Final Fantasy V officially came to the West in 1999 as part of the dual pack Final Fantasy Anthology, which also included Final Fantasy VI. The game was originally released in Japan in late 1992, but wasn’t exported. This was prior to Final Fantasy hitting mainstream success, and Square, worried that the game would not sell well due to its “complexity,” opted to keep it in Japan.
The game was ported for mobile in 2013 with remastered graphics and enhanced special effects but it is widely accepted that these new graphics are a downgrade from the original. They actually cause questionable issues with the game in general and its lack of personality has caused many fans to write off this version of the game. The definitive version of Final Fantasy V is considered to be the Gameboy Advance version. Unfortunately, getting your hands on it is difficult due to its rarity and the high price tag it brings.
Considering the multitude of releases, it is difficult to judge this game as a whole. There are gripes to be had with any version, whether it be personal preference or actual flaws. For the purpose of this review, I played the PS1 port version of Final Fantasy V. It is the original western release in all of its glory. In terms of the loading times, I have chosen to ignore them as this can be chalked up to Square’s bad porting. The same issues are present on Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger, and other re-released classics of Square’s and it’s not worth rehashing the same argument over and over again. I will be placing a singular score for this game and will look past the flaws caused by Square’s questionable porting practices.
The story of Final Fantasy V follows a very basic formula and does not take too many chances. While this detracts from most games, it is one of this game’s biggest advantages. Unlike most JRPGs, you are not bogged down with melodrama, questioning motives, and there is no major plot twist that makes the player question everything. The mantra “keep it simple stupid,” is what guides this game and is exactly what makes it such an accessible title.
Your party consists of the following: Bartz, a wandering traveler; Lenna (or Reina depending on translation), a princess searching for her father; Galuf, an old man with amnesia; Faris, a pirate captain; and lastly, Krile, the granddaughter of Galuf.
You are tasked with saving the crystals that drive the forces regulating the world. They are the wind, water, fire, and earth crystals. Your primary goal becomes clear with time: to stop X-Death, an embodiment of pure evil and dark warlock. In the grand scheme of things, X-Death is a flat villain with aspirations to destroy all existence, but his underlying backstory gives credence to his goal. He is entertaining, fun, and he is formidable.
Does the simplistic approach take away from Final Fantasy V’s story? Barely. The game does the minimum in exploring the backstory of Galuf and the original heroes who sealed X-Death. While each character has their moment, the backstories were begging to be explored. While this leaves a great opportunity for a prequel, it is unlikely we will ever see one.
The high points in this story are masterfully crafted, but the game does see its share of lows as well. The Clash at Big Bridge is one of the most iconic moments in all of gaming, but when your party is promptly blasted a continent away with no injuries or repercussions, it becomes hollow. This happens throughout the game: every apex has a low point in tandem. The brilliant Ship Graveyard, with its highly creative and intelligent design, is followed almost immediately by the lackluster North Mountain. After the breathtaking Ronka Ruins, we are treated to a backtracking mission with uninspired bosses.
Final Fantasy V is a prime example of how to craft a story without issues as it is not weighed down by typical JRPG melodrama. The characters aren’t constantly questioning themselves and motivations are clear and concise. Is it the best story ever told? Not by a long stretch. Is it one of the most accessible stories ever told? Absolutely.
In terms of gameplay, Final Fantasy V is never boring and is similar to its predecessors. You travel from place to place via foot, boat, airship, chocobo, dragon, and even submarine. You traverse a traditional overworld map, lively towns, mountains, castles, dungeons, etc. Everything is crisp, clean, and easy to pick up and play.
What sets Final Fantasy V apart is the Job System. During the first hours of the game you are quickly loaded with a full party of four, introduced to a traditional battle system, and given the opportunity to play with your characters in their most basic form. After the destruction of the Wind Crystal, you receive your first set of jobs to give your characters and you experience what defines Final Fantasy V. The core of Final Fantasy V’s Job System is experimentation and choice. In the journey you will amass over 20 unique jobs, each with their own specific functions and uses. While there are some core jobs that are essential, such as the white mage for healing magic and black mage for damage magic; there are a multitude of others to play with and find your niche. If you want massive physical damage output, you can make a party consisting of Monks or if you find yourself enjoying status buffs and debuffs, you may find the Time Mage suits you. If you want to learn enemy attacks and use them to your advantage, the Blue Mage is the ticket. The Jobs also dictate what equipment you can equip. Knights are able to equip swords and shields. Depending on which Mage job you have, you can equip knives, rods, and staves.
These job abilities are not limited to battles. For example, if you have a character as a Thief, you will be able to run faster and gain the ability to see secret paths and find hidden treasure. With the Geomancer job, your character can find traps and walk over damaging floors free of harm.
