Well, this is it. I’ve done a pretty big amount of hyping for Final Fantasy V, calling it my favorite. So it’s time to put my gil where my mouth is and see if I can sell you all on what I consider the best classic Final Fantasy entry.
GENRE: Job System JRPG 2.0
So, I want to start off by saying that as much as I love Final Fantasy V, I will admit it had some issues about it in the SNES days. One of the biggest issues? It never came out here until the relatively bad Playstation port, which gave us 5 and 6 in a single package. There was also a less than stellar mobile port, a GBA port, but each of them had issues. The mobile (and also at the time PC port) had major graphical issues and a questionable art style. The GBA had inferior audio quality. And even then, the SNES version’s graphic and audio quality didn’t quite hold up to the last entry, Final Fantasy IV.
I always said that of all the games in the FF1-6 Pixel Remaster series, Final Fantasy V was the game that needed it the most. Because it deserved better, more colorful and detailed graphics. It deserved better quality audio samples for its incredibly well composed score that used an oddly inferior set of samples compared to Final Fantasy IV and VI. And that’s what Final Fantasy V gave us, in my opinion: The definitive Final Fantasy V experience that gives us what Final Fantasy V should have been presentation wise all those years ago.
So, if I feel like the game’s had issues with its original version’s quality, and the ports weren’t so hot, why do I consider it the best one? Why is it my favorite? Because it is, in my opinion, the most fun to play. We’ll get into that after establishing the premise.
Final Fantasy V once again follows four heroes chosen by the Crystals to save the world. Unlike Final Fantasy 1 and 3 however, our heroes have established names, genders, and backgrounds. But unlike Final Fantasy 4, they are completely clean slates in terms of their combat abilities, no unique skills or magic, or anything to define them as a “class.” This changes shortly after our heroes discover the Wind Crystal has completely shattered, and thus the power of Wind is beginning to fade from the world. But the shards of the Wind Crystal still have power, and offer that power to our four protags, allowing them to learn the skills of ancient heroes. In other words, it’s Final Fantasy 3’s job system again! But this time, it’s way, WAY better. Why? Let’s get into that, it’s very much the meat of this game.
In Final Fantasy V, you are able to freely assign any job you have learned from a Crystal at any time out of combat. Your job determines your main ability and what gear you can equip. A Knight for example can use swords and the heaviest of armor while also protecting low HP allies, while a Black Mage will wield Rods and rely on their Black Magic to wipe out entire groups at once. It sounds familiar, until you learn that the job system goes MUCH deeper this time around due to a unique new feature: A secondary ability. Any passive or active ability you learn from a job can now be equipped to ANOTHER job via this secondary slot. This means for example, you could create a Knight who has spent some time leveling up White Mage beforehand, and thus is able to equip White Magic as their secondary ability, creating a would be Paladin build capable of attacking, defending, AND healing.
This is Final Fantasy V’s biggest defining feature, and it does an absolutely amazing job with it (..Heh). The secondary ability slot is an absolute game changer, because now it means you can effectively make a large variety of builds for our four heroes where it’s not just about the chosen equipment, but also what secondary ability they use. A Knight that can heal with White Magic. A Monk that can also Steal from foes. A White Mage capable of using their bare fists as effectively as a Monk. These are just basic examples of what the early game offers you
Though I have to also go into detail about one of the most important early jobs: I say this because the job was introduced in Final Fantasy V, but would become a staple in almost all games after it: The Blue Mage, who uses Blue Magic. But what IS Blue Magic you ask? It’s actually an incredibly broad school of magic in Final Fantasy because it’s made up of unique skills used by enemies, which are learned by being struck by the spell rather than purchasing it or learning it from level ups. Blue Magic is VAST in what it can do. It has tools for healing, support, dealing damage, locking down foes, if you actually take the time to learn everything, the flexibility of Blue Magic becomes absolutely insane. When you consider all the stuff the job system gives in the way of possibilities on top of this, it’s easy to see why Blue Magic is a great addition, even if it is a bit difficult to learn at times.
Another great thing about the job system is that this time jobs feel way less like a “use it for one boss” gimmick than they did in Final Fantasy 3. Are some jobs better than others? Absolutely. But you won’t be seeing a boss that requires a Four Dragoon setup to beat, only to never use that job again like in Final Fantasy III.
Another thing I didn’t really go into back with Final Fantasy IV but should have is how much better the dungeon design is, and that carries over to Final Fantasy V. Dungeons are mostly straightforward in their design but still have side paths with loot to reward people willing to explore. They also lack excessive dead ends that force you to spend more time in a dungeon than you want, though some of these dungeons do get pretty lengthy. The point is, the dungeon design is VERY good.
The world map design is also particularly improved, with multiple optional locations to visit that offer their own rewards, like job specific tools or abilities. While certainly not an open world, it’s nice that the world actually has places to check out beyond the mandatory dungeons and towns that the story brings you to, even if it’s just a few such places.
I should note that the game is broken up into three acts, with acts 1 and 2 being mostly linear with a few side options here and there, but act 3 (The endgame) is where things REALLY open up and become interesting, with some later Final Fantasy games and other JRPGs taking heavy influence from this design approach. I am going to talk about some elements of Act 3, but not the actual plot or specifics of it.
