An Essential RPG
Final Fantasy 3 was the last "numbered" Final Fantasy game on a Nintendo system, and in this gamer's opinion is still the best Final Fantasy in the series. Sure, the graphics aren't on par with Final Fantasy 7's, but the story has yet to be beat.
Final Fantasy 3 begins with an Imperial raid on the small mining town of Narshe. Recently unearthed in Narshe was a frozen Esper, a being of magic. With the group of Imperial soldiers is a girl who's memory has been robbed by the slave crown she wears. You learn through conversations between the soldiers that she attacked an Imperial base and slaughtered over 50 Magitek armored soldiers before being subdued.
After tearing through Narshe's meager defense force, the party arrives at the Esper. The Esper reacts to the enslaved girl and kills her escorts and knocks her out. She awakens in town in a citizen's house who had rescued her from the caves and removed the slave crown. But there isn't much time for rest, Narshe's remaining soldiers had caught wind that the "Magitek riding witch" was in that house, so she makes her escape.
And thus begins a winding tale of love, loss, honor, and finding one's place in life involving 12 playable characters, each with their own story. Well, mostly, Umaro and Gogo don't really have a back story but their characters don't really need one.
Anyone who has played Final Fantasy 7 should find the battle system somewhat familiar, it's rather standard fare for an early Final Fantasy. There are no "jobs" as there was with Final Fantasy 5, instead you'll find each character fits a particular role in battle. For example, Locke is a thief, Edgar can use battle tools, and Sabin is in essence a monk.
Magic is handled by equipping Espers, which are similar to Materia. When you equip your character with an Esper, you can use the spells that Esper has to offer as well as summon it. If you remove the Esper you lose those skills, but if you've accumulated enough AP the skills remain and you can equip a new Esper, expanding your magical abilities. Every character you get can learn every spell in the game through Espers, though some are more suited to being mages than others.
I could go on and on about the story or solid gameplay, but it's best to experience it for yourself. Although it's pricey, the Super Nintendo version is still the best to get. You can find it on the PlayStation in the Final Fantasy Anthology but load times can get annoying. If you go the Anthology route you also get Final Fantasy 5, previously unavailable in the states and also a very good game.
On a personal note, after Earthbound this was my second RPG and the one that really got me into the genre. It's still the best RPG experience I've had, I knew nothing about the game going into it, I hadn't even read the manual. This will always be my favorite RPG, right along with Chrono Trigger and Earthbound.