The definitive version of a definitive game.
During the 16-bit days, Final Fantasy V was considered inaccessible to the average gamer due to its in-depth character customization. It was once scheduled for release as Final Fantasy Extreme, but that never came to pass. Though it was fan-translated earlier, Final Fantasy V first saw an official English release as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology on PlayStation, a version plagued by load times and a mediocre translation. Now in its third release, but in its first appearance on a US Nintendo system, Final Fantasy V Advance is billed as the finest version of the game by Square-Enix.
Final Fantasy V occupies an interesting position, not so epic as the following games in the series, yet not as simple as its predecessors. The four familiar elemental crystals which power the world with the elements of wind, water, fire, and earth are in trouble. The wind crystal has already shattered, and mysterious meteors are falling from the sky. Starring a wandering traveler and his chocobo, a princess, a pirate, and an old man with amnesia, Final Fantasy V tells the story of four heroes, each from completely different backgrounds, tied together by destiny to save the world.
FFV Advance starts off with a new sprite version of its introduction, which is partly based on the PlayStation FMV, but with text added to give a little story background. Personally, I miss the simple Super Famicom intro, which had the traveler riding his chocobo with the game’s theme song playing in the background and where none of the story was revealed. It seemed more epic that way. On the bright side, that’s basically the only gripe I have with the game.
FFVA sports an all-new translation. Not keeping themselves constrained to a literal translation, the translators did an excellent job converting the script into an equivalent English rendition of the game. Purists might complain, but the underlying tones are kept intact while making it a more enjoyable read for English speakers. Even more importantly, the oft-chided pirate speak given to Faris in the PlayStation version has been replaced. Gone are the days of Nintendo censoring, with the party receiving a lap dance in the first inn and a fair amount of gay subtext and sexual innuendo remaining intact. Final Fantasy V always seemed to take itself less seriously than many other Final Fantasy games, and it has many light and humorous moments.
The key feature of Final Fantasy V is its complex job system. Rather than having characters with locked-in roles, players can choose to be a knight, black mage, white mage, or any one of dozens of other jobs. Four new jobs have been added in Final Fantasy V Advance. What was groundbreaking in FFV was the ability to switch job classes while keeping the abilities of previous classes. Unlike standard RPGs where experience levels are increased, FFV also awards ability points, which are applied to the particular job that a character has at the time. With more experience, characters learn abilities within their job class. Once learned, one of these abilities may be “equipped" and will appear in the battle menu under the standard “Attack" option. For example, players can have a monk with the ability to cast magic or summon beasts. The micromanagement of abilities that was once considered too complicated is now lauded for its depth and diversity. The system certainly gives the game more personality and requires more thought for successful battle plans.
Final Fantasy IV Advance was infamous for its battle system glitches and lag. Thankfully, Tose seems to have nailed the port this time around, as everything about the game is smooth and responsive. Final Fantasy V uses the classic Active Time Battle system found in most Final Fantasy games. The requirement of needing a thief ability to run has been removed, making the game progress much more rapidly. This tweaking is particularly welcome since the focus of Final Fantasy V is primarily on battles. With much time spent selecting abilities and weapons, it is nice that the rest of the game plays quickly.
The challenge of the original remains intact as well; many battles will require careful planning and leveling-up, another testament of old school RPGs. Besides the normal, sparsely distributed save points, a “quicksave" option is available for saving at any time. However, once the quicksave is loaded, it is erased, so players can’t use it to cheat their way through battle mishaps.
Compared to the cinematic experiences of today’s Final Fantasy games, the story of Final Fantasy V is relatively simplistic. However, there is still a good deal of character development and obligatory plot twists. Similar to the other GBA Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy V Advance includes a new dungeon designed to give players one further challenge in the game. As a slightly enhanced port, the choice to include a few new jobs and a new dungeon were good choices in keeping the classic game play and story intact while adding a few bonuses. The bestiary is sure to please completionists and fans alike, and the sound test is always welcome when it comes to Uematsu soundtracks.
The GBA is nearly dead in terms of new releases, and Mother 3 notwithstanding, there are few games I’d rather see close the Game Boy chapter than Final Fantasy V and VI. Simply put, Final Fantasy V Advance is the definitive version of an already great game, and in the shadow of other Final Fantasy releases, should not be missed.