Review by nastynate3118
Crystals: "They took our jobs!"
After the success of Final Fantasy IV, Square decided to try a different approach to the Super Famicom system of Final Fantasy games and revisit the job system of Final Fantasy III. The result was Final Fantasy V, a game that was released in Japan in 1992. It did not see light outside of the country until 1999, when it was ported to the PlayStation on Final Fantasy Anthology. The original version of the game is one that has a lot of great ideas and a very strong concept, but the execution leaves more to be desired.
Final Fantasy V does not stray away from the typical 16-bit RPG formula: a group of characters explore a world map with various dungeons and fight battles along the way. The cornerstone of the gameplay is the improved job system. Similar to Final Fantasy III, you select jobs for your characters and they each have their advantages and weaknesses. These include things like Knight, Monk, Black Mage, Ninja, etc. You can completely customize your characters any way you wish and can change jobs at any time. One innovative feature about this system is the fact that as you learn abilities from various jobs, you can carry them over to new jobs. For example, you can build a Knight that can use magic or a Black Mage that can steal. The job system is very balanced in the fact that there are very few jobs that are clearly superior to others and for the most part they are all pretty useful.
The job system is not without its faults. You can only select one additional ability when using a specific job so this limits the amount of jobs you will use in the game. There is really no point in mastering more than a few job classes if you cannot use the abilities you gain. An additional slot (or two) would have greatly expanded this system and we would later see this addition in Final Fantasy Tactics. Still, this system was incredibly deep and complex for its time and offered a massive amount of versatility with the gameplay.
The battle system is very similar to that of Final Fantasy IV. The Active Time Battle (ATB) system makes a return that allows for fast-paced turn-based combat. The developers added a gauge that lets you know when a characters turn is coming up. You cannot skip a characters turn, which is an inconvenience that must be dealt with. The game also allows you to use multiple controllers during battle making this the first Final Fantasy to have a multiplayer feature. I am not sure of the value or use behind this; it would just create unnecessary frustration in battle.
The game is interesting in the fact that the difficulty is quite high but level grinding is hardly necessary or useful. The only time you would need to level grind is to gain a certain job ability or skill for a specific boss, and it is an infrequent occurrence. Part of the difficulty stems from the high encounter rate. Later dungeons in the game go absolutely crazy with random encounters. It is very frustrating to fight a tough battle every couple of steps considering you have to stop and heal. The game is also difficult due to how cryptic many things in the game are. It can be pretty unclear at times of where you are supposed to go and collecting magic spells can also be a challenge. Most spells can be bought at a shop in towns you visit, but some spells must either be learned from enemies or by performing a secret task. I find it hard to believe that one could find every spell without some kind of guide due to how cryptic some of them are.
Final Fantasy V holds true to the tradition of a huge world map being available to explore. There are three separate maps you visit, offering a wide variety of dungeons to visit. I was impressed by the non-linearity that appears at the end of the game. You can choose to visit the final dungeon of the game or complete a plethora of side quests. Once again, there are a variety of transportation options that can be manipulated such as the Chocobo, boat, airship and submarine.
The gameplay has a very strong foundation but certain limitations hamper it from being great. If one could use more than one extra ability for job classes then it would really open the system up and allow for more flexibility.
The interface in Final Fantasy V seems to take a few steps back from the previous game. For starters, I was annoyed by the fact that you can only name one character in the game. It would be fine if you could not name any of them or name all of them, but having just one available seems strange to me.
The menu system has some improvement but also some flaws. The inventory for the most part looks appealing to the eyes and is fairly easy to navigate. At first glance it appears organized but as you progress through the game and collect various pieces of equipment, you realize that the designers became lazy and left things ungrouped. I am not sure what the point of the sort option is considering different pieces of equipment are not sorted together and it is left looking like a mess. It is a major inconvenience to have to scroll through your inventory looking for a specific item/piece of equipment for minutes at a time.
The big innovation that Final Fantasy V introduces to its menu is the optimum feature. When you are equipping a character, you can choose optimum and the game will automatically equip them with the best equipment available. In theory, this should be a major improvement and will allow for more gameplay. Unfortunately, this feature is seriously flawed because it will only equip items based on one or two stats even though better equipment may be available. It becomes a pain to have to change one or two items every time you choose optimum. This seems to eliminate any use of the feature past a certain point in the game.
One final note I want to mention about the equipment is the fact that when you go shopping for new equipment, you are unable to tell if it is better or worse than the current equipment the character has. This would not be a problem if there was no job system, but due to the multiple jobs and multiple pieces of equipment they can use, you have to take a guess and buy the equipment hoping it is better and that you are not wasting your money.
The story in Final Fantasy V revolves around the quest of Bartz and his friends to protect the planet and its crystals from an evil mage known as Exdeath. Exdeath is on a mission to harness the power of the Void, a dimensional rift that the crystals have been put in place to seal off. There really isnt much else to add to this synopsis and I think that is the beginning of some of the problems with the plot in this game.
