Great But Late: Final Fantasy V

Out of all the numbered Final Fantasy games that I’ve played, Final Fantasy V is my favorite, but I would have never played it in the first place if I hadn’t had such a hard time with its predecessor. Back in August 2001, eight-year-old me tried to play Final Fantasy IV in its Final Fantasy Chronicles release on PlayStation, but I could not get past one of the game’s first bosses.No matter how many times I had Tella cast Bolt on the “Octomamoth”, he easily wiped my entire party every time. Eight-year-old me hadn’t quite figured out the save system in the game, so I ended up having to start all over each time I lost the battle.

FFV_1_OctomamothOctopus-Mammoths hate electricity…right?

After repeating the beginning of FFIV a couple times, I swapped out the disc in my PlayStation for Final Fantasy Anthology and played FFV instead. Right off the bat I could relate to this game. The main character, Bartz (or Butz if you play the newer translation on GBA or iOS/Android) had brown hair — just like me! (And several other billion people…) I won’t get into the game’s plot too much, but the game begins with our easy-going and nomadic Bartz hanging out with his best friend Boko (a Chocobo, of course) when a meteorite crashes nearby. There’s also a missing king, a princess, pirates, and an old man with amnesia. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

After my poor attempt at playing FFIV, I decided to give myself a leg-up. I printed out one of the top-rated guides for FFV from GameFAQs. With 74 pages of Courier New text guiding me through the game, there was nothing that could stop eight-year-old me.

FFV_Carbuncle Except this.

Two-thirds of the way through the game I hit a brick wall, a wall that reflected magic back upon the caster. “Okay, Carbuncle is an optional boss. I can finish the game without beating it. Surely nothing else will stand in my way.”

FFV_Gilgamesh Wrong.

Besides his radical theme song, Gilgamesh is supposed to be a joke, right? Sure enough, watching him turn my entire party into frogs and then promptly smite them might have been funny — to an observer. Not to me. My eight-year-old self promptly quit the game.

Fast forward to 2014. At this point, Final Fantasy V is old enough to drink. Which is an appropriate way to put it, since the sprite graphics have aged like fine wine. Jack’s recent review of Half-Life 1 and Black Mesa seemed to show that most polygon graphics age like milk.

So I bought FFV on PlayStation Network and started it up, intent on finishing what my younger self failed to complete. (Side note: Until now, I had never completed a numbered Final Fantasy game. I have briefly played I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and XI, but only ever completed all of the Tactics games).

Final_Fantasy_Tactics_logo

Play this game too. Seriously.

The fact that I had already played through most of the game, coupled with being 14 years older and wiser, I breezed through it with minimal help from any sort of guide. However, my deep-seated ‘need’ to be prepared in any RPG drove me to read Wiki guides on the game’s different classes and items. You can’t blame me, though. The Anthology release appears to have the worst translation out of every version of FFV. Really, how is anyone supposed to know what skills like “!Dustb” and “!Critt” do? At first glance, I’d imagine that one conjures dust bunnies and the other helps with landing critical hits. Well, I’d be half right. “!Dustb” allows you to escape from random encounters and “!Critt” conjures (non-dust) bunnies to attack your enemies.

FFV_Critters                              Bunnies, squirrels, whatever. – Photo: Final Fantasy Wiki

That’s the only complaint I have about FFV. I felt like I ‘needed’ a guide to keep on top of some of the mechanics. Even the uses of several weapons, items and magic eluded me. “Why does a rod I found in a treasure chest near the end of the game do zero damage when I attack with it?” Because it has a hidden effect when used a certain way that causes it to cast various spells with no MP cost. “Why didn’t you say so?” The Blue Magic you learn from monsters gave me similar troubles. “Oh, what’s that? A spell that halves the damage my characters take and makes them immune to Earth-elemental attacks can only be learned from an enemy that only appears in a tiny, optional area of the world map just before the end of the game? Thanks for the tip!” As far as I know, there is no NPC, book or signpost in the game that lets you know about that spell. I’m all for rewarding exploration, but that’s practically incomprehensible.

The mechanic that makes FFV shine when compared to other Final Fantasy games is its unique take on the job system. Instead of having several swappable party members (like FFVI / FFVII / FFX / etc.), FFV has four characters that remain in the party for the entire game. The player can customize the characters by assigning them one of 22 different jobs such as Knight, Black Mage, Summoner, Ninja — even Bard and Dancer. As you battle, you get experience to increase your level, as well as ability points that increase your job level and allow you to use new abilities. The abilities you learn can be equipped even when you are no longer the job that learns them. You can make a Knight that uses White Magic to heal, a Black Mage that also summons, or a Ninja that sings. Use your imagination.

Unfortunately, the strategy of mixing and matching the various jobs is ruined by two of the game’s jobs. Freelancer (also known as “Bare” in the Anthology translation) and Mimic (or “Mime,” which is a secret job class that you may or may not need a guide to find, depending on how adventurous you are toward the end of the game) are unique. When you set a character’s job to either of them, they will be able to use any passive abilities they’ve learned and equip three (four in the case of the Mimic) different skill-sets. This makes both of them the automatic best jobs in the game, so there’s no point to finding a balance that suits certain occasions — you can just make all of your characters Mimics and Doublecast Bahamut for every fight. I’d suggest that anyone who decides to play FFV either go in completely blind (no guides or Wikis) or refrain from using the Freelancer and Mimic classes — thus forcing you to use the other 20 jobs creatively.

FFV_4_MimeTrust me, they don’t need the ribbons.

Of course, most games have ways to exploit them and make them boringly easy. It’s up to the player to avoid ruining the game for themselves. That being said, upon my return to where I quit the game 14 years ago, I still managed to kill Carbuncle in three hits without using any ridiculously cheap tactics. I also imposed a restriction on myself to keep the game interesting: no running from random battles. This may have backfired though, because my characters were constantly over-leveled. In addition to that, the game also rewards players who never flee a single battle with the strongest sword in the game.

After almost 50 hours of playtime (though some of that might have been idling) I got to the end of FFV. In the final hours of the game, I could kill any enemy or boss by sneezing on it. I’m glad I went back to FFV to finish something I had left undone for so many years, but the exploitable aspects of the game took out a lot of the challenge.

Despite the issues raised by the translation and the developers’ penchant for burying certain content to the point where they can easily be missed without a guide (the Phoenix Tower, for example) Final Fantasy V is still an amazing and worthwhile game to this day. A statement that is backed up by the fact that FFV has been remade and released during four different console generations, most recently receiving a complete makeover on iOS and Android. It was nice to play a game where I could use my imagination in tandem with what was onscreen to give the characters form and voice. I felt like I was actually exploring this fantastic world without waypoints or talking heads constantly reminding me of my mission. Talking to NPCs to figure out where to go next felt natural, instead of a guided experience like in many newer games.  If you’re tired of some of the modern titles that leave nothing to the imagination, I highly recommend giving Final Fantasy V a playthrough.

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