In honor of Final Fantasy III’s 30th anniversary, Square Enix recently published an extensive interview with Hiromichi Tanaka, who worked as a designer on the 1990 Famicom game. While lighthearted, they do touch on some interesting subjects, including the debut of Moogles, how they created a cool attack effect for the Odin summon, and the inspiration behind the Dragoon’s signature Jump ability.
Final Fantasy III introduced several new concepts and mechanics to what was then a burgeoning role-playing series. When the game’s script called for a society of cave-dwellers, the developers created the Moogles, a race of cute, bat-winged puffballs. Moogles have since gone on to become the franchise’s official mascot, but at the time of Final Fantasy III, they weren’t considered all that special by the team at Square.
“How do I say this… it’s not a character that I remember at the time being in a special or important position, or even particularly memorable,” Tanaka said of the Moogles. “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.”
Summons, another ubiquitous part of the Final Fantasy experience, first appeared in Final Fantasy III as well. Certain classes are able to call forth mythical beings like Ifrit, Leviathan, and Bahamut to assist the party in battle. The Odin summon was particularly neat in the way it appeared to cleave enemies in two with its special attack, a rather sophisticated effect for the NES/Famicom hardware.
“Before Final Fantasy III, when we were making Rad Racer, at that time we were developing for cathode ray tube screens, so to animate the road turning we would integrate scrolling by individual scanlines,” Tanaka explained. “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.”
This animation is also why the Final Fantasy III battlefield was a plain black void, with environmental art only at the very top of the screen. A complicated background layered behind the enemies would have split up as well, ruining the effect.
In expanding the job system, the Final Fantasy III developers had to come up with unique techniques to set the various classes apart from one another. Some are pretty obvious: Black Mages have access to magic, Thieves can steal items from enemies, Summoners summon summons, etc. But when it came to Dragoons, which were based on a type of mounted cavalry from the 18th century, the team settled on Jump. This skill has been a consistent part of the Dragoon’s repertoire ever since, but its origins are hazy even to Tanaka.
“When it was all said and done, we did wonder about things like why we gave the Dragoon job the ‘Jump’ command,” Tanaka said, laughing. “More than anything, I feel like it was just ideas that came to us out of the blue. 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 [job designer Koichi Ishii’s] original vision was more a traditional Dragoon-mounted infantry. We ended up with this image of riding a dragon like a horse, only it’s a flying dragon.”
A cool side effect of classic games like Final Fantasy III growing old is that the developers who worked on them become more and more forthcoming as time goes on. Tanaka’s interview with Square Enix is a fascinating look back at a tradition-setting installment in the Final Fantasy timeline.