It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when Final Fantasy games were practically annual affairs. The hard work done at Squaresoft was constant in the 80s and 90s, and despite each Final Fantasy being full of content and vastly different, the release dates of these games really puts it into perspective. Final Fantasy III was in 1990, Final Fantasy IV in 1991 and the subject of today, Final Fantasy V, in 1992.
Deciding that Final Fantasy III had something special, Squaresoft chose to revisit the job system for Final Fantasy V. The focus this time around was using the power of the Super Famicom to expand upon and refine this system.
I’m willing to bet many of you haven’t played Final Fantasy V. It’s usually an overlooked title since it was wedged between the only SNES titles to appear in North America. Yes, we’ve discussed how Final Fantasy IV was rebranded as Final Fantasy II in America, and next month we’ll be talking about Final Fantasy VI. However, between those is the bullied middle child that wasn’t allowed to show its face on our shores.
Squaresoft rectified this a whopping seven years later with the Final Fantasy Anthology on the original PlayStation. However, this version is plagued with long loading times and an infamously hideous translation. It wasn’t until 2006 that a decently-translated version made its way stateside on the Game Boy Advance. Yeesh!
So, with its spotty release schedule in relation to the rest of the series, how does it hold up? Should you consider playing it? There’s only one way to find out!
Final Fantasy V - December 6, 1992 (Super Famicom, PSX, GBA, iOS, Android, Steam)
Platform used for review: Steam port, 2015
“Did you hear? A meteorite fell near Tycoon. Too bad it didn't land on my mother-in-law...”
Like 99% of Final Fantasy stories from this era, Final Fantasy V revolves around crystals. Shocking, I know! Anyway, the story begins with Princess Lenna Charlotte Tycoon and her father, the king of Tycoon … aptly named “King Tycoon." He flies off to take care of the Wind Crystal on the back of a wind drake, sensing danger as wind currents start to die down. Upon his arrival, he sees the crystal shatter to pieces before his very eyes.
While this is happening, a traveler named Bartz and his chocobo named Boko are sitting around a campfire. They bear witness to a meteorite falling to earth nearby and chase after it in shock, where they find some goblins trying to abscond with an unconscious Lenna. After he frees her, Bartz finds out she was trying to find her dad when the meteorite came crashing down. Upon investigating the meteorite, they come across an old amnesiac man named Galuf, who can only remember that he is also headed to the Wind Shrine.
The three team up and head off, where they immediately find a pirate cove and attempt to steal the ship of a swashbuckler named Faris. After explaining their need for a ship to reach the shrine, Faris agrees to aid them, and upon reaching the shrine, an image of King Tycoon explains that they must save the remaining crystals. They receive several shards of the broken crystal, empowering them with their first set of jobs they can change to as their adventure starts. Thus the story truly begins!
It’s much like Final Fantasy III in terms of basic story structure, but it’s so much more than that this time around. Final Fantasy V outdoes the first job system-based game simply because the characters have… well, character. Final Fantasy V has an incredibly emotive cast. They’re very talkative and they usually have something funny or insightful to say, as opposed to the bland cast of III.
Another good part of the story is how Final Fantasy V balances itself. It can be serious when it needs to be, but more often than not it’s a realistic portrayal of younger people befriending one another. They crack jokes and make terrible puns all the time, and don’t take stuff too seriously for the most part. It’s refreshing after Final Fantasy IV being pretty heavy in tone. It’s not that Final Fantasy V has no gravity to its plot, simply that it knows how to lighten up a bit compared to IV.
Major plot spoilers beyond this warning! Skip past the next bolded text to continue reading if you don’t want spoilers!
Speaking of gravity, the Void makes a sort-of return from Final Fantasy III. It’s not the same thing as in that game, but it’s similar enough: an all-encompassing emptiness that grows and envelops everything in its path. After several more meteorites fall, the party finds out that Galuf isn’t from this world and traveled by meteorite to get here. Another meteorite brings his granddaughter, who helps him remember who he is. Galuf was part of the Dawn Warriors, who helped seal an evil man named Exdeath away on their world 30 years prior.
On top of that, Exdeath’s plan is to have the crystals shattered so he can be unsealed. Then, he plans to bring the Void back and control it to bring the world to its knees. Once again, the plot is pretty basic. However, it’s how the story plays out that makes it interesting.
