Final Fantasy Legend III (Collection of SaGa) Review (Switch)
Out of all the oddities that the SaGa franchise has become known for over the years, Final Fantasy Legend III is perhaps the most peculiar one of them all. Acting as the final entry for SaGa on the original Game Boy, as well as the “last hurrah” for the cash grab “Final Fantasy Legend” moniker in the West, the game would mark the turning of the page in SaGa evolution, and in more ways than one. Series creator Akitoshi Kawazu would in fact step aside here in order to craft what would later become known as Romancing SaGa.
The change of personnel would not be the only key difference in the capstone of the Legend trilogy. Staple SaGa mechanics – performance-based stat increases, weapon and ability degradation, and random Mutant ability discovery – would be benched in favor of a far more simple, streamlined system akin to virtually every traditional JRPG. While a few bits of flavor would stay – eat-the-meat monster evolution, for one – Final Fantasy Legend III would ultimately be but a shadow of the series’ former self.
Is the philosophy change a bad thing? Not at its core, for it does make for a much easier to understand, more accessible experience on hardware thats limitations would often get in the way of complexity. On the other hand, it certainly makes for a diluted, less enjoyable adventure when it is stripped of the calling cards of the series.
In the distant future, the world has all but become completely inhospitable due to the Water Entity – an otherworldly vessel that has slowly engulfed the world in sea. In an attempt to unravel the secrets behind the Entity before it’s too late, four youths are sent back in time to investigate, only to discover that the Water Entity exists in the past, as well. Desperate for a resolution, their only real hope lies in the reconstruction of the now defunct Talon – a ship capable of defying space and time.
With this knowledge, the party sets out on the hunt for Talon parts…but they aren’t the only horse in the race. The nefarious faction known as the Masters, led by particularly ruthless Xagor, have also transcended time in hopes of thwarting the party’s plans. On top of it all, Xagor’s complete wrath is only being held back by the world’s creator, Sol, who is believed to be the only real counter to the destructiveness of the Water Entity. It will be a race against – and through – time in order to see the seemingly impossible task come to fruition.
In its prime, Final Fantasy Legend III featured, without a doubt, the most ambitious narrative in the series to date. The problem is that much of the impact is either lost in translation, hardware limitations, or both. There’s a lot going on, and many sub arcs that crop up along the way, but the game does a pretty lackluster job of delivering these goods in a digestible fashion. I’d have to imagine that the Japan-exclusive DS remake (and the OG game manual, which I’ll not get into as to not sound like a broken record) sheds some much needed light on all the layers to the story, but it simply doesn’t translate that well on the original media.
Back in the day this was likely less of a concern since games as a storytelling medium was still very much in its infancy, but it just doesn’t hold up that well after a few decades. This actually makes the more simplistic narratives seem better, even though props are due for the ambition alone here.
Final Fantasy Legend III drops all of the confusing (albeit engaging) mechanics found in the previous two titles to make room for a streamlined experience. The party will travel the world, exploring dungeons and towns, whilst fighting in many turn-based battles. All characters grow in power via traditional level ups and gearing treadmills, with the only real difference between characters being their aesthetics and race-specific stat affinities (ie. Humans and physical prowess, Mutants magical).
All party members can equip every piece of gear in the game, and don’t have to worry about weapons breaking over time. Additionally, magic is available to all characters and is tied to traditional MP rather than the charging system of previous entries. While there’s something comforting about the simplicity here, it also decimates much of the appeal for the SaGa franchise. While the monster evolution system remains from the “early days,” and has actually been improved upon here, it is not really enough to make the game feel like it has earned the SaGa seal of approval.
In fact, Final Fantasy Legend III is easily the least SaGa-like game in the franchise, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the simplicity easily makes it the most approachable entry in the series for newcomers, but somewhat of a joke to the veterans on the other. Save for the monster/cyborg system, it feels like something deserving of any title but “SaGa” – but let me be clear: it’s not that traditional is bad by any means, but it is the last thing you’d expect in a SaGa title.
