maanantai 27. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy V (1992)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 1992
Available on: SNES
Developer(s): Square
Publisher(s): Square
Players: 1

Final Fantasy IV unleashed a J-RPG phenomenon - under the false moniker Final Fantasy II - in North America in 1991. In December 1992, Final Fantasy V was released in Japan. Plans were, of course, to release the anticipated sequel to the most critically acclaimed RPG title at that time as Final Fantasy III in North America. However, North American testers found the game too hard to comprehend for casual gamers, and it was rejected from the U.S. market. Some time after the release of Final Fantasy VI (as Final Fantasy III), a new possibility to ship the game as Final Fantasy Extreme came to light, but it never happened. After one more failed attempt to release the game, for the PC, a group of furious fans came together as RPGe and translated the game to English themselves, publishing their work on the ROM circuit. Final Fantasy V is indeed one of the most complex games of its time, but perfectly accessible to devoted role-playing fans. The storyline is one of the weakest in the series, but the game itself is quite underrated in terms of gameplay, and in my view, solely due to its obscurity to non-Japanese consumers.

So much fuss over some jewelry... again

The elemental crystals of the world have begun failing and shattering, one by one, for reasons unknown. Princess Lenna of Tycoon attempts to track down her missing father who's sworn an oath to protect the crystals at all costs, only to be ambushed in a forest by a group of wild monsters. She's saved by a young traveller named Butz, who's come to investigate a fallen meteor. They meet an amnesiac old man named Galuf and a while later, a pirate captain named Faris. Despite of this foursome's initial reluctance to work together, they soon find themselves to be the chosen ones to take on the evil the crystals protect the world against.

I'm the king of the woooooorld!!
In script, the developers once again take a step back to the days when crystals and Warriors of Light were the two primary storyboard elements that defined Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy V was the last game in the series to utilize this age-old story for many years to come, and it can easily be seen why. It was clear that Final Fantasy was going to be a long, long series of games; it would stay alive as long as fans were interested in it. How many story-based games can you create using the very same formula of crystals and warriors sworn to protect the world for one reason or another, just changing the setting radically? Not many, if you want to create a good story each time. Final Fantasy IV was phenomenally scripted. Not only does Final Fantasy V have a generic plot, but the writers tried too hard to create an in-depth story to it within a margin of a few months - it leaves us with a mess that looks like it's going to take off on a few occasions, but it never doesn't. Despite a couple of interesting characters, Final Fantasy V is a rare kind of post-IV Final Fantasy game; one that you'll just most likely run through, without stopping to reflect on the storyline on too many occasions. Well, that can be fun as well, and I'm bound to tell you why sooner or later.

Later, since first I have to take a moment to reflect on what's been my favourite subject so far in my Final Fantasy marathon, and will be, right up until Final Fantasy VII: the translation. I'm not sure if this is the "official" translation made by RPGe in 1997. Probably not, since this work's far from completion, lower than beta; very glitchy. Dialogue during battles is still in Kanji, as well as the names of enemy attacks, and Yes / No boxes. Conversation in general overflows the given space in the dialogue boxes, obscuring whole words. Some random NPC dialogue is missing completely, even some crucial to your progress. As far as the translatory quality itself is concerned, I must say that RPGe (or whoever did it) did a great job, better than Square's own guys with the previous game - although that isn't much of a compliment. The game is not exactly explicit like the original version of Final Fantasy IV was, but there are some suggestive elements in it. The translators have cleverly made it so that the dialogue tells adults quite clearly what's going on, but in a way younger players wouldn't understand it, or would understand it differently. This, Nintendo, THIS is how you manage things, not by botching everything, including the story itself. I seriously would've loved to see what Nintendo would've done to the lap dancers. Or the "huge, shocking scene" - on Nintendo's account, I reckon - that reveals Faris to be a woman. A North American localization would've had her smuggling puppies in her shirt or something, and kept her as a man - but referred to her as a woman in a traditionally inconsistent way.

Whitesnake? AWESOME!
Graphically Final Fantasy's fifth take is a huge improvement over the last game. The 16-bit colour palette is fully utilized. The animated backgrounds are developed a little further, the shading rocks and the sprites look a little more lively. There's a certain rough edge to the game, and the dungeons are a little bland in look, but all in all, the game is a reasonable treat to look at. We're clearly on the way towards the epic proportions and all-around genius graphical design of Final Fantasy VI.

The music, oh how I'd love to bash it after the near-perfect soundtrack of Final Fantasy IV. However, Final Fantasy V sounds awesome; the music's underrated, for the same reasons as the whole game - it just isn't known that well. First of all, the battle theme in the game is better than the one in IV. In general, the music's a bit more folk-oriented than ever before, and I simply love folk music. The towns are a little bigger and more complex than before and you'll be hearing some songs play for lengthy periods of time, that's a bit of a drag, but there's nothing too annoying, and there's even stuff that has directly influenced material from the first 3D generation of the Final Fantasy series. Very sufficient.

