At the beginning of the summer, I set out to complete the three 16-bit era Final Fantasy games—FFIV, FFV, and FFVI. I waltzed through Final Fantasy IV, after having attempted to finish the game a number of times over the past several years, and then I went on to Final Fantasy V. Of the the three games, this is the one that I hear talked about the least. Apparently, it’s not the reinvention that IV is said to be, nor is it the pinnacle of classic JRPG storytelling that VI is often heralded as. It’s the weird one.
But I was determined.
Having little experience with this game—aside from the obligatory SNES rom dump that I tinkered with in high school—I wanted my first experience with the game to be with the definitive FFV. I went straight for the PC port, even though the internet says that this version is a hideous aberration.
Well… yeah… in this case the internet is mostly right. The characters do look a bit odd, but with a bit of tinkering, the rest of the game can be made to look as nice as the lovingly-crafted PSP remakes of FFI, FFII, and (almost) FFIV. And we all know that I’m not above a bit of tinkering. In time, I grew to appreciate the general aesthetic of the remake.
There are some games that I play for the enjoyment of the mechanics, and there are some games that I play with the hope of deriving some meaning from the narrative. Final Fantasy V is most certainly the former. The primary draw of FFV must be the job system because there isn’t much depth to the story. The story is just as absurd as FFIV, but it lacks the melodramatic charm. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either.
The job system, however, was alluring enough to keep me playing. The basic ludonarrative concept is that the 4 crystals that allow the world to function are breaking. The shards of these crystals contain the knowledge of various jobs that each party member can equip (knight, white mage, thief, berserker, ninja, etc.). And although you do level up in a very traditional way, the real power comes from leveling up your proficiency in any given job. As you level up a job, you gain the ability to equip a few of that job’s skills even after you move to a different one. It’s a relatively simple system that allows for quite a bit of customization—if you experiment enough, the game will bow before you. I found it to be quite fun.
I would absolutely recommend playing Final Fantasy V, especially if you’ve played other Final Fantasy games. It’s delightful little gem that most JRPG fans seem to have overlooked. And the fact that there is a perfectly fine version of the game available on PC means that there’s never been a better time to play.
What a time to be alive!