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Posted on Jan 26th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Square Enix, Squaresoft, JRPG

Being a big fan of JRPGs and the Final Fantasy series in particular since the 16-bit era, both Final Fantasy IV and VI (or II and III as we knew them at the time) are two of my all-time favorite games. Little did I (or pretty much anyone else in the west) know at the time that there was a whole other Final Fantasy game released for the SNES that we missed out on and wouldn't officially get for several years. I eventually played Final Fantasy V via the Final Fantasy Anthology collection for the PlayStation, but this was nearly 20 years ago, and I remember virtually nothing from that playthrough. It has been nagging at me for years that I should revisit this game, so I finally fired up the GBA release and replayed what was considered a missing link in the Final Fantasy series for years.

Final Fantasy V was originally released on December 6, 1992 in Japan for the Super Famicom and remained a Japanese exclusive for several years. Originally intended to be titled Final Fantasy III in North America, multiple attempts to localize the game ended up getting canceled, prompting fans to translate the game themselves, becoming one of the first games to ever receive a full fan translation. It was finally localized for a western release in 1999 as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology collection for the PlayStation, and was later given an enhanced port for the Game Boy Advance with new features and an entirely new translation. It has since been re-released on multiple downloadable services and has also been remade for Android, iOS, and PC. The game has received mixed to positive reception over the years through its various iterations and remains a fan favorite title in the series due to its unique job system.

The game begins with main protagonist Bartz investigating a nearby fallen meteor where he meets fellow protagonists Lenna and Galuf. Lenna is traveling to the Wind Shrine to find her father who left to check on the wind crystal due to the failing wind currents in the land, and Bartz and Galuf decide to accompany her. Shortly after, they meet the pirate captain and fourth playable character Faris who agrees to sail the party to the Wind Shrine. After discovering that the wind crystal has shattered, the party learns that the three remaining crystals are also at risk of shattering and must be preserved or else the world will become uninhabitable and the seal containing the evil Exdeath will be released.

The story is one of the weaker aspects of the game overall. The plot is fairly derivative and predictable with little in the way of exciting plot twists, and the characters are also fairly one-dimensional with little development along the way. It's serviceable but not a selling point of the game. The game also has a strange sense of humor that rears its head more often than it should, and, although I suspect that some will appreciate this game's attempts at humor, I felt that they were out of place and took me out of the story more than I already was.

Oh, I get it, because he's a turtle, right?

Final Fantasy V will feel familiar for anyone who has played a typical JRPG, especially a Final Fantasy game, from the era. Throughout the course of the game, your party will need to explore various towns and dungeons, as well as an overworld map. Towns are full of people to talk to, often giving hints on where to go next, and dungeons are filled with treasure chests and will usually have a boss encounter at the end. There are plenty of secret and optional things to find late in the game which can easily be missed, but townspeople are generally pretty helpful and give hints on where to find such things.

First introduced in Final Fantasy IV, the combat is Square's special blend of turn-based combat known as the Active-Time Battle system wherein character and enemy turn orders are determined by a gauge that fills based on that character's speed attribute. The overworld map and dungeon areas have random encounters, and while I did feel like the encounter rate was a tad high, fortunately battles tend to move along quickly enough so that it's not too much of a nuisance. Party members will gain experience after battles which will cause them to level up and increase their attributes. Again, it's all pretty standard fare for the genre.

What sets Final Fantasy V apart from other titles and the real hook of its gameplay mechanics lies with its Job system. Early in the game, you are given access to several different jobs that you can assign to each character, which include things such as Knight, Thief, White Mage, and Black Mage, just to name a few. In addition to standard EXP which is earned in combat to level up your characters, you also earn ABP which is used to level up each character's current job. Whenever a character gains a level in their current job, they will permanently learn an ability associated with that job, and one of these abilities can be carried over when a new job is assigned. This system allows for a ton of different and interesting character builds, such as a Dragoon who can cast White Magic, or a Thief who can cast summons; the possibilities are nearly endless. You will eventually gain access to about two dozen different jobs throughout the course of the game, and it is a lot of fun experimenting with different abilities and combinations, and this also allows for quite a bit of flexibility and replayability. It is a great evolution of a system that was first introduced in the Famicom-exclusive Final Fantasy III and has been further explored in the Final Fantasy Tactics subseries.

So many options!

Graphically, Final Fantasy V is a nice, albeit a bit dated, looking game for its time and is unsurprisingly the missing link between the art styles of Final Fantasy IV and the vastly more detailed Final Fantasy VI. Many elements, such as character sprites, certain enemy sprites, and certain backgrounds feel like they were ripped straight out of Final Fantasy IV, but there are also some enemy sprites and some more detailed backgrounds that look to be a precursor to the art style of Final Fantasy VI. The music of Final Fantasy V was composed by legendary series veteran composer Nobuo Uematsu, and while I don't think that Final Fantasy V has the best soundtrack in the series, it still has a very solid score overall with a handful of tracks standing out as being particularly great.

As mentioned previously, there are several different ways to play this game now, but the GBA version is generally considered the best due to a better translation than the PS1 version and many added features. The iOS/Android/Steam versions are similar to the GBA version and retains the improved script and added features, but the art style is drastically different, and I personally think it looks awful. The PS1 version's translation has been commonly criticized but it does have some added CGI cinematics which look nice. Of course, there is also the original Super Famicom release which has multiple complete fan translations available.

While the comparatively weaker story and characters bring the game down as a whole, the great Job system and familiar series' mechanics and charm elevate Final Fantasy V to an engaging and worthwhile experience. There are many different ways to play the game now, so be sure to reference the aforementioned possibilities and choose the one that sounds best to you. It may not be my favorite entry in the series, but Final Fantasy V is still a very solid title overall and a must-play for fans of the other 16-bit Final Fantasy titles.

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