With Final Fantasy V, we reach an important point in this blog’s history, since Final Fantasy V was the last game I covered on my original blog before carrying over to here. In fact, I never even finished the original journal, and I’ve gone to the trouble of demarking the point where the entries become brand new, and when Marathon Recaps goes from a verbose e-baby into a fully grown teal deer right in front of your eyes. Unfortunately, thanks to my posting certain games out of order, there are still two games left from the original blog (Final Fantasy Legend III and Mystic Quest), but we’re swiftly approaching the point where it will be all new articles all the time, and I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am.
We begin in the past. After clearing the three Legends games in one block, Kyle and I were ready to start Final Fantasy V on the PSX… only to receive word that Square was going to be re-releasing the GBA version of the game on iOS. As a result, we began a series of stall tactics, including playing No More Heroes 1 and 2 (we still haven’t finished 2…), and our first love, the Mega Man Marathon. Eventually, it came time to get to the task at hand.
Final Fantasy V has an interesting development history outside of Japan. It was never localized during the SNES era, only reaching English-speaking territories during the PlayStation era, and with a subpar localization typical of the era – or according to some sources, even worse. The game finally received a decent port in the form of the GBA release from the “Finest Fantasy for Advance” line, which had to fight off the awful reputation it had earned with the wretched port of FFIV. Thankfully it succeed, and this version in turn was ported to the iOS… but not directly.
No, to fully understand the FFV port to iOS, you have to jump all the way to the game that has been holding the final position in the Marathon for years now: Final Fantasy Dimensions (Dimensions was finally supplanted as the most recent Marathon-playable game by FFXV and its co-releases in late 2016). FFD was initially released in Japan as a cell phone game, and was ported over to smartphone with a new engine. This engine, in turn, was refined and used for FFV, and FFV’s engine was refined to remake FFVI. It’s been fun looking at these three games (I’ve been taking sneak peeks at FFD) because their evolution is very overt. It’s like watching Square Enix and their 2nd party developers master the idea of an RPG interface all over again, simply because the smartphone forces them to do so. FFV controls better than FFD, and FFVI controls better than FFV, simply because the engine was being constantly improved. Sitting in the middle, FFV is nowhere near as stiff as FFD, but also not as smooth as FFVI. It’s kind of hard to go back to after playing FFVI, but as weird as it feels to type it, the same could be said of any 80s RPG for their interface faults!
I suppose I should discuss those interface faults at the outset. The game has two sloppy issues that continue to come up. First, FFV features a scrolling list of commands on the right side of the screen that never scrolls smoothly. It generally places the commands at the top and bottom of the list only part-way onto the screen, even when you try to scroll to them (if you’re familiar with more refined touch menus, you know that you can normally slide past the end point to bring the final button further onto the screen). Oh, and because you have to touch the menu to slide it, which means you just as often hit a button instead of scroll away from them. Secondly, the game lets you move in all directions on the overworld, not on the grid, but has had at least one precision movement challenges so far, and refuses to let you into small passageways unless you thread the needle. The first entirely the developer’s fault and the latter was a problem the original Zelda dealt with back in 1986 by having Link slide around blocks he’s stuck on. Don’t make 27 year old mistakes, developers, it just makes you look silly.
But enough about controls: you want me to talk about the infamous graphics! And you’re looking for the usual vitriol this port gets, you’re going to be disappointed. While I didn’t grow up with the original art in any way, not only does the new art not bother me, but I actually think it looks great, some disappointing visual errors notwithstanding. The only real exceptions are Bartz’s awful outfit and the use of some of the original Amano portraits, which I’ll discuss as we go. Maybe I’m not the best judge of this (my standard for game art tends to be “If I can tell what’s going on, I’m fine,”) but I remember my initial reaction to the art style being positive and haven’t had any particular reason to feel differently ever since.
Screenshots in this Journal come from Tarosan’s longplay of the RPGe translation of FFV on the Super Famicom, available from World of Longplays (YouTube). Or at least… I think it’s the RPGe translation? I’m not aware of any other, but I can’t find any credit in the video or description! Did I miss it? GBA screenshots also come from World of Longplays (YouTube), this time by Valis77.
So with those iOS considerations out of the way, let’s take a look at the game itself. Final Fantasy V begins in the castle of Tycoon, a kingdom in… uh…
Actually, the game’s been doing a pretty good job of keeping us from finding Tycoon on the map, even though I get the impression that we’re supposed to know where it is!
