FFV and the Joy of Feeling Competent

I have mentioned it from time to time, but over the last few years, I’ve been trying to catch up on a whole bunch of retro games I had missed.  And at this point, I’m largely done.  Sure, there are definitely more retro games out there that I should play one day, but as for the games I really wanted to check off my list, this goal has been met.  Final Fantasy 4-9, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, EarthBound, Super Metroid, Super Mario RPG, all present and accounted for.  The last one on my list to play was Final Fantasy V, which, like Final Fantasy IV, is probably pretty obscure for anyone who hasn’t been playing Final Fantasy since the beginning.  (Thank you, Kingdom Hearts.  You introduced even non-Final Fantasy fans to characters like Cloud and Squall, but not once do you mention FF6 and prior.  With the exception of Setzer, of all people.  Setzer.)

Final Fantasy 4 and 5 were the only games not explicitly on my list, but they came with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6, respectively, and who am I to pass up on an essentially free pair of games?  While FF4 was merely to pass the time and to say with confidence that, yes, I’ve played Final Fantasy 4, I must say that I enjoyed Final Fantasy 5 far more than I expected to.  Let me summarize the game a bit for anyone who might not be familiar with it.

First off, this game has five main characters, though only four are playable at a time.  These characters are Bartz (he is the main character, and to be honest, he’s a bit of a jerk), the princess Reina, a mysterious old man named Galuf, the pirate captain Faris, and a fifth character who gains importance later, a girl named Krile.  Story-wise, well, this game (and FF4, as well) really cemented in my mind the realization that Squaresoft/Square Enix are obsessed with crystals.  I can’t say how I didn’t notice before, but oh my gosh, crystals.  Crystals, crystals, crystals.  In this game’s crystal-themed story, the four crystals that represent the world’s four main elements are in danger of shattering.  In fact, at risk of spoilers, they do indeed, but I feel no need to hide such a detail because there is so much more to this game than just these silly crystals.  In fact, over the course of the game, our heroes end up traveling about a total of three worlds (and then again, they kind of don’t, but in order to understand this, you’d need to play the game yourself).

That probably hasn’t told you much, though, has it?  To be honest, Final Fantasy 5 has a lot of the usual stuff you’d expect from such a story.  Some powerful villain whose existence threatens the entire world.  A bunch of heroes bent on stopping said villain and only managing to do so when things look most dire.  There are interesting twists from time to time, but there’s nothing revolutionary about this game’s story or collection of characters.  Nevertheless, I still very much enjoyed this game far more than I did FF4, which left me feeling largely indifferent.  In fact, FF5 nearly made me cry several times, so that has to count for something.  The game, in general, is entertaining.  Its true strength, however, lies not in its story or its characters but in its gameplay.

I’ve heard of it before, but I’ve never seen it presented in such a plain and simple style as in this game.  The job system.  Jobs are often present in Final Fantasy games, even when it is not explicitly stated as such.  Sometimes characters can be guided to learn different abilities related to a certain job, like white magic or the ability to steal from enemies, or they might already come equipped with specific abilities that no one else has.  (In fact, these jobs are clearly present in FF4.  You simply didn’t get to choose them yourself.)  But I’ve never played an RPG with a job system quite like the one in FF5, and I loved it.  Your characters start off as blank slates, and you are entirely in control of choosing for them what abilities you want them to have.  Throughout the game, you gain more jobs with even more interesting abilities.  You never know what you might learn, so it pays to experiment and level up a certain job to see what you’ll get.  For example, the Lancer gets the Lance ability to drain HP and MP from enemies, while the Ninja can equip two weapons instead of just one.

Jobs level up separately from your characters, with experience being used to level up like usual, while ABP is used to level up whatever job your characters currently have, making each battle feel twice as meaningful.  Jobs also allowed the battles to constantly feel fresh and different because my characters frequently changed jobs and abilities, and I wasn’t just mindlessly implementing the exact same strategy with every single enemy I encountered.  Yeah, it’s not the most brilliant thing ever devised, but the job system played a large role in helping me to really enjoy this game.

I think my favorite thing about the job system, however, was that it finally made me feel like I was actually good at a Final Fantasy game.  I’ve mentioned before that I am usually pretty cruddy at RPGs.  I largely get through them by leveling up until I’m tougher than the enemies I’m currently facing.  I think this is the first Final Fantasy game that really motivated me to experiment and try things I wouldn’t normally consider.  I leveled up different jobs to see what they would do instead of only sticking with the basic White Mage, Black Mage, Knight.  And because different jobs had different strengths and weaknesses, I also tried out different strategies against tough bosses until I figured out what worked rather than falling back on the old “level up ten levels and try again” method.

After a while, I was nearly invincible, for I eventually had Black and White Mages with the Lance ability, so I could use powerful spells to defeat my enemies with ease, not to mention I could heal whenever I needed, and then I’d replenish my MP with Lance.  Honestly, some of the abilities in this game made everything a bit too easy sometimes.  While my excessive use of Lance got me through the final level of the game without tons of difficulty, it wasn’t sufficient for the final boss.  What won me that battle was Gil Toss and Bahamut.  I mean, you pretty much can’t lose with Gil Toss (Bahamut was really just thrown in there to spice things up).  Now, to be honest, I can’t say I strayed super far from what I was comfortable with when it came to my battle strategies, as I still largely relied on basic magic, summons, and physical attacks, but it was certainly a step in the right direction and something I’d like to take further during my next RPG excursion.

In the end, Final Fantasy 5 was a lot of fun.  The story and characters may not have really stood out all that much, but this game is just plain, old retro RPG goodness with a job system that actually made me feel like a competent RPG-gamer for once.  Not sucking at an RPG, and having actually successful strategies in place that didn’t just rely on brute force, was pretty sweet.  I have since decided to begin my second playthrough of Final Fantasy 12 now that I’m done catching up on some of the older Final Fantasy games, and I don’t simply intend on playing the game.  I intend to excel at it.  Thanks, FF5, for boosting my confidence!

There Should Be a Duck-Related Job…Not All Jobs Have to Be Useful, Right?

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