Like the last two games in the Legends subseries, FFLIII tries to start off with a single sentence hook premise, but its concept is maybe too complex for that gimmick. “The Pureland Water Entity appeared and flooded this world’s Past, Present and Future.” The what? From where? The intro will eventually tell you “what,” but it doesn’t explain much about “where,” which isn’t a good sign before we’ve even hit a single button. Welcome to Final Fantasy Legend III.
It turns out that, for reasons not yet clear to us (you’ll have to forgive me, I’ve been playing this game for years and have sort of forgotten which plot points are spoilers), that a great, magical amphora has appeared in the skies over our home world and began dumping water. Thanks to the writers’ poor understanding of time travel, it also somehow appeared in the past, present and future at the same time – no, no, not as though it appeared in the past but never left! As though it literally appeared three times in three time periods, with the flow of water apparently doubling in the “present” and tripling in the “future.”
As for the word “Pureland,” I already said that the intro wouldn’t explain that, but if I’m honest, the whole game doesn’t explain it, for hours!
The Water Entity also brought monsters that attacked and harassed the people, “hunting them day and night.” “Cities fell one by one, buried by the sea.” By the time we reach the Future, everything was basically ruined, so a Mutant named Borgin gathered up three children and sent them back to the past, where they were raised by the Elder of the town of Dharm alongside his granddaughter until the day they could fight back and find a way to stop the Entity.
Fast forward to the “Present,” which a carefully designated block of time some 15 years before the end of the world. Our three time travelling kids are now teens or possibly young adults, and we rejoin them in the middle of combat, alongside another young man named Myron. Myron was the game’s first guest party member, but the game had carelessly put him into the fourth (regular) party member slot instead of the fifth (guest) slot, allowing us to take away his equipment. Hey, Marathon prerogative, buddy!
After clearing the fight, we learned that the fight was in a “simulator” hidden in Dharm, which you can later use yourself if you cared to, though we never did. Myron and the others talked as though they were going separate ways. It seems our three orphans (Arthur, Curtis and Gloria) were going off to save the world from the time-travelling superjug. At the door, they met up with Sharon, the Elder’s granddaughter, who was definitely, certainly, absolutely not coming with the party after we had to name her at the game’s start.
The next day, our three heroes met with the Elder, who told them the details of their mission, which somehow had not been communicated at any earlier stage of their entire lives. Good thinking, ailing older gentleman in a world filled with hostile monsters, who could have died at any time, taking this information with him! As he led us out of town, we ran into two kids, Dion and Faye, from the Elder’s gaggle of foster children. Bye kids! Now that you’ve been named, I’m sure you’ll never be seen again!
The Elder took us out of Dharm and to the Palace, which was probably meant to be a temple. It’s hard to tell: this game came out during an even harsher era of censorship for Nintendo that slapped down hard on religious elements (the era where you could say “New Gods” is long over). Inside, we found Myron and Sharon waiting for us, having changed their minds about coming along. Both joined up with us, Sharon for good and Myron for only a little while. Sharon and our three leads would never gain another iota of character development.
From there, the Elder took us to a not-very-well-hidden teleporter at the back of the Palace, which led us to the device the Palace had been built to bury and hide: a motherfuckin’ stealth bomber that can fly through time, space and dimensions.
I have never been impressed by the airships in mainline Final Fantasies. There is a very good reason for this.
This ship is the Talon (Japanse “Stethelos,” after a city in Lovecraft’s Dreamworlds), which we learn either here or now was built by the “Master” and creator of this world, Sol (Japanese: “God,” straight up). Sol buried the Talon here after using it to arrive in the first place and took away its “Units” and scattered them throughout existence to keep the Talon from being used. The Elder gives the party a device called “Radar,” which functions like Prism from FFLII in that it tells you how many Units are in the nearby time period/world. This makes far more gameplay sense than Prism ever did, because the MAGI were mandatory but almost never hard to find, while in this game there are in fact a few optional Units that the Radar could help you track down. The Talon also had four crew members back in the day, though the Radar can’t help you there. With the Units equipped and crew members regained, the Talon becomes like FFIII’s Invincible, a mobile base of operations with the power to plow through enemies and fly higher and faster than the Invincible ever did. Other Airships have since done the same, but I still think this one’s better for the sake of being a a stealth bomber, or at least a weird 50’s-style sci fi alien ship design.
The Elder told us to take the Radar to Cronus, a man in the town of Elan that was studying the Talon. To get there we’d have to get a magical spell called Float, as the Monsters had long since destroyed most of the boats on the planet. The Elder told us that Float could be found in the North Tower and left us to our own devices.
So, mechanics update. It’s not just minor changes between games this time around. The Game Boy FFLIII essentially does an FFII to the SaGa series, the same way FFII did a pre-emptive SaGa to the Final Fantasy series. Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. FFLIII features levelling by XP, non-durability weapons and a whole lot of other features you’d expect from a traditional RPG rather than a SaGa game. Every character can wear full armour, which is very nice (and I think practical and even reasonable: the industry-wide insinuation that metal somehow throws a wizard’s powers was never anything more than game-balance-intended story bullshit and honestly irritates me), and everyone can use MP based spells – although Curtis and Gloria are better at it – leaving the player limited only by their cash flow. The only real remainder of the old SaGa mechanics is the transformation system.
