 skill slots with the Freelancer or Mime, respectively. I can’t even go back to this system anymore because other games just did this so much better… Final Fantasy Dimensions and Blue Dragon, for example. In Final Fantasy V, there is just no balance, and while it really did innovate job systems in video games, this was an archaic model of what was later to come. In contrast, Final Fantasy III perfected the idea of a simple job system in which each job was restricted to its own abilities. I loved how each job only had its same abilities, but it would progressively get more powerful as you leveled it up more. This meant that each job actually felt distinct and it felt like the jobs were worth switching up until the last second of the game. It didn’t just feel like a conglomerate of Freelancer and Mime gameplay at the end of the game. While I understand the immense love for Final Fantasy V’s job system, I’ve just never really had all that much fun with it. It just felt like such a missed opportunity for me and an unbalanced and archaic version of what other games later perfected! Overall, I adored the perfected simplicity of the Final Fantasy III job system, and I will likely always believe that it is the most polished, simple, and fun job system in a mainline Final Fantasy game. It isn’t as good as the job systems found in Final Fantasy Dimensions, Octopath Traveler II, or Blue Dragon (my favorite job system of all time that perfectly blends the systems of III and V together), but it is perfect for what it is. And this perfection is the reason why I adore Final Fantasy III and have come back to it so often, even if it is not by any means one of the best games in the series.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 8
Overall Score: 66%
Letter Rating: B

Final Fantasy III offers a unique and nostalgic adventure with a simple, yet groundbreaking job system that I adore. Even with its deep flaws such as its pacing issues, its lackluster story, and its forgettable characters, its pros easily outshine its cons. With so many highlights, Final Fantasy III is still a magical adventure that’s worth a playthrough due to its phenomenal customization, beautiful soundtrack, and stunning atmosphere, as well as recapturing all of the magic of the original Final Fantasy. While Final Fantasy III is one of the worst games in the series by a country mile, it is still a worthwhile journey for RPG enthusiasts that continues to captivate fans and spread the magic of the series to this day.

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Final Fantasy III (NES)
Final Fantasy III (DS)
Final Fantasy III (PSP)
Final Fantasy III (Pixel Remaster)

Primary Version: Final Fantasy III (PSP)