In the days before Final Fantasy VII, the earlier Final Fantasy titles hadn't really made their way stateside. In 1992, many of us were actually still playing what we thought was Final Fantasy II (it was IV) while Japan was getting Final Fantasy V. Originally it was set to come stateside as "Final Fantasy Extreme," but at the time the difficulty and complexity of the Job System were things that Squaresoft felt would turn away western gamers. For those who had an emulator, they were able to play an unofficial release in 1997, but for the rest of us we had to wait until 1999 to actually play Final Fantasy V when it came stateside in the Final Fantasy Anthology package with Final Fantasy VI (originally released as Final Fantasy III).
There isn't much to the story of Final Fantasy V. The game begins simple enough. The wind has suddenly stopped and King Tycoon wonders just what happened. So he sets out to the wind shrine. His daughter Lenna (or Reina, depending on which version you played) finds something amiss when he doesn't return. On her way to find out what happened to her father, a meteor suddenly hits the planet near where a boy named Bartz (or Butz, dpending on the version... and I would feel incredibly bad for anyone named Butz) is camping with his chocobo named BOco. He goes to check the sight out only to find Lenna being kidnapped by goblins. He saves her and discovers that someone else has actually been injured thanks to the meteor crash. His name is Galuf and unfortunately he has no memory. But he thinks he must've been headed to the Windshrine as well. Bartz (I just can't bring myself to say "Butz") decides to accompany them after he invariably saves them a second time... from an Earth Quake. Something strange is going on... because the elements are all getting out of whack. The three characters will eventually be joined by a pirate who knows how to get around without wind named Faris.
While Final Fantasy V most certainly has a charming cast of characters--along with some really awesome sprites to go with them--they're certainly not nearly as dimensional as other Final Fantasy titles. They certainly come alive more than the cast of the first three Final Fantasy titles (though that's not hard) but having to follow the depth of the characters of Final Fantasy IV and being stuck against the really expanded characters of Final Fantasy VI, the game feels like it could've gone a little further in terms of its characters. The story overall suffers the most in Final Fantasy V. It isn't known for being epic or anything. It hardly tackles much. The second half in particular doesn't feel like it's about much either. There are a couple of twists thrown in there for good measure, but the main villain, a man named X-Death, didn't come off as too terribly threatening despite the name. The story in Final Fantasy V is certainly not bad. It has a lot of predictable moments and all, but the part that makes it feel less extraordinary than the rest of the series is because it doesn't exactly reach.
There is actually a reason for this, though. Final Fantasy V was designed specifically for the sake of Gameplay. Of all the Final Fantasy games out there, none put gameplay above everything else quite like Final Fantasy V does. This Final Fantasy will make sure you battle... but also make sure you've got more reason to do it than most thanks to how it uses the job system.
The job system really does seem complex at first, but it's actually quite simple. As the story progresses you'll get more jobs. You'll start off with basics. Things like Warrior, Thief, Red Mage, White Mage, Black Mage, Monk etc. As the story progress you'll unlock better and more complex classes like Dragoon or Samurai or Blue Mage. Each job class has it's own standard ability that is a part of the class and can't be removed. Warriors, for example, have guard. White mages have white magic, black mages have black magic, thieves can steal, Dragoons can jump, so on and so forth. Likewise, each ability also enhances stats in other ways. Warriors put a boost to defense and HP... but may not do much for your magic stat. Monks will increase your HP by a lot, but it might not do so well for your defense. Mages get a huge boost in magic, so on and so forth.
As you battle you'll gain ability points to increase the job level of a characters abilities. Let's look at white mages. If you increase the job level they'll have access to Level 1 White Magic spells. If you decide to switch to a warrior, his default ability will be guard, but you're allowed to choose a secondary ability to put on your character. Therefore, you can have a warrior that would be casting White Magic spells if you wanted to. The more you battle and the more ability points you collect, the more likely you are to have interesting battle combinations. The way the system works is perhaps one of the best. The game is shaped in such a way that you most certainly wouldn't want every character to be the same. But it also works that you're allowed to really play around with many different combinations. Most of all, it puts a major emphasis on strategy. Is the boss really hard because his level is high? Or is it because you're not using the right jobs and abilities to defeat him? Final Fantasy V may not have the most memorable story in the series, but it more than makes up for that with its gameplay. It's easily one of the most fun to play in the series.
It can be demanding, though. The early Final Fantasy titles that predated VI had a tendency to really make the player grind and level up. Final Fantasy V really does this. But not in terms of actualy increasing your level. It's more so because you need to learn more abilities with your job.
Final Fantasy V does push a couple of things for the series, however. Its one of the games that really pushed the idea of side quests in the late game. The way the end is set up is that you can either head straight for the goal, or do a lot of side quest to help prepare yourself (and get a hold of a lot of great legendary weapons, and the game really pushes you in this particular direction). It works out. Final Fantasy V is challenging, but it's fun while it's at it. The overall story can be done in as little as twenty-five hours, and the side quests don't exactly add much, but for a Super Nintendo game in 1992... it was pretty big.
In the end, Final Fantasy V is a great game. It is, sadly, not as memorable in terms of its story, but it's gameplay really keeps it going thanks to the job system that can keep things from being monotonous. You might not remember Final Fantasy V for its story or characters, but you'll definitely have fun plowing through it.
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