The Middle Child
With IV holding the title as the first plot heavy FF, and VI having an almost mythical standing as one of the greatest pre Playstation RPG's of all time, you might forget that there's another number in there, which is a shame because FFV ended up coming from out of nowhere to be an amazingly fun and enjoyable experience.
So Music Is A Thing
With four parts in the bag, I just now realized that at no time have I touched one of the greatest legacies of the Final Fantasy series, the work of the man, the myth, the legend, Nobuo Uematsu. We can peg this gross negligence to a few things, the biggest one is probably the fact that I am just not a very audio focused person. Background music does quite literally fade into the background for me most of the time. The second reason is probably because III and IV were often accompanied by youtube on my second monitor. So then when did it strike me that "hey, FF has great music"? Well that would be Clash at the Big Bridge. It started playing and i thought "wow...this is a really catchy little tune".
I also noticed that a few of the songs in FFV actually sounded oddly familiar. It would take someone way more in tune with the musical contents of entries in the series to confirm, but I'm almost positive that I recognized some tracks that I heard in FFVII. As we move into the more modern titles, with the benefits of more modern technology, music becomes much more noticeable to me. Probably the only other composer whose work I've appreciated more that Uematsu's FF work is Akira Yamaoka and his work on Silent Hill (Such as this piece here which I'm not afraid to admit appears in a cutscene that had me crying).
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Like a 2012 Republican Presidential Primary Candidate, FFV wants you to know it's all about the JOBS (I'm just so god damn FUNNY and TOPICAL). We've got your standard fare here, White/Black/Red mages, Knights, and Ninja's, but we've also got some new oddballs. FFV has the series appearance of the slightly odd Blue Mage (learns monster abilities by being whacked in the face by them). Time mage also shows up, Time magic always having a bit of a funny spell list, things like haste and slow make sense, regen in a pinch, having Comet and Meteor seems a little weird, but eh, we'll just roll with it. Some jobs are definitely interesting in appearance if nothing else, Berserkers wearing big wolf/cat suits (and being under constant Berserk status). Trainers, a beastmaster class dresses up in sheep clothing because...sure that makes sense.
A big change in this instance of the job system compared to FFIII is that job levels no longer run the passive 1-99 scale like PC levels, but rather more distinct tiers (most jobs have at most 7 or so levels) that offer some form of active/passive abilities. Overall I find it a massive improvement, it doesn't feel as daunting to give up my job lvl 58 knight for a new job, and in fact overall the game is structured so that switching jobs for specific instances is easy, lacks any form of penalty, and is actively encouraged by certain boss mechanics. The fact that each job level brings with it some new ability makes them much more exciting, even if a lot of skills end up being a bit bland. The overall balance between jobs feels fine. You can equip a secondary ability from any job so long as you've earned said ability from a job. This allows you to mix and match abilities to compliment and support the party. I favored a White Mage/Summoner mix because...well it worked for Yuna it can work for Reina too. I had Faris be a Ninja, and couldn't really think of anything else to stick on her, so I added Time magic for it's useful Haste2. Despite it's seemingly balanced nature, you could probably beat the game with any combination (it wasn't a very hard game overall), there are certain job abilities that distance themselves from the pack. If you're a physical attacker (harkening back to my previous comments on magic, i'd say a 3/1 phys/mag split works great) and not a ninja, 2-Handed from Knight is a requirement. For the one magic based member i'd recommend, White/Summon is pretty much as good as it gets. Massive Heals and massive summon damage. Hell after you get Holy, you could probably ignore Summoner as well outside of enemies that absorb holy (not that rare actually, which was surprising) outside of Golem (a summon that blocks the next 10k or so physical damage). Time magic's Haste and Float ended up being indispensable as well, both in battle, and out (Float allows you to ignore damaging floor tiles like Lava). Overall? I loved the job system in FFV. I've always wondered why it was considered such an integral system of the series when it features in so few of them, but FFV makes me a believer. When implemented well the job system has a wonderful sort of freedom to it, letting you choose the best tool for the job.
Mechanically FFV is The Best Yet
If the mostly detrimental gameplay changes of FFIV's remake took the wind out of my sails, FFV managed to energize and revitalize. The key lies in how boss mechanics are utilized. In FFIV boss fights, counters and quirks felt like unavoidable obstacle that simply had to be muscled through, it all came down to the numbers games. FFV on the other hand uses boss mechanics that can be dealt with, and avoided, through modification of one's tactics. One fight involves a boss and 3 clones. You can't tell which is which and the boss switches place randomly and after each hit. I tried a summon, figuring if i hit all of them, i'd find the real one in one action (the clones took no damage). In response, the boss and all 3 clones each hit me with their own AoE spell. The damage was not insignificant. "Well fuck me...won't do THAT again" i said, and changed my strategy. The boss fight also allowed a bit of interesting tactics on my part. My white mage had a healing staff equipped (heals whoever you attack, totally overpowered healing tool) so at first i only had 3 attacks per round, meaning at best i'd get a 50/50 chance at dealing damage on my third attack. However I discovered that the White mage's Scan ability didn't work on the clones, but did on the boss. Now I had a way to make sure every round I'd score at least one solid hit.
