So this is the game we didn’t get. In a way, Final Fantasy V was the anti-Mystic Quest. While the gameplay of Mystic Quest was boiled down to the bare bones, and then thrown back into the pot for more, Final Fantasy V added a whole new element of challenge by taking the job system from III and giving it a further strategic angle by making it possible to mix and match different skills from the different “jobs” as well as throwing in a host of new jobs that somewhat take the series away from its Dungeons and Dragons roots. Not only can you be a black mage or a samurai, but now you can also have a party of beastmasters, mimes, and dancers. There really isn’t much cooler than having a bunch of dancers kick the ass of a killer mech.
But…I never really got into this one, at least to the point where I feel strongly about it the way I feel about IV and (as you’ll see) VI.
Don’t get me wrong. I still think the Super Famicon/Nintendo trilogy is the peak of the series, and that Final Fantasy V is a great game on its own. Plus maybe part of the problem is that the nostalgia factor just isn’t there; like the other “lost” Final Fantasies I didn’t get to play this one until much later. But after the tour de force that was IV the plot seems a little hollow. A traveler Bartz (still better than his name in early fan translations, “Butz”) stumbles across a meteor/ship piloted by an amnesiac named Galuf. The two later team up with a princess seeking to rescue her lost father, Lenna, and Faris, a cross-dressing pirate, to stop the destruction of the Elemental Crystals which are the only things preventing the resurrection of the evil Exdeath (obviously they don’t succeed with that bit). I mean, yes, IV had a cliched evil wizard villain like V’s Exdeath (well, really, Exedes, but “Exdeath” is a lot more fun to write), but IV ‘s Golbez at least had an aura of mystery surrounding him and his motives, leading up to a couple of genuine plot twists. With Exdeath…well, he wants to unlock the power of oblivion so that he could make himself a god. And the only twist here is that Exdeath is a tree – one that has been possessed by dozens if not hundreds of exorcised demons and spirits, yes, but still a tree. Well, tree or not, at least he got a pretty awesome theme song:
I should make it clear, though, that I’ve got nothing against this game. Especially since it gave us Gilgamesh, everyone’s favorite clueless collector of knock-off swords who seems to be one of the few things tying together the series’ different worlds together. Then there’s the fact that, despite my criticism of the plot and even though the cast is smaller than IV, V does a really good job making the characters look…well, like real characters, giving them authentic relationships and motives (if you don’t get at least a little sentimental during Bartz’s flashback, when “Music Box” plays, you are a soulless monster!).
Enough expository banter, let me admit that I do like, even love, this game. It’s just for some reason I can’t be as passionate about it as I am with other installments in the series. Maybe the series’ formula was wearing a little thin, maybe there just wasn’t enough to distinguish it from the past games in the series, in which case Final Fantasy VI would prove to be just what the doctor ordered…