We’ll open with the same screenshot, just like playing the actual dungeon!
So, during my most recent FFVIII post, I was discussing my least favourite dungeon in the entire Final Fantasy Marathon, D-District Prison. For point of reference, I also threw some shade on my previous least-favourite dungeon, the Ronka Ruins from FFV. But as I added in an edit after the fact, I actually replayed FFV not long after FFVIII, and realized I didn’t dislike the Ronka Ruins as much as I remembered. If you want to see my comments on those two dungeons, check out that post. In this post, I’m going to follow up those thoughts by trying to work out my new #2 least-favourite dungeon!
Now, some quick standards. Because not every FF game has “dungeons,” we’re going to be weighing whatever each game considers to be a distinct “unit of play.” That means dungeons in the traditional RPGs, any chapter/stage in the stage-based games, and any battle or fixed series of battles in FFT (spoiler: there are no FFT battles on this list, not even the duel with Wiegraf. But I thought it would be nice to have that rule in case we revisit this list after playing FFTA!). Also, this is only for games we’ve covered in the Final Fantasy Marathon at the time of writing (in the middle of FFVIII), and for Final Fantasy alone. If I had allowed Persona 1 dungeons, there’d be nothing else on the fucking list, so I am happy to dismiss it. No TV episodes or films either, both because they’re so different and because, like Persona 1, LotC and FFU would just dominate the list. With that out of the way, let’s take the the dungeons in Marathon order.
With that all behind us, we then decided to cave and find out what Doga and Unei wanted, since that was a sidequest too and I guess would give us job points. Or rather… we thought it was a sidequest. We probably should have realized it wasn’t, simply because no one had given us orders to go to the Ancient’s Maze in the first place, and FFIII always tells you where to go. This was an old RPG, but not that old. Square had learned their lesson after the communicative disaster that was FFI, and wasn’t going to leave us to our own devices in the game. But they made a new error. What Doga and Unei had simply failed to explain was that they didn’t just have the key to Eureka, they also had the key to the Crystal Tower, something you’d think they should have tried to tell us!
Back in the main plot, we took the Lute to Unei and were able to wake her. She got up, and took her parrot onto her shoulder, where it disappeared and was never seen again (not the case in the Famicom version, where it is still visible on her menu sprite). I personally have policies against working with people who erase their pets, but I’m not Luneth and company. Unei then told us we’d have to find the Invincible, a third airship, to carry on with the plot. This one was still being held where the Saronians had unearthed the Nautilus: in the Ancient Ruins west of Saronia.
The town of Duster, home of Bards, Geomancers, and the regret that comes from being a Bard or a Geomancer.
Working on advice from a walkthrough, we unlocked the Airship and tracked down two out-of-the-way towns built to equip Evokers, Bards and Geomancers. These might have been useful if we had had any of those classes (especially an Evoker, as the town sold all of the Summoning spells that would ever be sold, which was sparse but hardly bad!), but as far as we were concerned, the towns were really only useful for buying a hats for our Mages (and later, a hat for our defence-starved Dark Knight, but that’s a few events ahead). The Mages would not get better armour virtually until the end of the game, with one exception. We came to just accept that they were never going to get any better.
From there, we went to the northwest continent and found a gigantic walled city. I do mean gigantic. It wasn’t entirely filled with buildings, but the entire countryside was cobbled (though trees grew through the stones out of ill-repair, which was a very nice touch), and if there’s a bigger set of city limits than this in the entire Final Fantasy series, I will be surprised, and triply so if it’s not from a futuristic game like XIII. The shape of the continent invites this comparison, so I’m not exaggerating when I say this city had to be larger than the northeastern United States.
The water is… not nearly so ominous.
The World of Darkness.
I have to say, for the first time in this game I was genuinely impressed. The World of Darkness was absolutely flooded with Darkness, a spectacular visual showing you what would happen if the heroes failed. It’s not just dark, it’s covered in a soup of black-purple fog, a fantastic visual. However, it’s not actually from the original: in the original, the world simply flooded with water. This is one change I absolutely prefer in the new version, though it’s not perfect, as I’ll discuss as we go along.
