Final Fantasy V - Reader Re-Retroview  

Class Warfare
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

Very Hard
30-45 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The world's wind currents are dying, and four travelers find their way to the Wind Shrine, where the King of Tycoon tells them that they are chosen warriors who must protect the world's four Crystals and prevent an ancient evil from reviving and destroying their world. Square's Final Fantasy V originally saw its release on the Super Famicom, being the second 16-bit title in the franchise, although it didn't see its North American release until 1999 as part of the Playstation collection Final Fantasy Anthology (the version this review covers). However, a combination of tedious gameplay mechanisms and sloppy porting issues make the fifth installment perhaps one of the far weaker titles in the series.

   Battles carry over the active time battle system introduced in the fourth installment, with minor improvements such as viewable active time gauges for each character. The main driving factor of combat in Final Fantasy V, however, is its class system accessed early on, with each character able to convert anytime outside of battle to various classes such as knight, monk, white mage, black mage, thief, and so forth, each with its own unique abilities and allowable equipment. Winning battles nets the party experience, money, and a meager amount of ability points for the current class.

   Leveling up classes requires a certain number of ability points, after which a character gains an ability he or she can equip anytime regardless of class. For instance, it's possible to have a knight who can cast white magic, a white mage who has the attack power of a monk, and so forth. Although this all sounds very interesting in theory, it's actually very tedious when put into practice for many reasons. Though the game sports endless customization, it feels surprisingly restrictive since each character can only equip one other class ability at a time (unless a character is classless, in which case he or she can equip two at the expense of not building classes).

Help me, Oprah Winfrey! "Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft to get this fire off of me!"

   Given the endless class-shifting that can occur, moreover, the player will need to keep endless equipment available for each character when they switch classes, and consequently, money can become very tight. There are also endless spikes in difficulty, with many bosses being walls preventing the player from advancing, and finding the ideal class setup being mind-numbing, given the uselessness of many classes, abilities, and so forth. Finishing the game, furthermore, can be virtually impossible without using a guide to discover certain skills that are literally the difference between victory and defeat. Add to this an astronomically high random encounter rate, and it's painfully obvious the designers should've given combat a more thorough once-over.

   The interface, unfortunately, isn't any better. Granted, there are some minor improvements such as equipment optimization, although this can be a double-edged sword since it can occasionally equip cursed items, leading the player sometimes to wonder why characters are acting odd in battle, taking damage from healing spells and items, and so forth. While items have descriptions, moreover, spells lack them, and when shopping the player can't tell how new equipment affects stats. Another big problem, moreover, is the horrible spacing of save points in many dungeons, which often don't come right before bosses that can easily kill the player. Sloppy porting issues also damper the interface, with lags while navigating the menus as well as a horribly slow internal game clock. Overall, interaction could have very easily been far better.

   Final Fantasy V does deserve points for creativity since it in many ways builds upon the class system introduced in the third installment (even if it's horribly unbalanced), and the story does have some interesting concepts, though there are many resemblances to the first game's plot, for instance, the four elemental crystals. All in all, the fifth installment does have many things going for it creatively, although in some ways some of these uniquenesses are repellents.

Last save point in the game Building classes is hard until you get here.

   The story doesn't excel, although it does have some things going for it, such as a decent cast of characters, some okay backstory, some interesting events throughout the game, and a reasonably lengthy ending, though the dialogue and translation are a little on the weak side, with Square allegedly having a script from a prior aborted localization attempt and deciding to use it in the Playstation port. The antagonists are also somewhat weak, and overall, while the plot was alright for a 16-bit RPG, it was nonetheless a step down from that in Final Fantasy IV.

   Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack is easily the game's high point, with a decent central theme and several remixes of it making it more memorable, and most of the other tracks, such as Gilgamesh's theme, being well above average, although some diversity in the normal battle music would have been nice. The sound effects, moreover, are as one would expect from a 16-bit RPG, and ultimately, the aurals don't detract too greatly from the game.

   The visuals are a touched-up version of those from Final Fantasy IV, with improvements such as crisper colors and emotions for character sprites, although the sprites outside battle still remain fairly small, and enemies in combat are still inanimate. The Playstation version, moreover, adds opening and ending FMVs to the game that are very much on par with the system's capabilities, even if many of the main characters in them look vastly different from their in-game designs. All in all, the graphics aren't superb, but are hardly an eyesore.

   Given the sluggishness of the game's internal clock alongside the lags and loading times encountered throughout the game, completing the Playstation version of the game takes much longer than the Super Famicom version, and thus, the alleged twenty-something hours it took this reviewer to finish the game was actually more in the vicinity of thirty to forty hours.

   In conclusion, one can easily understand why Square's American branch at first didn't localize Final Fantasy V, given its often tedious gameplay made worse by the Playstation version's porting and interface issues, though ironically, the game's other aspects aside from its story were actually steps up from the fourth installment. Masochistic gamers, however, might actually enjoy the tedium of class building, although mainstream gamers will certainly wish to look elsewhere, since even many other installments of the Final Fantasy franchise provide a much better gameplay experience.

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