Part 11: My Final Fantasy V Job Tier List
Before I have a bit of fun talking about its job system, I want to discuss something from Final Fantasy V that irked me. It throws a TON of numbers at you and does very little to demystify any of its underlying mathematics. First, the game expects you to grapple TWO independent leveling systems, one for your characters and another for each of your character's jobs. Second, each party member levels their classes independently, and that makes tracking your progress between characters a chore. For example, while Faris was my dominant Red Mage, I often forgot where my other characters were with that job. Finally, the lack of a shared leveling system makes grinding out the same classes a bit of a bore. And honestly, that's all I have in terms of nitpicks related to Final Fantasy V's job mechanic. It's excellent, and it is a damn shame more people are not aware this game even exists.
When we last met, I spent most of the previous blog marveling over Final Fantasy V's job system. And that's for a good reason; it's a dynamic mechanic that keeps you playing the game even when its story meanders for hours upon end. Equally important, while Final Fantasy V's job system provides a myriad of options at your fingertips, it is, for the most part, a welcoming and balanced mechanic. Outside of a handful of dungeons, few environments immediately punish the player for trying out new jobs. I can only imagine Squaresoft spent the lion's share of their time, ensuring every possible permutation in the game would provide a "balanced" experience. That's why I'm more forgiving of the game's relative lack of narrative ambition.
What continually surprised me is how the game masterfully ensures a majority of its jobs are relevant from start to finish. Even if a job isn't your cup of tea, you'll likely level it up, so you have a handful of its abilities ready for upcoming encounters. Unlike other Final Fantasy job systems, even when you unlock a new and potentially overpowered class, your hard work with previous skill trees doesn't feel wasted. For example, the Knight class starts as a reliable damage dealer, but as the game progresses, its status falls out of favor as more options present themselves. However, that does not mean a player shouldn't level up their Knight class, as mastering this job unlocks the ability to equip more substantial sets of armor.
Nonetheless, and this is an issue I hinted at in the previous episode, not all of the jobs are created equal. Any class with the ability to cast status effects is immediately more useful as there's bound to be at least two or three bosses vulnerable to that ailment. There are also some jobs so specialized I only felt compelled to use them during specific levels. To highlight, the only time I felt comfortable sporting a Bard was during a set-piece populated by undead enemy encounters as the Bard has a unique ability that sweeps them in a single move. Other job classes simply did not "fit" my style of play in a more mechanics-based JRPG. For example, people have told me there are times when the Beastmaster can use its "Catch" ability to waste away some of the game's hardest bosses. Unfortunately, I found that to be busy work best spent on the Blue Mage or Summoner.
To give you all a better idea of where I stand with each of Final Fantasy V's jobs, I made a highly "scientific" tier list. With this ranking, I'll share what I believe are the best and worst jobs. So, without further ado, let's jump into my list, and as always, feel free to share your rankings in the comments!
S-Tier (FUCKING BROKEN): Blue Mage & Chemist
Without a doubt, Blue Mage has some of the most broken spells in the game! The only issue is getting some of them, but once you put in the work, especially if you get the ones necessary for "Death By Math," you'll find it capable of destroying roughly 90% of what stands in your way. Chemist, as is a tradition in the series, can use items to manipulate the levels of enemies and make them susceptible to virtually every conceivable attack in the game. With a guide on hand, it's the more straightforward route to breaking the game's damage cap.
A-Tier (The Hall Of Fame): White Mage, Summoner, Ninja, Mystic Knight, and Ranger
For my "A-Tier" jobs, I'm going to take a bit of an unorthodox approach. Anything in this tier can sweep a majority of the enemies in two or more locations. The White Mage is the most necessary of these jobs and borders on S-Tier if it weren't for the fact it's usually a "back row" job. Nonetheless, whenever encountering undead enemies, the typically utilitarian White Mage becomes an unstoppable murder machine. If you pick up the optional summons, the Summoner is the most potent of these jobs. The Mystic Knight can take advantage of elemental weaknesses, and when its attack is properly powered-up, it can one-shot bosses. The Ranger's Rapid Fire ability is just as potent, and when combined with a Ninja's "Dual Wield" passive, it can land a total of EIGHT hits! The Ninja, on the other hand, can throw items that have a ton of one-shotting potential. Also, the Ninja's passives are among the best in the game.
B-Tier (The Hall Of Very Good): Knight, Monk, Red Mage, Black Mage, Time Mage, and Samurai
The jobs in this tier are reliable members of any team, and I do not fault anyone for using them during their Final Fantasy V playthroughs. However, the two levels above them outpace them, and these jobs have limited sweeping potential, if at all. Nonetheless, what differentiates this tier over the ones below is if the job has abilities worth learning. The Knight provides characters with the ability to equip swords and heftier sets of armor. The Monk teaches characters how to power-up their attacks. The Red Mage's "Dual Cast" ability is the best passive in the game, albeit, it takes forever to get. Time and Black Mages inflict elemental spells and status effects that can stun-lock enemies. A Samurai can throw money to KO bosses, but it is not nearly as versatile as the Ninja.
