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Final Fantasy V was the one iteration of the series from the SNES that didn’t come to the US. It’s said that the Japanese felt the job system would be too complicated for Americans to grasp, a vote of confidence that in conjunction with FF: Mystic Quest as our planned introduction to the series makes one wonder if they had ever heard of Might and Magic or Ultima,. The game came out many years back in America on the Playstation, with Final Fantasy Anthology, as well as a GBA port with an improved translation. After playing through it recently on the Playstation, I wonder if the only reason we didn’t get a copy originally is they were sure we’d call them out on their bullshit plot.
The crux of the problem is the game attempts to sell you on how close-knit your group members are to each other, but their handling of every potential bonding event between characters makes you hope they were trying to make some sort of statement about the genre to begin with. Your self-named character stands by the grave of his father, and one of the female leads comes to speak with him. Instead of opening up about an event from her childhood, she tells you that fathers are worthless as the main character pines for his dead family. You don’t really feel sorry for the lack of empathy, however, because the game looks at each opportunity to develop him as a person and conscientiously ignores it.
Galuf, the archetypical wise yet immature old man asks why he crossed over to Galuf’s alternate world when he might not be able to go home, and the main character explains how he’s deeply driven by the need to… “Well, I just felt like it. Felt like roaming.” How compelling. You learn that his father once fought with Galuf to save the world, it’s approached as a “Well that’s interesting” random coincidence.
The large disappointment is that you’re expecting a story, not a realistic portrayal of how people might react to similar events in real life. Galuf the office worker having worked with your dad? That’s nice. You tell a characteristically blunt person that you miss your dead parents? No sympathy. You make a life-changing decision just for the hell of it? Woo! There’s a reason fictional characters react differently to events than real people, fiction doesn’t have the space to develop the slow process of people becoming close to one another. You’re simply left with a generic game about nothing of any real consequence.
I puttered to around 70% of the way through the game ambivalent to what they were doing and why they were doing it. I was making my pirate into a bitching Samurai/Ninja, when all of the sudden I hit a somewhat sentimental moment. Galuf is battling this iteration’s incarnation of evil Exdeath, his daughter comes under attack, and he fights Exdeath, dying to save her life. I was surprised and momentarily touched. Then an eyebrow cocked up, and I realized they were trying to pull a fast one on me! Observe Tellah (FFIV) in the upper left, Galuf (FFV) in the upper right, Golbez (Villain from FF IV) in the bottom left, and Exdeath in the bottom right.
In Final Fantasy IV, Tellah battles Golbez to avenge his daughter’s death, dying in the process. This was the point where redemption for the game became impossible for me. Sure there’s a villain behind Golbez who’s unveiled at the very end of the game, and Golbez never turns into a tree like Exdeath does, but ‘Old man fights another blue-hued villain bent on destruction because of something related to his daughter’. It’s like Back to the Future II without the wacky time paradox concerns.
The game isn’t without some good points or that it is without any original ideas. One interesting thing that’s fleshed out in this game is when the two worlds merge, you have the option to go through some extra dungeons for more powerful spells/equipment, or you can go straight to ExDeath. A similar gameplay technique is fleshed out in FF VI where in the World of Ruin one can fight the final boss as soon as you receive the airship, or you can go through a slew of dungeons to recover all of your characters and get some nice stuff. The job system also deserves some commendation as an interesting way of keeping you actively focused on your points and party set-up. The music is also as memorable and top-notch as you expect for a Final Fantasy game.
Even with these interesting characteristics, it’s hard to recommend Final Fantasy V with all the other options available unless you want to see the bridge between FFIV and FFVI. It can be beat in about 30 hours but the only engagement you’ll feel is from the job progression of your characters, and if this is your desire there are plenty of games which will give you an engaging story as well.