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This Forgotten Lord of the Rings Game Should Have Been a Great RPG Franchise


As The Third Age’s development progressed and a few clips of the project were finally released, it became abundantly clear that the game was heavily based on the blockbuster 2001 JRPG, Final Fantasy X. While the similarities between those two games certainly raised a few eyebrows early on, there was certainly a sense that The Third Age could end up being one of the biggest and best games of 2004. The in-development clips of the project looked fantastic, EA had already released multiple hit games based on the LOTR films, and the Third Age team (led by former Square Enix producer Steve Gray) seemed genuinely passionate about the entire project. 

At the very least, many fans felt comfortable with the knowledge that The Third Age would allow them to dive deep into Peter Jackson’s vision of JRR Tolkien’s world one last time. The optimists among those fans even felt that The Third Age could end up being the start of something big. After all, the Final Fantasy franchise had become a mainstream industry player in recent years. Why couldn’t a Lord of the Rings game that was mechanically similar to the latest Final Fantasy title eventually enjoy a similar level of success?

All of that is to say that there was quite a bit of anticipation in the air when The Third Age was finally released in November 2004 for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Despite all of the hype, though, the game debuted to a resounding “meh.” As it turns out, there was a large gap between the reality of playing the game and the dream of what it could have been. 

The Third Age Was the Sincerest Form of Final Fantasy X Flattery

I know I just said that The Third Age’s gameplay was heavily inspired by Final Fantasy X, but I don’t think it’s possible to emphasize that comparison strongly enough. For all intents and purposes, The Third Age is FFX (at least from a gameplay perspective). The two titles feature similar combat systems (Third Age blatantly borrows FFX’s Conditional Turn-Based battle system), similar RPG mechanics, and some suspiciously similar animations. The Third Age’s overworld navigation sequences and cutscenes even utilize strangely familiar camera angles and other common FFX presentation concepts. 

The biggest difference between Final Fantasy X and The Third Age is how “accessible” the latter title is. For the most part, Third Age ditches FFX’s more complicated mechanics or simply replaces them with far more beginner-friendly alternatives. 

Whereas Final Fantasy X featured a wonderfully deep Sphere Grid system that allowed players to build characters pretty much however they’d like, The Third Age only allows you to choose between a handful of optional skills and assign experience points to basic stats. FFX was filled with elaborate sidequests, while The Third Age limited players to a handful of basic activities clearly outlined in each area. FFX’s combat pushed your party to its limits and often forced you to overcome XP roadblocks. Meanwhile, The Third Age offered little to no serious opposition, even when you played it on the hardest available difficulty. Players of any skill level could breeze through the title with relative ease. There were even options that let the game do most of the combat work for you.

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