Retro Review: Final Fantasy V Advance (GBA)

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RPGs have a special place in my heart as a gamer. One of the earliest Final Fantasy games I played was Final Fantasy IV. What was interesting about this was the game was originally titled Final Fantasy II in the west. Also, of note, Final Fantasy VI was originally titled Final Fantasy III in the US as well. So, what happened to Final Fantasy V? It wasn’t released on the original hardware outside of Japan, and wasn’t made available till the original PlayStation. Today I will be covering the first (and only) version of Final Fantasy V that I played, Final Fantasy V Advance for the Game Boy Advance.

FFVbattle

At first, Final Fantasy V looks pretty basic with attack and healing turn based combat. However, after defeating the first boss, it is revealed that this game has a complex job change system. For those familiar with RPGs, the job change system from Final Fantasy V allows you to change each character’s job (frequently called classes in other RPGs), and also allows you to combine abilities learned from other jobs. This is the first Final Fantasy game that allows you to combine abilities from multiple jobs, although it is not the first Final Fantasy to allow characters to switch roles like this. Jobs and abilities can only be changed outside of battle, so you have to choose carefully so that you can be ready for the next challenge. Abilities can be earned by gaining ability points from winning battles

The complexity of this system can greatly alter the difficulty of this game based on the player’s decisions. For example, a player that doesn’t use the white mage’s healing abilities may struggle to survive the frequent random battles, and will have a very tough time with this game’s bosses. In fact, almost every boss has only a few ways to approach fighting them and to win. Quite a few of them will overwhelm unprepared players on the first attempt. Also, of note, many areas have a tough enemy encounter that often requires a specific strategy to win or survive without running. Veteran RPG players will enjoy the challenge and requirement to use their heads to win these fights, but newcomers may give up very quickly if they don’t grasp the way the game works early on.

I will admit, this job change and customization system is one of the best in the Final Fantasy series. The option to explore and experiment with this system can lead to some amazing combinations. Even the equipment that players can find have unique traits that encourage players to try different combinations, as some stronger gear can have some sort of drawback that discourages frequent use, while some weaker weapons and armor have some unique advantages that make them useful in some situations. It can be quite satisfying to find a unique combination that makes you very powerful, or that takes out a tough foe.

FFVjobs

On the flip side, there are a few quirks to Final Fantasy V’s system. Aside from the over complexity, there are some balance issues here. For example, the magic based abilities tend to grant multiple actions when assigned to a character, while the weapon-based actions only add one action when assigned. You can also assign a passive benefit to your character too, but have fewer actions in battle if you do this. It is oddly balanced, as most theoretical combinations of classes and abilities aren’t useful throughout the game, while other combinations only make sense if you know what you are doing. Thankfully, the game does give good enough descriptions to help you decide what you want your character to be capable of. Incidentally, the game does not give you any hint of what powers you might earn from the process of mastering each class, so a lot of experimenting or guide reading may be a must.

One of the main reasons to play a Final Fantasy game is for the story. This game’s story is noticeably more lighthearted, and seems to lack some of the character development and story arcs that other games in the series have. However, the lighthearted nature of this game does lead to a few hilarious one-liners, and even features a few pop culture references. I noticed some nods to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and I think a Simpsons quote. Thankfully, these are amusing in the moment, so I personally forgive some of the lack of story here. If you are looking for a more cinematic attempt at video game storytelling, you won’t find it here, but it isn’t bad enough to prevent players from enjoying this game.

With all this in mind, Final Fantasy V does drag on a little bit in the final act. I started to notice that the random encounter rate was high, and the game was about 28 hours long in my playthrough, although I did all the side quests along the way. Due to the game’s structure, there are some items and abilities that you can miss getting entirely if you save too far into the game. If you want to find them, you may need to start a new file!

Now I can’t finish this review without covering the content that was introduced in this version of the game. The bestiary that features every enemy defeated in the game also tells the player what items can be dropped or stolen from each foe. I recommend looking these up to be sure you don’t miss a useful item. The new jobs found late in the game add some power to your characters, although the game is essentially over once you find the last bonus job. The bonus dungeon is a hassle, with side quest-like tasks and a large area that only has save points at the beginning and end of the dungeon. The encounter rate seems very high here, and the enemies found can get quite difficult, especially when you consider that you are running into them all the time. This area might be the main weak point of this version, but since it is a bonus feature, it isn’t mandatory to get a full experience of the game.

Final Fantasy V Advance is an odd game in the series. On one hand, it has the best job customization system in the main Final Fantasy series. On the other hand, this game’s story takes a bit of a backseat to the gameplay systems here. Almost by design, the game can be quite challenging based on the player’s customization choices, and it can be off-putting to new players as a result. The basic but serviceable story works, but is somewhat lacking for those expecting a masterpiece of storytelling in a video game. I suppose this game is best for RPG aficionados who obsess over complex game systems. Other players may want to move forward with caution, and have to give it enough of a chance to see if they enjoy this type of gameplay. It’s not for everyone, but it can be a great game for those who like to use their heads here.

Version differences:

Super Famicom:

  • Original version.
  • Untranslated.

PlayStation: 

  • First translation.
  • Loading times.
  • CGI animations added
  • Sprint button added

Game Boy Advance:

  • New translation.
  • Bestiary.
  • Music player.
  • Quick save.
  • 4 new jobs.
  • Bonus dungeons.

IOS/Android:

  • Based on Game Boy Advance version.
  • Altered graphics.
  • Can sprint on world map.
  • Auto save feature.
  • Achievements
  • rebalanced job system.
  • Auto battle feature.
  • can skip character turns.

Steam:

  • Based on IOS/Android versions.
  • Controls optimized for PC. Controls can also be customized too.

Recommendations:  

  • Explore the job system as much as you can.
  • First time players should have at least one character use the white mage’s healing abilities.
  • If you want to find everything, then use a guide throughout the entire game.
  • Use the in-game bestiary to find out what items can be gained.
  • May need to fight enemies for enough money to buy the latest equipment and magic in each town.
  • Complete the side quests in the final act for full experience.
  • For the original experience, ignore the new jobs until after the game.
  • Complete the bonus dungeon after the game is finished.
  • If you revisit this game, then try experimenting with the job system in new ways.

Pros:

  • Retro graphics.
  • Unique music for the Final Fantasy series (possible pro).
  • Complex customization system (possible pro or con).
  • Reasonably challenging (possible pro or con).
  • Humorous writing.

Cons:

  • Can accidentally miss out on some items.
  • The story, while funny, is not as satisfying to experience as other Final Fantasy games (possible con).
  • Game is lengthy for its time.
  • Random encounter rate can be high.

Verdict:

8.4/10 A great but acquired taste

Final Fantasy V is not for those new to RPGs, as the complex systems require a lot of level grinding to master. The basic story and encounter rate can be turn offs too. However, the complexity can be appreciated by RPG veterans, while those expecting an easy game to get into or who expect an intricate story may be somewhat disappointed. With both types of players in mind, this game could be a 7.7-8.8.


That is my review of Final Fantasy V Advance. Did you like or dislike this game, and why? What is your favorite job and ability combination? Did you find any odd pop culture references in this game? Let me know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this review, then click that like button and share on social media. To keep up with That’s All Games, you can subscribe via email or WordPress. Until next time, have fun gaming! 

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