C-Tier (Good But Situational): Dancer & Beastmaster
I should call this the "Not My Cup Of Tea" Tier. As mentioned earlier, I understand the Beastmaster has a ton of upside if you take the time to capture some of the more powerful monsters in the game. No matter, you have to sink in a lot of time to get those encounters to show up. On the other hand, Dancer provides opportunities for a lot of level-fuckery, much like the Blue Mage. Unfortunately, it alone cannot take advantage of any of that tomfoolery, and worse, it is an utterly inept damage dealer.
D-Tier (Good Only In Specific Situations): Thief
If you have been following this blog series, you know that I think being a "Thief" in any Final Fantasy game is a miserable activity. Something about wasting an attack to steal worthless trinkets rubs me the wrong way. Whelp, that tradition continues in Final Fantasy V as the Thief has one of the least rewarding skill trees in the game. Many of its abilities, like "Find Passages," or "Sprint" are quality of life additions that you should be able to toggle in the menu.
F-Tier (STRAIGHT TRASH): Beserker and Geomancer
Berserker is such a lousy class that the Four Job Fiesta Community has a house rule allowing anyone to remove it from the job randomizer. Likewise, the upside to the Geomancer is contingent on so many factors going your way. You need the right environment, with the right RNG, and the right character to make any of its abilities worth their weight in spit.
Part 12: Final Fantasy V's Combat Is Broken, And That's Why I Love It!
So far, I have briefly highlighted how Final Fantasy V's underlying mechanics are "broken." Now, let's ramp that up to eleven and discuss how everyone, including your eighty-year-old nan, can speedrun this game! First of all, the game's economy can be busted sideways after the third dungeon. In my case, I had one of my characters mainline a thief for the first handful of levels, and predictably, I had so much loot I was drowning in gil. This point reminds me of a topic I meant to discuss earlier: the existence of magic shops. The decision to force the player to buy various spells strewn across the world is a bit of an odd choice. As your characters' progression focuses so much of your time on their job proficiencies, needing to buy spells adds an extra step you can easily forget.
But let's return to how anyone can speedrun this game with their eyes closed! First, the status effects in Final Fantasy V remain useful tools regardless of your point in the story. That's because virtually every encounter in the game is weak to at least one status effect. When those status vulnerabilities include Poison or Slow, the game makes the process of defeating your enemies slightly more expeditious. However, when those weaknesses err towards statuses like Paralyze, Stone, Petrify, or Doom, the game permits you to be done with encounters within one turn. Even more hilarious, some in-game bosses have weaknesses to those exact status effects. I can only imagine this was deliberate on the part of the development team. What other explanation is there to justify why TWENTY TWO bosses, yes, I genuinely counted them, are weak to the "Death" status effect, and six are vulnerable to "Stone?" That means you can defeat roughly HALF of the bosses in Final Fantasy V on turn one!
In general, I did not feel any of these "exploits" hindered my enjoyment of Final Fantasy V. If anything, being able to one-shot roughly everything in the game made it more enjoyable. Part of this sentiment is due to the game continually flipping its script on you. Except for "Death By Math," WHICH WE WILL TALK ABOUT SHORTLY, all of the enemy encounters and bosses take different strategies. There's no specific status effect or job composition that will defeat everything in the game with complete ease. More importantly, you have to be the one to figure all of these combat advantages on your own, because the game doesn't tell you shit! As such, I recommend anyone who decides to play this game to have a guide on standby.
With all of that out of the way, let's talk about "DEATH BY MATH!" The Four Job Fiesta crowd has a fun name to a particular exploit associated with the Blue Mage known as "Death By Math." First, it's important to note there are a TON of Blue Magic spells that are level specific like "Level 5 Death," "Level 2 Old," and "Level 3 Flare." These spells will only work on enemies whose level is a number divisible by the amount listed, but that limitation is not as much an impediment as you'd think. In the case of Death By Math, you can take advantage of another Blue Magic spell called "Dark Spark," which halves an enemy's current level. However, because of an overflow glitch any time you divide an odd number, it becomes even. unless the enemy has an immunity to "Death" or "Old."
None of this fawning should be used to suggest Final Fantasy V is a game lacking any sense of difficulty. There are times when the game pulls the rug from underneath you and creates encounters immune to all forms of "dickery." During these moments, you have to approach the mechanics of Final Fantasy V in a straightforward and no-nonsense manner. To some, needing to play a game without exploits might sound appealing as it forces you to appreciate its mechanics at face value, but I am not one of those people. For one thing, the segments of Final Fantasy V that play like Final Fantasy IV were among my least favorite. This is due in no part to some of the trash mobs and bosses employing your usual "cheap shit" in a JRPG of this era.
