Coming off of a story driven masterpiece, Square, as usual, moved Final Fantasy in a different direction for their first Super Famicom follow up. Final Fantasy V is a battle system mechanic masterpiece filled with many different customization options, while leaving the story a bit on the back burner.
Let us begin with the story. The story is that, the elements on the world are dying. The wind is stopping, the water is stopping, the earth is decaying and the fires are no longer burning. This is because the crystals are shattering, which may or may not be because mankind has learned how to harness their power to make our lives easier. Its never completely confirmed or denied. It is also happening because an ancient tree from an ancient forest from another world named Exdeath wishes to first recombine 2 worlds into one to open the ancient void sealed a millenium ago and then harness its power... Honestly, the story isn't horrible... though when you try and summarize it like this, it makes you realize how silly it is... and yes we are fighting a tree... a tree that turned itself into a warlock, sure, but a tree none the less. The characters are certainly not fleshed out as much as final fantasy iv, but there is certainly a lot of backstory and interplay between them... and oh yeah, one of the main characters dies. Still, though, this is not the selling point of this particular entry of the series.
The graphics. While not a huge step up from Final Fantasy IV, there are a number of different layouts, all of which are very colorful, and bright. Really, anything I've said for Final Fantasy IV can apply here. The one main improvement I'd say is with the character sprites. Yes, it can be taken for granted now, but at the time having a separate sprite for each and every character job a character can have was quite an undertaking. There's a lot of fun in just collecting all the jobs to see how each character looks in them. Sure, not all of them are award winning, but it makes the really good looks stand out that much more. I would have loved to see the improvements that Square made for the iPad version of the game, however, I did not want to purchase it just to see the graphical improvements... so, yeah.
The music. This may not be the greatest game for music in the series. Its not bad. There are really few themes that stand out, however. That being said, these are still Nobuo Uematsu compositions, and they are still great. There's just no points where I'll pause my gameplay such that I can listen to a particular track all the way through.
The gameplay. Here we come to the meat and potatoes of this review. The reason to play this game is the job system. Yes, this is something Final Fantasy did before, but really, I think it is this game that really solidified the job system as something that Final Fantasy could use over and over again, and really serve as the basis for future job systems the franchise used. As you progress through the game you collect Crystal Shards, each of which gives you a new job class. You basically equip the player with the job, and this gives the player a set of stats, a list of equippable items and one set ability. The other ability can be set from any abilities you gain as you level up your jobs. That's right as you kill enemies, not only do you get EXP but you also get AP which goes towards levelling up your jobs. Each job can be levelled from anywhere between 1 and 7 and mastering the job will transfer some stats or abilities back to the Freelancer class.
The upside, there are so many abilities that have different uses, and sometimes you really have to consider what abilities you want for a particular boss, or area. Also, there are really enough jobs that unless you really grind out ability points, you are never going to run out of different jobs to level up, and you want to keep getting abilities so you're always mixing and matching different jobs together. The downside, well really the jobs fall into either Magic based or Attack based. I can't really think of a time you'd really want to mix the two together... I wish there were more support abilities for magic classes, but really your magic users are always going to be just choosing the two schools of magic they want for that particular time, and your physical attackers are really going to use Rapid Fire... yeah, for some reason FF V really liked the evade stat, and Rapid Fire ignores it... so its really useful.....
The postgame content. In the GBA and iPad versions of the game, defeating Exdeath opens up a new area called the Sealed Temple. This is an amazing area, full of exploration and little quests, climaxing with a battle against Enuo, the original master of the void. This area has an amazing level of difficulty. Starting off with some of the hardest endgame encounters and only ramping up from there. It contains 5 bosses all of which need a good amount of strategy and additional experience levels, which really can only be gained by fighting all the really hard random encounters in the area... of which there are a TON. The game really inflates the encounter rate in here, which is annoying when you're trying to figure out where you need to go. The place is a bit of a maze if you don't have a walkthrough. Also, the game has a really steep levelling curve, and its only the monsters in the cavern that really give you enough experience to level over 45 at a decent rate. Anyway, the area is wonderfu
Now, lets talk about the super bosses. In the original release, the game contained two superbosses. Omega and Shinryu, both at least twice as hard as Exdeath, but beatable with a good strategy... or in Shinryu's case, easily beatable with a certain rare steal... *cough* Dragon Lance *cough*... In the sealed temple, we have upgraded versions of these, Neo Shinryu and Omega Mk II. They are basically the same bosses but with much improved stats and a couple of abilities that make you change your strategy a bit. I wish these two were a bit harder than they ended up being. Really, Omega just requires a little luck that he doesn't remove your attackers... and Shinryu just requires a lot of healing. They are in no way on the level of some of the previous super bosses... FF III's Iron Giant, Dimensions Omega level Omega Weapon as examples... really these are fairly disappointing superbosses. The other superboss is Enuo. He's kind of an upgraded Exdeath, requiring very specific equipment to kill nicely, and a nice burn phase in which you actually feel like you can die. Really though, still, he's not the hardest, and unless something strange happens, he's pretty easily killable if you've managed to survive the entire area leading up to him.
We're not done with postgame content yet though people! Beating Enuo unlocks the final class Necromancer, which is a magic using class which learns spells by getting deathblows on specific enemies. Pretty cool class, but really, kind of weird to get a new class at this point. Also, one final area is the Cloister of the Dead, which is just a boss gauntlet of 6 sets of 5, with all the non-super bosses with upgraded stats. The tuning of this is really god awful. Again, the Sealed Temple had really hard difficulty. This, which only unlocks after completing it was really simple.
So, in conclusion, this is really a good game, which I am sad was not released in the US until the Playstation. It truly is the basis of the Final Fantasy job systems and is really a fun game. It certainly isn't top in the series, but it is very worthy of a playthrough, especially if you've ever played FF IV or VI, just to see what really came between the two of them.