Through Time and Space... or Just Time

Final Fantasy Legend III

Squaresoft RPGs on the Game Boy were big business. When it came out, the original The Final Fantasy Legend (aka SaGa as it was originally known in Japan) became a million selling. Its follow-up, Final Fantasy Legend II (aka SaGa 2) also shot up the sales chart, and while not another million-seller, still pushed a respectable 800,000 carts. Square loved those numbers and wanted more from series creator Akitoshi Kawazu. He went on to create the next game in the series, Romancing SaGa on the Super Famicom (which didn’t see life in the United States until a PlayStation 2 remake), but there was still desire within the company to publish another game for the Game Boy. Thus, the newly (for the time) formed Osaka team took over and was given the reins to make the last of the Game Boy SaGa titles.

Final Fantasy Legend III

When you know the backstory it helps to explain why Final Fantasy Legend III (aka Jikū no Hasha ~ Sa·Ga 3 [Kanketsu Hen], lit. The Ruler of Time and Space ~ SaGa3 [Final Chapter]) feels like a different kind of game from the previous two titles. While certain elements make the transition – the Squaresoft house graphics style, the basic idea of humans and mutants on a quest, becoming robots and monsters – much of the feel of the game is very different, and that includes even the basic quest structure. This game feels like it was made by a different team, and is in fact the only game in the entire SaGa series that creator Akitoshi Kawazu didn’t oversee. It’s kind of its own thing.

In Legend III, a team of heroes is put together because, in the future, the world is overrun by water and monsters. Aliens from a realm called Pureland invaded centuries before, flooding the land with magical water from the Water Entity. That also brought forth the monsters. Four children from the past were brought to the future and raised to be heroes so they could travel back in a magical time ship, the Talon, to find a way to stop the Water Entity and destroy it, thus saving the past and freeing the future from drowning under water and monsters.

So the simple construction of Final Fantasy Legend III isn’t that different from previous games. You get a team of heroes, who you can build from either humans or mutants, and you take them on an adventure. Unlike in the previous games, you don’t initially get to recruit robots or monsters into your party. Instead, as you fight monsters they’ll drop creature meat or metal parts. These you can apply to your team turning them into beasts and monsters (for meat) and cyborgs and robots (for parts). These then, in turn, control differently from the humans and mutants.

When building up your party you are subject to a variety of systems at play. Humans level up along a traditional RPG route, collecting experience from kills and increasing their stats as they gain levels. Mutants, meanwhile, follow the route set more by the SaGa series, improving stats by using skills in battle. Beasts and monsters can improve not only by leveling up through battle but also by eating the meat of better enemies, aiding in their transformations. And cyborgs and robots use equipment installed onto themselves to improve their stats, along with pill parts bought at stores. And, of course, there’s also a hidden element at play with these upgrades, depending on the natural element of the characters you started with, the elements of the monsters you killed, and what part or meat dropped and how it’s paired with one of your characters, transforming them into a specific kind of creature, none of which is explained in the game and you just get to figure it out as you go along.

That, of course, is par for the course with the series. While adding a leveling element into the game is unusual for SaGa, obfuscating how things work and making the player figure things out through experimentation is all part of the “charm” of the series. Having to figure out what you want and how you want it via trial and error is all part of the series, and fans were likely used to that by the time of this third game. And yet, with two sets of beasts to deal with now, monsters and robots, each getting their own parts on their own charts with different elements associated it was likely a lot to have to try and figure out. I have to wonder how many people back in the day really did figure it out of it they found a monster or robot build they liked for certain characters and just hoped for the best as they played through.

Hoping for the best is a legitimate strat, even in the best of situations, because this game is not easy. While basic packs can be managed well enough, a lot of time has to be spent grinding before even a single boss can be tackled. You need money to power up your robots. You need meat for the beasts. You need levels for the humans, and just random battles for the mutants. And you’ll need a few hours to do all this if you aren’t going to use a negative money overflow glitch to make the early build-up of the robots faster. Speedruns of this game clock around an hour and a half and thirty minutes of that is generally just getting the robot parts needed and then glitching the money so they can buy their robots all the way to max stats. And still the bosses aren’t free.

The first boss of the game has about 3,600 health. To put that in context, a robot with the dash ability and maxed stats can do 400 damage. So even the first boss, with a max “level” character, requires multiple hits to defeat. And things only get more powerful from there. Bosses are damage tanks, soaking up a ton while also putting out their fair share. If you don’t know what you’re doing, and don’t have the whole game planned out, you might find it difficult to progress through the game at all (let alone doing it efficiently). Just trying to beat the game can be frustrating for some, making it a real achievement if you can do it at all.

Which is a pity because some of the ideas in the game are interesting. The time travel mechanic puts an interesting spin on the “multiple worlds of exploration” mechanic from the previous games. Instead of going up and down a tower, seeing new realms and looking for dungeons and items on those realms, you’re going back and forth across time, looking for dungeons and items in those time periods. You can see the relation between the games, and how this title does it differently. It’s a neat twist since you can see how things are referenced in one area and then come to fruition in a different period.

As for the collecting of items, these are the parts of the Talon that power it and give it new abilities. It’s similar to collecting Magi in the second game, magical stones that could be equipped to buff party members, but here it is also essential to traversal of the game. You can’t get far without the Float part, you can’t go in the water without the Dive part, etc. These are scattered magical stones, like Magi, but they’re for the Talon so that it can upgrade and be the most useful vehicle possible on your quest. It’s a nice evolution for the series and shows that the team at least thought about how to build something familiar and different.

The difficulty, though, is hard to ignore. It takes a game that could have really worked and imbalances unfairly against the player. For an RPG that was meant to be played on a portable system, with a few minutes here or there to devote while traveling, expecting players to devote hours to grinding just to make progress was unconscionable. Hell, expecting that from any gamer in any game, no matter the context of the system is pretty rude. These are meant to be fun, to be enjoyable at the player’s pace. Expecting hours of grinding doesn’t make the game more fun, just tedious and long.

I want to like Final Fantasy Legend III, and in parts I do. It has a lot of different ideas mixed into it, different things that make it feel like a different game from what came before. But then you get to playing it and you have to deal with the slog, on and on, and it ruins the experience. There could be fun had here if only the game were balanced better.