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Review: Final Fantasy V
Note: This is the fifth of a multi-part series featuring reviews of Final Fantasy games.
The Under-Rated Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy V remains the last main Final Fantasy game not to see an overseas release for its original platform (the Super Nintendo). As a result, it doesn't receive nearly as much praise or love as its Super Nintendo brethren Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy VI, both of which were released overseas to mostly critical acclaim. Final Fantasy V had to wait seven years before its first overseas release, in a collection alongside Final Fantasy VI. That version, however, was ridden with poor loading times and a weak localization effort, which hampered opinions towards Final Fantasy V especially when being packaged with the already-beloved Final Fantasy VI.
Thankfully, the game along with the other SNES Final Fantasies saw an additional overseas release on the Game Boy Advance. With an improved localization, no loading times and end-game extras, the GBA version of Final Fantasy V is the best version thus far and it showcases the game well, which at this point Final Fantasy V can be considered a hidden gem in the series.
The New Job System
Final Fantasy V's most recognizable feature - and its greatest strength - is the relatively robust job system it features. Players start off with the basic "Freelancer" job but quickly earn six more jobs, and then more as the game progresses. Unlike Final Fantasy III which featured a basic job changing system, Final Fantasy V allowed characters to learn abilities, both passive and in battle command form, and apply them even if the character is of a completely different job. For instance, the player can learn the 'bare-handed' ability from the Monk to fight competently with fists, and then have a fist-fighting White Mage, or a Knight that can steal, and so on.
A major restriction, though, is that one can apply a very limited number of commands or abilities to a character. Each player has four commands: Attack, Item and two more. Most classes set an ability for the third command, leaving the player only one slot to add an additional ability or skill. Freelancers have no job command, leaving the player two open slots, while the hidden Mime job allows players to replace the Item command with a third ability (while replacing Attack with Mime, which copies the previous character's move).
Well, I call it a major restriction, but with four characters at most times you're still able to come up with a variety of setups for characters that work really well depending on what jobs you put on them. Further, once a job learns all the abilities it can learn, it'll be "Mastered", which means passive abilities from some classes (a counter ability from Monks, for example) will become automatic passive abilities for Freelancers and Mimes as well, making those two classes very strong endgame classes once you've mastered several key classes.
The ATB system introduced in Final Fantasy IV also returns, with the minor improvement that the player can now see the character's ATB bars. However, you still can't switch between ready character's commands like in Final Fantasy IV, so characters are set to a specific order in battle.
Final Fantasy V (GBA) on Amazon
Its Not as Dramatic... So It's Worse?
One of the common complaints you hear regarding Final Fantasy V is in its plot. The game borrows from earlier games in using the "four crystal" plot, but instead of restoring the crystals, the party is trying to stop them from shattering, which would break the seal on an evil figure from the past.
Unlike Final Fantasy IV, which had several characters going in and out of your party, Final Fantasy V has just five playable characters (with a single instance of one being replaced by another for the second half of the game). This is, mostly, for gameplay reasons as each character is basically a blank slate with which you can mold into whatever you'd like, but the relative lack of characters makes for a less diverse story to tell.
What gets me, though, is the criticism that the game's plot isn't all that dramatic or serious for most of the game. Unlike Final Fantasy IV, which has enough melodrama to be an opera, Final Fantasy V features a more light-hearted affair, full of adventure at first until near the game's end, when the antagonist starts causing massive chaos. The shift in tone between Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy V (and then, from Final Fantasy V to the more serious Final Fantasy VI) is jarring to a lot of people, it seems, and Final Fantasy V is dismissed because of its relatively lack of 'drama'.
That's not to say Final Fantasy V is completely lacking in drama. While there aren't any notable romantic elements in the game (which, compared to later entries in the series, is refreshing), multiple characters have to deal with their own personal pasts and tragedies, and the loss of a certain character causes the game's tone to drastically shift and its mostly serious from then on. That's not to say that the game's writing is somehow perfect, though, as there are a few areas that are rather uninteresting, such as the entirety of Lenna's character and parts featuring the scholars are pretty boring as well. Regardless, it's a fun story that shouldn't be given the hate or derision it receives.
Still The Final Fantasy Experience
The game, visually, still looks a lot like the first four games, slightly more polished than Final Fantasy IV but sprite and overworld shapes and areas look like they always have. The music of Final Fantasy V varies; there are a few excellent tracks including the now-famous "Battle on the Big Bridge", but a lot of the soundtrack is forgettable, more so than most other Final Fantasies.
What also helps Final Fantasy V stand out are some of its characters. Galuf, in particular, is one of my favorite Final Fantasy characters in general, particularly once the game enters its middle portion. Gilgamesh, who has become a more recurring character in recent years, makes his splashy debut in this game as well. Faris is a pretty decent character at times, but she's often in the backburner whenever the plot isn't about her pirates or Lenna. Cid and his grandson Mid have some pretty good scenes together, as do the multitude of chocobo and moogle characters you come across. Final Fantasy V has a ton of charm that is often overlooked in a lot of characters, and most people have given this game a disservice in dismissing those charms just because it doesn't take itself as seriously.
Where to Play Final Fantasy V (Outside of Japan)
Final Fantasy Anthology
First version localized, seven years after the fact, poor localization and load times. Also on PSN.
Final Fantasy V Advance
Game Boy Advance
New localization, new endgame content including four new classes
Final Fantasy V
Remade with new 2D visuals
Visually "upgraded" for mobile, includes endgame extras from GBA version
Graphics (by SNES standards)
I'm going to be honest here: Final Fantasy V remains my favorite Final Fantasy to date. The expansive job system and the light-hearted story really captivate me more than anything else and is the only Final Fantasy other than, VII, I guess, that I can replay time and time again.
However, I'm aware that my opinions on this game, and my tastes in general apparently, don't match up with most other people. While most everyone does like and appreciate Final Fantasy V's job system, most people are dissatisfied with the game's storyline and plot and find themselves unmotivated to finish the game as a result.
As such, whether or not you'll like this game comes down to two things: how much you like story in your RPGs, and just what kind of stories interest you in such games. If, like me, you enjoy not just a light-hearted story, but a story that doesn't take over a game like it does in certain other Final Fantasies, you may come to enjoy Final Fantasy V as much as I have. On the other hand, if you're looking for a deep, engrossing story, so much so that you can't enjoy a game without it, then Final Fantasy V isn't for you which is too bad because mechanically, Final Fantasy V remains one of the best Final Fantasies in the series.