Final Fantasy III
"An Insatiable Thirst"
*Final Fantasy VI is referred to as Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV as Final Fantasy II in order to keep my nostalgic memories intact.
Since I could barely walk, video games have been a very big part of my life. At only a year or two old, my parents bought the family a surprise video game system, the Vectrex. While our Vectrex didn't end up seeing too much game time, I enjoyed it enough that a few years later, when the NES was released in America, it too was given to the family as a gift. The NES and I soon became inseparable, and I was hooked on video games for life.
Now, video games were a part of my life, but RPGs were not. Side-scrolling action games were my main forte, although The Legend of Zelda perhaps captivated me more so than any game before it. However, in my mind, The Legend of Zelda, while great, was just another action game, and my desire for slower-paced games never really emerged.
Then Nintendo Power had the greatest giveaway in video game magazine history. In order to promote the US release of Dragon Warrior, which was an RPG being released in a US console market unfamiliar with the genre, Nintendo Power was offering a free copy of Dragon Warrior for subscribers. At 8 years old, this was an offer I absolutely couldn't refuse, and soon I was playing my first turn-based RPG.
I enjoyed Dragon Warrior immensely, spending hours upon hours leveling up, while the rest of my family looked on in bewilderment. But, while it made me a fan of the genre, it wasn't enough to hook me into buying other RPGs. They simply appeared too complicated to me. I would see Final Fantasy in Nintendo Power and wonder how an RPG could possibly have more than one playable character, if only one person is playing. My friends showed me Final Fantasy II, and I was absolutely mind-boggled as to how they were able to navigate through menus and equip new weapons... when I played Dragon Warrior, you could only have a single weapon in your inventory! How could they keep track?
But in 1995, something in my mind clicked. I wanted to play another "true" RPG. Perhaps I was nostalgic for Dragon Warrior, or perhaps I was swayed by the excellent reviews RPGs were getting in the magazines. Whatever the reason, I wanted to get a new RPG. That fall, I made out my Christmas list and included both Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger on it, hoping to get both. At the time, Chrono Trigger was hailed as the greatest RPG ever, as it often still is today. That was the true prize I was hoping for that Christmas. In the end, I crossed FF3 off my list, as I figured that would increase my chances of getting Chrono Trigger. "I'm not going to settle for second best", I distinctly remember telling myself.
As I expected, Chrono Trigger absolutely blew my mind. I had no idea RPGs had advanced so much since Dragon Warrior. Never had I been so enthralled by a game before. Filling out my warranty card, it asked what my favorite genre was. Even though at the time, I had only played two real RPGs, I put RPG down. Chrono Trigger had me hooked on the genre. I would excitedly tell my mom about all the things in the plot. I had never seen anybody as cool as Magus. I could not fathom the prospect of any video game being better than Chrono Trigger.
But there were rumblings about Final Fantasy III still. Once, walking home from school, my friend Eric and I had a heated argument over which of the two RPGs was better, even though I hadn't played FF3 and he hadn't played CT. No way could FF3 have a villain as cool as Lavos! The argument was never resolved, and it quickly left my mind. Then, during PE one day a couple years later, somehow Chrono Trigger became the topic of conversation between my friend Jon and I. At one point he said that Final Fantasy III was better than Chrono Trigger, and this coming from somebody who had thoroughly played both games. I was in shock, and basically accused him of lying. No game could be better than Chrono Trigger!
The ultimate result of that conversation was me convincing him to let me borrow FF3 and see for myself. So, skeptical as I was, I borrowed the game. The first thing I noticed was the wind sound effect was the same as Chrono Trigger's, and I played on, unimpressed. But at some point, the game changed my mind, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I'm not sure if it was the characters, the music, the story, or what, but there was just SOMETHING about FF3 that drew me too it. While I had done a New Game + on Chrono Trigger countless times, I never devoted so much playtime to a single game than I did my first play-through of FF6. There was just so much to do! I HAD to get all of Strago's Lores. I HAD to teach every character every spell. I HAD to get all of Gau's rages. I HAD to get every item. I HAD to level up every character to level 99. And I did. Every rage, every character to level 99, I did it all. And I loved every second of it. I could spend hours on end just wandering around the Veldt with Gau, and I wouldn't get bored for a second. My sister's boyfriend concluded that I was crazy after watching me work on getting the Paladin's Shield for a few dozen minutes.
But ultimately, I had to return the game. Jon showed me other RPGs in his collection, most notably FF2, but FF3 always held a special place in my heart. Then something very wondrous happened. As a habit, I frequent pawn shops extremely often, always "chasing the chuck wagon". And one day, it was there. Sitting behind the glass doors was Final Fantasy III. This was my chance to finally own it for myself! Unfortunately, another habit of mind is turning down great deals. Having just spent over 100 hours on Jon's copy, and currently working through Final Fantasy II, I had little desire to play the game at that moment. I never ended up buying the game, and I justified my decision by telling myself that whenever I wanted to play it, I could always borrow Jon's copy. A very naive conclusion, as Jon and I would drift apart almost immediately afterward.
