IGN Review of Final Fantasy V Advance
Don't ask me why Final Fantasy V never came out in North America, because whatever the reason for holding it back may have been, the excuse isn't good enough (especially since we were stuck playing the not-so-giggly Mystic Quest instead). Nevertheless, the guys in charge have recognized the error of their ways twice -- First with the game's release some seven years ago in the must-own PlayStation set, Final Fantasy Anthology, and now for the GBA with Final Fantasy V Advance. Oh, and in case you were wondering: this newer, more portable version of the classic RPG is a must-own too. In fact, it's the best edition yet.
But before we get into why FFV Advance stands above its counterparts, let's first take a moment to recognize what it's always been: An entertaining and surprisingly deep role-playing game.
Expanding on the limited job system first introduced in the original Final Fantasy III on NES, Final Fantasy V took the class-changing feature to another level with separate experience paths for both abilities and overall stats. More importantly, though, are the 20+ selectable professions themselves. These vocations include everything from the traditional Knight, White Mage, Monk, and Thief categories to the more exotic Time Mage, Dancer, Chemist, and Beastmaster classes. Additionally, players can swap their careers at any time and each class brings its own unique skill set and list of advantages/ disadvantages as well.
This kind of character customization makes entering combat much more interesting -- especially since some monsters will kick the bejesus out of your party if you're packing the wrong abilities. Running into beasties that can decimate your entire team in a matter of turns provides plenty of incentive to diversify your job portfolio... and given the high rate of random encounters throughout your adventure, that's an important point to remember.
At the same time, Square recognized that some classes have abilities that can prove invaluable regardless of which costume you're wearing. With that in mind, players can also switch to the freelance profession and import two different skills to mix and match talents without job-specific restrictions (via attribute bites or equipment constraints). This kind of freedom means that users can combine the "Learning" ability of the Blue Mage (which teaches your character monster attacks) with the Ninja's "Image" skill (which creates illusions of yourself to limit physical damage). But that's just one example of what you can do with the various abilities and the possibilities go on and on and on. It's a great system with an addictive edge and level grinders should love it.
Now given that the strength of this gameplay is what made Final Fantasy V such a hit with Japanese Super Famicom fans to begin with, Square Enix has gone the extra mile and added four new classes for the new GBA version. Gladiators are essentially the ultimate warriors, with the ability to equip the most powerful weapons while also using their special skills to seek out enemy weak points or take out entire groups at once. The Necromancer is an undead master of the dark arts that can be healed by death magic and can learn new spells from defeating enemies similar to the Blue Mage. The Cannoneer is a ranged fighter that uses ammunition created from combined items, while the Oracle is the most interesting new class as she's able to predict the future in battle, while also avoiding random enemy encounters. Out of the four, the dead guy and the fortune-tellers are certainly the most unique.
On the dungeon front, Final Fantasy V never did have the most creative of locations in terms of puzzles, Granted, there are a couple of areas that have hidden paths or time-sensitive challenges, but for the most part, FFV is all about getting from point A to point B in a rather straightforward fashion. The good news is that these locations are still fun to traverse and exceptionally varied in visual presentation. Castles, mountain tops, libraries, caves, deserts, and ancient ruins are just a few of the various places you'll explore. There's even a brand new dungeon known as "The Sealed Temple" that holds the key to unlocking the game's extra classes and it has some new enemies running its hall to boot. So fear not travelers, you'll have plenty of opportunities to pile up those experience points.
Assorted location types aren't the only visual aspects of Final Fantasy V worth mentioning. Fans of the old Super Famicom or PlayStation ported version should be happy to know that most of the graphics have been retouched for the GBA. Unfortunately, this is more of a paper victory since the extra effects and better backgrounds are only apparent if you study the hell out of all versions or are extremely familiar with them. There are brand new character portraits, however, and the game certainly seems to be more colorful than it was before. But let's be honest. Even without the improvements, FFV sits alongside other GBA RPGs just fine and has a surprising amount of detail with its characters and their actions.
If there's a fragile element of Final Fantasy V, it has to be the storyline. Though stronger than most portable RPG storylines, it's still one of the weakest in the series, as it doesn't have anywhere near the emotion or number of bombshell moments that its SNES brothers did. That said, it's still in possession of cool main players (Bartz the rambler, Lenna the princess, Galuf the amnesiac old man, Faris the pirate, and Krile the animal lover) and the pacing and characterization is pretty good. It's just too bad that we never get the abundance of super-shady sub-plots that FF is famous for, nor do we get an original plot driver (re: the power of the crystals is being drained, bad guy responsible must be stopped to save the world).
What we do get, however, is a much better dialogue translation than the original American version available in Final Fantasy Anthology. Faris' dumb pirate accent has been dropped, every sentence makes sense, and the occasional pop-culture jokes are actually funny. It still isn't 100% word-for-word accurate compared to the Japanese original, of course, but it's still better than what we had before. Square Enix has even thrown a bestiary (much like the one found in last year's FF4 Advance), additional items and monsters, a jukebox music player (which, by the way, plays some very strong compositions. Good job Uematsu!), and a few other bells and whistles. You can even use the quick save function if you have an emergency stop so that you can pick up right where you left off.
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