keskiviikko 29. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy V Advance (2006)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2006
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Square Enix, TOSE
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

Final Fantasy V is second only to Final Fantasy III when it comes to the most obscure titles in one of the biggest video game franchises in the world. It is a great game, however; it's incredibly fun to play, even if the story doesn't meet the standard set by Final Fantasy IV. Seven years after its original Japanese release, the game was finally released in the U.S. on the Sony PlayStation in 1999. Us Europeans had to wait to get our hands on this innovative title for three more years. In 2006, the game was released internationally for the second time on the Game Boy Advance, as an essential part of the Final Fantasy Advance series. That's where I stepped in, to take my first trip with Final Fantasy V since a fan translation of the Japanese version on the ROM circuit, introduced in 1997 - and I must say, that I've never enjoyed the game this much. Final Fantasy V Advance might just be the most essential Final Fantasy Advance release due to the original game's obscurity and the fine quality of the port.

Godspeed and all that whatnot!

Galuf still rules...
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 Bartz, 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.

...Cid still doesn't. His portrait's way cooler
than his sprite, though.
I have already pointed out the generic plot of the game more times than it's really necessary, and also briefly noted its exceptional surreality. However, the official translation of the game makes the story a little bit more interesting to follow. The story itself remains the same, but the characters are fleshed out a little more. I liked the the fan translation, and this official game proves the fans were definitely on the right track; some lines are even identical to those of the fan translation, but at the same time, it smooths out many mistakes. Context is delivered better, and the actual meaning of some of the most riddling dialogue comes to light with the addition of just two or three keywords. Galuf's sarcastic jokes, which found their target in even the fan translation, are even better, and since Nintendo's policies have become more rational over the decades, not much from the original game is censored - the game is pretty much identical to the game Sakaguchi & Co. originally created, translated to English and the handheld environment marvellously. If you never thought to read a line like "If you're not gonna dress up like a girl - you should, though, no need to hide such assets..." in a Nintendo game, get familiar with Final Fantasy V Advance. And yeah, you'll still get a lap dance if you know where to go.

Hah. The rewritten dialogue is funny and
compensates for the lack of a good storyline.
As opposed to the previous games in the Advance series, Final Fantasy V is more of a re-release or a port than an actual remake. It makes perfect sense, 'cause some people are experiencing the game for the first time, not expecting radical graphical changes or whatnot. The traditional opening cutscene has been added, but besides that, as well as some newly rendered backgrounds and general clean-up, the graphics are pretty much identical to the Super Famicom version. Same goes for the sound. The marvellous soundtrack is just slightly remixed, very faithful to the original drive, as opposed to the reworked and rearranged Final Fantasy IV soundtrack which sounded awful.

Well, sir, it's been a long journey and it'll
probably be my last anyway, so a blowjob
would suffice.
When it comes to the gameplay, the changes are also quite artificial. Enemies, items, weapons and equipment have been renamed, some minor re-localizations are found in other areas as well. Some people have criticized Faris' piratey accent which wasn't part of the original script, but I personally think it works for the character. After all, she was raised by pirates and has lived with them for all her life - why wouldn't she speak like one? Everything crucial to the gameplay was in place in the original game, so Square Enix and TOSE didn't have much to go on here when they began to think about ways to enhance Final Fantasy V. Well, besides the very minor graphical tweaks and the obviously important new translation, there are the bestiary and Quicksave function made familiar by the previous Advance games, a music player, and of course, a new extra hard dungeon, the Sealed Temple.

Yet another subliminal reference to marijuana.
The most important addition to this version of the game is the inclusion of four new Jobs: Necromancer, Cannoneer, Gladiator and Oracle. Some of the original game's Jobs have been tweaked as well, firstly in name: for quick examples, Caller has been renamed Summoner, and Monster Trainer is now known as Beastmaster. Some abilities have new names as well, Mystic Knight's MagicSwd is now Spellblade. On my account, a very important tweak has been made to Thief's Steal / Capture ability; in the original game, you were lucky to be able to steal something other than regular Potions from enemies. Being able to steal essential items didn't really come along until Final Fantasy VI came out. This version is a looter's heaven; you can steal powerful weapons and equipment from many standard enemies, which makes Thief an essential Job to have. For example, in the Tower of Walse in the first world, you can steal a Mythril Sword from an Ice Soldier, virtually no problem at all, and at that point in the game, a Mythril Sword is about +10 in Strength in relation to any weapon your Knight might carry at that point.

Gilgamesh made his debut in Final Fantasy V,
and has appeared in some capacity in four
main series games released since.
As always, I've intentionally saved a little pros and cons up until now, this time mostly cons. Besides the benefits of the official translation and an user interface that is easier to read, use and comprehend, Final Fantasy V Advance isn't really a different experience from the original game in practice. Jobs take forever to level up, as will your party's experience from level 30 onwards. Since it takes so long to really see the results of lengthy periods of just walking around and fighting hordes and hordes of impressive monsters, there are a few two- or three-hour gaps throughout the game during which you'd just want it all to end. Of course you could just change everyone's Job all the time and keep on hoarding the lesser abilities they grant you, but I don't think the game was meant to be played that way. Besides, I personally find some of the Jobs utterly useless, such as Beastmaster - and on an equally personal note, I'll never feel comfortable playing as a Bard. I had enough of that particular class in Final Fantasy IV. What's great is that the game doesn't have any points in which you would absolutely NEED someone to manage and level up a specific Job - except for maybe White Mage, but I doubt anyone'll leave home without one; the possibilities for customization are very impressive.