For starters, once Exdeath is released, he flees to Galuf’s world to wreak havoc. Galuf and his granddaughter Krile give chase, using the last remaining power inside the meteorite to make their one-way journey. Bartz, Lenna, and Faris are determined to help, and use the help of an engineer named Cid to harness power from all four meteorites for one final final one-way journey.
In this second world, they find out that Galuf is a king! It’s here that they plan to take on Exdeath, and where they find out that Bartz’s father is from this world and is, in fact, one of the Dawn Warriors! He stayed behind in the first world after they sealed Exdeath away in order to keep watch of him.
While interesting, that’s not even the craziest thing to happen. The team heads to the Forest of Moore in Galuf’s world to find a way to seal Exdeath away again and encounter him at his full strength. Let’s just say it doesn’t go well for them and that Krile ends up joining the party! It’s one of the emotional high points of Final Fantasy V and it’s a shining moment of badassery.
After Bartz, Krile, Lenna, and Faris rush Exdeath’s castle and send him running for the hills, the big reveal happens: the two worlds are merged into one. They discover that a thousand years ago, the two worlds were originally one and the same, split into two in a great war against an evil named Enuo. The twelve legendary weapons that helped seal him away are now sealed themselves in the basement of Castle Kuza. Four tablets littered around the now-merged world can unlock them three at a time, as well as offer the legendary summons Leviathan and Bahamut. On top of that, they offer access to Meteor, Flare, and Holy. Needless to say, Exdeath is gonna have a bad time!
Story spoilers end here. It’s safe to continue reading!
Final Fantasy V doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to its story, but it does tell it in interesting ways. Its various twists and turns are engaging, exciting, and even emotional at times. All this is wrapped up by characters that are fun to watch interact with one another. It’s not the perfect story, but it’s certainly an entertaining one.
“Bartz, what've you got that goofy look for?”
Where Final Fantasy IV looked like a solid first effort, its sprites looked more like the 8-bit counterparts than anything else, at least in non-combat. Final Fantasy V, however, is the first game to really give detail and depth to its colors and characters fitting of a 16-bit console.
As I mentioned, the characters in Final Fantasy V are highly emotive. The expressions on the characters are always clearly visible so you can tell how everyone is feeling without a need for explanation. It helps get rid of some of the cluttered exposition in previous titles. This “show, don’t tell” mentality helped convey the game’s plot and cutscenes a lot better.
The spritework is more impressive this time around too. Each character can have 22 jobs. Each of the five characters has unique sprites for each job unlike Final Fantasy III on Famicom, which means the team had to create all battle animations for 110 sprites! That’s craziness, not to mention dedication.
Now, the mobile version of the game from which the Steam version is ported is a little different. At first glance, the redone character sprites are kind of ugly. In motion and over time, they ended up not being too bad for me. However, everything else looks great. The environments look nice and the enemy sprites in particular look fantastic. I can understand why people might be turned off by the character sprites. However, I guarantee that it’s a fine way to play once you see it in motion.
All told, Final Fantasy V is a fantastic treat for the eyes. Not to mention, it was the first game where legendary Square employee Tetsuya Nomura worked on enemy design and battle graphics, so you know it’s gonna look good!
“It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings, and the orchestra hasn't even started tuning up yet!”
To be perfectly frank, I believe that Final Fantasy V is a major contender for the best soundtrack of the entire franchise. To date, Nobuo Uematsu has done work on 12 of the 15 main Final Fantasy titles and I would have to say that V fits in comfortably in the top five soundtracks.
There is rarely a song that isn’t engaging or perfectly fitting for the scene. Uematsu expanded a lot on his first effort using the Super Famicom’s sound chip and it shows. There are multiple dungeon themes, three different overworld themes, countless town themes, several main character themes, boss themes and perhaps the most famous of Final Fantasy V’s tracks, Clash on the Big Bridge.
As I mentioned before, this soundtrack is littered with fantastic tracks, one of which is considered among the most well-known in the franchise. The way the music is used in certain scenes to great effect, too. One particular standout was the airship theme. It’s exciting and adventurous when it overrides the overworld theme. However, after some plot stuff, the third overworld theme plays for the remainder of the game. This theme overrides the airship theme to keep the focus on the atmosphere of the plot by that point, and you never hear the airship theme again in the game. It’s a reminder that there are much more important things happening at the current moment, and I thought they used it to great effect.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the villain’s battle theme. I don’t mean the final battle theme, though; I mean the specific theme for when you fight him several times in the game prior to the final battle. It’s powerful, using the Super Famicom sound chip to simulate heavy, thumping drums. It gets you pumped and, in one particular battle, adds another layer of angry sentiment to an already emotionally-charged fight.
