Review by Muchorattler
'Kue!', said the chocobo...
Final Fantasy V, formerly only released in Japan, finally made its debut to the West on the Playstation. Since it's technically a SNES game, that's what it'll be referred to as. Though it doesn't feature much of anything new other than a more rewarding job system, it still holds enough appeal to be considered one of the semi-average games of the series. Not much can really be said to convince anyone that it stands out in any major area, because it doesn't, but one thing's for sure: this is probably the most underrated Final Fantasy game there is.
Compared to such involving plotlines as those in FFIV and VI (II and III in Japan), FFV's story is so uninteresting to the point that you sometimes forget it's even there. Likewise, the characters are very vague themselves and barely warrant any reasons for you to even care about them. This is by far not Square's best attempt at a moving story or characters, though it is one of their better attempts at throwing some effective humor into the mix.
The opening scene shows the King of Tycoon departing for the Wind Shrine upon his dragon. His daughter Lenna sees him off much to her disappointment and worry. Shortly after, a meteor hits the ground on the outskirts of the Kingdom, where the story begins.
The world is in danger of ending yet again (surprise, surprise) and you must prevent this from happening. With the Wind Crystal already destroyed, the wind is slowly dying down and ships can no longer sail. Your lead character, named Butz (and in the real world, having a name like ''Butz'' would automatically equal no social life) teams up with Faris, Lenna and Galuf to protect the three remaining elemental crystals from shattering. If they are broken, then the earth will slowly be demolished. Furthermore, Lenna's father has disappeared, so naturally his recovery is crucial. Is there someone behind all this? Isn't there always? Okay then.
At first glance this seems more like an in-depth version of FF1's story, and in a way it is. Your characters have very limited backgrounds and develop about as much as you could shake a toothpick at. It seems as though Square temporarily ran out of good ideas when coming up with this game, but for being uninspired it's still a good attempt.
Like most games in the series, you become stronger by leveling-up. Doing so, and the whole purpose really, requires participating in turn-based battles. After each battle, you gain a certain amount of experience points that, when added up, go towards boosting your parameters like HP and strength. The leveling system is standard in all FF games, and the process of gaining experience is present in most of them. If you're a fan of the series or have casually played any of them, then you should know how everything goes.
Along with experience points, in Final Fantasy V you also earn ability points. These points, like experience, are added up towards gaining better abilities. Abilities are all part of an improved ''jobs'' system. In the past and in some future games, a job either resulted in your character already possessing a certain attribute (such as characteristics of a Thief or Mage) or you having to work towards that job and stick with it for the remainder of the game. That is not the case here. Thanks to the system, you can now switch jobs on the spot by simply accessing the menu. Each character can have any job (including Knight, Blue Wizard, Black Wizard, White Wizard, Monk and Thief) and learn any spell, move or attack associated with that job. This way, you'll never be disadvantaged in any field, but you will still have to work towards learning abilities for each job. In addition, certain skills that you learn through experience can be used outside of battles, like the Thief's ability to see hidden passages. Another praiseworthy quality is the added feature of customizing your jobs to your own liking, for example: instead of just being a Monk, you can become a Black Wizard for a short time and learn Black Magic. Once you've accomplished that, you can switch that character's job to Monk and voila! You're a Monk/Black Wizard hybrid with strong physical attacks and magic! Things don't stop there, you can keep on mixing jobs and abilities to the point where you're literally unstoppable. Boco, Butz's chocobo companion offers a brief tutorial on the abilities system early in the game, so make use of it.
Battles are fought in much the same way as before, with ''Fight'' and ''Item'' as your two main options. The remaining two spaces are left for magical attacks or other job exclusive commands. Enemies in general seem stronger than before, resulting in more time leveling-up or working on jobs. This doesn't cause too much lost time though and is very rewarding in the end. Battles are very quick to fight through, and the short animations are mainly the reasons to thank for this.
Items and weapons are still purchased within towns, as well as inns to stay overnight and replenish HP and MP in. The creepy yet helpful elderly elfin guys are back, this time appearing in a place called the Beginner's House. In there you can learn everything you need to know about playing the game, HP and leveling up and even abilities. Of course, if you don't need their assistance then you can just loot them of their treasure chests...
Those who were impressed by the graphics in FFIII/VI will notice a loss of quality here. The graphics aren't BAD per se, but they are lacking compared to many games out even before this. The sprites are small and make each character look like he/she has very broad shoulders. Actually, that's practically the norm in early installments, but it's most noticeable in this game. The characters are enlarged during battles, which really makes me wonder why they couldn't have put in the extra effort to make them just a little more pronounced on the overworld or in towns. It's a minor flaw, and really the only one.
Landscapes look almost identical to those in FFII/IV in both their color and graphical style. There are some nice 3D effects here and there, like the forest background moving as you walk across a mountaintop. All the scenery is detailed as it should be, and the towns are varied accordingly. One of the most humorous points in the graphics is the facial expressions of characters. If they're shocked or surprised then their eyes will bulge out and they'll jump back. If they're happy then their faces will radiate with happiness and if they're mad their mouths will open to impossible sizes, allowing them to inaudibly scream.
Most likely you've seen better graphics on a SNES game, and though these aren't the best they're definitely not the worst. Overall they suit the game they're in.
Final Fantasy games have been known for excellent music in the past and this one certainly doesn't disappoint. The music is easy to listen to and is topped off with what sounds like a score of different instruments (which are probably all just one synthesizer, but eh.) The random battles and boss music have that particular effect that just makes you want to destroy whatever is standing in your way. The overworld and town themes are clearly distinguishable and both set appropriate moods. Though some of the tunes aren't exactly my cup of tea, all in all it's pulled off in a way that will appeal to just about anyone.
Sound effects are lacking, but so were they in almost every game at the time. When an attack hits an opponent, a sound will be made in conjunction with the weapon or spell that was used. Other things, like your character walking across certain terrain or text scrolling, are outstanding in their own ways (yes, the sound of text scrolling CAN be superb.) What few sound effects there are greatly make up for the fact that there aren't many of them.
Once you finish the game, returning to it right away may not cross your mind at first. This simply isn't one that just screams for you to drown it with affection. If you do come back to it, which you're bound to do someday, one of the apparent reasons would be to experiment more with the jobs system. If that isn't enough, then replaying just for the game itself might be. This is a very enjoyable game, so if you like it enough to complete it then you'll be able to stand playing it again. It's really a love or hate situation.
I do think this game is underrated, but I can also understand why. Final Fantasy V is not one of Square's best titles, but it is worth its weight in... um... well, you know. If you love the series then you should check this game out, if not then perhaps you should pass on it unless you're curious. In all simplicity, this game is fun despite the hackneyed story and somewhat dull characters. If you can ignore all that, then the real gem lies beneath its flaws.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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