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Final Fantasy V (1992)

Final Fantasy V (1992)

Final Fantasy V: the Super Nintendo game that never was. At least not in North America and Europe. Fretting that the title’s unprecedented mechanical complexity might alienate Western audiences, developer Square cancelled the game’s worldwide release, thereby confining Bartz, Lenna, Galuf and Faris to the Japanese islands until the 5th anniversary of their adventure.

In the gaming hive-mind, Final Fantasy V (FFV) is remembered for dust-binning the hardlocked, immutable character classes that had theretofore dominated role-playing adventures. Instead, FFV introduced a system of “jobs” – or interchangeable character specialisations – to reinvigorate an ageing and increasingly stale turn-based combat formula. Featuring a total of 22 specialisations, from Dragoon to Summoner to Dancer, all with special abilities transferable between classes, FFV permitted an outrageous level of character customisation for the era.1 This daring formula hit the ground running in Japan, where Final Fantasy V sold over two million copies.

In the collective consciousness of history, however, Final Fantasy V’s status is closer to forgotten middle child sandwiched between the stately FFIV and surrealist juggernaut FFVI, and seldom celebrated as milestone accomplishment in its own right  It’s not difficult to discern multiple causes. First, FFV’s want of a Western release restricted Occidental engagement with the game to eyeballing glossy screencaps in gaming digests. Can’t don nostalgia-tinted glasses for a game you’ve never played! Moreover, successive Final Fantasy titles shelved the fine-tuned freedoms of character specialisation, removing the possibility for throwback and hurting any immediate legacy FFV might have had. For over a decade, then, FFV remained an oddball package of RPG experimentality, a relic of an era when developer budgets were smaller and studios bolder.

Neither of those factors are nails in the coffin of enduring popularity, though. Mother 3 never saw a Western release, but nonetheless sports a cult following to rival any Tim Schafer adventure game. And the Tactics Ogre-series only forayed into grand strategy once with March of the Black Queen, yet we regard that title with unfailing reverence. No, I think the fundamental reason why even today Final Fantasy V is not held in remotely equal esteem to its bookend siblings2 despite multiple re-releases in English is because – for all its mechanical prowess – FFV‘s storytelling is simply abysmal. From the crude presentation of its central conflict to bland personalities to an unsatisfyingly shallow wonderland, Final Fantasy V executes its narrative and creative beats in remarkably primitive fashion, putting a damper on the entire experience.
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  1. Technically speaking, FFV took a leaf out of Final Fantasy III‘s book for NES, which had already experimented with interchangeable professions, albeit to limited scope and mixed success.
  2. Although FFV recently caught the eye of Kotaku’s Jason’s Schreier, who gave it a little bit of overdue love.
Posted by ChronoCritic in Retrospectives