Even the dungeons and other areas have fantastic music. Castle themes sound very stately, dungeons sound sinister and, if I had to choose a favorite dungeon theme, it’d be Cursed Earth. It’s used sparsely in the game, but it manages to capture a sense of desolation and adventure together in rare form. It’s those dang drums again, I tell you. Something about the way Nobuo Uematsu uses drums in Final Fantasy V works really well for me.
However, not all the songs require drums. To get a sense of mystery across during important scenes, Nobuo made a pretty simple piece using only a piano, xylophone, and simulated human chanting. It’s surprisingly haunting and reminds me of the song Acceptance by Akira Yamaoka and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn made years later for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
Anyway, if my rambling and constant track-linking has shown anything, it’s that Final Fantasy V’s soundtrack is utterly fantastic. Up to this point in the articles I’ve written, I can safely say it’s the best one yet. I may have liked the others, but I love Final Fantasy V’s soundtrack.
“Time for your viscera to see the light of day! Now die!”
Of all the parts of Final Fantasy V, the job system used was the biggest innovation for the series upon its release. Anything that Final Fantasy III introduced to the gameplay of the series with its job system, V unequivocally made it bigger and better in every way.
For starters, there are way more jobs to choose from. In the Super Famicom and PlayStation versions, there are 22 jobs to choose from! “But wait,” I hear some fans about to type in the comments, “Final Fantasy III has 22 jobs too!” This is true, but the simple truth is that a hefty chunk of III’s jobs are just promoted versions of basic jobs. A Devout is just a better White Mage, a Magus is an improved Black Mage, Summoners are just more awesome Evokers, and so on. By comparison, not a single job in Final Fantasy V overlaps with anything. All 22 are unique in some fashion. On top of that, the GBA version onward added four new jobs, which are a nice addition as well.
As I mentioned, each job is unique. It’d take ages to get into each job and what it does, but suffice it to say that there is a huge amount of variety. Not only is each job unique, but each one has several different abilities to use on top of that. For instance, ninjas can dual wield weapons and can also learn abilities like Image, which is a no-MP cast of Blink on themselves. They can also learn Smoke, which allows them to escape any battle that you can run from.
What sets this job system above others in the series is the variety you can create with it. Each job comes with a job-specific ability. For instance, White Mages use white magic. However, like III, your jobs level separately from your character, so you’re gaining both EXP for your character and Ability Points (ABP) for your job. As you level your job, you learn these abilities (such as White Magic Lv. 1, 2, etc.). Why would you need to learn them though? You’re already a white mage, you can use all the white magic as it is!
Well, this is where things get interesting. Each job has a blank ability slot when you change to it. Here, you can pick an ability you’ve learned from any other job and equip it. Learned White Magic Lv. 6? Equip it to your Black Mage and suddenly you have a superpowered Red Mage that isn’t limited to Lv. 3 magic of each spell. Why even choose to be a Red Mage then, anyway?
Usually, the final job level you get for a class imparts a super-useful ability. In the Red Mage’s case, it makes sense to master the job because it grants you the almighty Dualcast. Did someone say “summon Bahamut twice in a row for obscene amounts of damage”?
I know I’ve been mainly discussing mages to get my point across but I assure you, there is so much more out there. Beastmasters have abilities that help them catch or control enemies, Dancers use the power of dance to have random effects on the battle (such as siphoning HP, MP, confusing the enemy and more), Berserkers are just high-attack heroes that you can’t control since they’re always berserk and many, many more. Let’s just say that almost any character you control in the series past this point can attribute their fighting style to something created in Final Fantasy V.
The actual battle system is the same as that introduced in Final Fantasy IV. They expanded upon the ATB system greatly this time around thanks to the various things you can do with it. Time Mages exist in this game purely to manipulate the flow of battle to their whim. There are the basics such as Haste, Slow and Stop, but they take it further than that. They have spells like Old, which causes the enemy to age quickly. As the battle goes on, the enemy becomes weaker and weaker as their level slowly drops to 1. There’s also the Return spell. Has the battle gone just horribly awry? Did you make one fatal mistake? Cast Return and it completely resets the battle!
