A few months ago, I decided to play Final Fantasy V as my ‘workout’ game. I had not taken the opportunity in the past. The experience inspired me to begin my long running RPGTrek. The following article details why.
As most people know, we almost missed our opportunity to play Final Fantasy V. During the SNES era, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy IV (originally titled Final Fantasy II in the USA), followed by Final Fantasy VI (originally titled Final Fantasy III in the states). Before the internet, most RPGamers, myself included, had no idea that we missed two NES Final Fantasy games and one of the SNES classics.
Later, Squaresoft would merge (or buy out) Enix, makers of the Dragon Quest series, and become SquareEnix. This new company wasted no time in re-releasing all three SNES classics on their Gameboy Advanced portable gaming platform. They straightened out the numbering convention while doing so, going back to the originals used in Japan. So, for the first time, Americans would have a chance to play Final Fantasy V.
I purchased Final Fantasy V on the Gameboy Advnace some time ago, but never stopped to play it. I only heard bad things about the other missing Final Fantasy games (the original Final Fantasy II and III on the NES), so I connected the dots and figured there might be a good reason that the decision makers at Squaresoft did not release this back in the SNES days.
And, boy, was I wrong
I decided to get more serious about working out. While I work out, I usually play a Nintendo DS game. Looking for a bit of a break from the long dungeon crawler I played at the time, I decided to give Final Fantasy V a spin. Taking about four months of work outs plus some airplane time, I finally beat this game with nearly 50 hours on the clock.
Warning, minor spoilers follow here, so you may want to skip to the next paragraph if you have not played yet.) The story feels mostly generic with some twists. A party of four heroes come together to stop a huge evil intent on taking over the world (or the universe) by consuming it with a “Void”. These “heroes of the Light” gather the remnants of shattered crystals to get the power they need to confront it. Through the journey, your party will face gains and losses, good times and bad. At one point I was approaching the end of the game just to find out that another ‘world’ awaited me.
The characters in your party have their own backstory, which takes a little time to unravel. However, none of them approach the depth of later games. They failed to resonate with me the way Final Fantasy VI characters did, though they certainly have more depth than other games, including Dragon Warrior IV. Other, supporting NPCs, almost feel throwaway, though similar to Final Fantasy VI, I found one of the reoccurring villains, Gilgamesh, pretty endearing. He made me chuckle on more than one occasion. I just felt more needed to be done, especially in the late game, to help me connect with the characters in the party.
I know many people complain how linear Final Fantasy XIII felt. To me, most of these games feel that way, at least for the first half. Similar to Dragon Warrior IV, the party must follow the story narrative to get anywhere. While the party may backtrack, to an extent, and visit older villages or monster areas, they can only go one direction if they wish to advance the story. However, by the third act of the story, things open up considerably, giving the second half of the game a much larger, open world feel. Indeed, I enjoyed travelling over the world finding out many secrets on my own, most of which made my party more powerful.
Final Fantasy V falls between Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI in so many different ways. The story, graphics, animation and more fall between the two other SNES siblings in quality, for me. In most respects, that means top notch work. While they lack the expressionism of, say, Chrono Trigger, Square manages to get a lot of emotion out of the small character sprites. I should also note, I really enjoyed how each main character looked different depending on their class. No two fighters looked the same. Square had to create over a hundred different character models in all their various positions. Awesome.
The job system of Final Fantasy V steals the spotlight. Through the game, you find and unlock various jobs. Your characters can change to these jobs any time outside of combat. As they fight, they earn XP to gain levels, and AP to gain class levels. As you earn those class levels, you unlock skills. You can equip any one skill to your character from any class. For example, Bartz may be a fighters, but you equip the “!Black” magic skill on him, which allows him to access his black spell list. You may, instead, equip the Two Handed skill which allows him to hold most weapons with both hands for additional effectiveness with that weapon.
I found deep joy in leveling up the classes to unlock skills and trying out various combos. What I really enjoy from this game (and its missing in more ‘hard-core’ games) is that it allows plenty of wiggle room. If you build a completely ineffective party, you will die. However, you can use any number of combinations because the game’s difficulty is not so high that only the three best builds in the game need apply. For the most part, I completed this game without the help of an FAQ, discovering areas and effective class/skill combos on my own. This game shines in that area, giving the player the feeling that his choices (and decisions to take the time to level), really pay off here, without forcing them in one direction… either in how they build up their class or how they fight that last boss.
Combat generally felt good. Squaresoft continued to build off the successful Final Fantasy IV real time battle system. For the most part, if I thought something should work, it did. I did get frustrated with a few bosses that seem to employ arbitrary mechanics to ‘enhance the battle.’ For example, a trio of bosses, that the heroes fight at once, somehow auto resurrect if they are not all three slain in one blow. To add salt to the wound, they hit you with a powerful ‘delta attack’ upon resurrection. Aside from these few blips, most of the combat felt very solid and the difficulty curve progressed rather smoothly from beginning to end. Considering how many different combinations of character classes and skills players could come up with, that’s saying something.
Overall, I really enjoyed Final Fantasy V, and I highly recommend it to any fan of the franchise, or JRPGs in general. It deserves its place among this beloved series.