Final Fantasy V, the fifth mainline entry in the Final Fantasy series of games, is the fifth mainline entry in the Final Fantasy series of games. Its original release represented a culmination of sorts and, in a sense, really was a final fantasy. Much like the prior ones it built upon and furthered what came before. Its aesthetic appearance held greater detail and atmosphere, as did the sound and in some ways the plotting. Whilst its original release was not available outside of Japan (unless you grappled with methods often considered mischievous), it saw gradual release on various devices, with some versions better received than others.
Now (or, at least a good few months ago) Final Fantasy V sees itself re-re-re-re-re-released as the fifth entry as part of The Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series, which focuses on providing the first six Final Fantasy games a fresh coat of old paint.
The plot is thus: Portent! All is fine in the land of the world, until one day there is something wrong with the wind. A KNNNG sets out to take stock of the wind crystal, one of the four crystals sustaining the world’s elements. After a wait full of concern, their heir apparent sets out to find them. Soon, and at a conveniently-timed meteor they meet with an adventurer and their comrade chocobo, and an elderly amnesiac. It’s not long before the three team up with a pirate in order to go on a jaunt that is not always merry.
Often when playing Final Fantasy V the focus is more on gameplay. Likely that has a lot to do with the job system and occasional plot silliness. That said, this is not a game that skimps on its story. There are a lot of lighthearted moments and an overall optimistic tone, but Final Fantasy V isn’t afraid of darkness; it’s just not willing to launch right into the heavy stuff. Instead it more hints at something ominous and builds toward full revealing.
Exploration is much like what came before, and with that said it’s pretty much the exact same as what came before. You wander around on the world map, go into a town or dungeon, you get some plot, move to the next thing and so on and so forth. This often cycles pretty smoothly in part due to how the world map segments itself; it feels expansive whilst remaining mostly linear. At points the game opens up and allows discovery of optional stuff, often at times when it feels like a good time to do so.
Towns serve little else outside of resupply and some plot progression. However, in terms of aesthetic there’s a good amount of detail in structure and layout. There is less variation in town visuals than Final Fantasy IV, but but they still feel like something a bit more than just a strictly utilitarian waypoint.
The dungeons themselves are often pretty straightforward but also vary a fair bit. You’ve caves, mountains, temples, ancient civilisation-type stuff, forests, towers… you’ve got a few different areas. You’ve ships left to dereliction… Anyway, a lot of them sit well with the setting, feeling like more than something plonked down in an area. Generally they’re long enough to allow some sort of challenge whilst short enough to not drag. Sometimes there’s a puzzle, though they’re pretty minor and overall the main challenge for getting through dungeons comes from combat.
The basics of combat in Final Fantasy V are simple; reach the end of a dispute active and your enemies inert. Abetting this is the returning active time battle system which allows for selecting actions once a character’s turn bar fills. This time around most actions (including magic) are quick, if not instant to occur. Some actions have a charge time before they execute, but it’s nothing unmanageable.
The big thing this time around is the return of the job system. Simple stuff again; moving through the game gets you more jobs and you can change them around outside of battle. You have your standard knight, mage and thief. You also have a bunch that aren’t necessarily standard, such as dancer and geomancer. Each job has its own set of abilities which become available through levelling up each job. They also all have at least one empty ability slot for equipping any learned ability. You could set yourself up with, say, a white mage who can steal. You could also have a monk who can summon a random summon monster.
Because of this there’s a great deal of flexibility, leading to a fair bit of player control regarding challenge. Battles (especially boss battles) can end quickly; they can also drag out if you so wish. Whilst there are some checks and balances in place, they don’t inhibit the ability to play around too much, so there’s a lot of freedom to screw around with job and ability setup. This also impacts the addition of auto-battle as, depending on your setup you likely will end up actively managing battles more often than not.
As it did way back, this version of Final Fantasy V looks good. In part this is due to the light colour palette helping to instill a sense of whimsy and magic, and reinforcing the idea of adventure. There’s enough detail to give the environment a more complex look than in previous games, but it’s not overbearing. It’s just enough to help better sell the environments as believable.
The palette and level of detail also helps the character and enemy sprites fit the game’s aesthetic pretty well. There’s a vibrancy that comes through both in and out of combat, and the characters’ expressiveness comes through clearly. The enemies often look fitting for the environments in which they appear… you get the idea. Ultimately Final Fantasy V looks pretty good, and this version keeps the aesthetic intact through appeal to nostalgia
The soundtrack is pretty strong; it’s probably one of the stronger ones from The Pixel Remaster series. The choice of instrumentation seems much more considered, though some choices are a bit iffy. Additionally, added segments to tracks feel quite fitting and often make sense. Some of the stuff that Nobuo was doing when Final Fantasy V was first released was (relatively) pretty experimental and those tracks still work pretty well when used. The more “standard” stuff also fits well, such as town music capturing a sense of humbleness or liveliness where required.
Some tracks hold a jauntier feel and keep a sense of adventure going. Others, such as some of the battle themes, make good use of brass to keep a lively and upbeat thrust moving throughout their appearance. There’s mystery, there’s magic and overall it’s one of the stronger soundtrack adaptations.
If there is one thing that has detrimentally impacts Final Fantasy V, it’s the pop culture references. Some are congruent with characterisation (“It’s morphing time!!!”), but in general they serve to date the game more than it should. At some point there are going to be people who play this and, likely due to the passage of time, will find a turtle making an offhand remark about eating pizza jarring. It feels forced now and it will likely feel forced then, but maybe for different reasons.
Admittedly the references are a pretty small thing in a game that’s more than a place in history. Final Fantasy V carries themes based around resource exploitation, sacrifice and determination. It also has a flexible job system that allows for creativity, and it moves at a pretty good pace. It doesn’t pull punches but it doesn’t drown in darkness. As such, Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster is easy to recommend.
Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster is available on Steam and various app stores. Additionally it will be available on Switch and PS4 on April 19th 2023.