Part 13: The Insane Number Of Optional Quests And Locations
We now transition from the highest of highs to the "land of needless nitpicking." To be clear, everything I am about to bemoan is secondary to Final Fantasy V's enthralling gameplay and entertaining cast. There is, however, one consistent structural and storytelling misstep in Final Fantasy V that I cannot forgive. Final Fantasy V hides hours of job and character progression behind optional side quests. I know I previously crowned Final Fantasy X-2 as the "doyenne" of Final Fantasy side quest bullshitery, but Final Fantasy V takes the cake for an entirely different reason. For one thing, the game does a terrible job of conveying what is available to you in the overworld and for how long. Likewise, it actively punishes you for not exploring every iota of the world map whenever you finish a story set piece. That is because the world of Final Fantasy V is "time-sensitive."
Take, for example, where we left off in my previous blog. After you reconvene with Cid and Mid, there are two optional towns you can visit. One of these locations, Jachol Village, even has an optional dungeon. If you are not careful, it is entirely possible to miss out on these environments as they disappear after you reach a certain point in the story. Worse, if you so much as blink, you'll miss locations that provide class-specific abilities or items! The clearest example is the Summoner job, which has over half its skills locked behind side quests. The same goes for the Bard, who learns new abilities by talking to random NPCs and playing pianos hidden throughout the overworld. The physically minded classes are not immune to this odd design choice either. Trust me; I have A LOT to say about the "optional" towers in the end-game. Ultimately, unless you play this game with a guide, it's incredibly easy to set back your characters unintentionally.
However, the bigger crime is how Final Fantasy V obfuscates hours of character development behind missable cutscenes. Some of these character arcs do not occur in new areas, which would have made finding them more straightforward. To illustrate, Lenna and Faris have a handful of flashbacks you can only watch if you go back to previously visited locations and recover items from their past. For Lenna, if you never rest at Castle Tycoon, you'll miss out on her tragic backstory on needing to pick between saving her mother from an unknown illness and preserving the life of the last known Wind Drake. The same goes for Faris, who has a flashback that explains why she ran away from home. Regrettably, both of these moments do a lot to contextualize their character's outlooks and reactions to mainline story moments.
Nevertheless, the most significant victim of Final Fantasy V's narrative structure is, by a country mile, Bartz. Presently, I have seen Bartz's name come up in a few "Top Ten Worst Final Fantasy Protagonists" lists. Based on my research, I have found the usual reasoning for his inclusion in such records boils down to one of two justifications. The first is that his name in the Japanese version is "Butz," and the second is that he spends most of the story being a bumbling idiot who subjects you to an endless supply of puns. Whenever I see someone mention the latter of these reasons, I cannot help but scoff that the author didn't play Final Fantasy V "all the way." Though, to their defense, exploring Bartz's hometown is incredibly easy to miss.
Watching Bartz stand by his mother's tombstone while reminiscing about his father is one of the most potent moments in the game. However, it highlights how the story's emotionally punchier cutscenes occur at optional locations. I don't know about you, but watching Lenna be seconds away from murdering her wind drake to save her mother's life had me at the edge of my seat. In Bartz's case, you discover that his reliance on puns is a result of his sheltered life and life-long struggle to verbalize his feelings. Finally, there's an underlying theme that each party member represents a different element that maintains the world's equilibrium, but you'd never know that if you've never seen these cutscenes.
Part 14: Final Fantasy V Is The Funniest Game I Have Played In Years
Let's return to the story! When we last met, our intrepid adventurers escaped the burning tower of Karnak and, while at the Library of Ancients, learned more about Exdeath. As our motley crew sets out to reconvene with Cid, they pilot the fire-powered ship to the island of Crescent. Unfortunately, as they enter the town, an earthquake consumes the ship, leaving the party stranded. Luckily for them, there's a nearby forest wherein they capture a black Chocobo and use it to navigate the world. Additionally, this Chocobo barfs up the remaining job crystals from the fire temple. I know I have a bit of a reputation of giving the Final Fantasy franchise a hard time for relying on "plot by convenience," but yet again, I'm giving Final Fantasy V a "pass."