There are only five playable characters in the game as opposed to the large cast of 12 in the previous game, and you'll be controlling four of them during most of the game. The main character, traveller Butz Klauser was wisely renamed Bartz for obvious reasons (to me, at least) when they finally shipped this game out of Japan years later. Let's just leave the fact that "Butts" turned to something that rhymes with "Farts". He's sort of a faceless main character - his backstory does unfold during the first ten hours, depending on the player's personal will to explore, but it really doesn't evoke any special emotions. Lenna is more of a standout main character, since as a member of the royal family of Tycoon, she handles most of the talking to representatives of foreign nations. Galuf and Faris are my two favourite characters in the whole game. Galuf is responsible for the best jokes, he's that sort of an old man, and Faris is just cool. A hot pirate. How much more can you ask for? I'll not spill the beans on the fifth playable character, instead I'll turn to the Final Fantasy stalwart Cid, who makes an appearance as an elderly engineer. It's interesting to note that up until Final Fantasy VI, Cid was portrayed consistently as an older version of his previous self, until his character was completely rebooted in Final Fantasy VII as the airship captain in his thirties we all love. I always expect a lot from the different incarnations of Cid because of that very same guy, and I must say this game's Cid is not one of my favourites. He sulks in self-pity and his nerdy nature a bit too much to be true to his name. Kind of like headmaster Cid in Final Fantasy VIII, but in a different way.

Feel like having three lap dances... at once?
The Job system introduced in Final Fantasy III is implemented and radically reworked on in Final Fantasy V, and it serves as the sole basis for the gameplay. There's a whopping amount of 22 Jobs the player can learn and master. These include the traditional Jobs, or classes: Knight, Red Mage, Black Mage, White Mage, Thief and Monk. New traditionals are introduced in the form of Blue Mage (a mage that can learn enemies' attacks) and Samurai (a master swordsman), there are numerous Jobs carried over from the classes of the few previous games such as Caller and Bard, and finally there are many one-offs such as Monster Trainer and Berserker. All of the most important special abilities granted by these Jobs were carried over in one form or another to future games. The widely popular Job system itself was implemented later in Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV Online, as well as many non-canonical titles or spin-offs, and on my account, it's one of the greatest gameplay innovations in RPG history - AND, easy to comprehend. I don't know what the hell was going on in the testers' minds, if anything, when they declared this game to be too hard to understand for anyone except the Japanese. Maybe getting testers whose IQ is bigger than the size of their shoes would help.

So, how does the Job system work, exactly? You start off with a group of "freelancers", who can wield any type of weapons and armour. About an hour and a couple of dungeons into the game, you are granted certain elemental power that creates the first six Jobs: Knight, Monk, Thief, Black Mage, White Mage and Blue Mage. You can classify your characters in any way you wish; I initially chose Knight for Butz, White Mage for Lenna, Black Mage for Galuf and of course, Thief for Faris. Now as you go fighting around the world, you'll not just garner in experience points, but also ability points, also known as AP. Gather a certain amount of AP, and you'll get yourself a new ability which is determined by your Job. For example, Thief has Steal / Capture, all the mages have several skill levels to their own type of magic, and Knight has Protect. Once you hit the master level, which varies between Jobs, but is clearly indicated, you'll probably want to switch Jobs for that character. You'll probably be thinking why in the hell should you just ditch a White Mage from the fray, especially as the going gets tougher. Not to worry. For example, if Lenna is assigned as your White Mage and you want to appoint her as your Caller, but are worried about not having a healer, you can simply change her Job, and then choose one special ability from ALL abilities you have managed to teach that character so far. So just change her Job to Caller, then choose White from the ability list to make it her special ability and enable her to use white magic. Master the white magic, first, though, it pays off. It's all that simple, and neat! Each time you change Jobs or your special ability, your weapons and armour are automatically optimized. So point me the guy who said this game was too hard and tedious for the non-Japanese to play! Personally, as far as gameplay goes, I think the game plays out better than Final Fantasy IV, the Job system is just so darn excellent. It's just too bad that the story and characters have nothing on the drama and epic feel of the previous game. Frankly, it feels like mockery of the whole franchise at its worst. It takes its toll on the playability.

Even the smallest threads of storyline are not
that logical... like this library full of books
possessed by demons.
Outside the confines of the Job system, the game continues to impress in terms of gameplay. The minimap is finally here; you need to find the world map, but after you do, you're free to use the map any time you wish by just pressing Y. You will need no more cryptic codes, or white magic to see the world. You will have many different methods of transportation, and actually, during the first third of the game, your main device for transportation will change after almost every quest. Dragons can't fly over mountains - for some very odd reason - and ships have a weird tendency to get devoured by whirlpools. Like in Final Fantasy IV, there are three different worlds to explore, accessible as the storyline progresses. So much juice, so thin story. Go figure, but it still raises gameplay value by quite a bit... as well as the amount of essential playing hours as opposed to just constant EXP mayhem or backtracking. This time, there are many sidequests, most of which are there to bless you with a rare item, weapon, piece of equipment, or even a new summonable creature for your troubles. Not to forget rare magic! The magic shops return, but this time, you need to buy or find a mana item just once, and everyone who meets the criteria to learn it, learns it immediately. Some really crucial spells can't be bought anywhere. That's why I suggest that you take your time to explore the game, but be careful.