FFV even managed to take one of my most hated boss tricks, the insta kill, and make a hair raisingly tense battle that by the end had me on my feet, only to loudly cheer in victory. The boss battle was with the one, the only, Atomos. "Oh i know you from FFIX and XIV, i know your game buddy". Then he instantly killed not one, but TWO of my party members "oh…" then the sprites of my dead party members began slowly sliding across the screen towards Atomos "oh...OH SHIT!!!". What followed was a breakneck DPS race of me reviving my dead members (he keeps killing them) and unleashing my greatest attacks, leading to a photo finish which had me loudly exclaiming "SUCK THAT YOU BIG MOUTHED BITCH" to no one in particular.
In Terms of Story Its A Bit of A Regression
The hand that giveth also taketh away...or something...yes as nice as the freestyling job system and entertaining boss fights may be, something had to be given up in the process, and the story is where it takes the greatest hit. It's not as bland as pre FFIV, the characters do get some development, and we do get to see a quirky group of misfits, a wandering warrior, a worried princess, and amnesiac old man, and a pirate, thrown together by fate, become a group of close friends fighting against evil. This fight against evil is portrayed as a race to save the 4 elemental crystals from destruction, a plotline that I mentioned in FFIV's article was wearing a bit thin after it's proto form of 1. Unlike IV no character has the kind of internal struggles like Cecil that elevate the story beyond it's relatively simple path. It also commits what i consider a massive plot sin of leaving some characterization to optional content. Bartz (sort of arbitrarily considered the main protagonist) has a hometown that has flashbacks about his past but it's completely optional. you could never encounter it. I absolutely HATE it when games do this. If you want to leave the fate, or past of secondary characters to optional content fine, but if it involves a major character, make that shit required viewing.
There is, however, one particular aspect of the story that comes out of absolutely nowhere, and had a strangely powerful effect on me. Whether or not a party member is alive or KO'd actually changes how the ending plays out. Sadly with the onslaught of the final bosses massive Meteor castings (seriously it's ridiculous how much damage that does) i had to make a choice to forgo reviving Faris in order to enact a last ditch offensive against the bosses final remaining part. Sadly the victory over X-Death came at a massive price, and as i watched the ending scenes role i felt horrible. This wasn't some story dictated event, some set in stone consequence. This was a personal failing. I failed, the results were a consequence of my ineptitude and incompetence. I don't know if this was the intended effect, but I did feel horrible. So point for FFV it would seem.
Final Fantasy V Is an Enjoyable Experience, Even If It Regresses In a Few Areas
I lamented the unnecessary complications of FFIV's remake, but overall felt the core story was strong enough to carry on. Now I lament the lack of an interesting story, but overall feel the core gameplay is strong enough to carry on. Funny how that works isn't it? but the lackluster story is mostly a benign issue and doesn't pull me down like the FFIV's remake, and stands as a testament to the fact that yes, sometimes older games had the right idea. It's status as a less hyped entry, and it's relatively simplistic course, may actually have been a blessing in disguise, a nice sort of palate cleanser conducive to a second wind that has got me ready and raring to go. I'd highly recommend FFV to anyone looking for a FF with a bit more freeform mechanics that allow good character customization and a little strategic play via mixing and matching of abilities and jobs.
Onwards To The Final Final Fantasy (That I Haven't Beaten)
And then there was one, one more game left unbeaten. The next Final Fantasy, FFVI will be, as of the time of this article, the last main line Final Fantasy game for me to conquer. Some may say I have saved the best for last. In the line of most hyped and nostalgically loved entrees in series, FFVI is a solid number 2 at worst. Heralded as one of the greatest JRPGs of the SNES generation, and possible of all time, VI has got some major big shoes to fill from the praise one may hear lavished upon it. I can tell you that I'll probably have it finished by some time next week, depending on how life goes. Is it the masterpiece many call it? well the list of my favorite FF's be shaken up the by the old newcomer? Well of course it wouldn't be right to spoil it here an now. I will however tell you that of all the articles i've written and will write, FFVI's is the one I'm most eager to begin working on, and I hope you look forward to reading it. Until then, please leave a comment below on how you felt about FFV, what did you like about it? what did you hate about it? and where does it fit in your list of Final Fantasy?