by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
I have a confession to make. My favorite character in the Final Fantasy franchise comes from Final Fantasy V. That’s not the confession, however; it’s that I’ve never really gotten terribly deep into the game. Final Fantasy V was initially released in Japan and all plans were made to bring it to North America, even going so far as appearing in Squaresoft’s newsletter, the Ogopogo Examiner, in 1993 as being translated and coming soon. Alas, we never actually got that version in the West. The first time Final Fantasy V would show up was on the Playstation, which many people argue is the worst version of the game. Various fan translations and official versions have come and gone over the years, and so I stand now on a precipice. Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster has just been released, but can I actually manage to get past whatever was holding me back from experiencing the game in full all those years ago?
The game is a remaster of a Super Famicon/Nintendo game of nearly 30 years, but the pixel graphics and backgrounds have been recreated using modern technologies. This creates a much more vibrant world where water isn’t constrained to a single tile in the set, and objects that glow, like the series staple elemental crystals, shine with a gorgeous hue. Colors feel much more natural and warm than before, likely due to the lack of CRT filtering necessary for games of that era. Spells and summons have also received a similar treatment, feeling much more vibrant and magical.
Like other Final Fantasy pixel remasters, FFV also received an updated soundtrack to go with the graphical improvements. Gone are the limitations of the SFC/SNES sound chip, providing people with a much more crisp, modern feel. I did notice this made some songs, like the boss music, a bit less intense, as bass notes don’t seem to hit quite the same as they did when the SNES was current. Still, the remastered soundtrack is a welcome addition — one you can also experience whenever you wish through a main menu option, too!
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Final Fantasy V, allow me to sum up succinctly. The King of Tycoon senses something wrong with the Wind Crystal, and heads off to the shrine nearby to check on it. His daughter, the princess Lenna, also senses something amiss and takes off after him, only to be thwarted by a meteor that crash lands nearby. This gets the attention of adventurer Bartz who goes to investigate the meteor crash site with his trusty chocobo Boco. Bartz rescues Lenna from goblins and the two meet Galuf, who’s apparently lost his memories. They end up traveling together as Bartz once more rescues Lenna from goblins. They travel through a cave only to find its occupied by pirates led by their captain, Faris. Thus the party sets forth to save the crystals and the world itself, through many trials and tribulations.
Yes, it’s quite cliche, but the character moments between the party range from heartwarming and touching to hilarious. Despite being 16 bit pixels, the characters have a wide range of expressions that lend a ton of feeling to each scene. Never underestimate the power of a simple lowered head to convey major emotion (because that’s all they really had back in the day as far as emotive animation went).
Now that we’ve dealt with the story, let’s talk combat! Final Fantasy V uses an active time battle system, ATB for short. Once a character’s ATB bar is full, they can select from one of several actions, from the basic attack command to using items, magic, and skills, or defending or swapping lines from front to back and vice versa. Enemies are also acting during this time, causing you to need to react appropriately so your party doesn’t fall.
This system starts simply enough, but quickly becomes a lot more complicated when job classes are introduced. Your characters start as a default freelancer class, but when you get crystal shards you unlock different job classes such as knight, monk, white mage, black mage, and many more. Mixing and matching these jobs is crucial for success across the game. The more a character uses a job in battle, the more powerful it becomes as you accumulate ability points (APB) from winning fights. Each job has different abilities and skills to unlock, which you can choose one of to use on a different job when you change job classes. For example, you can have a white mage that knows black magic should you want them to have a little more combat oomph.
One welcome feature I found was the inclusion of maps for every town and dungeon in the game. They’re detailed enough to find your way, but not so much that any and all secret passages are spoiled either. There’s also a feature to see how many chests and hidden items you’ve found in each area, very useful for completionists like myself.
Environments are also varied from typical RPGs, especially of the time. Aside from typical towns, castles, caves, and dungeons, you’ll also traverse the inner workings of a steam ship, lost ruins of a technologically advanced civilization, a haunting ship graveyard, and much, much more. That was always one of the strengths of the SFC/SNES Final Fantasy games to me: you were always looking forward to seeing where you’d explore next.
Final Fantasy V is an enduring title. To this day there’s a yearly event for charity that challenges players to complete the game with only four job classes out of the 21 available. The characters, stories, and especially the villains, are super memorable, unique, and entertaining. Having a version of the game done in a retro style with modern improvements is certainly a welcome addition to any Final Fantasy fan. However, be aware this is a remaster of the original version, and no content from the Gameboy Advance remake is available, should that influence your decision to purchase. There are also a small handful of bugs and oversights the team plans on correcting in the near future, but overall the game is a solid, retro experience enjoyable from start to finish with a difficulty that still feels just right even today.
Note: A copy of the game was provided for review.