Final Fantasy V is a very non-linear game for its time, and that's why you absolutely CAN make mistakes and wander off to places you really should avoid from a 10-mile radius. Running from battles that seem hopeless from the start is very advisable, and nearly mandatory. Fleeing is still hard, but this time, the Ninja has an ability that speeds up the party's escape. There are actually many Job-based abilities that fix a lot of the mistakes or "bugs" in the previous games, or bring in features that should've been there from the start, such as the ability to dash (Thief). Getting back to the non-linearity of the game, it also has many, many locations more than any of the Final Fantasy games that came before it. Villages, towns, castles, deserts, all around and over the map. There's still a lot of empty space, but this time you're very likely to find at least something at the end of long cavities, besides endless random encounters.

The Active Time Battle system is tweaked and for the first time, you can keep track of whose turn is coming up with the addition of each character's time bar. At the same time, it makes a very practical difference to the use of time-based magic. Previously, a spell like Haste didn't make much hell of a difference, since every member of the party had his or her turn, consistently and in fair order. In this game, a character spellbound by Haste can have two or even three turns in a row, depending on the speed and agility of the rest of the party. Cure spells or items are no longer used at all if the target is already K.O.'ed, the caster just loses a turn, which is a remarkable fix in my opinion.

This was the last game in the series to use generic names for weapons and equipment, for example Mythril Sword -> Mithril, with a sword icon on the left. The menu, however, is designed better than ever, and it shows specific stats for each piece of equipment, and you can clearly see the comparisons between two similar pieces of equipment. On top of all, the equipment has a neat hierarchy system. Everything's "organized" randomly in the inventory until you manually sort it out, but in the Equipment menu, the all-around best weapons and armour are always at the top, easily accessible. There's also a group of icons next to each Job, indicating which weapons and pieces of equipment a person of that class can use. Once again: if North Americans understood everything there was to Final Fantasy IV, how in the HELL couldn't they understand a game that makes things this simple and comfortable? Also, keep in mind, that the fan translation aside, this is indeed the Japanese version of the game; it's supposed to be the hardest version around.

For some reason, I feel like killing.
Well, even disregarding the possibility of wandering off and getting your ass kicked before you can utter the word "cat", Final Fantasy V is a long and challenging game. It starts off all nice and easy, and continues to be nice and easy as long as you keep on following the main path, but at some point, you WILL feel the need to sidestep, and/or level up. You shouldn't trust Final Fantasy V any more than any other Final Fantasy game. They trick you into believing you're absolutely ready for what's to come, even in the end of the game. The same thing happens in this game. I personally suggest you concentrate on gathering EXP and AP, leveling up your characters as well as their Jobs, and get familiar with the sidequests and what they have to offer. You're in for many, many, many hours of bad storytelling, but essential gameplay.

The ultimate question is which feat motivates YOU to play a Final Fantasy game: storytelling, or gameplay? In my personal opinion, to create an ultimate Final Fantasy game you need both to support each other, a perfect symbiosis. Storytelling affects gameplay, and gameplay affects storytelling in turn. It's perfectly clear that making this game a treat to play was what the developers worked on, but it took them a while to realize that they needed a story like that of Final Fantasy IV to support that basic playability and keep a number of players motivated. So, even if the overall rating given according to this point of view doesn't quite spell out a marvellous, must-have game, Final Fantasy V is at least a must-PLAY game. It made a difference of its own; its influence on the series' future is undeniable.

Graphics : 8.5
Sound : 9.1
Playability : 8.2
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 8.4


GameRankings: 66.25%

The game was re-released for the Sony PlayStation as a stand-alone title in 1998, this time also in the U.S.. In 2002, the game was finally released in Europe, as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology. The game was re-released for the Game Boy Advance in 2006.

Moogles make their first appearance since Final Fantasy III. They have appeared in some capacity in every Final Fantasy game since.

Bosses Atomos, Gilgamesh, Shinryu and Omega appear in Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls, as bosses in the exclusive Lifespring Grotto dungeon, as well as guardians of the Crystals of the True Moon in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years.

Butz Klauser (localized Bartz Klauser, voiced by Jason Spisak) and Exdeath (voiced by Gerald C. Rivers) are rivals in Square Enix's all-star anniversary game Dissidia - Final Fantasy, released on the PSP in 2008.

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