Lack of usual story quality is compensated by great gameplay
"Final Fantasy V" is a rather simple case, so I imagine even a half-ogre would be able to write a review for it, which would probably look like this:
One-line Summary: Good Gameplay, Bad Story
The Good: Gameplay
The Bad: Story
Bottom Line: Bad Story, Good Gameplay.
Simple? Of course, I exaggerate. The story is not bad. But the higher you go, the more people expect from you. "Final Fantasy V" is a member of the series that is particularly known for great stories. So if you have "FF4" to your left and "FF6" to your right, you have to understand the demands are pretty high...
"Final Fantasy V" is almost entirely dedicated to gameplay, which is very rich and which set standards for all later Final Fantasies, and even surpassed most of them in terms of flexibility and customization. First of all, the game world itself is huge. There are three
world to explore, each complete with towns, seas, castles, caves, and secret locations. Second, there are tons of non-obligatory locations, some of which help to enhance the story and even explain some of its unclear parts. You have an abundance of vehicles, from simple ship to black chocobo, including a really cool one - submarine. There are optional bosses and plenty of hidden spells and summons. The last part of the game is totally nonlinear - you can go straight to the final dungeon or you can take your time and unseal all the legendary weapons, get mighty spells, visit a hidden town, say hello to Bahamut and Phoenix, and so on. You might know all this stuff from later Final Fantasies, especially the seventh
, but "FF5" was the one that developed this kind of gameplay to the extent - the previous game was much more linear.
The most attractive side of "Final Fantasy V" is its fantastic job system. It is similar to the one used in "Final Fantasy III", but is much more complex and interesting: each job has a number of abilities you can learn by gaining AP (ability points) from battles. Once you've mastered a certain ability, you can change your class, but the learned ability will still be available, and you could equip it. Which means: you can make classes yourself. Want a knight with a bit of black magic? Make him learn some, and then equip the ability while turning him back into a knight. Fancy a crazy hybrid like blue mage/ninja/hunter? You can turn a ninja into a blue mage, make him learn spells from enemies, then learn some of the hunter's cool abilities, like Sshot, and then make the character a ninja again, equipped with two weapons, powered with some useful spells, and able to unleash four attacks at once. There is no end to this experimenting. You finish the game and you want immediately to try again, this time with totally different classes. How cool is it to be a trainer and to coach monsters? Did you control all the enemies while being a blue mage? Can a geomancer really access areas in dungeon that were so hard to get to? What are the advantages and the disadvantages of a berserker? What is the perfect balance between your four party members? In short - the game is a treasure chest that can hardly ever be emptied. Such system was a huge achievement at the time. Just think of Final Fantasy IV
with its fixed character classes. There were no other RPGs at the time that came close to the amazing variety of "Final Fantasy V".
Aside from the gameplay, there are other things to like. The music is beautiful, as always, and even though the story is a letdown, there are plenty of typical Final Fantasy-like dramatic situations and touching moments scattered around. You'll easily recognize familiar motives such as sacrifice, mind-controlling, love, and so on. The characters are perhaps not as interesting as those of "FF4" or "FF6", but they are still rather cute. I especially liked Faris and Galuf.
By the way, this is an unusually humorous Final Fantasy. There are many amusing situations and even untypical, Lunar
-like jokes. The scene with the sleeping Faris in the beginning of the game is really funny. My favorite one is when Butz is looking for books in the castle library and says something about "Playboy" not being there.
The story of "Final Fantasy V" is still better than in most RPGs of its time. It is unfortunate it will always be compared to neighbor Final Fantasies and therefore not appreciated.
Yes, the story is simply not enough to satisfy anymore, at least not after "Final Fantasy IV". The previous game lacked really complex and interesting background stories for characters, but the overall plot was exciting because of the ever-returning good/evil conflict. In "Final Fantasy VI", it was quite the opposite: the actual main story was nothing to write home about, but the personal stories of the characters were rich and memorable. Unfortunately, "Final Fantasy V" delivers neither of those. The main story brings nothing new and returns to the corny stuff of "Final Fantasy III" or the first "Final Fantasy". In the whole game you have only five characters in your party, and they are equally far away from conflicting natures like Cecil or Kain, and from refined personalities such as Locke or Celes. Butz is a nice guy, but it is impossible to know what he feels and what he thinks. Cara is a bit annoying. The other three are better, but I always had the feeling they didn't speak enough. By the way, there's really very little dialogue in "Final Fantasy V", you can literally play for hours without hearing (or, better to say, reading) a word.
The Bottom Line
Although story-wise this game doesn't quite reach the usual Final Fantasy level, its fantastic flexible gameplay makes up for this. This is a game that offers exploration and encourages experiments, rather than let you follow an exciting story line and get acquainted with memorable characters.