Final Fantasy V - Import Retroview

The Name is Butz... James Butz.

By: Andrew Long

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 4
   Plot 4
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

25-40 hours


Title Screen

   The power of suggestion is a funny thing. Wrapped up in a name like 'Final Fantasy,' it can make people do strange things, like importing Final Fantasy V on the advice of their friends who happened to be in Japan at the time. This is not necessarily all bad- when said friend provides a translation to the game, it can add a certain level of enjoyment((let this serve as a disclaimer: my friend did the translating for me). Unfortunately, when the game itself is somewhat suspect as a result of mediocre graphics, a below-average storyline that borders on mindlessly repetitive, and an unremarkable soundtrack, things can seem somewhat less palatable than they did originally. Nevertheless, at no point does Final Fantasy V descend into the morass of unacceptability; it's just roundly mediocre, even by 1992 standards.

    Final Fantasy V is the fifth iteration of an increasingly shopworn storyline, and it shows. There's only so much element of surprise that can be contained in traipsing about verdant worlds in search of various crystals, and however much that is effectively amounts to nil by the time this game rolls around. To keep things somewhat fresh, the Job system has been brushed up from its rudimentary Final Fantasy III standards and taken to a somewhat functional level. It kind of has to be functional, given Final Fantasy V's major flaw: its maddeningly high encounter rate. Perhaps it was just me, but I found it virtually impossible to take two steps without being sucked into a random battle, and there's nothing quite so bad as having to slog through hundreds of fights with characters that seem woefully unqualified for the task. While it is possible to make your way through the game maintaining minimal levels, it's unadvisable, and will likely result in drawn-out conflicts. Though ultimately not difficult to emerge victorious in, this near-constant succession of fighting wears thin after awhile, and running seems a much more palatable option.

This is not to say, however, that the battle system does not succeed in driving the game, since it pretty much has to in the absence of a decent plot. This is also not to say that battle driven is a bad thing, since many games in its time were. The Job system allows for a wide variety of options in combat, and it is of the utmost importance to balance characters, since a party lacking in either physical strength or magical wallop will very quickly fall by the wayside. There are four characters in battle, and the ATB system governs their various attacks, spells, and other assorted abilities, which can range from dancing to luring monsters out of the woods to slaughter enemies. Additionally, characters can retain selected abilities from classes they master when they are returned to 'Bare' status, and the 'Mimic' ability enables characters to do just that. The wide array of options is nice, but in practice, it's unwise to veer from a few sturdy job classes, although the rewards for doing so can be worthwhile.

   In sum, then, Final Fantasy V is heavily reliant on battles to keep the game flowing, although at no point does it verge on the reliance upon combat found in tactical RPGs. This almost-but-not-quite quality is evident in most areas of the game, almost as though the development team didn't quite put enough thought into what they were doing. Not everything is mediocre, though; the interface, at least, while lacking in some visual options, is more than functional, and improves greatly on the more cumbersome setup of Final Fantasy IV. Menus are more easily accessed, and the inclusion of the ability to optimize equipment, as well as the more streamlined approach is a welcome change. Navigating the world map and in towns is also improved somewhat, with a wide variety of transportation options in the field, and the ability to sprint in towns and dungeons being among the most welcome changes.

Butz wonders just how they get the creamy turtle in that Caramilk shell
I'm gonna stick my hand in the turtle's mouth... It's got really sharp teeth!  

   Not as welcome is the musical selection offered up by Nobuo Uematsu. Again, the music is not bad, it is merely average. Some tracks are memorable, some even catchy, but a number of pieces either lack pleasing instrumentation, or are unmemorable. The game does have a definite sound, though, so at least consistency isn't the issue here. The sound effects, for their part, are fairly rudimentary; several would not be out of place on the NES, and the rest aren't particularly spectacular.

   The sound effects aren't the only things that seem at home on the NES; many elements of Final Fantasy V seem reheated. While crystals are obviously central to the earlier Final Fantasy titles, the means in which they are used, stolen, destroyed, discovered, and otherwise integrated into the storyline are hackneyed at best, which pretty much sums up the creativity that went into the production of this game. There is no element that cannot be found in a prior title(save, perhaps, for the existence of multiple endings), and few elements that weren't arguably done better in those previous titles.

   Repetition is definitely the hindering element of Final Fantasy V's storyline; there's just only so many times you can reintroduce something into a plot and still keep it interesting. It doesn't help when characterization is almost uniformly built upon a long, drawn-out succession of deaths of parents, uncles, pirates, pet dragons, pet hydras, pet chocobos, and pet planes of existence. Mooning about death and the state of being is all well and good, but a 30-hour romp through melancholy and destruction doesn't really do much for me, particularly not when events start triggering deja vu.

Self-Immolation. Do not attempt at home.
The perils of smoking  

   That's about where the repetition ends. Playing this game over to master all the job classes might be fun, but realistically, there's better, more entertaining games out there, and 30 hours spent doing something else is probably more worthwhile. There's few subquests to embark upon, and upon discovering I had missed some of the more important spells and items, I was able to backtrack and find them in two hours or so, which sort of rules out obsessive item and spell collection as a valid pastime. Really, about the only non-story related challenge in the game is becoming a piano virtuoso, and the music that serves as the reward for that is a rather scanty return on the effort required, despite that effort being limited to actually finding the pianos. That said, the game does boast multiple endings, but even this doesn't necessitate playing over, since the difference is determined by who survives the final confrontation.

Visually, Final Fantasy V looks like a logical transition between Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI; the level of graphical sophistication is closer to the former if anything, but some newer elements, such as scaling technology, are also employed. Aesthetically, the game has an unfortunate unique quality all to itself. Yoshitaka Amano did the character design, and some poor, colour-blind soul in Square's art department evidently decided to take Amano's palette at face value, because the only game I've seen that looks more washed out than Final Fantasy V is Paladin's Quest, the poster child for why pastel and video games shouldn't ever be seen together. An unwholesome selection of pasty greens and yellowy browns combine to render any decently shaded scenery disgusting, and even if that's supposed to somehow instill a Celtic air to the whole thing (as Final Fantasy Anthology's cutscenes, added seven years after the fact, would seem to suggest) it just didn't translate into 16-bit pixels.

Again, though, Final Fantasy V is not without its upside. The game is fairly challenging, and battles usually require at least a little more effort than mashing the A button into submission. As levelling up is a necessity, the game will take a fair amount of time to complete, an impressive (for its day) 25 hours at the very least. More likely, you'll spend a few hours extra beefing up your characters in order to ensure they are able to withstand the battering they will take towards the later stages of the game.

I'd be out of sorts too if I had a little guy growing out of my head...
Butz realizes he's not in Kansas anymore  

So really, the power of suggestion might lead you to believe this game isn't worth playing, based on what I've said. By and large, this might be the case. Final Fantasy IV has a better story, and Final Fantasy VI has better gameplay. Even so, Final Fantasy V does have the Job system going for it, and the game, while mediocre, does stand up in enough areas to warrant giving it at least a once-over. Unfortunately, that might be about all it warrants.

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