There is an interesting pattern in early Final Fantasy games. Odd ones were concentrated more on gameplay – the first FF on exploration and the third introduced job system. While their story was rather generic – the world is dying, save it with the blessing from Four Crystals of Light.
Even installments on the other hand were focused more on the story, specifically on the characters. Both second and fourth Fantasy had your group regularly replacing one character with another – someone died, someone joined, someone left, someone returned from the dead… Even bad guys turned to your side at some point.
At least from my point of view, Final Fantasy V was the first installment that tried to balance both gameplay and story. It enhanced the job system and at the same time gave more depth and backstory for characters through the cut scenes.
In the Beginning…
The game actually starts with a single protagonist. You can even choose a name for him instead of canonical Bartz. That happens in one of the first cut-scenes where he introduces himself to princess Lenna (she was called Renna in the original). Right after rescuing her from a pair of goblins.
Then they both find Galuf, a man with amnesia. In 1992 this trope wasn’t yet overused.
All that happens right after a strange meteor falls near the kingdom of Tycoon. Bartz actually rode his trusty chocobo Boko to take a look at it. And Lienna was passing it on her way to the Wind Shrine, as recently the wind had waned and her father went to check the Wind Crystal. But hasn’t returned.
So, Lienna continues her journey with Galuf joining her. Bartz also joins them but only after some more fights and cut-scenes.
And the fourth party member becomes Faris – pirate captain, who has some connection with Lienna. Though that will be explained only in later cut-scenes.
In later scenes, you will learn more about Bartz and his family. Galuf will gradually remember his past. Our heroes will learn that Crystals of Wind, Water, Fire, and Earth are indeed in danger. They started to shatter one by one due to uncontrolled drain of their energy (you would expect Final Fantasy story to touch on the topic of preservation of natural resources, wouldn’t you?) but at some point, dark force enters the stage, bent on ensuring Crystals destruction.
Some of the cut-scenes are optional. If you miss Bartz’s hometown, you won’t see his mother’s spoiler. Without additional rest in Tycoon royal castle, you won’t get heart-to-heart talk between Lienna and Faris.
Just like in FF3 every character can choose one of the available jobs. You can also change it at any time (except mid-battle) granting your characters different abilities, available equipment, and bonus to certain characteristics.
For example, White Mage can wear only clothes for mages, equip staves and maces, while casting exclusively White Magic. And of cause, he (or she) has an increased Magic skill.
Knight, on the other hand, has access to tougher armor, wields powerful weapons like swords and axes. Knight’s health is very high and helps with this job’s abilities aimed at protecting teammates.
Thief steals items from monsters. Ninja uses smoke bombs to ensure escape. Berserker doesn’t have any commands and even attacks on auto. Many jobs have passive abilities or are triggered automatically.
Not everything is available outright. You get new jobs from Crystals. Or from their shards, sometimes even hidden. And after that characters, must fight with their chosen job active to get AP that levels profession up.
Of course, all that was in the third game too. But in FFV all characters have an additional ability slot. Thus they can add any job ability (active or passive), that they already learned, to another job. Like “Cover” will allow Thief or Ninja to cover their friends like Knight. Or Knight can enchant blades using Mystic’s skill.
However, the most obvious combination is a fighting job with skill in magic. Or a mage with another magic, allowing to cast two types of spells during one battle. White, Black, Blue, Summon, Time – five “schools” of spells make a lot of combinations. Provided, that you would buy or find the most powerful spells that aren’t easy to obtain.
To get some Summons you have to battle with them. And Blue magic consists of monster attacks that you have to learn by becoming a target of those monsters. And for non-magic classes most powerful equipment is hidden in the dungeons.
Saving the World, Business as Usual
The Active Time Battle (ATB) system is practically identical to the previous game. Each character has ATB filling up over time, depending on job and gear. When the gauge is full, you can choose an attack or another action to perform.
Among the game’s options, there is pausing when the gauge is full, making battles effectively turn-based. Or you can turn that off and crank up gauge fill speed to make fights more intense. There is nothing as thrilling as rushing through the selection menus under pressure, right?
Funny enough, in one of the optional treasure chests there is a spell that slows time. It is a kind of slo-mo, only useful when you initially maxed out battle speed and turned off the pause.
Enemies, just like in other games in the series, ranging from basic goblins and wolves to magical creatures that are resistant (or vulnerable) to certain magic or attack types. In “boss fights” your enemy can transform during the fight. Or even read some monologue instead of an attack!
Outside combat you, as usual, explore dungeons for story progress or hidden chests with valuables. And on the world map, you can travel by foot, by ship, by chocobo and even dragon.
In fact, the dragon will be available quite early in the game. But then you’ll have to teleport to another location and leave your flying beast. And later, when you arrive at the island on the ship, it will be taken away and you’ll have to find other means of transportation. The connection between the story and exploration tightened in FFV quite a bit.
The game actually tries to diversify your experience. Dungeons and even peaceful cities can have traps, hidden passages, and even simple puzzles that lead to useful stuff. At one point you’ll have to escape the castle before it explodes. And the timer won’t even stop during the battles!
While the story became deeper compared to previous ones, it was still relatively lighthearted and straightforward. You’ll have a lot of comic relief scenes and “unexpected revelations” by Cid or other characters to advance the plot forward. It’s not a bad thing per se, just don’t expect some psychological drama in the fifth FF yet.
The part of the game I really have criticism for is the grind. That would be especially prominent if you want to level up all of your professions. Blue Mages, for example, would have to run around quite a bit to collect all monsters’ attacks in the arsenal. And some other classes wouldn’t reach their full potential without specific equipment, hidden in far corners of the world.
Job classes and certain abilities aren’t very balanced. But you won’t know that until stuck at some boss fight, as ordinary enemies usually aren’t a challenge and won’t indicate that profession you leveling up is useless.
The biggest frustration for me personally was Thief’s “Find Passages” ability that should reveal secret passages. The whole couple of passages in the entire game. But don’t think that there were no secrets at all! There were quite a few hidden chests and switches, that this “ability” never indicated.
Oh, 90-s! An era when you had free time to spend hours gaining exp in repetitive battles and check every single tile for secret passage or treasure. Today, with the amount of games you never finish in your life, even playing only best-of-the-best, such time-wasting game design doesn’t look so palpable.
Guides can help, of course, but you could stumble on spoilers there.
Verdict for Today
Despite some obsolete aspects of the game’s design remaining, remaster did help. Now you don’t have to worry about quicksave slot resetting after turning off the console. You can save mid-dungeon, exit the game and return at your convenience. And if you forgot to save – the autosave feature will do that for you. And that saved state will not go anywhere too.
Of course, the game wouldn’t be called Pixel Remaster without remastering actual graphics. Pixels are still the same size but the color palette was enhanced significantly. New animations look great, especially water.
Music was re-recorded too. Old melodies play in a new cover, not restrained by Super Nintendo or even first PlayStation hardware.
And for those who aren’t fluent in English or Japanese or just prefer your native language, the game was translated into 10 more languages. You can switch between them right from the main menu.
And speaking of the main menu. It contains a concept art and music gallery, bestiary with the description of all the monsters. Sure, this thing already was on PlayStation but still, it’s pleasant to see that jRPG fans on PC weren’t denied that.
So, for all those jRPG fans, as well as people who are new to the jRPG genre, I would sincerely recommend Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster. It is not the height of the Final Fantasy series, yet. But it’s still a fun game with a solid story, memorable characters, and (mostly) engaging gameplay. Even almost 30 years past, it is still worth playing.