Final Fantasy V's world map is an exercise in foreshadowing. In the first two-thirds of the game, players traverse two separate worlds and may notice a veritable gallery of inaccessible areas: a pyramid in the center of an impenetrable desert, a temple on a tiny island enclosed by mountains, a castle basement with powerful enemies but no way to continue beyond the first room. During the game's third and final act, Final Fantasy V's world map unlocks these secrets in such a way that has players re-examine everything they remember from the first two.
When Exdeath's grand plan comes to fruition, the evil warlock unites the two worlds that were separated one thousand years ago (the power of the void and an evil forest prison were involved) and suddenly, the two previous world maps are superimposed. A mostly empty cave in the first world breaks into that castle basement from the second. A forest anchors down the desert sands near the pyramid, opening it to the party. A lengthy bridge cuts directly through that sealed shrine on a small island. The moment where the first two world maps of Final Fantasy V overlap to make the third and the player realizes that new paths are available to them is fantastic. A triumph of Japanese RPG cartography.
So much happens within the first 45 minutes of Final Fantasy V. A meteor lands on top of an old guy in the middle of a forest, a man named Butz* and his faithful Chocobo rescue a princess from goblin abduction, you befriend a pirate captain who happens to be a woman in drag, you get a ship, you lose a ship, you meet a crystal, and then you can select from a modest stable of job classes to customize your team — a stable that expands wider and wider every few hours and allows for drastic changes at any point with no penalty. Final Fantasy V proves White Mages Can Jump, if you want them to.
Final Fantasy V is a special little game, and one that doesn't get its dues. Part of this is due to the fact that we missed out on it the first time around, making it conspicuously absent from the childhood nostalgia of Western RPG fans of a certain age. There's also the fact that it's one of the most story-light Final Fantasy titles, eschewing the dramatics of Final Fantasy IV in favor of a comedic adventure only marginally more detailed than the series' 8-bit entries. Rather, Final Fantasy V has no time for half-hearted melodrama and angst-ridden pretty boys; instead it's breezy, jolly, and can't wait for you to crack into its toybox and trick out your party according to any bizarre whim you may feel. Final Fantasy V's familiar trappings are the mozzarella layer concealing a Chicago-style deep dish of obscure experimentation.
*He'll always be Butz to me.