I remember a time when Final Fantasy V was an enigmatic and alluring title to the American audience; reason being, it hadn’t been released. I followed the fan translation projects and the import Super Famicom version, and when the game finally did come to the US (as a part of “Final Fantasy Anthology” on PlayStation), I played the game a total of four times, and I even wrote my own walkthrough for it (something I never want to do again). My recent stroll through Final Fantasy V Advance marks my fifth time through this, the fifth game in the series. Let’s take a look at what it is, and what it has become in this latest port.
The one thing Final Fantasy V isn’t remembered for is its plot. It’s essentially an upgraded version of Final Fantasy III’s plot. The world is in danger because of a dark threat, and the four elemental crystals are about to shatter. As you play through the game, they do shatter, but their shards give you strength to overcome your foes, and eventually you save the world.
And unlike Final Fantasy IV and VI, which sported a large cast of characters, Final Fantasy V only offers five: Bartz, Lenna, Faris, Galuf, and Krile. Most people reading this review ought to know plenty about these characters already, but if you haven’t played it, let me tell you that most of the character-based revelations are predictable and also take place within the first half of the game. There are very few big surprises through the latter portion of the game, making the trek at the end a very tiresome one for those who put stock into a game’s plot. And when you find out the species of the game’s final boss, you’ll probably agree with me that he, as a character, is almost laughable.
As for as any changes to the “Advance” edition, there is one thing that needs to be taken into account: translation. The translation of the game found on the PlayStation version was adequate, but it really failed to bring the characters to life. This time, I’d argue that things are a little different. I really took a liking to Galuf and Faris, two characters I really did not care for any other time I played the game. The NPCs also demonstrate some decent dialogue, and I have to thank Square Enix and Nintendo for their work with this version of the game. The story still isn’t phenomenal, and is easily the weakest plot from any Final Fantasy (excluding the first three on the Famicom).
I was originally going to give the story grade a 70%, but after considering the subtle yet significant improvements to the translation, I’m going to give some bonus points and go with a 75%.
Three versions of the game, and each has a different introduction. The Super Famicom version had a strange, new (for 1992) graphic engine that showed a large version of Bartz riding his chocobo (named “Boko”) through a field. The PlayStation version had a beautiful CG cutscene that, surprisingly, featured some quick shots of the extra-hard side bosses “Omega” and “Shinryuu” along with the standard, expected scenes. Now, in the GBA version, we have a collection of in-game sequences, as well as a new scene where the four crystals spin and some vague narration talks about the impending fate of the world.
There isn’t too much different here graphically. Some new sprites, enemies, and animations have been added because of the new jobs and bonus dungeon (to be discussed further in this review). Also, the main characters and all major NPCs have facial artwork (in the vein of Yoshitaka Amano) accompanying their text boxes. This was a welcome improvement to the game; it really helps bring the characters to life, and you can imagine them as something other than little 2D sprites the size of your pinky fingernail.
The added visual material was a nice touch, and the game itself was beautiful for its time. Today, the visuals are clearly dated, even for a handheld release. I wasn’t expecting anything more than I got from the game in terms of graphics, so I’ll stick with a “good” grade of 83%. I wasn’t let down, but I wasn’t blown away either.
The self-proclaimed experts of videogame music have sharp disagreements over “which FF soundtrack is the best,” in the same way that RPG fans in general argue over “which FF game is the best.” Few people point to Final Fantasy V as the supreme title in either place, but there are a few people out there who simply adore this game’s soundtrack. I’m one of them.
Was it not Final Fantasy V that brought us Uematsu’s most excellent of battle themes, “Battle on the Big Bridge” (the Gilgamesh battle theme)? Those who take the time will also discover that the other battle themes of the game are also excellent, especially the last two battle themes. The chocobo theme is arranged as “Mambo De Chocobo,” and main themes such as the opening “Ahead on Our Way” and the ending “Dear Friends” are just as memorable as any other Final Fantasy. The whole soundtrack is scattered with excellent melodies from Uematsu, at a time when music on the Super Famicom soundchip was at its best!
