Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: SNES, GBA, PS
The bigwigs at Squaresoft originally declined to export Final Fantasy V to the American market because they found the RPG “just not accessible enough to the average gamer”. I have no clue what they mean. I suppose the uninitiated could find the interface a little daunting, but that’s nothing a good instruction manual and a short in-game walkthrough wouldn’t have fixed. What’s more, given the success of the previous Final Fantasy, I can’t help the image of fans skipping their work (or school) to camp out in front of video stores for the new release.
That’s kind of ironic because jobs are the big new feature of Final Fantasy V. Represented by shiny crystals obtained as you progress through the game, jobs give your characters special abilities, essentially allowing them to switch between classes. Some are iconic to the Final Fantasy franchise, like knight, dragoon, and white mage; and some are new (though they’ll reappear in later entries), like dancer, mimic, and blue mage. You can change jobs at any time except in combat, and each occupation comes with its own adorable costume.
Once you equip a job crystal, you gain points after every fight, allowing you to retain certain abilities even after switching professions. As a result, you can have a monk who casts black magic or a singing samurai in Final Fantasy V. Unfortunately, it takes too long to learn a skill, forcing completists like me to grind for days in order to master every single job, which requires expensive spells, armors, and weapons. At least, you get to farm for gold as you farm for points, effectively killing two birds with one stone.
Another problem with this new system is that you need specific abilities to win specific fights. For example, you may want to learn a blue mage spell or steal a unique dragoon item from a certain boss but then find that you need a knight and a mimic in your party to stand a chance. As such, you’ll have to use a special combination of different jobs whenever facing a major enemy. Unfortunately, you won’t know what that combination might be until you actually go into battle, prompting you to reset for a do-over. This, in turn, kills any sense of tension and repercussion in Final Fantasy V and, frankly, makes me feel like a cheater.
Mind you, I don’t find the story particularly involving to begin with. As usual, we get a slow start, as your characters try to prevent the overexploitation of the four elemental crystals. Through circumstances that take way too long to unfold, you eventually learn that the crystals were used to imprison Exdeath, a world-threatening baddie who looks like an armor-clad man but is actually a tree. If that doesn’t make sense to you, the rest of Final Fantasy V will confuse you to no end.
Another weakness in the narrative is the humor throughout. Don’t get me wrong: a little joke here and there can lighten the mood and help the heavy melodrama go down, but I prefer such instances self-awareness to be restricted to a single comic-relief character. When everyone’s cracking wise, it’s hard to take the quest seriously. One gets the impression that the group could have completed the task at hand rather quickly but couldn’t be bothered to focus and stop goofing off, kind of like the way certain podcasts are recorded at Idiomanic…
Anyway, if nothing else, Final Fantasy V is different from other RPGs. The ability to switch between jobs is unique, and you really have to try it out to see if the mechanic is up your alley. I’d recommend the game if you can get a hold of it on the cheap side. Otherwise, you’re better off saving your money for the next entry in the Final Fantasy series, the apex of the franchise: Final Fantasy VI.