Ghido's arrogant sarcasm is so funny I simply
cannot hate the guy, even if he's just a damn
Another thing that really bothers me about the game, as a person rather than a player, is that the game is really illogical. I'm not talking about the plot or its threads involving possessed books or non-sensical ancient technology, I'm talking about the dungeons. I've never cared too much for mazes that have a random encounter coming your way every two seconds, but in this game, dimensional design and architecture, and some consequences are totally whacked. Even if you clearly see a route leading you somewhere, it isn't absolutely certain it's the right way to go to get to that particular destination. These are puzzling hallways of trial and error instead of real mazes. Speaking of the consequence part, I still don't get the fire-powered ship dungeon in the first third of the game. First of all, why would an ancient crystal shrine be connected to a state-of-the-art ship? Isn't it a little awkward to haul around? And how in the hell does the party suddenly just end up in the Karnak castle prison after falling through the floor of this particular shrine?

Tell me why I have to be a powerslave...
Here's something that I just forgot to mention before, but something that is quite a notable nuisance. You can't upgrade Job Commands; for example, you can't replace Steal with Capture (or Mug), you need to assign Mug as a special ability even for a Thief, and you have room for just one of those abilities. Steal becomes totally irrelevant and painful to use once you gain Mug, and you just can't get rid of it if you're playing as a Thief, attempting to master the Job. On top of all, there's probably a host of abilities from other Jobs you would like to replace the old Steal with, but you can only replace Mug with something else. Square took note of this, among other similar peeves, when they made the next two games. I think they should've fixed this version of the game just a little, by letting the player assign two special abilities instead of just one; one command ability and one auto-ability or perk. I reckon it wouldn't have eased up the game too much; some experts in self-buffing might disagree.

Sing lali-ho, the dwarves are back!
Second to last, let's talk about money. At first, it seems you're getting more loads of it than you could possibly carry. However, in the later stages of the game, all prices soar, and rewards for battles well done largely consist of just EXP and/or AP. You will have to resort to selling your excessive equipment if you want to purchase every spell, weapon, piece of armor and accessory available. What's difficult about it is that you have to be extra careful; some equipment might be obsolete to one Job, but essential to the next. For example, I made the mistake (in the original game) of selling all my old stuff when I began the quest for the legendary weapons. As luck would have it, I was also nearing a Master class for each Job I had assigned at that time. I changed Jobs, and soon found myself in the middle of a dungeon with no equipment at all. It's not utterly impossible to still survive, and you can easily get out of dungeons by assigning one of your guys as a Time Mage and using the Teleport spell, and from there, enter any town you've lately visited and stock up on equipment, but I just thought to point this out.

Gogo, one of the Final Fantasy universe's
greatest mysteries - still studied by hardcore
fans of the franchise.
Finally, let's return to the plot and what I personally find the lowest and highest point in it. This is a series of spoilers, so just skip ahead if you feel the need to. What I consider to be the lowest point in the plot is the whole character of Krile. Right after she's properly introduced, it's obvious what the character's true purpose in the endgame is. She's constantly saving your ass, and with the Dawn Warriors dying or otherwise getting incapacitated one by one, it's perfectly clear that as sad as it is, Galuf's gonna leave the party for good at some point, and get replaced by the 14-year old wondergirl. Overall, the game's a little short on true surprises - like Faris is Lenna's missing sister Sarisa, "SHOCKING!" - but the whole thing with Krile is perhaps the most lame "surprise". You're just waiting for it to happen, and when it finally does, you're both frustrated, at how long it took to happen after seeing the obvious for the last dozen of hours, and angry, due to losing the best character in the game and getting an annoying brat in return. The highest point of the plot in my view is the character of Exdeath. Finally, a Final Fantasy villain who's there from the start (well, almost) and right up until the end as the sole, most evil motherfucker on the planet. He has powerful henchmen, some of which are more powerful than the man himself, but they're just that - henchmen - and not some make-believe main villains like Golbez in the previous game. Exdeath's well developed and deserves the hate we feel for him. Definitely one of the most underrated villains in the series - and he alone gives the otherwise thin storyline a fine boost. The script teases the introduction of a new villain before bringing Exdeath back into the fray during the final third of the game - in a rather corny way, I might add - but luckily, he remains the prime evil. Ghido the sage is another excellent character that should've been introduced a bit earlier on in the game.

No matter how much I criticize the plot, I still simply can't find anything horribly wrong with the gameplay itself. Of course I could go on and on about missing tweaks and features that were introduced in the later games, but that's just bad journalism. Final Fantasy V Advance is still a fun and challenging game, even moreso than its source title thanks to the clean-up, standard to the Advance series, and the inclusion of the Sealed Temple dungeon. Final Fantasy VI Advance is the best game in the Advance series since the game is just such a glorious masterpiece in any form you could imagine it in, but this one is most likely the most important title in the series, due to the original game's obscurity and its vast Job system, which has to be experienced in practice by every Final Fantasy fan at least once.

Graphics : 8.7
Sound : 9.1
Playability : 8.4
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 8.6


GameRankings: 82.45%

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