The World of Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy V
A little more than a year later "Final Fantasy V" was released in Japan for the SNES console. Following the established path of odd-numbered Final Fantasies being more traditional story-wise, "Final Fantasy V" abandons the new style introduced in the previous game, and is decidedly directed towards the very roots of the series.
However, while being very old-fashioned in terms of story and character presentation, "Final Fantasy V" created what is perhaps the most perfectly crafted and intriguing gameplay of the entire series, merging all the achievements of the previous games into the monumental experience of non-linear exploring, and the most flexible character customization ever seen in a console-style RPG.
The story of "Final Fantasy V" starts in such a traditional manner, that it would be possible to confuse it with the original "Final Fantasy" or with "Final Fantasy III". The crystal of wind, one of the protective forces of the planet, is shattered, and the king of Tycoon, leaving his daughter Lenna in the castle, goes to investigate the matter. After his prolonged absence, the princess decides to look for her lost father. On her journey, she encounters a young adventurer named Butz, an old man suffering from amnesia, who calls himself Galuf, and a mysterious pirate captain Faris. Upon finding the wind crystal, the four adventurers discover an evil force that is planning the destruction of the protective forces of the planet. The four have been chosen as the warriors of light to undo the evil and bring peace back to the world.
The premise of this story seems to be as conservative as it was only possible for a "mature" Final Fantasy game. Its starting point is virtually the same as in the first and the third game. Compared to "Final Fantasy IV" and all later Final Fantasies, the story of "Final Fantasy V" is extremely clichÃ©d and retrospective. The story development is predictable for the most part, and lacks the intense emotion and the suspense that characterized not only later Final Fantasies, but also "Final Fantasy IV". The heroes don't have any inner conflicts and are psychologically pale and inconvincing compared to Cecil and his friends. Instead of taking decisions themselves, they follow a treaded path that leads them to the ultimate showdown with the evil force behind the destruction. They have virtually no true motives for fighting, as well as the main villain of the game has no motive for his evil deeds - he is simply evil, as indifferently as only a non-human creature can be.
It was clear that the creators of "Final Fantasy V" wanted to make a game that would be the complete opposite of "Final Fantasy IV", with the emphasis removed again from characters onto the gameplay. However, the story and the character cast of "Final Fantasy V" are not as weak as one would think at first glance. The largest portions of the story are revealed in optional areas, so it is possible to complete the game without learning much about the past of its heroes. "Final Fantasy V", being a game of exploration, tries to avoid imposing on the players main characters with overly strong or well-presented personalities. But if the player visits all optional areas, he would discover some flashbacks that tell him much more about the game's heroes. In this aspect, "Final Fantasy V" is anything but disappointing. There is a good deal of mystery surrounding three of the four main characters, with their unclear past or even identity, as in case of Galuf. Childhood flashbacks, that reveal piece by piece information about the heroes' past, were also a great addition to Final Fantasy storytelling technique. Another interesting detail is the lack of a lead chaacter - all four heroes are equally important to the game's plot. The abundance of deaths and dramatic situations in the game compensates for its otherwise dry narrative. Finally, the wonderful music that accompanies the game also adds a lot of warmth and sensual beauty to it.
It was the gameplay of "Final Fantasy V" that made it an exceptionally well-crafted and fascinating game. If "Final Fantasy IV" forced you to follow the story line, "Final Fantasy V" lets you explore it on your own. The world of "Final Fantasy V" is huge: three worlds, each with its own world map, plus two huge underwater areas; an overwhelming amount of various vehicles - from a yellow chocobo to a submarine; tons of optional and secret areas, some enhancing the story, while others containing powerful spells and items. "Final Fantasy V" broke the ground of linearity and set its goal in satisfacting the player's impulse for exploration. Even the ending animation of the game varies depending on which characters survived the final battle.
The gameplay of "Final Fantasy V" originates in the job system of "Final Fantasy III", but is much more refined and interesting. The four party members have no class assigned; instead, the player chooses the classes, or the "jobs", for each character. Unlike "Final Fantasy III", the special abilities learned by a member of a certain class are maintained even if a character changes a job. The player then must decide what abilities of his character should be used in battles (they appear either as commands in the battle menu or enhance the character's powers, giving him more HP, or allowing him to use two weapons at once, etc.) The possibilities of various job combinations are almost endless, since there is a total of 22 job classes, with many various special abilities to each. A great addition is the fact the characters have to learn a special ability before being able to store it for usage as a member of another class. This feature made leveling up much more interesting, since the player new exactly how many points he needs to gain in order to master a certain ability. The job system makes "Final Fantasy V" a total feast of trying and experimenting. After completing the game, the player feels he would like to try again, this time with other job combinations, making the characters even more powerful.
The battles are perfectly suited for the new system, often requiring the player to change classes on short notice and to experiment with unusual class combinations. The boss battles are excitingly tricky, since most bosses are immune to many kinds of attacks, and have one weakness the player has to find, trying inconventional attacks and abilities.
"Final Fantasy V" is (perhaps together with "Final Fantasy VIII", but for entirely different reasons) the most unusual and controversial game of the series. Its story is a definite drawback compared to "Final Fantasy IV", and it is the only past-NES Final Fantasy with a definite emphasis on gameplay rather than on story or character development. Its fantastically flexible and rich gameplay makes "Final Fantasy V" the most addictive of all Final Fantasies, grants it the highest replay value, and brings it as close as it is only possible for a console-style RPG to the open-ended world of PC role-playing.
Probably because of its complexity, the game was not released outside Japan until much later, when it became a part of "Final Fantasy Anthology" for the Playstation. In 1995, it was planned to be released in the USA for the SNES, entitled "Final Fantasy Extreme", but the release was cancelled. Many of the names of characters and locations were changed in the Playstation version, and the game got CG introduction and ending movies.
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