Final Fantasy V: The RPG That Bullies You

I have a somewhat odd history with Final Fantasy V. Technically, it was the first game in the series I ever played; I would play it a fair bit when I was a kid. But I had never actually finished it. In fact, I never even got that far; I’d get to the ship graveyard dungeon, get bored, then abandon my playthrough.

Well, now I have finished it. And… I have some thoughts.

The four elemental crystals are dying, and with them, the world. To discover why and stop it, four warriors of light are chosen to protect them. Their journey to do so will take them all across the world, and even another, in order to defeat an evil warlock of incredible power.

Final Fantasy V’s plot is very reminiscent of FFI and FFIII. However, I do think it’s a lot stronger than either of those games. The cast is very likable and fairly memorable, the villain is menacing – if a bit cartoonish, but that’s fine – and doesn’t get swept under the rug at the last minute, and the narrative has a few genuinely surprising and interesting twists. All around, it’s a good story.

I love the party members in this game. Bartz, Lenna, Galuf, Ferris, and later Krile are all surprisingly well-rounded characters for a SNES game. Each one is given abundant flashbacks to flesh out their backstories and a ton of scenes together to develop their dynamic as a group. When one of them dies – it’s a Final Fantasy game, a party member basically always dies – I was genuinely upset!

Exdeath is the first villain I’d consider to be actually good. It can be hard to take him seriously sometimes, with his mustache-twirling attitude and constant “Mwahahahaha” dialogue. But when he actually wants to be intimidating, he works surprisingly well.

Good as the story is, though, it isn’t perfect. For as serious as it gets, it can also be a little too silly for its own good. And I don’t just mean in the usual FF way. There are several points in this game where the characters break the fourth wall or repeat the same joke upwards of four times in just as many lines.

Presentation-wise, this game is a surprisingly large upgrade over FF IV. Environments have more detail than ever before. Sprites are more varied. Battle animations are more or less the same, with a few extra details here and there.

This game also goes a long way in making cutscenes more dynamic and interesting. Mainly by using the most badass tool of the SNES: Mode 7. With this, Final Fantasy V delivers tons of cutscenes spinning or sweeping over the world, such as when the meteors land or when the airship takes flight for the first time. Sure, it looks dated by today’s standards. But I still adore this kind of stuff!

And of course, the music is good. Surprising no one. There will never be a game in this series where I say otherwise.

Now, we come to the heart of it: the gameplay.

The active-time battle system introduced in IV makes its return. Only now, there have been some noticeable improvements. The speed of battle has been slowed overall, making it easier to handle everything that’s happening and quickly adapt to dangerous situations. Magic casters act much more quickly, eliminating the agonizing wait that weakened their effectiveness before.

Oh, and all of your spells work this time. Teleport actually lets you warp out of a dungeon is you aren’t prepared for it. Status effect spells actually affect the enemy. Stat buffs/debuffs have a noticeable effect.

Combat is trickier than ever before as well. Enemies bust out all kinds of new tactics that require you to get more creative than just ‘spam most powerful move to win’ or summon Bahamut. You’ll need to focus up and pay extra attention for some of these fights.

Especially since some of them are absolute horse shit. Like Omniscient and his Return spam. Fuck that guy.

There’s also an insane amount of customization available for your team. Because guess what: the class system is back! Only now, each class comes bundled with its own unlockable abilities, which you can equip while using a different class. Each class has one ability that’s permanently set and one open slot for customization.

This grants the player a ton of options for their party. You could have a Ranger who uses Bard songs. You could have a Summoner who also uses Time magic. Want a Dragoon who can tame enemies or capture them like Pokemon? Or maybe you want to combine a Red and Blue Mage into one unit! With all of these options, each playthrough could end up being completely different!

Unfortunately, in order to get all that customization, you need to grind. A lot. Leveling classes is a much slower process than leveling your characters. And you’ll need to do a whole lot of both. Of all the Final Fantasy games I’ve reviewed so far, this is the one I’ve done the most grinding in.

Not that you have to set aside time for it. FFV can sometimes do a really poor job of guiding you on where you need to go. For example: after getting your first ship, you sail to an island where the ship sinks, then you need to go all the way back to where you got the ship to progress. Getting lost is practically a guarantee.

Speaking of lost: the dungeons in this game. No that wasn’t a clever transition, but whatever works.

The dungeons in this game are a mixed bag. Some of them are really creative and fun! Others make me want to tear out what little hair I have left and choke myself to death on it. Like the Fire Ship; the less time I spend there in future playthroughs, the happier I’ll be.

It certainly doesn’t help that the game often employs cheap tricks just to fuck with you. Like paths that change while you’re standing on them or sending you down waterslides where you’re attacked by enemies you can’t escape from. Some of them have clever workarounds; you can get around deadly floor tiles by using Float. But others are just bullshit.

This, combined with some of the trickier enemies, can make Final Fantasy V an incredibly frustrating game to play. Oftentimes, it feels like it’s bullying you for playing it.

So one-third of the time, you’re grinding. The second-third, you’re being messed with. Then, in the final third, you’re actually having fun.

And I love it.

Final Fantasy V is one of the more underappreciated games in the series. It has a fairly strong narrative with lots of charming characters and memorable moments, it looks good, and it has a ton of customization and combat depth. It’s like when your school bully is also the class clown; you hate him sometimes, but god damn is he fun to be around.

You know. When it isn’t giving you a wedgie.

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