Review by Etrurianmage
"A Western RPG cleverly disguised as one of its Japanese counterparts."
What can I say about this game? It can be very fun at times. Heck, it even has its moments where I could easily see it as one of the better Final Fantasy games out there. However, I personally think that this game just isn't really my kind of game. If you're like me, and you like to play your RPGs with a well developed story, you don't like to do extra content so much as stick to the main story, and grinding your jobs for extra abilities doesn't hold appeal to you, I suggest you just leave this review and go play Final Fantasy IV or VI instead. These are wonderful games and you will probably love them (I know I did). However, if the above does not apply to you, keep reading. Final Fantasy V might be more your thing.
The first thing that I noticed about this game was the storyline. It is a very basic story of Good vs. Evil; the evil guys are out to destroy the world, the good guys show up to stop them, etc. I have no problem with this type of storytelling, I understand that this was more the case back when technical limitations didn't provide the massive backstory and character development that we have today. Heck, I even like it in recent games if it's presented well enough (Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon had a very nice charm to it for example. Yes, I understand that it's a remake, but it was the first time for American gamers to get their hands on it, and Intelligent Systems didn't really update where they could have, so it still applies). But Final Fantasy V doesn't provide that, which especially a downer after the great story of Final Fantasy IV, which set the story archetypes for JRPGs that are still being imitated today. The characters are also extremely bland. The player is unlikely to feel any connection to them, and as a result, does not feel any connection to any part of the game world.
This game took me the better part of eight months to get around to finishing; a very long time for me to finish a game, and here's the reason: I just didn't care. A few plot twists and other parts keep the pacing up, but for the most part, it's just something like: "Hey! Here's a dungeon! Going through this will in some way place us one step closer to ridding the world of evil!" It may sound like I'm overemphasizing the problem with a mediocre plot, but like I said-I just couldn't bring myself to want to finish only because I just didn't care about what happened next. As a result, the game felt like a long drag to me.
The presentation of the game is nice, but nothing mind-blowing. The game outside of battle does what it needs to, but nothing more. There's no interesting artwork, levels that are fun just to look at, or anything otherwise aesthetically pleasing. This may sound critical of an older game, but it was very much possible at the time (take Chrono Trigger for example, the worlds in that game were better looking and had a better immersion factor than many games today.) The battle sprites and animations however, look nice, and have the nice charm of an old-school RPG.
The music is nice, but not as great as I think many claim the music of this series to be. It adds a nice bit of quality to some levels, and some tracks will stand out every now and then as being particularly well-done. Still, it's not the kind of thing that will transform a good level or battle into an amazing experience that will stay in your mind forever as one of the game's high points. Most of the time, I didn't even notice it was there. And when I did, it was nothing more than: "Oh, cool track".
The gameplay is also a mixed bag. I'm tired of criticizing things, so I'll start with what I consider to be the best thing about this game. The job system is completely and utterly full of mind blowing win. Essentially, you pick a job for your character, and through battles you will gain Ability points. After a certain amount of Ability points, your job level will upgrade and you will acquire a certain skill of your current job that can be equipped even when you switch your character's job. However, you can only equip one such ability. Therefore, you will at any given point have all of your current job's abilities, plus one from another job. What's more, the job-switching penalty from Final Fantasy III (the last game in the series to use a job system) is gone, leaving you free to experiment to your hearts content so long as you don't disperse your Ability points too much to get much good from any job. It sounds simple, but with four characters, your options for customization and your ability to coordinate your team's abilities leads to tons of possibilities. Finding the most effective options is quite possibly my favorite thing about this game.
And now, I must unfortunately go back to criticism. This is where I feel that this game is more reminiscent of a WRPG. The wonderfully expansive job system does come at a bit of a cost. The game feels more geared towards the assumption that the player wants to grind their skills to have the most well developed characters possible. Some gamers will have an absolute blast with this, but I did not. I prefer to stick to the main storyline in my RPGs, and as a result, the balance in this game felt a bit off. Also, the difficulty is based on the idea that the players have expanded their jobs, and thus those of us that didn't bother may feel that the game is too hard (I'm a serious gamer that loves a challenge, but I'm talking more about the "Cheap" variety of hard that feels level-based.) However, this does provide a more enjoyable type of challenge at times that can make the game feel immensely satisfying. The gameplay is probably the aspect of this game that is most representative of its "Up and Down" style of quality.
Replay value...this is something that's hard for me to measure, because even as I was watching the ending, I had an immense desire to rip the game out of my DS and put it away to not be used for a very, very long time. However, you can always go back and experiment with jobs to create the most devastating party combinations possible, which is a lot of fun, as noted earlier. The last few hours of the game are completely optional, so I guess that could count as extra content even though it is significant to the plot and is very much advised to do before tackling the ending. Also, a bonus dungeon is available (and exclusive to this version of the game, I think. Though it may have been in earlier installments). Since bonus dungeons generally aren't relevant to the story, this one shouldn't be dragged down by the awful pacing. Plus it is your path to a few more jobs, and if it hasn't become clear by now, I really, really like this games job system. Overall, the replay value of this game is pretty good.
+Job system is awesome.
+Job system is win.
+Hard in a challenging way at times
+Decent graphics and sound
+Some good replay value
-Story/Characters (minus Galuf)
-Story and characters are bland and uninteresting, with the exception of Galuf.
-Story and characters are fail. But Galuf is awesome.
-Hard in a frustrating way at times
-Overworld and dungeons aren't the best.
Buy or Rent? Certainly don't rent, seeing as this one is going to be sitting on your shelf unplayed for long stretches of time if you decide to go through it. Really only worth buying because of the Final Fantasy name, that is, if you're interested in trying to play all of the main series games. I can't give this game my highest recommendations, but if you don't mind starting a game and not finishing, or if you don't mind the weak story and frustrating moments, this game may be for you.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/01/09, Updated 11/02/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy V Advance (US, 11/06/06)
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