Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: November 6, 2006
Despite the popularity of the Final Fantasy franchise, it has its forgotten episodes. Back in the days of the Super Nintendo and Super Famicom, four Final Fantasy games were released for the system. In America, we got Final Fantasy 2 and 3, ports of the Japanese Final Fantasy 4 and 6, and the lamentable Mystic Quest. As basic math will tell us, something was missing there: Final Fantasy 5. Considered more difficult and complex than the other games of the time, Final Fantasy 5 was skipped over in fear of poor sales. For many years, it was all but unknown, even in the wake of the immense popularity of Final Fantasy 7 and the later titles in the franchise. When it finally did get a release in the United States, it was part of Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation. However, this port was sadly substandard, marred by loading time issues and a noticeably sub-par translation, and few players had the patience to put up with it. Luckily for us gamers, Final Fantasy V gets a third chance at life on the Game Boy Advance.
Final Fantasy V Advance has, for a Final Fantasy offering, a fairly simple plot. The world is governed by four Crystals, each corresponding to one of four elements: Wind, Fire, Earth and Water. When the wind mysteriously begins to stop blowing, the King of Tycoon fears something has happened to the Wind Crystal and sets out to investigate. When he doesn't return, his daughter, Princess Lenna, sets out to find him. With the aid of Bartz, a traveling warrior; Galuf, a mysterious old man with amnesia; and Faris, a surprisingly friendly pirate; she sets out to save the Crystals from a mysterious foe.
Final Fantasy V's plot is its weakest point. The plot isn't terrible, and it features some strong moments, but for the most part, it just doesn't grab you. The characters are fairly lifeless and dull, especially when compared to those found in Final Fantasy IV and VI. A few standout characters, including the first appearance of the iconic Gilgamesh, help to spice up things, but by and large, it may be one of the least memorable casts to date. The good news, however, is that the translation is much better than its PlayStation counterpart. Faris no longer talks like a clichéd pirate, and many of the translation mistakes have been cleaned up and fixed. It's far from perfect however, as there is a bit too much of an attempt to "spice up" the translation by adding in lame jokes and out-of-place pop culture references, but the attempt to enrich a lackluster story is appreciated.
On the other hand, Final Fantasy V's gameplay brings an interesting change to the mix in the form of Jobs. Unlike the other Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy V only has four characters and except for a few plot events, these characters never change. Instead, characters can use Crystal shards to adapt the persona of legendary heroes. These take the forms of Jobs, based on the various special classes seen in other Final Fantasy games. From the iconic Black Mage and Knight to Ninjas and Dragon Knights, the classes allow each character to perform a specific role. Some Jobs are pure attackers, others wield different magic, some can steal, some can improve the effects of items, and others still can equip powerful items that no other class can equip.
As a hero wins fights equipped with a Job, s/he begins to gain ATB points. Enough ATB points cause that Job to level up and gain a new ability, ranging from new attacks to improved stats. The best part about these learned abilities, however, is that they may also be equipped on other jobs. Beyond the built-in abilities of a class, each may equip one ability that the character has learned from another, and certain classes can equip more external abilities, which allows for amazing amounts of customization. You can build a White Mage with the barehanded fighting power of a Monk, or give your Knight the ability to Jump. Different builds can take advantage of different strengths, and the customization allows for nearly a endless amount of choices.
While the Job system is fun, it isn't without its flaws. The first and most obvious is that that there are jobs come across as nearly useless. Some of these are balanced out by their aptitude to learn powerful abilities that can be equipped on other Jobs, but in the long run, that doesn't save them from being ignored. Like the Final Fantasy IV Game Boy Advance remake, Final Fantasy V is an updated remake. In addition to cleaner graphics and a revised script, it also features four new Jobs and a hidden dungeon. Unfortunately, the new Jobs come so late in the game that it feels almost pointless. By the time you get them, your party is already exceptionally powerful, and while they have interesting effects in concept, it's a bit too late for most of them to feel useful. Any bonus material is appreciated, but it would have been nice to see these Jobs appear a bit sooner.
Beyond the Jobs, battles are not exceptionally different from other titles in the series. You battle enemies in turn-based combat, gain experience points and money, and occasionally battle a boss. While not a complete overhaul of the system like Final Fantasy XII, it works just fine. Especially notable is the fact that the battle system suffers from none of the glitches that plagued Final Fantasy IV, a deeply welcome fix after that game's issues. Fans will be glad to note that FFV is arguably one of the most difficult titles in the series, and the new optional bosses should provide a good challenge even to those familiar with the original.
At heart, Final Fantasy V is a Super Nintendo game. It's not a graphical powerhouse like recent Final Fantasy offerings, but its simplistic sprites have a charm of their very own. The monster art is well done and markedly varied, and each Job has its own unique sprites and animations for the characters. A few minor graphical upgrades have been made to the GBA port, but only diehard fans will really notice them. One issue I did notice was a bit of "lag" when using the Thief's Sprint ability in towns, but it was a minor problem at best, and not enough to detract from overall gameplay.
Unsurprisingly, Final Fantasy V has a beautiful soundtrack. The Final Fantasy franchise is known for its excellent and varied songs, and with a wide variety of excellent tracks, Final Fantasy V is no exception. Most music fits the tone very well, and the battle themes are quite diverse, including my personal favorite, "Battle on the Big Bridge." As an added bonus, the Game Boy Advance port also features a music player, which is a very welcome extra.
For the longest time, Final Fantasy V was the black sheep of the family. Skipped over and poorly ported, few gamers were willing to give this forgotten gem the time of day. With a robust and varied Job system that adds countless customization options, new dungeons and Jobs, and the portability of a handheld, Final Fantasy V is sure to keep even series veterans busy. While far from perfect and showing clear signs of its age, Final Fantasy V Advance is a worthy addition to any gamer's library.