Crystals are a recurring theme throughout the first five Final Fantasy games and this one is no different. The story is essentially a partial retelling of the original Final Fantasy and is similar in the premise that you must visit each crystal. The cast of characters is far smaller than in Final Fantasy IV and are not as developed nearly as well. The main protagonist is Bartz, a nomad who seems to have no purpose in his life. He casually decides to assist in an adventure to protect the crystals because he seemingly has nothing better to do. We find out more about his backstory as the game progresses and toward the end he finally has a personal reason to challenge Exdeath, but aside from that he is one of the most boring protagonists I have ever seen in a game. Four other characters join you on your journey and they all have some semblance of a backstory, but it is all very brief and does not really change or influence the plot too much (with the exception of the character named Galuf). I was disappointed by the lack of character involvement in the plot and progression of the story because I believe this was a key to the success of Final Fantasy IV. The only positive I can really say about the characters is that their lines are written fairly well and there is a lot of humor involved in the game. There are also a few emotional scenes that are touching but they fail to make a longstanding impact on the story and are very sparse.
Exdeath proves to be a very underwhelming villain. He comes across as very cartoonish and the type of villain that any kid with a tiny bit of imagination would come up with. He seems to just want to be evil for the sake of it and theres really not much else to say about him. Toward the end of the game he performs several truly deplorable acts but it is far too late to really generate any connection with him.
The pacing of the narrative is very slow. I could not help but feel bored a majority of the time playing Final Fantasy V because of the redundant fetch quests that seem to really provide no insight into what is going on. Most quests boil down to go here! Now go here! The game is loaded with filler side plots (how many times do I need to go rescue a dragon?) and the plot does not become truly interesting until 3/4ths of the way through the game. The ending is solid but lacks an explanation as to the resolution of the plight of the characters. This deus ex machina-like ending is far from bad but leaves a bit more to be desired.
The graphics are a big step up from the NES-like graphics of Final Fantasy IV. Everything looks much crisper and there is a ton of detail put into each area of the game. The main complaint I have about the graphics is how repetitive they are. Every castle and town looks identical and every cave in the game uses the same textures. This contributes to the repetitive feeling I mentioned above in the story.
The battle graphics look absolutely fantastic. Every job class has its own sprite for each character and every weapon is individually designed. There are tons of sprites used for both your characters and enemies. Animations for summons and magic spells all look impressive and your characters can perform a variety of animations. There is not a single negative thing I can say about the battle graphics.
A minor complaint I have comes with the world map. It looks like a pixelated mess (common on 16-bit RPGs) and you really cant tell what is going on with it or what each little blinking dot is. On a positive note, the ending sequence is very impressive visually and ends the story on a strong note.
The soundtrack to Final Fantasy V is very distinctive. There is no mistaking the MIDI instrumentation used. There is a heavy bass sound that makes it unique and is influential to creating some of the best battle themes in the series. Aside from the outstanding battle themes, there are several excellent pieces that Uematsu composes for this soundtrack such as the main theme song and some of the emotional songs. A lot of the same music is used throughout the game for certain areas and situations and it adds to the already repetitive feeling of the game, but none of this music is bad.
The sound effects do not quite live up to the high standards of the music. They are not bad but some of them are pretty abrasive. I cant stand the sound effect used when casting spells or when certain attacks are used. Aside from a few bad apples, the sound effects are solid.
Play Time/Replay Value 9/10
I completed Final Fantasy V in 28 hours, 33 minutes and 41 seconds. I completed every side quest and defeated the two optional super bosses in the game. This makes this game the longest of the first five games and a significant amount of content was added in comparison to the previous game, which is ten hours shorter (with every side quest done). There are plenty of side quests to complete and two optional super bosses that can be challenged. You can also choose to master every job class and build them up.
The only complaint I have with the replay value comes with the slow pacing of the game. It honestly feels like a chore to play through until you get to the final map of the game. Aside from that, Final Fantasy V made a huge stride in content and non-linear gameplay.
+Job system offers variety and depth
+Level grinding is not necessary to get through the game
+Huge world map(s) to explore
+Plenty of side quests available
+Inventory and menus are easy to navigate
+Script is well-written and full of humor
+Several emotional scenes are present in the plot
+Battle and field graphics are heavily improved
+Soundtrack features some of the best battle music in the series
+Significantly longer with more side quests than previous game
-Job system fails to realize true potential
-High difficulty and encounter rate
-ATB system still has problems that need to be ironed out
-Sort and optimum menu features become useless as the game progresses
-Severe lack of character involvement in the story
-Pacing of narrative is very stagnant
-Many repetitive textures used
-Sound effects can be abrasive at times
-Tedious pace of story hinders replay value
Final Fantasy V in its original form is a game that has an excellent premise that unfortunately is not executed as well as it should have been. This game is still very strong and worth a playthrough by any fan of old school RPGs. I do not think that it would really appeal to anyone outside of this group due to its difficulty and high encounter rate. This is a game that is literally about role-playing and creating a party with different responsibilities and the high amount of customization available makes it stand out as a solid RPG.
Final Score: 7.875/10 rounded to 8/10
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Final Fantasy V (JP, 12/06/92)
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