Final Fantasy V is a game that has a weird place in the legacy of the series. It doesn’t have the nostalgic values of being the first in the franchise, nor does it have the crown of being the first to introduce something like the Jobs system that has become a staple of the Final Fantasy games. It also doesn’t have a beloved story like the fourth, sixth and seventh installments. Going back and looking at what people thought of it way back when, you’ll find words like “trite” and “simplistic.” Not exactly sentiments you would expect to see about a game from the early days of this classic series.
Which is kind of a surprise to us reviewing the game now. Maybe it’s having the benefit of hindsight or maybe it’s viewing the story through the lense of 2013, but what we found while playing was a game that takes everything we know and love about the series and refines it into something exciting and fun to play. And as far as that banal story goes? We found it to be an entirely vital and intriguing plot that, despite a slow and silly start, kept us wanting to find out more.
The one distinction that Final Fantasy V does have is what is quite possibly the most depressing and dire storyline of them all. From the very start you control the hero Bartz and his companions on a mission to figure out what is behind the mysterious reappearance of terrible, genocidal evil in the world, and to deduce what is going on with the energy crystals that have been the lifeline of its populace for decades. Things seem to go from bad to worse with every passing moment as the heroes slowly begin to realize that the problems are almost entirely man-made, that they may have inadvertently released the most insane villain in Final Fantasy history and that they have no one but themselves to blame.
Again, it could be that we’re getting to look at the game with a fresh pair of eyes, but the oddly prescient and decades-old story about a world going to Hell in a handbasket from its citizens over-exploitation of its resources is something that really rang true to us.
Where the game really shines though, is its amazing depth of gameplay. Besides adding nice little touches like hidden passageways and events to discover, Final Fantasy V has an incredibly robust and incredibly cool Jobs system that allows you an amazing amount of freedom to customize and control your characters. While the idea of the Jobs system is nothing new, the way it’s implemented is amazing.
Jobs are Final Fantasy’s special spin on typical character classes. Your characters start out as blank slates, but as you progress throughout the game you gain the ability to change classes to suit your needs. The classes gain experience independently of your characters and as they level up they gain new abilities specific to that class.
What makes this installment unique is that once a character learns a classes ability, he never forgets it. So say you’ve been playing as a Black Mage for a while and you decide you want to change to one of the new classes, like a Time Mage. Once you switch over to the Time Mage, you’re still able to use the Black Mage’s abilities. You won’t be gaining any new Black Mage abilities, but you now have the opportunity to use both classes resources. It’s like you’re cramming two classes into one character.
The incredible abundance of classes available to you, and the ability to mix and match abilities provides you with an almost daunting level of flexibility and strategy. Certain situations and battles can be better handled as you learn the weaknesses and strengths of each class, and it’s a lot of fun figuring a style that works for you. And luckily, the game parses out the acquisition of new jobs at a pretty good rate throughout the story, so you’re never too overwhelmed with the possibilities.
Final Fantasy V is a gem of a game that is worth a revisit, and this is an incredibly well done port that’s had a lot of love and care put into it. It features a story that has more depth and craftiness then people originally gave it credit for, and gameplay that excels at drawing the player into the humongous world and lures you on to explore every nook and cranny. You can literally spend hours just discovering all of the secrets and contingencies that the game has. This is a game that every Final Fantasy fan should play, and even hardcore role-players new to the franchise will find a lot to love. This is a must have.