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Final Fantasy V Review Rewind


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On 08/10/2022 at 05:30 PM by Jamie Alston

Hold on to your Butz.
RECOMMENDATION:

Worth experiencing at least once for its intricate job system.

There are several similarities between Final Fantasy V and its younger sibling, Final Fantasy III. Chiefly of which, both games stayed exclusively in Japan well after the series moved on to the PlayStation in the mid-90s. For a time, Square Enix (formally SquareSoft) was uncertain if western audiences would grasp the deeper gameplay mechanics that drove character growth. But after the global success of Final Fantasy VII, they decided it was time to start bridging the gap in sequels in the US lineup. As a result, Final Fantasy V was the first to be released as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology compilation on the PlayStation in 1999.

The game tells the tale of Butz- a wandering adventure whose name was mercifully changed to Bartz in the US version for obvious reasons. While investigating a crashed meteor site, he meets Reina- a royal princess searching for her father. Soon they meet Galuf- an amnesiac trying to remember his mission. Shortly after that, the trio crosses paths with Faris- an adventurous captain of the sea who lays on the pirate accent ad nauseam. Like all the Final Fantasy games before this one, the elemental crystals of the world are dying, and it’s up to the four Light Warriors to defeat the evil behind it and restore balance.

Story development takes a backseat. In its place, Final Fantasy III's job system retakes the center stage. But the mechanics have been refined this time for a more satisfying experience. Abilities learned in one job can be used in other job classes. As you level up each job class, more abilities from that class can be used with other job classes, giving your party greater flexibility than in previous games in the series. For example, a White Mage can physically attack with the force of a Monk, or a Lancer (Dragoon) can capture and control enemies like a Trainer. You can cross-train your party in each job class if you so desire, and it’s pretty awesome.

Every mainline Final Fantasy game is known for bringing a unique element to the series. This one introduced several new job classes, including the Blue Mage- one of the most crucial jobs to hone since they can learn special attacks that are otherwise impossible to obtain. It requires taking damage from a  specific attack from an enemy and permanently “learning” that ability. Learning the elemental wind abilities is especially worthwhile since no other mage class can learn them.

Since its US debut, the game’s difficulty has been often debated. Some consider Final Fantasy V one of the hardest of the series, while others feel that the game is relatively easy to breeze through, provided you know what you’re doing. The core mechanic of leveling up skills isn't too hard to grasp. And the ability to switch job classes at will and combine them with others is pretty awesome.

What’s not awesome is the time it takes to master each class. Job classes have their own Ability Points (ABP) and leveling structure separate from the standard Experience Points for each character. Once you reach the middle tier of most classes, the threshold of points required skyrockets, and your ABP counter resets to zero each time you reach a new skill level. With the often stingy ABP rewards of most battles, you’ll need to spend copious amounts of time grinding for top-tier abilities. And not all classes are necessarily worth the time investment.

On the other hand, there’s much to enjoy with the sheer customizability that gives your party incredible reach with careful planning. The variety of combinations possible and the ease with which they are executed really make your characters feel equally valuable for any given circumstance. Some job classes are somewhat interdependent on another to get the maximum benefit of both. For instance, having a Trainer with the “control” ability is excellent for helping your Blue Mage(s) learn an enemy’s special move instead of waiting for the enemy to use it randomly.

Managing equipment is made easier with the “optimize” feature in the menu, which equips each character with the best weapons and armor for their class- a necessity in a game where you’re constantly changing character classes. The only downside is when your inventory has equipment with adverse status effects for the wearer. You’ll have to be aware to manually change out that piece of equipment if you’re unhappy with the optimized loadout. Even so, it never became a major inconvenience for me, and I much preferred to have my party’s equipment optimized than not.

Having played this for the first time only recently, one of the things that immediately stood out to me was how unexpectedly different its presentation was compared to earlier entries. For example, instead of the familiar prelude arpeggio, the title screen opens with “Ahead on Our Way” as Bartz rides his Chocobo in an open field behind the “Final Fantasy V” title lettering.

