It’s the 30th anniversary of the launch of Final Fantasy III in Japan (April 27, 1990). To commemorate the occasion, Square Enix has published an interview with game planner Hiromichi Tanaka on its official site. Many gamers in the West never played the original on the Famicom/NES, but we all know that it was an influential title in the franchise. FFIII is most well-known for its extensive job system, which granted special abilities to player characters and inspired a number of later games. It was also the first game to feature staples like moogles and HP displaying on damage. And of course, it introduced the summon command, allowing players to call upon such iconic characters as Bahamut, Shiva, Ifrit, and Odin.
Jobs and the peculiarity of Dragoons
The job system meant each class has its own unique command, such as “Magic” for a Black Mage and “Jump” for the Dragoon. The latter is especially notable for how odd it is. Tanaka explains how it came about: “I think that in our head, we envisioned the dragoon grabbing on to the leg of a wyvern or something, then falling down from the sky. Although perhaps Mr. Ishii’s original vision was more a traditional dragoon mounted infantry.”
Additionally, the sprite design for the Final Fantasy III jobs stemmed from displeasure at the lack of cuteness in the class upgrades from Final Fantasy: “For FFI we called it the class change system, but the way they changed from a small character to an adult character, from a sprite size of about two heads to three, just wasn’t cute at all. So yes, we decided to drop class change and go with job change.”
Oodles of moogles
About the origins of moogles, Tanaka said that “it’s not a character that I remember at the time being in a special or important position, or even particularly memorable. It was just one character of many, and we added it in because we wanted someone to put in these caves. It was a race of cave people; we didn’t think it would become a mascot character.” He goes on to say that they were originally supposed to have a role as creatures that could see in the dark, essentially citing “darkvision” from Dungeons & Dragons as inspiration, but that ability seemed fall by the wayside.
Summon you loved
Interestingly, summons in Final Fantasy III were conceived as a kind of contrast to the cute characters. Tanaka says that “there’s a visual difference between the player side and the monster side, with Mr. (Yoshitaka) Amano’s monster designs on one end and Mr. Ishii’s character pixel art on the other. We wanted to place something monster-like on the player’s side too, to create a visual that pits monster versus monster, and so from that I suggested including summons.”
Additionally, Odin was the first summon created for Final Fantasy III. “Odin’s visual design came from a picture that happened to be in Mr. Amano’s illustrations of a man riding a horse which looked close to the design we wanted,” explained Tanaka. He added with laughter, “I can’t remember exactly why we decided he uses Zantetsuken; there were even people on the development team saying, ‘Doesn’t Odin always use a spear?'” Technological quirks and graphical programming for the game Rad Racer also played a role in Odin’s memorable slicing attack.
“To animate the road turning we would integrate scrolling by individual scanlines,” said Tanaka. “Using the same technique, for Odin’s attack we realized perhaps we could shift the scanlines in the middle of the display and make it look like the screen is splitting in half. I figured we could slide the top and bottom parts of the monster to make it look like it’s been cut into two pieces.” Incidentally, this is why the enemy side of the field is all black, to prevent it from messing up a background. To this day, Odin still cuts things in half.
There’s plenty more to learn about in the interview, such as how the setting of the game came to be, how homemade Apple II games helped the series get started, a little bit about Secret of Mana, and much more.