Review by RLegacy3
"One of the finest GBA games money can buy"
By now we all know the score when it comes to Final Fantasy on the GBA. Aside from the murderously addictive Tactics Advance spin-off, the system is home to enhanced versions of all but one of the pre-PlayStation era games (Final Fantasy III making the leap to Nintendo DS). While they're generally seen as being the most complete versions of each game to date, the past two releases have had their faults. Dawn of Souls was essentially stripped of any and all difficulty, and Final Fantasy IV suffered from some nasty slowdown during battles. So how does the next link in the Final Fantasy Advance chain fair?
Unlike FFIV, Final Fantasy V never saw the light of day outside Japan until the PlayStation era, so in essence this is only the second ever outing for the game. It's also vastly different from its predecessor in almost every way imaginable, and those expecting to burn through the game by simply sticking to the same one or two commands per character had best think again.
This is mostly down to the reintroduction of the Job system. Whereas FFIV contained characters with fixed classes (Dragoon, Monk, White Mage, etc), here, you actually assign your party roles to suit the situation. Need some magical firepower? Enter the Job menu and kit your characters out as Black Mages. Fancy a bit of physical attacking? Then the Knight's the class for you. That's a very narrow perception of the system, however. See, the longer you spend in any one Job, the more ability points (ABP) are accumulated, and the more of that Job's characteristics are "extracted" and permanently added to your character's repertoire. For example, if you gain enough ABP for the White Mage class to reach Job Level 1, then you'll receive the "White Magic 1" ability, which you can then equip alongside any other class to allow them the use of low-level White Magic. Each Job has one command slot which cannot be altered (the Black Mage's is obviously Black Magic, for example), but a second slot is reserved for commands your character has obtained via other classes. So your Black Mage can also cast White Magic, as explained, or even use the "Equip Swords" ability to wield blades, which it cannot naturally use. The possibilities are quite literally endless.
Aside from this, battles play-out in a similar fashion to FFIV, only you now have four characters as opposed to five, and for the first time in the series can arrange for any number of them to stand in the front or back row (in FFIV you were forced to have three up and two back, or vice-versa). All-in-all, however, the system will be very familiar and instantly accessible to anyone who played the previous game.
The main draw of most RPGs is the storyline, and while FFV's is certainly entertaining, it's a little on the basic side and doesn't really reach the heights of Final Fantasy IV's. This is mainly due to the fact that there are no longer ample party members to recruit as you progress. Your four heroes are thrust together at the very beginning, and that's the way it stays for the majority of the game. We have Bartz, the spirited young traveller. Lenna, the princess of Tycoon searching for her father. Galuf, an old man who's rather inconveniently lost his memory. And Faris, the leader of a band of pirates. Each of them receives little development as the game progresses, and by the end they're still virtually the same as when they started. This version of the game also dumbed-down Faris by removing her pirate accent - something which I believe was a defining feature of her character in the original game.
The storyline itself is, as I said, a little on the basic side. It's something of a throwback to earlier Final Fantasies in that it revolves around four giant crystals which govern the forces of nature. After bumping into one another in the games opening few sections, Bartz, Lenna, Galuf and Faris set off for the Wind Crystal in pursuit of the King of Tycoon. Before long they're "awarded" five crystal shards (the first of many) which grant them the powers of ancient warriors (Jobs, basically), and sent on a quest to protect the three remaining crystals for the sake of the world. It may sound a little dull and cliched, but there a couple of twists along the way, and as soon as the game's villain (and his colourful sidekick) are introduced the storyline moves into a different gear and becomes a lot more interesting.
The plot can be a little light-hearted in places (even though the game features arguably one of the most evil villains in the series), and that's often reflected in the soundtrack. Composer Nobuo Uematsu's work is revered throughout the videogame world, yet FFV's score tends to go under appreciated or even ignored entirely. Like most aspects of the game, it's very different to Final Fantasy IV's, lacking the drama and epic feel which that soundtrack invokes. However, many of the tracks are still extremely catchy, and there are some real gems waiting to be unearthed later in the game (Battle at the Big Bridge being one such example).
Visually, the game is adequate. Standard character sprites are quite bland during battle (and indeed, on the field), but once you start equipping Jobs this problem ceases to be, as they all ooze charm and really bring the characters to life. In the graphics department not much has changed from the original, however. While FFIV received lashings of polish for its GBA appearance, it's clear that FFV only got a minor touch-up. Battle backgrounds are, again, a huge improvement, and new character portraits have been slotted into the dialogue boxes and menu screens. Once again the cleaner presentation goes a long way towards making the experience that much more pleasant. Had the game retained the blocky font and one-tone window colour of the original, it would appear to have aged horribly. As it stands this is once again a remarkable and hugely appreciated refresh, even if it isn't quite the step-up we got with FFIVA.
As well as the cosmetic enhancements, Final Fantasy V's script has also undergone a huge makeover, being totally retranslated from the first English iteration on the PSOne. No longer messy, vague or just plain baffling, the game's dialogue is truly first-class. Item and spell names have also been corrected, with skills no longer suffering because of the original's painfully small character limit. So the Hunter's bizarrely-named Sshot technique becomes Rapid Fire, $Toss is given the classier name of Zeninage, and ugly, tight-fitting spell names like GobPunch and WhitWind are a thing of the past. Both now correctly titled Goblin Punch and White Wind, respectively.
After the huge amount of fuss many fans kicked-up about Final Fantasy IV Advance's battle lag, it's good to see that this game doesn't suffer the same problem. For the most part, it's perfect. Only later in the game will you notice some slowdown when more intense spells like Meteor come into play, and (strangely) you may also experience it a little in well populated areas. But it's all very, very minor and certainly doesn't spoil the game in any way. The conversion is almost flawless, and at the very least far better than Final Fantasy IV's.
Such is the way with these GBA ports, there's bonus content to be had here. Once you've completed a good 90% of the main game you can head on over to the entrance of the game's bonus dungeon to pick up three new Job classes: the Oracle, Cannoneer and Gladiator (whose Finisher ability totally obliterates many late-game bosses). The bonus dungeon itself (the Sealed Temple) is only accessible upon the games completion, and while it isn't particularly long, there are some truly brutal enemies to be fought there. Beating the Sealed Temple unlocks the Cloister of the Dead, which pits you against beefed-up versions of the game's bosses, one after the other. You'll also receive the final Job class, Necromancer, which is a little redundant by that stage, but still good fun to use.
The depth and complexity of Final Fantasy V's Job system is what elevates it above the competition. In comparison to the rest of the series it has a relatively weak storyline, but it's by no means terrible, and the script in this version in particular is very nicely written. There are tonnes of new abilities to learn (including Blue Magic, which makes its series debut here), and the game itself is an absolute joy to play. The main quest will last around 30 hours, and the bonus material ensures that you'll still have things to do (and tough enemies to beat) long after the world is saved. Gameplay-wise, this is one of the strongest and most rewarding games in the Final Fantasy series, let alone the GBA's library, and no other RPG on the system can match it for sheer addictiveness. You dare not miss it.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/01/07, Updated 11/24/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy V Advance (EU, 04/13/07)
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