Fortunately, the lovely sounds of these songs are not killed by the transition to GBA, which is known to have a “tinny” sound to it with most other games. Also, anyone who bothers to beat the game will be treated to a bonus jukebox where you can pick any of the songs and listen to them at your leisure. This was an ample bonus for a videogame audiophile such as myself.
Of course, no songs were added in the “Advance” version of the game. No one expected it. In fact, I doubt any improvements were made to the game’s audio, even the sound effects. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose: 88% for sound.
It’s a Turn-Based RPG on the Game Boy Advance. There isn’t much to say about control. What I can say for sure is that the “Advance” version of the game now supports a couple of helpful button configuration options for menu navigation. I didn’t make use of these new options, but I can see how others found it to be helpful. Note that if you’re playing the game on a DS, it’s a bit of a hassle that the menu is brought up with the start button, which is a tiny little thing that is almost hard for one’s thumb to locate when playing the game. Even more annoying is hitting select to see the world map. But, of course, if you’re playing the game on its intended system (the Game Boy Advance), these buttons are placed nicely on the system, and it’s good to see the buttons getting some use. No problems here, so let’s hand out a 90% and move on.
It’s a Final Fantasy game from the pre-PlayStation era. It’s one of the games that really defined the RPG genre for years to come. Obviously, there are plenty of good things to say about the gameplay!
Borrowing the jobs and abilities system from the Famicom’s “Final Fantasy III” (only found in the US on the Nintendo DS), and then improving upon it drastically, Final Fantasy V’s character growth system is easily one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. Unlike Final Fantasy IV, which left each character with a set list of abilities, the characters of Final Fantasy V can go in any direction. Along with the standard experience points to gain levels (which increase statistics), your party is awarded “ability points” (abbreviated ABP) to gain levels in whatever job each character is currently assigned to. The jobs have different levels, and the amount of ABP needed to increase a level differs exponentially from the beginning to the end. Most jobs will take 10 to 30 ABP to go from Level 0 to Level 1, but from the second-to-last level to the final level (at which point the job is “Mastered”), the ABP cost is anywhere from 300 ABP to 999. Mastering a job has its own rewards, particularly at the end of the game, but generally, the purpose of gaining levels in jobs is so you can learn new abilities that you can use while playing as other jobs. For its time, it was almost revolutionary: knights using black magic, summoners fighting bare-handed (and doing decent damage!), all sorts of unlikely combinations. Today, this system is found in plenty of games, including Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XI (with the job/subjob system allowing more fun combinations).
Battles are turn-based with the ATB gauge determining when your characters attack. The game is not exceptionally difficult, but inexperienced gamers will frequently get stuck at bosses, and unprepared parties will die in certain dungeons due to lack of supplies. There are a few points in the game that it is almost crucial to level grind, and it’s always a good idea to spend time leveling after gaining a new set of jobs.
Characters who master a job gain numerous benefits from that mastered job when playing as either the “freelancer” (normal, no job) class or the “mime” job (a bonus job that was available in all versions of the game). With these jobs, you can assign multiple abilities to each character (instead of the standard one free slot you have two or three), and many of the latent abilities (such as the ability to equip certain weapons and armor, sprinting, detecting traps and hidden passages, avoiding back attacks, covering allies, the whole shebang!) are automatically in play for that character. In other words, you can create some awesome characters by the end of the game.
Final Fantasy V Advance adds four new jobs to the game, and they are surprisingly fun to use. Three are available just before the end of the game, and the last one is an exceptionally difficult job to get, as it requires you to complete a ridiculously long and encounter-rate-boosted bonus dungeon with super-cheap bosses. The three easily acquired jobs are Gladiator, Oracle, and Cannoneer. The last job you can acquire is Necromancer, which turns out to be nothing more than a variation of “blue mage” that can learn some awesome high-end dark spells (such as “dark flare” or “deep freeze”).