As you fight battles with each job, they level up, granting you access to those abilities even when not using that job. For example, if you have a Summoner at level four, you are able to equip the level four summoning ability as the character’s secondary ability. You can have a physically powerful Monk that also has the ability to use high level summons. You can have a strong Time Mage with the ability to see hidden pathways. The game rewards experimentation and encourages you to try new things.
Overall, you will find yourself using several core jobs that are vital to success, but there is plenty of room to mix and match new jobs. The jobs are introduced at a reasonable pace, allowing you ample time to level up what is needed and to try new things as well. At the time, Final Fantasy V was the pinnacle of gameplay for the series. The system has aged remarkably well, and is just as accessible today as it was upon release.
Final Fantasy V looks as it should. It was a major step forward in terms of quality, and despite the characters all being “squashed,” it is easy to see the care that went into their design. When they laugh, get angry, or show any other emotion, it is easy to see and is not confusing. Once again, Final Fantasy V is not perfect, but it is solid; the settings shine bright and the unique places you see all feel like they belong in V’s world. Nothing is too outrageous and when it borders on it, it still fits. The Ronka Ruins specifically stand out as an achievement in presentation. The ancient technology mixed with the intricate moving parts feels both alien and familiar. While vastly different, the Fire Ship also stands out. The modern steampunk technology breathes fresh air into the game while also keeping with tradition as it is powered by a crystal. The Library of the Ancients feels gritty and dusty, as an ancient library should. Dungeons like the Ship Graveyard are integrated in ways that scream innovation and are truly inspired, while others such as X-Death’s Castle being revealed for the player as to what it truly is, is breathtaking. The hazy effect with multiple areas that appear to be smoldering make you feel almost like you’re traveling through hell.
The special effects in the game, however, do leave a lot to be desired. Square enjoys using the “blue twinkle” to represent everything from your characters flying away, to crystal shards emitting their power, and even explosive spell missiles. There are also missed opportunities to have more grand effects in situations such as the removal of the sealed weapons appearing to be passive and non-epic.
Summons are also disappointing as they are also static. While they are well designed, one would prefer to see a little life in them. The spells that the summons cast do have some zing, and just like other spells in the game, they are a treat. You can almost feel the power as you progress to stronger spells; when you cast Flare, you feel sorry for the poor enemy subjected to it. Bolt 3 is another good example, with the large bolt of lightning and the lengthy flash gives it undeniable authority.
The spells and settings are great and do end up carrying the aesthetic, but the rough spots are equally noticeable.
(Although this isn’t a review of the mobile versions, it is worth noting: while the special effects issues are largely fixed in the mobile ports of the game, the character emotions, the character designs themselves, and the settings all lose their charm. It is the main reason why there is so much disdain for the mobile ports.)
Final Fantasy V is pleasing to the ear as the sound engine is utilized to its full capability and the score, along with the sound effects, are charming. Once again, Final Fantasy V delivers and hits almost all of the right notes.
In terms of sound effects, most are reserved for a few field events and the battles. From the sound of spell explosions to crystals shattering, the field sounds are sensible enough. One specific sound effect, however, is overly obnoxious and loud compared to the rest: the “whir” of the airship. The battles are where the sound effects have their biggest impact. Fire 3 truly sounds like an inferno, Holy sounds like the heavens opening up, Bolt 3 has a thunderous roar, and you can go on down through the list. All of the spells and abilities sound gratifyingly as they should.
In terms of the soundtrack, composer Nobuo Uematsu adds another great set list to his name. The pieces invoke all of the right emotions and no track feels misplaced, underused, or overused. Overall, there is not a single bad track on the entire OST. It does have its share of average tracks such as Walking the Snowy Mountains, but it also has some hidden gems such as the haunting As You Feel, I Feel (Forest of Moore Theme) and the mechanical Musica Machina. In addition, there are the obvious tracks that stand out as all-time greats such as Clash at The Big Bridge and X-Death’s Theme.
It is easy to get lost in the world of Final Fantasy V due to the well-crafted sound effects and the enchanting OST. The OST, as is typical for Uematsu, stands on its own as a solid entry on his resume.
From top to bottom, Final Fantasy V is simply an enjoyable experience. To reiterate, it uses a lovely simple approach to envelop the player into its fantastic world. The characters are not overly complicated and easy to identify with. The goal of the game is presented early on and is easy to follow, and the narrative is not bogged down in melodrama that the series has been known for as of late. To sum it up, you know the goal and you know why you’re fighting for that goal. It looks good while doing it and it sounds great while doing it.
Overall, there are only a few head scratching moments in the game and with that, your attention is always on moving forward and saving the world. It works on every level and comes together seamlessly to make for a unique and entertaining experience.
Final Fantasy V is one of the best in the series as it set a new bar for gameplay while maintaining quality in every other aspect. It can be argued that Final Fantasy V is a perfect entry point for newcomers to the series. From beginning to end, Final Fantasy V proves it does not take an overly deep approach to create a great game. There is no other way to put it: Final Fantasy V is a game that should be played.