This will be a little different from my normal reviews. There's no narrative structure to speak of, and the artwork isn't a part of a larger story in the traditional sense. Archives like this are meant to allow us to take a deeper look into something we already care for - in this case, Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy X, XI, XII, XIII, and XIV are the most recent releases in the numeral Final Fantasy games (barring Final Fantasy XV which came out recently and thus didn't make it into this particular collection) and offer a unique look at how Final Fantasy and Square Enix as a whole have tried to find ways to reinvent themselves after the golden age of the PlayStation 1 generation. While I'd argue that all of the games seen here are marvels in their own right, their reception has varied wildly from game to game. In some ways, this makes the collection more valuable, because you can compare and contrast the decisions made between each of these varied entries in the Final Fantasy series.
As far as layout goes, this is one of the best archives/artbooks I've seen. There are one or two spots where some illustrations deserved more space, but with so much information, including translated notes from the actual creative team, it’s clear why the art sometimes needed to be condensed. If I had any complaints, it would be that the book spends a long time on Final Fantasy XIII. This is probably because it had a massive development with lots of moving parts they wanted to illustrate in the archive. That's mostly a personal position, though; I just find XI and XIV more interesting and if XIII happens to be your favorite, you'll love how in depth they go with it.
The best part of the book actually comes right at the end, nestled away in the closing pages of the book with a half dozen pages dedicated to a few words from some of Final Fantasy's lead developers and directors. These brief antidotes about the creative process were beautiful and well thought out while also providing insight into the minds behind these games. I rarely find an opportunity to hear the thoughts of video game sound designers, monster animators, and scenario writers who are the front lines of great game design.
There's no way I could end this review without giving Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive Volume 3 a recommendation. The art of Final Fantasy, especially the concept art, is beyond amazing. There are a couple of places where I wish the book had been formatted just a tad better, but, ultimately, as long as you can see and appreciate the artwork, none of that is going to be a deal breaker. If you don't know much about Final Fantasy, I'd recommend picking up Volumes 1 or 2 since they focus on more ubiquitous Final Fantasy games (and feature some of Yoshitaka Amano's greatest pieces). Volume 3 is going to have more appeal to either staunch fans of the later games or someone looking to compare and contrast the game design elements. Either way, Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive Volume 3 is a fantastic addition to any gamer, artist, or just art lover's collection.
Creative Team: Mike Richardson (Publisher), Ian Tucker (Editor), Dan Wallace (Copyeditor)
Publisher: Dark Horse
Click here to purchase.