Secrets and Lies

Two nights ago I was fiddling around with NES emulation on my PSP, when I discovered that I had a whole folder of Japanese NES ROMs that I had completely forgotten about. While poking around there, I made two shocking discoveries.

Final Fantasy IV (J) (what was originally Final Fantasy II, in the US) was nowhere near the leap forward that I thought it was at the time. Over the years, Square has gone back and re-released every Final Fantasy game they’ve ever made—except for Final Fantasy III. (I’d always wondered why it got the brushover, when even FF I and FF II were re-released—though now it appears that it will be remade and released for the DS sometime.)

FF III was among the ROMs that I uncovered, so I jumped in to see what was what. It was the last of the NES-era Final Fantasy games, yet actually is the missing link that connects earlier Final Fantasies to the (breakout) FF IV. [I’ve never actually played FF II, so I’ll mostly be talking about transitions from FF I to III.] You start out with four pre-determined characters, as before… but you begin (I’ve discovered via the web, since I still can’t read Japanese) as four children poking around a new cave, not as the four who know that they are Light Warriors from the start. Battles feature auto-targeting, so that if you tell two people to attack one enemy, and the first person kills it, the second person will actually attack someone else instead of just standing around useless until the next turn. (I hated that aspect of the first Final Fantasy!) At the end of the cave, you find a crystal—not an orb—that (again, apparently) tells you about Bad Stuff going down, complete with an 8-bit version of the Final Fantasy IV spiraling crystal sparkles.

You then return to an overworld map that looks similar to those of earlier games (no Mode 7 for the NES!), where you wander back to your town.

And ZOMG what a town it is! The whole town experience is exactly like Final Fantasy IV’s, just crammed into 8 bits. People wandering around everywhere? Check. Tall grass that obscures the lower body of your character? Check. Water, trees, “secret” paths, inns with attached taverns that you wander through, dancers that lock you out until they finish their dance? Check check check check checkity-check.

Final Fantasy III may well be the first Final Fantasy that is still really playable today—a position I earlier believed was held by FF IV. I’m honestly amazed that they did what they did with the original NES.

Old-school NES players will almost certainly remember a little title named Bionic Commando. The game was notable because your character had no ability to jump—instead, he had a grappling hook cannon for an arm, and could use that to latch onto “ceilings” (really higher floors) and swing around.

The Japanese name of that game? Hitler no Fukkatsu: Top SecretThe Resurrection of Hitler: Top Secret. In America, you were fighting a random enemy; in Japan, you were fighting neo-Nazis, under the command of a cloned Hitler. The ROM is peppered with swastikas, too, that were—along with all other Nazi references—stripped from the US release.



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