Here, we meet the King of Tycoon, and are introduced to the fact that this remake uses the original Yoshitaka Amano character art for the talk portraits used in the game, usually cropped to a bust. (This is the case in the smartphone versions but I don’t have any screenshots from those, unfortunately). This is an odd decision. It’s not that the Amano art is unappealing, in fact it’s usually quite beautiful, but there are… concerns. Firstly, Amano’s art is often several production steps behind the finished sprites, so the details often don’t match. For example: we soon meet the Princess Lenna, one of our playable characters, who has a pink-haired sprite but is blonde in the talksprite (as it happens, all the leads are blonde in this game. In fact, Amano is quite fond of white-blond hair overall). Secondly, this concept art clearly wasn’t meant to be cropped into a talksprite bust! It just keeps getting cut off in unfortunate places. See, Amano decided to draw nearly every character in this game wearing clothes with the widest imaginable neckline imaginable. With the rest of the clothes cropped off, you can’t see how they actually fit the character’s body, it looks a bit like half the cast is wearing a something ten times their size no matter their character, rank or station, like the King of Tycoon, here. With the art cut off by the portrait box, some characters simply look naked! Others look like they picked out their best shower curtain and pinned it around their arms before striding out into the world!
We learn that the King, who besides the tent he’s using as a shirt is wearing something that looks a cross between a mardi gras mask and a Power Rangers mask, is going to take the last Wind Drake, Hiryu, to go to the Wind Shrine. His gettup is probably supposed to remind us of dragoons, though all the dragoons predating him in the series (and even the ones in this game) wore full helmets rather than domino masks, so I’m probably stretching. The king tells Lenna that he’s planning to investigate the Wind Crystal of this world, because he’s worried about its safety due to the way the wind has been behaving. He heads off, and the game begins jumping around from scene to scene at this point. To put the scenes in chronological order, the King arrives at the Crystal just in time to see it shatter into itty bitty pieces. As you can imagine, this is bad.
Joining back with the game closer to its actual start, we meet the second of our playable cast: a vagrant named Bartz. Bartz is often treated as the leader of the party in other sources (for example, he’s the token rep for the game in Dissidia), which is incredibly unfair, as the game has one of the better balanced ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. I wish Square Enix would stop implying that Bartz is somehow in charge of the others. Bartz and his chocobo companion Boco are camping for the night when they overhear a meteorite the size of a large building crash to the ground a not far to the east. When Bartz investigates, he finds Lenna in the meteor’s miles-long crash-path, making me wonder just how long she was dragged.
As Bartz pries Lenna out of the meteorite’s wake with a spatula no doubt, they chat and run into an old man they pull out from nearly under the meteorite itself (hrm, I just had a thought about that… nevermind for now). The man introduces himself as Galuf and, of course, he has amnesia. Someone has to, this was a nineties RPG. Still, when Lenna mentions the Wind Shrine, Galuf becomes convinced he was going there too, and they head off, leaving Bartz behind when Bartz admits that he just straight-up doesn’t care. Nice guy, I like him already!
Unfortunately for Bartz, Boco takes offence and brake-slams his rider straight into a wall, and Bartz’s decision is accelerated when Goblins start attacking and earthquakes begin. The meteor is apparently responsible for the earthquakes, and possibly even the Goblins, since, as we’ve learned in Final Fantasy III, earthquakes are eldritch magic that can do absolutely anything the writers want them to. The earthquakes will soon be used to explain why Lenna can’t get to the Wind Shrine, even though this forces the game to pretend nearly an entire continent’s coastline sunk beneath the waves, which seems like just a teensy bit of a stretch, no matter how dramatic your earthquake or how elaborate your imagination. Bartz fights off the Goblins (the game is an Active Time Battle game not yet all that distinct from FFIV, so I don’t have anything particular to say about it at the moment) and rushes after the others, who can’t escape the earthquake damage without the help of a Chocobo. Boco is the real hero of the hour, but when everyone wakes up a few hours early, Bartz gets all the credit. Oh well. We love you, Boco.
Deciding they had might as well stick together to find a way off of the newly-scrambled continent, our party headed north up a to a cave that had been knocked open by the landslide. That means this cave opening technically didn’t exist until a few minutes ago, yet has staircases leading into a healing spring, and a door locked on this side by a secret button, and later we came across a guard keeping watch? Oh yeah, I believe all of this. Through a hole in the cave wall, we spotted a ship still sailing on the nearby lake despite the Wind Crystal having shattered, taking out all the world’s major winds. This also left Kyle and I baffled (both here and later) that oars do not exist in this world. I recognize that they’re not going to replace sail travel, but still! This dungeon was easily the second-smallest proper dungeon in the series after the first trip to the Shrine of Chaos in FFI, so we quickly crossed it and we found a pirate wandering around. We snuck in after him, discovering his crew’s secret lair.
