My Review: Final Fantasy V (GBA)
When it comes to the three SNES Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy V is probably the most overlooked. Final Fantasy IV began the series’ penchant for epic, character-driven narratives, and Final Fantasy VI is widely regarded as the best in the series- it would be hard for any game to live up to that kind of pedigree. In addition, Final Fantasy V was the last of the ‘lost three’ (as I call them), the three Final Fantasies that didn’t see release in North America when they were initially released. The fact that it got so little attention is a shame, because while Final Fantasy V may not be the most epic or groundbreaking title in the series, it’s still an immensely fun title that stand as one of the most interesting RPGs of the 16 bit era.
The story of Final Fantasy V is similar to those of the first and third games, with a series of crystals and a group of four destined heroes serving as the focus of the story. It’s a simple premise that RPGs (and Final Fantasy games) have revisited time and time again, but V does a good job of making this clichéd premise work as an engaging narrative. When the world’s crystals begin to shatter and their natural elemental forces cease to function, a young traveler named Bartz stumbles across the missing princess of Tycoon, Lenna. Meeting up with a bumbling old man named Galuf and the sultry pirate captain Farris, the four adventurers are chosen by the Crystals to wield their power and save the world from an evil warlock who seeks to return the world to a state of nothingness.
Final Fantasy V has a more lighthearted story than the series’ typically serious fare.. While the writing is often humorous, the game still manages to tell a good and simple story. You’ll grow quite attached to the game’s colorful cast, as they grow and develop throughout the narrative. The four main characters (and a fifth who joins later on) are a treat to travel with, and they genuinely feel like a group of friends out on a journey. The villain Exdeath is the only truly weak link in the story- he (perhaps intentionally) comes across as a less-threatening version of Golbez from FF4. The story is well-paced and never grows boring or overly melodramatic, and maintains a spirit of adventure throughout.
Final Fantasy V features the same gameplay style as the other 2D Final Fantasy games. There are three different Overworlds throughout the game, giving the game a lot of different locations to find and explore. Like its immediate successor, Final Fantasy VI, the third act plays out in a nonlinear fashion, where story events and numerous sidequests can be partaken at the player’s leisure.
Final Fantasy V’s most notable feature- as is common for Final Fantasy games- is in its character growth system. V features an enhanced version of the Job system introduced in Final Fantasy III, and it is this job system that has remained the standard throughout future titles, particularly Final Fantasy Tactics. The main characters begin the game as Freelancers, but can change jobs at any time with absolutely no penalty (an improvement from III, where there was a brief cooldown period before a Job could be performed efficiently). AP earned in battle goes towards a character’s Job level, and when a character levels up a Job, they gain an ability unique to that Job, which can then be used in any other Job they switch too. When switching Jobs, a character can pick one of the abilities they’ve learned this way in addition to the Job’s default ability. This encourages players to mix and match Jobs to suit their preferences, but it doesn’t end there. For every Job a character ‘masters’- levels up completely-, their Freelancer gains all of that Job’s passive abilities and innate stat bonuses. So by mastering multiple Jobs, the character’s default Freelancer class grows more powerful. Let’s say that Bartz masters Monk (which has a passive ability to Counter enemy attacks), a Knight (has very high defense and HP), and a Ninja (has high speed and can dual wield weapons). When these Jobs are mastered, Bartz will, as a Freelancer, counterattack enemies, be able to dual-wield, and have high speed, HP, and defense. The Job system adds a lot of customization options to each character, and is one of the most robust character growth systems in the series.
Final Fantasy V is a great old-school RPG, but the game has one technical flaw I find it impossible to overlook. I’m not sure if this is because of the port to Game Boy Advance or not, but in battles the game slows down a lot. This happens more often when multiple enemies are on screen, but at times the ATB bars in battle will freeze for a good five seconds, as the game tries to calculate each action. The constant slowdown is annoying, and while it’s not a game breaker, it happens frequently enough to be noticeable. Still, it’s a minor flaw that will rarely, if ever, impede your enjoyment of the game.
Square has always made great looking games, even before they made the jump to 3D. Final Fantasy V looks much improved from its predecessor, IV, and while the sprites aren’t quite as detailed as those from VI, they still look very impressive for their time. In particular, the animation of each background during battles is quite impressive, with flowing rivers and blowing sands evident in each fight. Enemy sprites look very good, as well, and despite the occasional slowdown, the animations transitioned to the GBA almost better than VI’s did. Uematsu’s classic soundtrack still sounds great, as well, although the sound quality took a small hit in the GBA version. All in all, the presentation is top-notch for a SNES RPG.
While it may not be the most epic or game-changing installment in the storied franchise, it remains one of the most enjoyable 16-bit RPGs available. It seems like a love letter to the series’ past, as well as a promise to the wonderful future that awaited the series’ fans. In a series of excellent role-playing games, where each installment is a great and heartfelt experience, Final Fantasy V earns its place.