Instead of immediately focusing on the story's main protagonist, the game isn’t afraid to take its time and introduce a seemingly unrelated scenario before getting to the nitty-gritty. In addition, once you are formally introduced to  Bartz and crew, the game carries a mostly light-hearted, humorous tone - a deliberate effort to inject some fun into the series after the dramatic overtones of Final Fantasy IV.

The battle system is mostly unchanged from the previous game. However, it’s worth noting that the Active Time Battle system is upgraded to include a visible time gauge for the first time in the series. That small detail made it easier to anticipate each character’s turn or how your party is affected by time-based buffs and debuffs.

I can’t talk about a Final Fantasy game without mentioning the music. Once again, Nobuo Uematsu returns at the helm as the composer for this fifth installment. Overall, the soundtrack improved over the previous game as Uematsu seemed to flex his creative muscle a bit more this time. I dug the synth chords of the dungeon theme or character pieces like Reina’s Theme. And while Battle at the Big Bridge has its day in the sun, it doesn’t hold a candle to my two standout favorites.

First up is the music of Kelb Village (Harvest)- a jubilant Irish jig accompanying the scenery of the town’s green pastures. The Celtic theme is a refreshing addition to the musical repertoire of the Final Fantasy series. The other standout song can be heard in the Forest of Moore (Legend of the Deep Forest). I was unprepared for the haunting melody and harp strings. Nevertheless, it was a well-placed contrast from the lighter-hearted themes heard elsewhere.

Final Fantasy V was mainly a success thanks to the return of the highly-esteemed Job System. Combining job class abilities added a much-needed sense of variety uncommon to RPGs of its day. It is by far the most technical Final Fantasy of the Super Famicom series, yet quite enjoyable nonetheless. You’ll just need to do some serious grinding- no ifs, ands, or Butz.

Disclaimer: While this review is based on the core elements of the original Japanese release, references to character names and locations are based on the PlayStation port since this was the version closest to the Super Famicom original available to me at the time.

Sacrilegious, I know.


Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


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Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

SanAndreas

08/11/2022 at 11:27 AM

My first exposure to FF5 was through references in Tactics, and then a year later I got FF Anthology and played it. I thought it to be the weakest of the PS1 games at first because its narrative was a little thin compared to IV, VI, and VII, but my appreciation for V has grown over time. 

Based on the numerous references it gets in other games compared to VI, it seems to be the most fondly remembered of the Nintendo-era FF games for Japanese players.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

08/15/2022 at 04:48 PM

Yes, FF5 was more popular than FF6, which surprised me to learn. Although FF6 didn't do badly in Japan at all.

Cary Woodham

08/12/2022 at 03:48 AM

I first knew this game as Final Fantasy Extreme, as Square US was considering bringing FFV out to the US under that name for players who wanted a more difficult challenge.  But they decided to send over FF6 instead, a good choice for me.

I first played FFV on that PlayStation collection.  I lost interest after changing a job class, only to not have any good armor for the class I changed to, and then would be forced to grind even more for money to pay for the armor I would need.  Plus this was when I was in college and was drifting away from RPGs anyway.  Maybe if FFV had come out when I was in high school, I would've liked it more.

So I'll just stick with my favorite FF games: FF6, FF9, and FF4.  Have you played any of those?

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

08/15/2022 at 04:54 PM

I've definitely played FF4 and FF6. I haven't played FF9 yet, but I do have an unopened green label version of the game for my PSOne. But I should probably go ahead and get the Switch port since I've heard the battle system in the original game is slow and the one on Switch allows you to speed up the game.

But I've heard it's a really good story that harkens back to the simplicity of the Pre-FF7 games.

Machocruz

08/14/2022 at 07:13 PM
The irony is that FFV is one of the more highly rated entries, at least among CRPG fans and/or PC gamers in the U.S., for those mechanics that Square wasn't sure could be appreciated there, while less technical entries are seen as too simplistic. It sure is one of more interesting FFs to me for its intricacies.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

08/15/2022 at 04:54 PM

Agreed.

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