Another game I've been playing sporadically for well over a year now, the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy III often feels like a lost classic from the franchise's golden age, before Hironobu Sakaguchi lost his mind and thought he could make movies, before the self-indulgent excesses of Tetsuya Nomura, and long before an infirm Yasumi Matsuno fumbled the company's biggest project into the hands of its resident lunatic, Akitoshi Kawazu. Unfortunately, this would also have been just before the actual prime of the series, as the dated gameplay and storytelling mark it as a title much closer in spirit to Final Fantasy I than to Final Fantasy IV.
The remake practically ignores the DS-specific features of the dual screens and touch control, eschewing innovation in favor of a faithfully traditional experience. This is not a big deal as I'm personally opposed to gratuitous implementation of DS gadgetry in games that clearly aren't designed with them in mind (which FFIII obviously wasn't). On that note, the 3D graphical overhaul doesn't add very much in terms of functionality or gameplay. In fact, it mainly adds a really annoying new gimmick where the player can zoom in and out to reveal hidden items and switches. The art, however, is superb, as the cute character models distract from any technical limitations of the system. The definite highlight of the title, the enhanced soundtrack takes full advantage of the obviously superior DS sound system, while retaining all the melodic beauty of some of Nobuo Uematsu's finest work.
The title most clearly shows its age in the basic mechanics of combat and character development, which remain largely unchanged from the 8-bit original. FFIII takes the class system of FFI and upgrades it into the job system, allowing party members to change classes at will, with more options unlocked as the game progresses. While this was probably quite an advancement for the series in 1990, it's a far cry from the vastly more robust system of Final Fantasy V. Aside from some classes being more useless than others, there isn't very much differentiation between them. Fighter classes all revolve around use of the basic "Fight" command, while mages sport the usual assortment of spells. Without any truly notable special abilities to significantly alter the battle dynamic, combat becomes incredibly repetitive. Furthermore, a character's assigned job only really affects immediate stats, rather than determining the course of development. Character-building feels nonexistent as a result, with the party usually composed of just the strongest fighter and mage classes available at the time. On the bright side, there is no grinding for levels a la Dragon Quest. While harder than the average Final Fantasy, the difficulty is due primarily to the absence of in-dungeon save points--another archaism that especially should have been addressed given that it is now a portable game.
Story, usually the strength of any Final Fantasy game, is the other major department where FFIII dates itself. While the world is constructed with a cavalier imaginativeness not often found in today's games, and there are occassional moments of genuine awe, the plot is, on the whole, incredibly spare. In an attempt to somewhat modernize the game, the remake replaces the generic party members of the original game with actual characters with names, genders, and personalities. Disappointingly, once introductions are through, however, the initially charming characters say very little. Lacking the involved melodrama that became a series trademark with FFIV, the story just doesn't have much to engage the player.
That's probably the main reason that it's taking me so long to get through FFIII. While hardly a bad game, there's just not enough there to make me feel invested, so it often gets set aside as my attention shifts to other titles.