Reintroducing Final Fantasy To America.
Taking advantage of the popularity of FF7, Squaresoft rereleased almost every game they ever made for the PS1.
Ape’s Ranking: #21/100
RPGs were not mainstream until Final Fantasy 7 dropped on the PS1 in 1997. Even though Squaresoft and Enix released several iterations of their popular-in-Japan Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games, it was still a pretty niche market in America. Hell, Squaresoft didn’t even bother releasing all of their games in America leading to a unique numbering system that wouldn’t be corrected until the late 90s.
With FF7 being a blockbuster hit, Squaresoft wanted to capitalize with repackaging their catalog to a North American population now clamoring for more RPGs. Final Fantasy Anthologies was the first to release containing FFV and FFVI. Final Fantasy Origins (FF I and FF II) and Final Fantasy Chronicles (FFIV and Chrono Trigger) would soon follow for a total of 6 games being released for the PS1 which were ports of older NES or SNES versions.
Very little new content was added to these games. For the NES ports, the graphics were updated to SNES level. For the rest, short opening and ending CGI sequences were included. For those of us who already owned the originals (i.e: me), there was little benefit from buying these redundant ports…
…except when it comes to the never before released American titles.
Final Fantasy Anthologies includes such a title: Final Fantasy V. Only released in Japan, it is unique for having a diverse job system where characters aren’t pigeon-holed into a class type. Instead of the static characters in FFVI and FFVI, you can mix and match classes together to make unique skill sets.
I was more interested in the history aspect: every Final Fantasy is part of a lineage where motifs, themes, and ideas build upon one another. This scaffolding is more apparent the more titles you play by seeing how the series has grown over time. Having played the games that bookend FFV, I was interested to see where it stood. Was it more like FFIV with old-school conundrums or forward thinking like FFVI with a fantastic narrative?
Well, it ended up being a little of both. While FFV’s job system is THE thing that makes the game stand out, it’s not fantastically done. The other elements, mainly the story, are a disappointment and never reach the level I expected.
The Earth’s elements are beginning to fade: the currents are slowing and the wind is stalled. King Tycoon goes to investigate the wind crystal to only see it shatter before his eyes. Bartz (or in my dumbass case Bart because I deleted the z by accident) sees a meteorite fall in the woods and investigates. He finds an unconscious Reina, daughter of King Tycoon, and an unconscious Galuf, an amnesic alien.
The three head off to investigate the Wind Shrine where the crystal is kept. They can’t reach it, however, due to there not being any wind for a ship to sail. Enter Faris, a pirate whose ship is pulled by a dragon, to save the day.
The four make it the Wind Shrine with no sign of the king and the crystal in pieces. The party inherits the crystal shards giving them unique job abilities. They are then visited by King Tycoon via telepathy imploring them to protect the other crystals.
Thus begins the journey of FFV.
Seeing as I have played FFVI more times than I’d want to know, I’m going to focus mostly (editor’s note: only) on FFV.
While not the first FF to use it (as jobs were present in FF1 and FF3), this was a mature iteration. Along with experience, you now earn job points at the end of battles. This levels up your current class and unlocks either active or passive abilities. Active abilities give you more options in battle (like white or black magic) while passive abilities are on all the time even outside of battle (like the ability secret that shows hidden pathways).
This really allowed you to carve out your own unique way of approaching the game. Of course everyone starts with a party consisting of one Fighter, White Mage, Black Mage, and jack-of-all trades. However, as you unlock more classes, things begin to divert as people pick up different skills.
Even though this is the thing that makes the game stand out amongst its peers, there are some problems with it:
1. I have never liked how flexible job systems take away from the personality of the characters. Locke in FFVI is who he is because his class fits his narrative. He’s a swashbuckling thief (ahem, treasure hunter I mean) and his skills in battle are what you’d expect: a lightly-armored, dagger-wielding fighter who can steal. One of the weakest parts of this game is the narration and how everyone felt like a placeholder. The job system made that feeling even worse.
