I never really grew up with the Final Fantasy series. My first encounter with the games was watching my older cousins play Final Fantasy VII whenever we would visit them. It wouldn’t be until the re-releases on the GameBoy Advance that I would properly play through the games. I had Final Fantasy 1&2 Dawn of Souls, followed by Final Fantasy VI Advance, and then Final Fantasy IV Advance. The only game in the series that I never got around to buying was Final Fantasy V Advance. The game never really appeared in the stores that I encountered, and I had since given up on finding it. That all changed in 2016 when I discovered one of my favorite retro game stores [include link to estarland] and decided to mark the occasion by completing my set. Now six years later after obtaining it, I have finally played and finished Final Fantasy V Advance. Was it worth the wait? No really.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of FFV, here’s the brief. The world is slowly losing the power of the crystals after overabusing them. Noticing the weak state of the wind, the king of Tycoon heads off to the Wind Crystal with his daughter following behind. At the same time, a meteorite crashes near the castle carrying a man who has lost his memories. All the while, an adventurer with his trusty Chocobo happens to be in the area and rescues the princess near the crash site. The two team up with the asmethic man to investigate the Wind Crystal while picking up a pirate captain on the way. They soon witness the Wind Crystal shatter before them and then are tasked with protecting the remaining crystals with the new powers they have been bestowed. The rest of the story follows how they continue to fail to protect anything and lose a lot of people and places along the way. They eventually defeat the evil being known as Exdeath and somehow restore balance to the world.
If my story explanation seemed rushed at the end, that explains how I felt about the story in this game. The story was the weakest part of the game to me. It felt subpar to me if you consider the game that came before this and the one that came after. Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI had a good story foundation that was carried greatly by their characters. The journey of Cecil is interesting to see him go from a dark knight to a paladin. The cast of FFVI all have their story motivation and you understand each of their motivations in both acts. FFV has a good plot to it, but none of the characters have a lasting motivation that carries from start to finish. You are given a reason why they are on this journey and small sections here and there to what keeps them going. There is little interest in these characters since they are not the main attraction in this game. If this game came out before FFIV, I believe that it would have more notoriety since future titles really started to focus on the character developments within the story.
The main attraction in this game is the new and improved job system. FFV allows you to fully customize your characters in any way that you see fit. Every time you fail to save a crystal, you are given shards of power that contain a new job for the group. Instead of worrying about your character level, the idea is to level up your job experience to unlock job abilities and stat growth.. While each character can only be assigned one job at a time, you do have the ability to assign a secondary action from any job that you have leveled up. This means you can have a knight who can cast black magic, a white mage with monk abilities, and so on. For me, this was the fun part about playing this game, but I wish there was more incentive to use all of the jobs.
You could play the game how the developers intended with changing out jobs when they would be most effective, but that makes little sense if you know the build that you want to go with. Since you normally get around 1 to 2 job points per battle and the number of points you need to level jobs increases, it makes most sense to just level up the jobs that you want to master to avoid the endless grind. Since I was familiar with the job system, I knew which jobs and abilities I wanted to give each character; making experimentation with other jobs pointless when I knew my end result would carry me through the endgame. When I got around to unlocking the “best” jobs in the game, I didn’t bother with them since I had the set up I wanted and didn’t want to grind out more points just to master them. Most of the playtime in FFV comes from grinding job points and not from the length of the game. My 30 hour playtime could have been reduced by a third if I didn’t grind for job points and the ultimate weapons.
While I am someone who enjoys grinding here and there, I was spoiled by the fact that I have played games with a similar job system and have done it better. The obvious example of this is Bravely Default. Bravely Default has the same job system from FFV, but streamlines it so most jobs have some appeal to them either through passive abilities or commands. Grinding job points was easier if you met certain requirements or unlocked abilities that granted more job points. The grind was fun in that game since the game was rewarding you from the start to get the most potential out of each job. If I had played FFV before Bravely Default, I would have personally rated it much higher.
In the end, I was met with a classic game that has been outdone by its spiritual successors in my opinion. After FFV, there would be no other Final Fantasy game in the mainline series that would use this type of job system. It was good for the time, but other games have proved that it can be much better. Pair that with a story, characters, and world that felt very flat to me, I feel like FFV is now at the bottom of my personal tier list. If I ever revisit it, it will probably be in the form of the Pixel Remasters since every other version that I’ve heard of is meh. To leave things off on a positive note, the best character in the game hands down is Gilgamesh. I now understand why he is a recurring character in the series and his death was the saddest one for me.
If you are wondering about my personal rankings of the GBA Final Fantasy games, they are:
Tactics Advance (need to finish)
1 & 2 Dawn of Souls