I'm happy to say that after some difficulty I finally finished Final Fantasy III for the DS (Links: GameSpy, GameSpot, GameFly). And I'm having some trouble deciding exactly how I feel about it.
There have been a lot of ports of the old Final Fantasy games to the GBA. This one is distinct in that they did an extensive graphical upgrade from the original 8-bit 2D graphics to completely new fully-3D models. And they were very successful in that. The characters, monsters, and environments all look great. It gave this 17 year old game the look of something completely modern... which is kind of dangerous. Because everything else about this game is still 17 years old.
Most of the reviews for this game described it as being difficult by modern standards. I wouldn't say that. Difficulty implies that it demands a high amount of skill and engagement from the player. That's not really the case. FFIII doesn't demand skill, it demands a tolerance for mind numbing level grinding (which I guess could be a skill...). You don't have to learn intricate strategies - you just have to level up enough so that you have enough hit points to survive the attacks of the bosses. Grinding is pretty standard in the RPG genre, so it's hard to criticize FFIII too much for it, but I felt like this game demanded more than most.
Final Fantasy III is the first game in the series to introduce the job system. Unlike future evolutions, this game only allows you to leverage the abilities of one job at a time, making it more of a big "I changed my mind" switch than an adaptive strategy. This is further exacerbated by the fact that you don't unlock jobs by performing well in the ones you have; you only have to proceed through the story to get the more powerful jobs. So there's no carry-over value of your early advancement. For example, you can completely ignore the less powerful Evoker and still unlock the ultimate Summoner job. Given that the number of enemies was reduced to accommodate the new 3D graphics, multi-targeting caster jobs are far less useful than melee jobs. And since you're already going to be grinding a ton to level up, for your own sanity you're probably going to forced into a party of simple fighters because melee attacks take less time than big fancy summons.
But I'm being a bit too harsh. For its time, this job system was revolutionary. And if I was playing the game in its original 8-bit incarnation, I probably wouldn't be so critical. But the game looks so darn pretty that I have a hard time reminding my brain to lay off.
FFIII provided me with an interesting trip through the RPG gaming archives, but what I really hope comes out of this is a nice 3D RPG DS platform for some new adventures. Final Fantasy Tactics DS, por favor?