Not all the changes are huge. There are also minor things like UI improvements, even if they’re still not perfect. My largest interface complaint is probably that the GUI still never tells you the attack power of your weapons, or bonuses from armour that aren’t Physical Defence related, etc.
The party starts off with two Humans, Arthur and Sharon (and Myron), who are better with heavy weapons and terrible at magic, and two Mutants, Curtis and Gloria, who are good with light weapons (though not as good as the Humans are with the heavy) and are good at Magic. The instruction manual also insinuates that Curtis favours black magic and Gloria white, but I’ve honestly never seen it.
However, just because you start with Humans and Mutants doesn’t mean that you have to stay that way. The transformation system from FFLI and LII returns, this time available to anyone. Enemy monsters can drop meat, but now half of the enemies are robotic, and instead of dropping no meat like robots in FFLI and LII, these monsters will now drop “parts.” By feeding meat to one of your Humans or Mutants, one becomes a new class called a Beast. By eating meat again, they become a Monster. By installing parts to a Monster or Beast, they move one step back until they return to Human or Mutant form. Installing parts on a Human or Mutant will “move them” in the other direction: they become first Cyborgs and then Robots. Meat moves them back towards the base in turn.
Beasts are the class I least understand despite decades of play. Information online is rather sparse, but maybe there just… isn’t much to say? Beasts morph into new forms as they gain levels instead of requiring new meat, which can be a bit irritating if you wanted to hold a form, like one good at magic. Beasts are good at using a set of Martial Arts weapons which use an unusual damage calculation behind-the-scenes (multiplicative instead of additive, but using such small weapon power that I’m not sure in which situations martial arts are actually ideal?). And… that’s it. They’re good at dubious Martial Arts, and they might randomly mutate when you least want them to into another Beast with an entirely different stat line. Doesn’t it just sound so appealing? I can’t work out why I would ever want to be a Beast and so have never really used them. I should probably force myself to one day.
Monsters are like the Monsters of previous games in that they mirror the stats of real enemies and transform only if you eat more Monster meat. They also can’t use equipment, though you can give it to them before they transform to save a little space in your inventory (…just sayin’). Not that inventory is nearly as restricted as it was in the previous two SaGa games.
Cyborgs are like the Robots of FFLII, in that their equipment buffs their stats more than their level, but this buffing is mostly restricted to their HP in this game. On the other hand, Cyborgs have exceptional HP as a result! Like Beasts, they change form as they level up, whether you want them to or not.
Lastly, the Robots in this game are like the Humans of FFLI, in that they use “bought stats.” Namely, you can buy Robot parts at any item shop that cost 500 a unit, though these boosted stats are lost if you stop being a Robot. Unfortunately, you have no way of boosting a Robot’s magic, but the other stats can go all the way to the ceiling! Like Monsters, Robots only transform if they install new Robot parts, which makes them easy to customize.
As Kyle noted early on, there isn’t much use in becoming any of these forms. Monsters, in my opinion, are a complete waste of time, and I’ve already complained about Beasts. I haven’t experimented enough with Cyborgs to justify using them in the Marathon, and Robots are only useful in the late game, when you can max their stats for pennies. As a result, we stuck in our starting forms for most of the game!
Having decided to stay as Humans and Mutants for now, we set out at once, which is actually a major divergence from every other playthrough I’ve done of this game in the history of ever. The instructions included with the game recommended you use the Simulator to train until Level 5, and that is what I’ve always done, and it has a cascade effect on the rest of the game! Grinding at the outset gives you easy monster kills and thus easy money, and this in a game where the only equipment limit is your cash flow! I proposed to Kyle that perhaps any early game grinding in a traditional RPG might have this kind of effect, since that was what we did in FFI and, in a slightly different case, FFII. As a result we’re still struggling in parts of this game where we don’t have a guest party member to cover for us, and that’s embarrassing in such a simple game!
We headed north, and I forced Kyle to do most of the overworld walking because I remembered the world map too well for that to be beneficial to our levelling efforts. Kyle climbed the tower and took the Float spell (as well as the world’s only pair of Leather gloves – no foolin’), which was assigned to Arthur for easy access. We went outside to cast it, summoning the… uh… what is this? I really don’t know how to describe it besides showing you a picture. It’s round, has a flat top and a… amorphous craggy bottom? I think it’s supposed to resemble Floatland, the giant island that orbits about this world’s equator and surprises the crap out of you when you first see it, but it’s not a very good resemblance!
One funny thing to add about North Tower, by the way: it’s either the first time in the series or the first time in a very long time where the intro dungeon isn’t a cave. The first dungeon in FFI was arguably the Chaos Shrine, but as you could be in and out of it in under ten steps, I don’t know if we’d all really call it a “dungeon.” Instead, I consider Marsh Cave to be the franchise’s first dungeon. FFII’s first dungeon was a mine, which is just another form of cave. FFLI’s first dungeon was arguably one of two choices, but you realistically want to go to Bandit’s Cave as part of the quest to get the King’s Armour before you confront King Sword. From that point we lose all nuance. FFIV: cave. TAY: cave. FFLII: cave. FFA: cave – albeit in deliberate reference to FFI. Our very next game in the Marathon, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, will continue to verge by starting us off in a forest… at which point FFV and VI will drop us right back in caves and mines! I say: all hail North Tower, saviour of variety!
This journal’s screenshots come from me! I return with my monochrome legions for vengeance!