Spotting only a few landmasses, I ignored the most prominent one and went to the one furthest away, as you do. To my surprise, it turns out that that was what I was supposed to do. On the small “island,” actually a mountain top, I found a wrecked ship, still housing an old man and a young priestess named Aria. We learned from the man that the flood of Darkness was actually overwhelming the normal flow of time (probably explaining the Wheel of Time), and that Aria was suffering under it. This is another advantage the darkness flood has over the water flood: it just doesn’t make sense that the water flood froze the world in time.
Ignoring Desch’s prompt to go to the Dwarfs in the northwest, I instead sailed around the northeast and east, where I had seen a town exposed to the sea during my chocobo trip. It turned out this is the town of Gysahl, for which a chocobo-related item, the Gysahl Green, is named. The Greens have appeared in plenty of the games to come, and I bought a few so I could use them to bribe special Fat Chocobos into holding my excess junk when FFIII’s limited inventory became a burden. The people of Gysahl also sold Magic Keys (in case you found a locked door but didn’t have a thief to unlock them) as well as Level 4 spells, all of which were downright awful.
Next, still ignoring the Dwarfs, I instead went back to Desch’s girlfriend, because I had another plan to put into action in the area. Refia told her that Desch was sure to come back someday, which was totally irresponsible. Of course, because Refia seems to be deluding herself that Desch is still alive, so her behaviour was at least consistent. No, the girl did not get off her bed. Yes, it still looks stupid. While I was in town, I stocked up on status effect restoring items, as my relatively uneventful second run in the Tower of Owen still involved being infected with more status effects than you can shake a Malboro at. They paid off very quickly, especially the Gold Needles that cure Petrify.
In preparation to entering the upcoming dungeon, the Nepto Temple, I switched Luneth to Red Mage and Refia to Black, as I’d need their extra spell power when we were all in a Mini state. That left me with only one physical fighter in hopes they might act as minature meat shield. After a few turns of combat to get my new spellcasters them into their roles (as required by the remake), I returned to the temple in Mini’d form and began to press through. Credit to the remake for making the inside of the wall actually look like the inside of a wall, though the remake’s “straight to the right” dungeon wasn’t quite as engaging as the Famicom version.
At first the dungeon wasn’t so bad, but I eventually came across monsters called Blood Worms that could survive an attack spell and could kill or nearly kill even my meat shield in a single bite. One of them killed Ingus in such an over-the-top OHKO and I decided that if that was how the game was going to play it, I really would use a Phoenix Down! I reached the boss on that run: the boss turned out to be a typical giant rat that had stolen the eye because it was shiny. I hit it with all my high-powered spells in desperate hope that it wouldn’t surprise long enough to do extra damage. Despite, Luneth died and I used a second Phoenix Down. Luckily, the fight healed me when it ended, so I made it back through Blood Worm territory alive.
Now that the Crystal has lowered itself to speak to my lowly self, it gave us our instructions: we were the Warriors of Light, meant to keep the balance and save the world from evil. To help us out, the Wind Crystal blessed us with our first Job Classes, which have typically come from the Crystals ever since. So let’s talk about the Job System mechanics.
Final Fantasy III for the Famicom had a rocky history outside of Japan. Even though it was created in 1990 as the last 8-bit Final Fantasy, it was not ported in any way until 2006, not even in Japan. The hype around Final Fantasy in the PSX era led to PSX re-releases of every game from I-VI except FFIII, and several of the games also made their way to Wonderswan and the GBA. Why not number 3? While I can’t speak for the Wonderswan version, I imagine the lack of a Wonderswan version made porting a GBA version more difficult… but hardly impossible! Oh well. For one reason or another, FFIII never made it over here until the DS era, and that meant it was born into a different era of design sensibilities for Square Enix.
The three eras of Final Fantasy ports that spanned the PSX era and turn of the century had different intentions in mind. The PSX/Wonderswan era was about remakes that were close to straight ports, with GUI, audio and graphical enhancements and little else. The GBA “Finest Fantasy for Advance” line was more eager to add new features, going so far as to re-balance FFII, and to scramble FFI entirely with the “New Style” design (technically Dawn of Souls was not considered part of “Finest Fantasy for Advance” until after the fact, so maybe that explains why it got the most changes). But the games were still closer to straight ports than the DS versions. The DS remakes… *sigh*… were challenge remakes, though it’s hard to say whether or not that was intentional.