Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. But we’ll get there. I promise.
For those who are unfamiliar with my premise, here’s an almost comically thorough recap:
Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:
– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. This will be less important when I reach the PSX era, but we’re not there yet! One thing I’d like to do is discuss some of the changes between the “original” and the version I end up playing.
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck! <- Weirdly, most of them do not. Sadly, I believe our time with this bullet point might be done.
– Is the answer to that question, “It just doesn’t hold up”? Why? <– Let's see how Final Fantasy 7's polygons look in 2014.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn't involve spending a bunch of money acquiring and (especially) subscribing to games.
I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let's move on!
Version played: GBA
When FF5 first became available in the United States via the hilariously subpar PSX port… I did play it. I promise. And aside from the horrific loading times and comically bad cinematics, I enjoyed it. I don’t recall why I stopped playing, or exactly how far into the game I’d progressed… but I do know that I had never actually finished the game when I fired it up on the GBA for this series. I only vaguely recalled the story pieces, and even many of the dungeons, from my prior experience… but it was also distinctly different than coming into the game cold, because I did remember some useful stuff.
The GBA version of FF5 features a much cleaner translation than the PSX port, and one more faithful to the original script. As far as I could tell, that was the only substantive change between the version I played and the original. The GBA version has more content of course, in a bonus dungeon that I didn’t spend too much time on, as well as four new job classes, one of which is only obtained by spending more time in that aforementioned bonus dungeon. I did obtain the other three, however, and got at least some use out of the Gladiator class, which proved to be a fairly potent physical fighter.
The first thing you have to understand about Final Fantasy V is that the game is not at all serious. It is the polar opposite of the heavy, heavy, heavy drama of Final Fantasy IV, with its drearily serious characters and situations, people getting offed all the time, and the mighty Golbez. Instead, the characters spend a fair amount of time goofing around, and the villain is the hammiest of hams. Imagine what you might expect to see if you genetically recombined the most flamboyant bond villain with a cacklin’, teleportin’ evil warlock who is actually a tree. That sounds about right. Will he capture the heroes and put them in easily escapable situations? Yes, my friend, he will! Will he talk incessantly about his evil plans, and how it’s already too late to stop him? You better believe it! Is he actually a tree? Damn straight. Exdeath!
The second thing to understand about Final Fantasy V is that its story is really stupid. No, really, it’s no good at all. It doesn’t make much sense, doesn’t bear any kind of scrutiny, and just kind of arbitrarily bounces the characters from situation to situation with logic that ranges from questionable to absurd. In a way, it all comes together at the end, but it still doesn’t amount to much.
Given that, why would you bother playing Final Fantasy V? Well, because the game play itself is a mountain of fun. It’s a considerable improvement over all of the previous installments in this area. Why? I’m glad you asked. Because JOB SYSTEM! Yes, the famous Final Fantasy job system makes its triumphant return, and it has been upgraded a lot since the heady days of Final Fantasy III. Not only does Final Fantasy V feature up to 26 jobs (with the GBA jobs), but now each character can master skills (and ultimately entire jobs), then pass those skills around even while in another job. When battling superbosses or the final boss, you might even switch your characters to ‘bare’, which allows you to equip any items in the game, and completely customize your battle abilities. The possibilities here, as you can probably guess, are staggering. There is simply no equal to this level of customization to be found in earlier Final Fantasy titles. It probably seems pretty routine for those who are mostly familiar with the later games in the series, but this literally had no precedent at the time!
Of course, as I said, this job system is shackled to the lame story. The characters are pretty generic, though obviously realized in a way that far surpasses our friends from the NES era, or from the oft-maligned Mystic Quest. Bartz, for example, is afraid of flying. It comes up a couple of times. It doesn’t go much deeper than that. I’m in the very unusual position of having to recommend a Final Fantasy title only for those who like the sound of the job system and its customization options… because a compelling narrative, this ain’t.
Final Fantasy V is also the first game in the series to really introduce the concept of ‘superbosses’. The iconic vision of the super boss is probably still the mighty Emerald and Ruby Weapons from Final Fantasy VII… and truthfully, those battles are far more epic in scope than Final Fantasy V’s Shinryu or Omega. This does not mean that Omega or Shinryu are easy by any means, however. With some luck, a lot of fire protection, some more luck, and a somewhat over-leveled party, I was able to defeat Omega. Essentially, he just puts down an initial barrage of damage which will totally overwhelm an unprepared party of any level. If you can survive this (with Fire Rings and other such items), get a bit of luck that Omega doesn’t use his most powerful possible combination of moves, and then begin to lay down some damage, it actually pans out that he’s not too difficult. Shinryu is another matter. I know of a strategy to kill him, but it involved too many rare steals from rare monsters for my taste. However, from this point on, I will at least attempt Final Fantasy super bosses where available. I’m not putting too many rules on myself.
I can already assure you that I’m unlikely to have the patience to create Nemesis in Final Fantasy X, for example. But I am going to try and make monsters in the Monster Arena, and talk a little bit about that experience. I know from past experience that the games are about to get a good deal more side quest-y… sometimes absurdly so. I will breed chocobos, I will become a world class Triple Triad master, and I will try to remember how to find Ozma so he can kick my ass in Final Fantasy IX (okay, so I’ll probably just look it up on the internet). I plan to talk a little about these side quests, just for fun, and for those who are enjoying this on-going series.
Oh, and I did a fair amount of Googling in Final Fantasy V. Just as a word to the wary, I would point out that Final Fantasy V has many bosses that require a more tactical approach than simply ‘hit things’. It does ultimately boil down to that, of course, but Final Fantasy V shakes things up with some interesting battle mechanics. This really is a game that can entertain you, if you let it.
Just don’t expect the works of Shakespeare.