Of the other three jobs, I’d venture a guess to say that Cannoneer is least useful on the surface but most beneficial to anyone who takes time to figure out how it works. The cannoneer’s main command is “Open Fire!,” where you literally just shoot a cannon at an enemy. As you level the job, however, you gain a few other special abilities, the last of which is “Combine.” It’s like the chemist’s “Mix,” but now you make creations of violence instead of support items… and you shoot these items out of your cannon at the enemy. One of the two items has to be any of three new “shot” items that are found in the bonus dungeon and from a special merchant, and then the second item is any of your choice. Some experimentation will quickly lead to some successful ammunition creations.
The Oracle is initially a pretty boring class, with the standard command being a choice among any of eight spells that do a countdown before the spell takes effect (stone, stop, death, a few others). However, the final ability, “Prediction,” can cause massive catastrophes that usually hit the enemy but can occassionally take out your team instead. It’s a dangerous class, but it’s also lots of fun to play around with. Also, using this job gives the character a huge bonus in magic attack, so being an oracle with black magic on the side can be really helpful in tight spots.
The Gladiator is the ultimate fighter, capable of wielding all of the good, damage-dealing weapons. The Gladiator’s primary command is “Finisher,” an ability that I found to be extremely useful and probably the single most powerful skill in the game. The ability is aptly described in a way to poke fun at Sony using a well-known joke from the E3 conference where they highlighted the game Genji 2. Allow me to quote from the game itself: “Finisher – Powerful strike that whenever hits an enemy, attacks its weakpoint for massive damage!” That is actually what the ability does, but hearing it described in such words makes me happy. The ability can sometimes fail (and nothing happens), but when it works, it often does 9999 damage (I even had it do so on the hardest enemy in the game).
Speaking of the hardest enemy in the game, the bonus dungeon’s last boss is a special treat. It actually helps to bring closure to the game’s story. The person you fight is a powerful wizard who is essentially responsible for the state the world has been in for the last 1000 years. The rest of the dungeon is quite well made, and very time consuming; the problem with it was a hyped up encounter rate, the most unnecessary thing to ever be put in an RPG. I was literally walking five spaces and getting attacked. I ran from every battle because I had to conserve HP and MP for the various bosses throughout the dungeon. It was a very frustrating experience, and I do find fault in the bonus dungeon for this reason.
For those who complete the dungeon and get Necromancer, a final bonus of a “boss rush” mode is added. This mode is like Ys: The Ark of Napishtim’s “Time Attack,” where you take on a bunch of bosses in a row without a chance to recover. The boss rush is also handy for people who hope to collect all the Blue Mage spells but missed some boss-exclusive spells along the way.
A final improvement: loading times. Of course, there weren’t any on the Super Famicom version, but we Americans only had the PlayStation version to try out for years. And that thing had terrible load times! It was simply shameful! Well, that’s all gone now, but I did notice a few problems with the GBA attempt to emulate the old Super Famicom game. Some spell animations suffered from pretty bad slowdown (Shiva, Meteor, and Holy were the big three), and sometimes the ATB gauge would freeze for a few seconds, as if the game was taking time to process what the enemy would do next.
All of the additions to the “Advance” port of Final Fantasy V are worthwhile, but it is a shame that the new jobs and bonus dungeon are only available right at the end of the game. It would have been nice to see a job or two added earlier in the game so that the trek through the normal scenario (which takes about 24 hours) could have been slightly different. Nonetheless, the game is wildly fun, particularly because of the job/ability system. Battles like these have been replaced by more sophisticated (and real-time) battles of newer Final Fantasy titles. But those longing for the “good ol’ days” will find solace in FFV Advance. I award gameplay a 93%.
In the US, FFV Advance was released one week after Final Fantasy XII and one week before the DS remake of Final Fantasy III (new to US gamers). I can imagine that the game may have been overlooked because of its release between two other Final Fantasy titles; major Final Fantasy titles. It’s light on plot, but heavy on fantastic gameplay. I recommend you pick it up while you anxiously await Final Fantasy VI Advance. The game gets an 87% from this humble reviewer.