Furthermore, Final Fantasy Legend III suffers from several minor annoyances that can snowball into occasional frustration. The game is laughably easy outside of very specific scenarios that simply come down to RNG. Order of operations in combat are determined by agility in theory, but appear to be randomized to a certain degree, as well. This means that your entire party could act before the opposition, or vice versa, and it feels like the outcome is up to a complete coin toss. This is only an issue when it comes to bosses with multi-target abilities and critical hits, as both have the potential to completely wipe out your party if you roll poorly in the turn order. While this is by no means unheard of in the genre – or any genre, really – it feels ever more present here due to the aforementioned lack of difficulty elsewhere. Making combat feel more meaningful outside of these moments would have gone a long way into making things in general feel more threatening, thus satisfying.
The other notable issue lies in how much useless gear is thrown at you. Final Fantasy Legend III is paced surprisingly brisk when compared to similar games of the time, which means you’ll be upgrading gear constantly, and in what seems like only a few minutes in between new tiers. The problem is that the equipment catalog is bloated with items that have little to no real use – sidegrades at best. Some genuine “upgrades” can be deceptive, too, since many pieces can last you multiple tiers if you are familiar with their properties. A vast array of equipment made sense in previous titles due to their relationship to the game’s mechanics, but doesn’t resonate in the more simple systems utilized here.
While I’ve been a bit harsh on the gameplay thus far, Final Fantasy Legend III does have a few upsides. The Talon itself is actually pretty cool in that it is not just integral to the plot, but it also acts as a transportable hub of sorts. Collecting the various units strewn about different time periods will slowly upgrade the capabilities of the Talon, eventually granting access to the monster/cyborg reverting Flushex, a free inn, and shops that feature some of the most powerful items in the game. The Talon can also become capable of spraying your enemies with artillery, softening them up for you to then finish off! Lastly, the inclusion of a “jump” command is a godsend, considering many era-appropriate RPGs had immovable NPCs that could easily block your path — not a problem now!
Final Fantasy Legend III is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to its presentation. It features some of the best looking locations and boss sprites in the entire trilogy of Game Boy titles, but also displays some pretty underwhelming assets, especially when it comes to the random enemy art. The four primary characters and various supporting companions are visually unique, at least, but the enemies you’ll be seeing a lot of just seem to lack a “certain something” that made enemies in previous entries a bit more, I don’t know, believable and menacing. This, again, doesn’t apply to many of the game’s boss sprites, which are generally well done. The new Phantasy Star-esque battle perspective is a notable addition, as well.
Both Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito, like Kawazu, would not reprise their roles as the composers for Final Fantasy Legend III, instead falling on the shoulders of Ryuji Sasai and Chihiro Fujioka. Despite the change in personnel, the soundtrack would prove to be relatively successful, with several memorable tracks appropriately attached to locations and events along the journey. Sasai and Fujioka are no Uematsu and Ito, but they provide an audio experience that is nonetheless above average. Sasai would go on from here to compose for Final Fantasy Mystic Quest – a criminally underrated soundtrack.
Final Fantasy Legend III lacks much of the traditional SaGa flair, making it a solid starting point for franchise newcomers but a potential disappointment for series veterans. It is by no means a bad game, but also one that you’ve certainly seen done many times before. The time-travelling narrative is interesting on paper, and certainly ambitious for its time, but falls a bit flat without the context provided by both the original game manual and likely the DS remake.
Having a time-travelling, upgradeable spaceship is cool for certain, but it will only take you so far when everything else is a bit underwhelming in design. All that in mind, I’d still very much recommend completing this game at least once – even more so if you’ve been turned off by other SaGa entries in the past. However, the lack of staple SaGa customization in this third entry makes it far less appealing in my eyes, especially for repeat playthroughs.