FINAL FANTASY 5 (2007) – SQUARE ENIX
It is natural with a series that goes on for so long like Final Fantasy that some games will get unfairly overlooked, and for me Final Fantasy 5 is the forgotten child of the series. It didn’t help that it was a Japan-only release on the SNES, meaning that the West never got a chance to get hands on with the game until it was ported first of all to the Playstation in Final Fantasy Anthology, and then to the Game Boy Advance five years later. Happily I played the Advance version, and can shed some light on why this is a game worthy of your time.
Unfortunately, we start with the worst element of the game; the plot. I may not have personally enjoyed it, but I can at least appreciate that in Final Fantasy 4, Square tried to do something different with the plot and focused on character relations. Final Fantasy 5 on the other hand goes back to the horribly clichéd ‘four crystals and four Warriors Of Light’ story. At the start of the story, a young man named Bartz investigates a meteorite that has crashed nearby his resting place, finding a woman there named Lenna who is travelling to the Wind Shrine, which holds the Wind crystal. Bartz soon learns that an evil force called Exdeath has been sealed away for 30 years by the crystals, and that if the crystals are shattered then he will break free and attempt to destroy the world using the power of the Void, an alter dimension. The rest of the game then focuses on Bartz travelling the world to save the crystals with Lenna (who is revealed to be the princess of Tycoon), Galuf (a warrior who played his part in sealing away Exdeath originally) and Faris (a female pirate commander).
Sadly, the clichéd setting means that a lot of the plot becomes predictable, and there aren’t too many surprises to talk about throughout the course of the story. The main characters are also lacking much personality and do not really give any reason to like them. It also doesn’t help that Exdeath is a crap main villain; if you thought Sephiroth ranted on about the Planet in Final Fantasy 7, then just try and stand Exdeath going ‘Void this, void that blah blah blah’. The game represents one of those rare occasions when the most engaging characters are NPC’s (there’s a sage…who just so happens to be a 1000 year old turtle) and a side villain; and in this case it is of course Gilgamesh. One of Exdeath’s lackeys, Gilgamesh is a inept swordsman who you encounter several times along the way in the game, and someone who always manages to raise a smile. Whether it is his failed quest to find Excalibur or quoting the Power Rangers when changing forms, he is by far the most interesting character, and has appeared in subsequent games as a summon or a boss due to his popularity. However great he is though, he cannot save the plot of FF5 from being mediocre at best.
Where FF5 picks up the points however is the gameplay, and from one feature in particular: the job system. If people complain about not having flexibility in a RPG, I always point them towards the job system as a shining example of how it should be done. The basics of the system are as thus; a short while into the game, you have the chance to assign your characters to specific roles, and have them learn abilities from that role. So for example, set Bartz to be a Knight, and you will find that his strength increases and that he can block damage delivered to other players, whereas Faris can be a Black Mage and learn destructive spells. By collecting Ability Points from battle, you can level up the jobs and then transfer skills learnt from one job to another when you wish; so if Bartz decides to become a White Mage and learn some healing spells, he can carry across the abilities learnt as a Knight as a secondary command, and if Faris wants to specialise in time magic she could bring across the black magic spells she has learnt. Initially it can be quite a daunting system to get to grips with, but it soon becomes second nature to swap and change depending on the situation you are in, and it allows an insane amount of flexibility; there is no right or wrong way to progress through this game. And when you consider there are 26 jobs to master (four of which are exclusive to the Game Boy version over the Playstation port), there is a lot of game time to be had here.
A word of caution however; one of the reasons that FF5 was not released outside of Japan was because Square pondered that it might be too difficult for Western audiences, and it shows in the battling. This game is a grinders dream; you get very small amounts of EXP and Ability points all the way through the game, and there are more boss fights strewn around than you can shake a stick at. The job system and its flexibility does soften the blow a bit (if you take advantage of the system you can give yourself huge amounts of HP and strength at a low level), but if you really want to enjoy this game and make full use of the jobs you are looking at well over 30 hours of playtime, which does grate after a while when you are just consistently battling.
Similar to the overhaul that Final Fantasy 4 Advance got, FF5 is full of brand new features that were absent in the SNES original. There is a super hard bonus dungeon and a brand new boss that fills in a bit more of the back-story, a bestiary, music-player, quicksave feature and the entire script was given a new English translation. All of these things are welcome additions that increase the enjoyment factor, and makes this the ultimate version of FF5 that you can get.
Happily, FF5 did not suffer a graphical downgrade upon being ported to the Game Boy. It remains less detailed than Final Fantasy 6 Advance, but still manages to get the job done admirably. The blocky fonts of old have been replaced with a much easier to read font, and everything from the menus to the character sprites looks much shaper than it did on the SNES. The sprites also change thier clothing depending on which job they are learning, which is a feature that always makes me smile. The static nature of battling has been kept from the original however, which is a bit disappointing; I would have expected the attacks and summons to move around a bit more like they do in FF6, but it is a minor complaint to have. The soundtrack however, for whatever reason, suffers a bit more on the Game Boy than FF4 did, with many of the tracks sounding quite tinny and having to be subtly adjusted from the original in order to play through the Game Boy’s speakers. Still there are several tracks that provide much enjoyment to the ears, including The Dragons Spreads Its Wings, Mambo De Chocobo and the ever magnificent Clash On The Big Bridge. Dare I say it, overall it may well be better than FF4’s soundtrack?
I would like to think that I have highlighted why this should not be seen as the forgotten child of the series; if you are willing to sacrifice the sub standard plot then there is a very deep and rewarding quest for you to play through, and one that fans of battling will revel in. Give it a go and see for yourself; Final Fantasy 5 is worthy of your time.