The third act of Final Fantasy V is a big deal, because shortly after it begins, you get an airship and are told to basically go wherever you want. If you’re crazy, you can head straight to the final dungeon (And probably die…). But you also have four key objectives to tackle in Act 3 (one of them is done before you get your airship) and several other smaller goals, some optional, some tied to the main goals. The big deal here is you have a pretty open third act that that lets you go straight to the end, or actually do the things you’re advised to do so you stand a chance against the final battles of the game. A lot of side questing is in this third act as well, so there’s a good chance you may just flat out miss things if you aren’t the type to explore every corner of the world. By the time you’ve gotten here, you’ll also have a massive job list, which means the possibilities almost feel endless. Countless jobs and abilities are at your disposal with four people to use them on, meaning a ton of party configs are a thing.
Honestly, the Job System alone is what gives massive replayability to this game, especially with a type of Challenge Run that has spawned from it: Four Job Fiesta. While there are varying versions of it, the overall idea is the same: You get four jobs chosen at random, and they’re the ONLY jobs you get to use. This means strategies you may have relied on with a specific build are no longer possible, and you’ll have to figure out new strategies to overcome the challenges you face. I’ll admit, I’ve never done a 4JF run, but I need to fix that.
Admittedly, the story doesn’t get quite as deep as Final Fantasy IV, or Final Fantasy VI which came after, but it’s still a good story for what it is as we follow four heroes chosen by the crystals, each from a very different walk of life. A free-spirited adventurer who goes where the wind takes him, an old man with no memory, a royal princess, and a foul mouthed pirate who I’ll leave up to you to learn more about. Each of their own stories comes into play throughout the story that ties them all together, and we’ve got a pretty good supporting cast too. And while I’ll admit the big bad isn’t my favorite, their underling Gilgamesh on the other hand is one of my favorite characters in Final Fantasy. He’s apparently a favorite in Final Fantasy’s development circles as well, considering he’s shown up in multiple games after V! Having a really good theme also helps.
The music, as I said, was well composed at the time, but in terms of sample quality, felt lacking compared to Final Fantasy IV’s incredible sound quality on the SNES. Final Fantasy V’s pixel remaster fixed this by using proper instruments, giving its well composed but technically questionable soundtrack the treatment it has deserved for years.
That’s not to say this game is free of problems, because it *does* have some that I’ll mention, though none of these are a deal breaker in any way.
The first problem is that Final Fantasy V absolutely has a meta, and it’s very easy to fall into the trap of using that meta once you learn about it. The meta builds of Final Fantasy V will absolutely destroy the endgame if you’re willing to do the grind work required to make them? Even a party with an average level less than 40 can kill the two optional endgame superbosses if they use the meta builds, overpowered is a vast understatement here. I actually recommend not reading any guides about character building if you want to avoid this trap, though if you learn about what abilities some jobs have, you’ll probably easily figure out the meta on your own.
The other problem is that switching jobs is a bit of a hassle, because you only have two options for equipment when you do so: Automatically equip the “best” equipment, or unequip everything and then re-equip manually. The problem with auto-equipping is that “Best” gear isn’t always that. The game doesn’t consider potential negatives that come with gear, such as an infamous head piece with great stats, but it makes you take damage on a regular basis as if you were poisoned, but this damage can’t be stopped unless you take the head gear in question off, which can’t be done in battle.
Again, not deal breakers, but still annoyances, and I wish the remaster could have done something about the second like placing gear with major downsides lower on the auto equip priority list.
But even with those problems, it doesn’t change the fact Final Fantasy V is my favorite game in the Pixel Remaster series, and my favorite Final Fantasy game period. Final Fantasy V gives you a massive set of tools to use to create pretty much any party you want while still having each character be more than just a person you slap weapons and abilities onto. It takes the four named heroes idea of Final Fantasy II and actually makes it work this time by giving each character their own story and reason to be invested in them. The job system and the sheer customization it gives you in terms of character builds is so darned good it has been used in several other games such as the Bravely Default series, Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy Tactics to name a few of them. The game manages to be challenging, but not overly so since many tough battles do have ideal job setups that can absolutely wreck them, but those job setups are hardly *required* to beat the game, as the 4 Job Fiesta challenge run exists. The fact there’s so many possible builds is one reason I come back to Final Fantasy V as often as I do, even if I usually fall back into my usual setups that I feel comfortable with, but that’s a me thing.
Many consider Final Fantasy V underrated since it didn’t get any proper exposure in the US until the Playstation era, or you happened to know about emulation and fan translations and grabbed one for the SNES version of the game. I definitely agree, because in terms of the SNES generation Final Fantasy titles, it’s usually VI that gets all the love, which is very much well deserved love mind you. But at the same time, I feel that the love of VI greatly overshadows just how great of a game Final Fantasy V is. At the end of the day though, if I can say anything, it’s this:
If you want a Final Fantasy that captures so much of why people love this series not just for the worlds and characters, but just how darned fun the games can be to play and experiment in? Final Fantasy V is in a class all its own and absolutely a solid recommendation from me no matter what version you play, even if it’s the really bad Playstation port…But seriously just go track down a GBA copy or play the Pixel Remaster on Steam.