But it didn't take our drifting apart for me to realize my mistake. Almost immediately, I regretted my decision, but of course, by the time I returned to the pawn shop, it was long gone. Eventually I had this incredible aching to play FF3. It was absolutely insatiable. I checked all the stores in the county; surely one of the stores would have a copy, as a vivid memory of the game sitting behind Wal-Mart's case stuck in my mind. But by this time, it was too late. There wasn't a copy anywhere. Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Shop-Ko... nothing. I considered more radical solutions, like renting the game and claiming I had "lost" it, but that never came into fruition either.
Time went on, but my aching for FF3 never ceased. Visions of the game kept flashing through my head. The characters, the places, the music... I missed everything so much! What a fool I was to pass up my opportunity to own that priceless treasure! What I would give to have a chance to play the game just once more...
When my family got our first computer, one of the first things I discovered was something called "emulation". Not quite understanding it myself, I was wondering if it was not just a pipe dream. My first attempts at running an emulator were a failure, and I gave up for a while, but the pull of Final Fantasy got me to try again. And this time it worked! The first game I tried out was Final Fantasy V, which blew my mind, since it had never been released in America at the time (incidentally, my playing of FF5 is what originally led me to RPGC...). The next game I played was FF3, and it was every bit as good as I remembered it.
I played the ROM with the same vigor I played the Jon's copy. I had to get everything. Again, I put in countless hours getting every last Rage, every last character to level 99... everything. I proved the existence of the "hidden" cutscene with Setzer on the Blackjack. I even maintained the FF6 shrine at Atmagames for a short time. My memories had not betrayed me... Final Fantasy III was truly an awesome gaming experience... every bit as good as Chrono Trigger.
But, while I could finally play the game whenever I wanted, I was still haunted by my foolish mistake of passing the game up at the pawn shop. Simultaneously, my desire to collect and own games was growing immensely. What a gem in my collection FF3 would have been! While I went to the pawn shops weekly, and found good deals here and there, the prospects of finding a Final Fantasy game were slim to none. Eventually, I concluded that eBay was the only plausible way for me to obtain it, so I began watching Ebay auctions like a hawk. Now buying on Ebay for an average price is takes all the fun out of collecting, so I forced myself to wait for a great deal... and I found it! Some fool had put a copy of it for auction for a Buy it Now price of 8 dollars! This was going to be it! But I was disheartened to find that the auction had ended mere minutes before I clicked the link...
I concluded that even Ebay was a bust, so I tried desperately to negotiate a trade with somebody, but nothing panned out. All hope was lost. But in the summer of 2003, a funny thing happened, and my luck started turning around. In June, I found Final Fantasy II for a measly $3.50. FF2 held a place in my heart nearly as close as FF3, so I was elated. Never before had I seen such a high-profile game for such a low price! Good deals continued throughout the summer until... the big one. At the very same pawn shop where I passed FF3 up earlier, in late August, I saw it. As had been the case with FF2, I almost didn't believe myself when I saw it. Reciting the game names to myself as I scanned the games, it almost didn't register. "Super Mario World, NBA Jam, Madden '96, Final Fantasy III, NCAA Basketball..." When I realized what I had found, I went into a panic. Simultaneously, fear and excitement overflowed in embarrassing amounts. Any second now, somebody else could snatch that game up! And worse... what a day to forget my wallet at home! But I wasn't completely out of luck, as my mom had joined me in my trip for the day. Excitedly babbling to her, I was able to convince her to lend me some money, and I ran to get somebody to open the case for me. Even though I had only left the case for about a minute, a wave of relief ran through me when I noticed my game was still there.
In truth, that day would have been tremendous regardless of FF3's presence or lack thereof. The same day, I also purchased Illusion of Gaia, Megaman III, River City Ransom, and more... The price? Two dollars a piece, thanks to their "buy 2 get 1 free" deal. I ended up spending 12 dollars for 6 games. I would have happily paid double that price for FF3 alone. But my worries didn't end there. A month ago, for the first time, I bought a game that had its board switched. What if the game I had purchased wasn't FF3 at all? Besides, who would pawn their copy of FF3? When I got home, I ran to my room to insert FF3 into my SNES. I put it in, hit the power switch, and...darkness. Nothing! I immediately felt sick to my stomach. All this... for nothing? A desperate cleaning session later, and the familiar black and white Final Fantasy III logo appeared, followed by the unmistakable intro music. It was in this moment that I realized that I finally owned the game for myself. This wasn't Jon's copy. This wasn't a file on my hard drive. This was MY copy.
Again, I played through the game with vigor, the only difference was the lack of time I could devote to playing it, but the love remained the same. But more than just playing it, I got a special feeling from just owning it. My six-year quest had come to a happy conclusion. I would often play the game just to watch the intro and show myself what I now owned. Sometimes, late at night, I would just pick up the cart and cradle it in my arms. A bit eccentric, but I never cared. Never before had a 2 dollar purchase brought me such joy. But perhaps more importantly, I could finally forgive myself for passing the game up so many years ago. It was all water under the bridge at this point. Final Fantasy III was finally MINE.-Hiryuu