One of their ultimate spells is Quick, which stops all time except for the caster. This spell gives them two free turns before time reverts back to normal. Time manipulation like this gives Final Fantasy V another layer of battle depth not really seen much in the series since.
On top of that, Final Fantasy V is the first time in the series that a recurring battle takes place. The famous character Gilgamesh makes his debut here, and you fight him several times throughout the game. Square used this style of facing the same boss multiple times in nearly every main series title since.
One other little gameplay innovation was born from Final Fantasy V. This is the first game in the series to feature a multi-part final boss battle! Final Fantasy IV toyed with it briefly by having you unable to fight the final boss until you use an item on him in battle to reveal his true form. It's not until this entry that you actually fight different stages of the boss, though.
As you can see, Squaresoft struck gold with the job system in Final Fantasy III. However, it wasn’t until Final Fantasy V that they refined the system to a positively glowing finish. It’s a system that rewards experimentation and constantly tosses in new jobs for you to play with.
“Mm... For you, honey, we've got something special!”
Replay value? Read the Gameplay section.
Okay, I’m just kidding. There’s a lot more than that in this section. On top of the obvious replay value from replaying the game trying different team setups, there’s plenty of side content in Final Fantasy V. There are plenty of optional summons you can get in the game, several of which are permanently missable past a certain point. You have to be careful with one in particular, as it’s pretty well-hidden. The only reason I knew about it was because I’ve beaten the game twice before, and even then I still waited until it was too late this playthrough. Oops!
There are two superbosses in the original version of the game. You can encounter them in the final dungeon. Omega and Shinryu are by far the two hardest enemies to kill in the game. If you’re not properly prepared, they will annihilate you without any hesitation whatsoever.
However, before the final dungeon a whole host of things open up. There are four tablets scattered around the world in various areas. Each tablet allows you to unlock three of the 12 legendary weapons. You can unlock them in any order you want which is a nice touch! On top of that, each tablet also gives you a bonus. One makes you fight Leviathan in order to be able to summon him. One calls for Bahamut, where you can choose to fight him on a certain mountain at any time in order to gain him as a summon. One gives you the almighty Meteor spell, and one opens the path to getting Holy and Flare.
On top of that, the game expertly teases the player near the beginning. During one story section, you receive another batch of jobs from the Water Crystal. To get these you physically pick them up, but there’s one out of reach. However, there’s no time to get it due to an emergency, so it’s left behind. This doesn’t show up until the end of the game before the final dungeon. If you remember it, you can find the tower where the water crystal resided. It’s now submerged underwater, so you have to remember where it was and use your submarine to get to it. Doing so will allow you to get through the tower to the Mime job, considered one of the best in the game for the versatility it allows.
There are four other jobs not in the original game, however. You can collect three of them before beating the game, but you can't get the fourth until after you beat the game. Loading a save from a game you’ve beaten will allow you to access the new area, the Sealed Temple. This temple is a large dungeon with a superboss named Enuo at the end of it. Defeating him will net you the powerful Necromancer job!
Final Fantasy V is absolutely jam-packed with things to do. I’m surprised I managed to do most of it! I didn’t do the Sealed Temple because I know I’m gonna get absolutely destroyed if I try it, but even without it you can accomplish a lot. This game should keep you going for a while!
The Final Word
“Takes a lot more than that for me to kick the bucket!”
Without a doubt, Final Fantasy V is among the top entries thus far in my opinion. I had so much fun trying out new things in this game! I decided to try and do a totally different team setup than when I first played the game, and it worked without a problem. The game was more than happy to accommodate my playstyle.
It’s a shame, really. Even today, Final Fantasy V isn’t nearly as readily available as other entries in the series. I always feel bad for this entry. I know it didn’t get the love and recognition it deserved back in the day. Even after it came to America, its awful translation held it back for another seven years. I hope it didn’t taint anyone’s view of it!
There’s no doubt in my mind that, had Final Fantasy V been released on the Super Nintendo back in the day, it would be just as beloved as the two entries it was wedged between in Japan. Let’s be honest: if you can hold your own against Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI, then you’re something special indeed.