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Final Fantasy V (SNES) artwork

Final Fantasy V (SNES) review

"Among the many Final Fantasies, “Final Fantasy V” is reported to be the favorite of the series godfather, Hironobu Sakaguchi. This would surprise a lot of us Western gamers, who largely favor the sixth and seventh games. Video role-playing fans on this side of the cultural hemisphere tend to judge these games by their “story”, which is probably why a lot of people tend to dismiss the once mysterious and out of reach FFV. When a lot of American gamers finally got the chance to play the “Lost Fina..."

Among the many Final Fantasies, “Final Fantasy V” is reported to be the favorite of the series godfather, Hironobu Sakaguchi. This would surprise a lot of us Western gamers, who largely favor the sixth and seventh games. Video role-playing fans on this side of the cultural hemisphere tend to judge these games by their “story”, which is probably why a lot of people tend to dismiss the once mysterious and out of reach FFV. When a lot of American gamers finally got the chance to play the “Lost Final Fantasy”, their response was: This is it?

That wasn’t and still isn’t the case in Japan, where role-playing gamers give as much consideration to the game mechanics as the story, if not more. FFV is a role-player’s role-playing game. It’s one dungeon after another, strung together by the barest plotting imaginable, liberally sprinkled with random combat sequences in which the outcome is determined by menu decisions and cryptic algorithms. The centerpiece of the game is its famous “job system”, in which the player picks what role each of their four characters will play. The selection includes, among many others: Knight, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, Thief, and Blue Mage.

What makes the gameplay in Final Fantasy V one of the best in its genre is the satisfaction to be had from mastering it. I recently played a game in which I defeated Shinryu, one of the two infamous super bosses, with a level forty-four party and about twenty-five hours of time logged in my save file. In other words, I defeated the boss, not through mindless experience point farming, but through careful plotting of my characters’ growth throughout the game.

You see, your characters can eventually “master” their battle roles, or jobs. A mastered job has its attributes passed on to your character’s “jobless” form. Instead of stopping at one mastered job, you can move on to complete another. The result is that your character can inherit the best attributes (strength, speed, stamina, magic power) of many different jobs, as well as the commands and special abilities.

In my game, I had the following hybrids: Knight/Ninja, Knight/Mystic Knight, Knight/Mystic Knight/Thief, and White Mage/Time Mage/Red Mage/Mimic. The first character could hold a weapon in each hand, delivering two hits in one turn. He could also use the “Throw” command to toss devastating “Pinwheel” ninja stars. The second character had the double-grip ability, which forgoes a shield for double the striking power. Both “Mystic Knight” characters had the “Flare” Spellblade magic, which allows the stronger of the two to inflict damage in the 9000 point range. The last combination is the most potent: The Red Mage’s “X-Magic” command allows you to cast two spells in one turn. With the Time Mage’s “Quick” spell, which freezes time to allow its caster two more acting turns, and the White Mage’s healing magic, I literally created some kind of hyper-active superhuman. Assigning the Mimic job gave this character the three command slots needed to use X-Magic, White Magic, and Time Magic.

The point of all this bragging is to illustrate the options a player is given in this game. These aren’t combinations you’d arrive at in your first play through. I haven’t kept an accurate count, but I’d say I’ve completed FFV about five or six times. The first time, I found the Shinryu battle to be hopeless. When you give a lot of time to a game and it gives back, I consider that a sign of a great video game.

Back to the “story” issue. Like I said, the plotting is bare. Nevertheless, I liked the world of Final Fantasy V and its characters. Bartz, the “main” character, is perhaps the most relatable in the entire franchise. The game doesn’t make his background a huge deal, and he doesn’t become the center of the universe. The sister dynamic between Lenna and Faris is novel, and their flashbacks comprise some of the most tender scenes in the whole franchise. The familial theme is also present in Galuf and Krile, grandfather and grandchild. I’m guessing this game was made at a time when many Squaresoft staff members were becoming parents or grand parents.

There’s a surprising balance in the characters contributions to the story, a kind of ensemble quality that seems to foreshadow “Final Fantasy VI” and its shifting spotlight. Now that I think about it, Bartz contributes the least to the proceedings. If this game were made today, he would be God. Also, there would only be one world map instead of three. And then there’s Exdeath, the villain who’s content to be merely villainous. He would need some changes to fit in with today’s anti-villains: Less guffawing, “believable” motivations, etc. etc.

That’s enough about story. Sakaguchi’s preference is sound, even though I consider FF6 to be the real greatest Final Fantasy. Sometimes you just want good, clean fun. Final Fantasy V is devoid of pretension. The plot exists for dungeons and battles, not for itself. Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, while still at times mysterious and wondrous, has a relaxed, casual atmosphere. And then there’s the talking turtle. Back in 1992, Final Fantasy games weren’t above featuring talking turtles as principal characters.

Rating: 10/10

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Featured community review by joseph_valencia (March 01, 2010)

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zippdementia posted March 01, 2010:

Great review, Spaceworlder. We just had a whole discussion about RPGs and what makes them good in which I ultimately decided that, while I do like a good story, one of the main reasons I've come to judge RPGs mostly off story is because few now deliver the kind of gameplay fun that was to be had in the NES and SNES days.

The job system is a classic that was used to great effect in Tactics. I've never been able to get my hands on FF5, but now that a GBA version is cheap and I've read this review, I wouldn't mind doing so.
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sashanan posted March 02, 2010:

I didn't come to fully appreciate FFV until I had quite a few more notches on my RPG helmet than when I was first introduced to it. It was forgettable at the time with a rather minimalist approach to plot. But when I came back to it (through the GBA version), I welcomed the quick progression from one area to another and the job system is indeed interesting. I got through the game and had to jump a fair few hoops to beat everything in my path, and still only scratched the surface in terms of how many different party configurations you can do it with.

Probably more likely now to replay V at some point than VI.

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