2. While the game portends to have supreme flexibility between classes, it is actually pretty ossified and rigid. There are only a very few choices that are smart, so while players may explores a tortuous path of options, we all probably have the same party by the end.
3. When playing around with classes, there isn’t as much mix and matching as you would think. When you choose a class, you only have one extra slot to put an ability in it. If you are building up a white mage that can also do something else, that means that extra slot will always have to be the “white magic” ability. The thief has a slew of awesome passive abilities, but you can’t take up your one precious spot with something like caution (which avoids back attacks) because it doesn’t move the dial enough.
4. And the weirdest thing of all is your class Bare. This is the class you start off with and is essentially worthless. However, unbeknownst to me, once you learn tons of passive skills, you can use them ALL AT ONCE. Then, you have two slots available for active skills. I’m not sure how stumbled across this, but it is essential to beating the game and is not presented anywhere. So by some point near the end of the game, you stop learning jobs abilities and just equip them ALL AT ONCE. Say it loud, and say it proud: OP.
As an early adopter of Final Fantasy, I would always have to defend my weird choice of video games to people on the school bus. My most frequent articulation was that it was like reading book but you got to play it as a video game. Looking back, this probably wasn’t the best angle: you have to be pretty popular to withstand the hit your reputation will take by saying reading is fun to public school students.
FFV attempts to tell a story, but it’s not very good. While every RPG is a glorified heroes tale, FFV is the off-brand version leaving out crucial bits and pieces. It’s a call to adventure with very little transformation. The characters mostly return to us as they were before making me wonder what the point of the journey was to begin with.
I lay the problem at the feet of characterization. So little effort was used to make these sprite animations have individual thoughts and feelings that it was hard to feel any way about them. It relies completely on cliche, and it is cringeworthy.
Take for instance Faris. She is an androgynous pirate captain. Sounds interesting enough, but the most they can do for her is make her talk like a pirate. Arr there Matey isn’t enough to bolster her personality. Her big plot point is she is secretly Reina’s sister and also heir to the throne. The way you find out? They both own the same pendant. It’s so freakin’ cringeworthy. And that’s A MAIN CHARACTER of which they are only five. Umaro, a dumb Sasquatch in FFVI, got more character development than that.
For the carbon copy sidebar characters, it gets worse. There should be a whole back story involving the previous crusaders who locked away X-death…but none of it is elucidated. What about that main villain X-Death? What is his motivation, insight, or thoughts? Why bent on world destruction? Where did he come from? Your guess is as good as mine.
Peaks with the Valleys.
While I’ve spent most of the time poking at FFV’s desultory aspects, it is actually still a decent RPG. The music is phenomenal as always (Nobuo Uematsu 4 lyfe). Mariachi horns have never captured my heart so quickly:
The game consists of three worlds. You traverse your own home world, Galuf’s parallel universe, and then the combination of the two. The last configuration is open for exploration and probably contains the best moments in the game. Revisiting old towns or setting out for new sites without a mandated itinerary gave the game some juice that it was missing.
Battles, while your standard fare, offer plenty of excitement and strategic planning. FFV in some ways is peak turn-based fighting. The bosses become very varied and slamming away with powerful magic or weapons won’t be enough to beat them. Thinking on the fly and having a diverse enough ability pool to match the scenario kept me on my toes and interested enough to keep going.
Maybe it’s due to not having the nostalgic factor, but FFV didn’t feel like a defining moment in a series full of them.
Other People’s Takes:
- RPG’s Suck: “While FF5 is weak in the story department compared to FF4 and FF6, it makes up for in gameplay. If one enjoys a game that focuses on adventure, then this is definitely one for you. Also it’s a great addition to anyone who loves 16 bit RPG’s.”
- Lightwaves: “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.”
- Travis’ Takes: “From beginning to end, Final Fantasy V proves it does not take an overly deep approach to create a great game. There is no other way to put it: Final Fantasy V is a game that should be played.