Inside, we snuck past the pirates (all of them asleep on their feet, moments after arriving) and spent about five minutes swapping between rooms and trying to steal the ship without success before we realized we had to approach the wheel of the ship from the opposite side. Naturally, we were immediately stopped by the pirate’s captain, who had been given a unique sprite from the beginning and was obviously important.
The captain was named Faris, and again we suffer from the new character portraits. See, Faris’ gender is supposed to be ambivalent at this point. The party refers to Faris as “sir” and “he,” while the fact that one of the pirates seems to be in love with his captain is taken in stride as the pirate being attracted to men. Unfortunately, Amano’s art wasn’t meant to be used to hide Faris’ gender in the first place, and so Faris immediately struck Kyle and I as feminine. It took us nearly an hour to even work out that our characters even had drawn another conclusion. With sprites-only on the Super Famicom, or PSX, the party’s impressions would have been the only impressions the player would have gotten, and we probably would have agreed with them, until Faris told us otherwise. As Faris does identify as a woman, so I’ll be using female pronouns from here on out, but keep in mind that Bartz, Lenna and Galuf think otherwise, because the game has to tie itself into a stupid knot about this in the next town.
Faris has the party thrown in the brig of the ship – as it turns out, there isn’t a prison in the hideout – and has them brought back out for questioning much later. There, she notices Lenna has a mysterious pendant that matches Faris’ own. I should point out at this point that Faris and Lenna at least initially seemed to have the same hair colour to me, leading me to believe they were sisters, but when Kyle first passed me the iPad, it was clear that Lenna’s was pink and Faris’ distinct in fuchsia. That said, everybody’s still blonde in their portraits, so maybe I’m not so far off. Faris agrees to take the party to the Wind Shrine, and reveals that her ship can still move without wind thanks to Syldra, a sea serpent Faris had been raised with “like a sibling.”
A pirate helpfully offered to guide us to the Wind Shrine, which was useful, though we probably would have been able to find our way just fine given that we were, like in FFI, once again in an inland body of water with nowhere else to go. Especially helpful is the fact that you do not fight random encounters on the ship, breaking in tradition with previous Final Fantasy games when it comes to ships, but keeping in line with the way all other vehicles have performed since FFIII. It makes exploration in FFV a great deal more comfortable as a result (Ed. but you later do fight encounters on the ship, so forget everything I just said!).
We travelled into the Shrine, our party now consisting of of Bartz, Lenna, Galuf and Faris, all of them, except for Faris, at Level 1. Inside, we found some of the King’s party, who were cowering in a corner of the first floor, unaware that the monsters they were afraid of weren’t even on the first floor of this dungeon. We headed up to the top, where we ran into a large bird, the Wing Raptor, who served as a brief and relatively harmless boss. It did try to pull a Mist Dragon and enter a temporarily invulnerable form that would provoke counter-attacks, but after one slip-up, the game warned me about its power (just like the Mist Dragon), and we killed it before it could even try again! While we were in the dungeon, we also learned a few things about gameplay, like that you don’t revive after a fight if you’ve been knocked out (FFL has been teaching us bad lessons), but that Phoenix Downs are purchasable anyways. Ethers were also purchasable for cheaper than they were in FFIV, but not at this point in the game.
Beyond the boss, we entered the crystal chamber and found the Wind Crystal as we had previously left it in cinematic: shattered. In the midst of the crystal chamber, we heard voices, and the distant Crystals called out to us, each identifying with a particular hero. The Crystal of Fire claimed Faris, Water claimed Lenna (odd, considering her plot connection to the Wind Shrine), Earth claimed Galuf, and the spirit of the ruined Wind Crystal claimed Bartz. Lenna’s father then appeared in a vision or ghost of some sort. I thought it was his ghost at the time, but we saw evidence of him alive later on in the game. He proclaimed the group the Light Warriors and floated away, much to Lenna’s protest. Now don’t anybody comfort her or anything! FFV has moments like this where it shows the party isn’t quite unified yet, and I appreciate what they do for characterization, but it’s still a little funny how everyone just sort of shuffles their feet rather than say anything to Lenna.
But as the King left, the remaining six shards of the Wind Crystal gathered towards us each blessing us with a new Job class. Yes, this is a Job System game, and perhaps the most famous one of them all! This was also the last Job System game for many years, though the system continued strong in the Tactics subseries, and have since returned in multiple titles. In fact, these days the Job System is almost considered a signature of Final Fantasy, despite being absent from the main, numbered games ever since FFV (it was also in FFX-2, if you want to count sequels). It goes to show just how important FFTactics is to the reputation of the series as a whole, which is why we’re just as eager to get to it as the other famous PSX games.
But first things first.