Part of my reasoning for being lenient is that Final Fantasy V's light-hearted tone allows it to embark on some zanier plot devices that would not pass muster in other Final Fantasy games. More importantly, Final Fantasy V is a game centered on providing visually stunning set pieces rather than the melodramatic soap operas we have come to associate with the franchise. Take, for example, what happens when you finally catch up to Cid and Mid. They claim the king of Tycoon (a.k.a., Lenna and Faris' father) is exploring the Desert of Sand Tides. Immediately after traversing the desert wasteland, you encounter a giant sandworm inspired by David Lynch's Dune. An entire set-piece culminates in a battle against a giant dopey looking worm, and ! There's an almost B-movie quality to Final Fantasy V, and it revels in its schlock.
To further highlight my point, after you beat the giant sandworm, you end up in a ruined city called "Gorn." Upon entering the charred remains of a town, the party sees a specter that looks ominously like King Tycoon. What ensues next is a fun chase scene shot like a skit by the Marx Brothers. The king ducks and dodges your party's every move, and there's a jovial, almost vaudevillian sensibility to the commotion. When attempting at humor, "modern" Square-Enix usually pulls cues from whatever popular anime or manga is kicking about at the time. Final Fantasy V, on the other hand, takes its notes from longstanding comedic traditions dating back to Victorian-era burlesque shows or even Kabuki theater. I say all of this to suggest I was taken aback at how much care and craft was put into what would typically be a throwaway comedic interlude.
The game's theater-like qualities continue when you finally corner King Tycoon. Upon confronting his majesty, Lenna and Faris greet him as "father" and "papa," respectively, and immediately embrace as sisters. As they hug each other, the king triggers a trap door and drops the entire party into a basement, which, as you might predict, the characters respond to by turning towards the camera and pantomiming shock. I also cannot underscore enough how stellar Final Fantasy V is at balancing its humor and drama. After your party falls into an unknown basement, Bartz, Lenna, and Faris are separated from Galuf. While Galuf wastes away in a prison cell next to them, Lenna and Faris have a sisterly heart-to-heart. What makes this scene all the more memorable is, as Lenna and Faris emotionally reconnect, Galuf wails at them to rescue him. Something about watching a Big Lebowski wannabe interrupting every sentence of a touching family reconciliation had me in stitches.
As Bartz, Galuf, Lenna, and Faris navigate a clock-like labyrinth, they inadvertently engage a switch. Simultaneously, the game juxtaposes to Mid and Cid, who are exploring a forest. Somehow, the switch your party pressed opens a trapdoor that happens to be precisely where Mid and Cid are standing on as they continue their scientific explorations. They fall, of all places, directly in front of your party. On top of that, Mid and Cid recognize their surroundings and realize they are in an underground hideout that just happens to be where the earthquake pulled the ironclad from earlier. However, because they are feeling generous, they upgrade the fire-ship into an airship. To review, here are two characters, last seen on a completely different continent, summoned deus ex machina style, unlocking the game's airship because they feel like it. It's infinitely stupid, and I adore it!
Part 15: Have I Mentioned How This Story FUCKING CLAPS?!
With the ability to take to the skies, Bartz pilots our newly christened airship. However, he encounters difficulties when a giant crayfish latches onto it. After dispatching the horrific beast, an enormous spaceship emerges from the ruins of Gorn, permanently removing the location from the game's map. Between now and the end of "World Two," Final Fantasy V's design becomes a bit annoying. First, the game presenting this massive airship and blocking your ability to board it until you've acquired a magical crystal in a far off dungeon is a waste of the player's time. Sure, it leads to a fun boss battle against an Adamantoise, but it's an unnecessary step that I didn't enjoy.
With the magical crystal in tow, Bartz identifies the weak points of the flying fortress. However, upon doing so, they are thrown into a battle against a gigantic gauss cannon. This boss battle is, for lack of a better word, a "gear check" encounter. Unlike earlier bosses, it is immune to virtually every status effect in the game, and your party will only be able to defeat it if they are the proper level. This fight is also one of those bosses with a "Fuck You" laser beam attack that takes two turns to charge but is capable of KO'ing your party. I understand these sorts of bosses are important in reminding the player to complete an appropriate amount of grinding. Still, they also show how, even by Final Fantasy V, the ATB system was beginning to show its age. As is often the case with the ATB system, when you reach critical forks in a battle, things play out at a snail's pace. Additionally, much like its predecessors, Final Fantasy V's ATB system breeds "analysis paralysis."
With the Soul Gun behind them, the Four Warriors of Light enter the floating "Ronka Ruins" and seek out the king of Tycoon. Once inside, they discover it to be a decadent but cramped environment. It is yet another dungeon that plays into Final Fantasy V's strengths by having a few floors with a moderate encounter rate, thereby allowing the player to opt into as much or little of the environment as they want. Also, the Ronka Ruins' hamartia pushes you towards the Geomancer job as it can easily detect the environment's trap doors, and its earth-based magic is extra effective. Additionally, I would like to compliment the sprite work, as it provides environmental clues as to where you need to go and how to discover hidden passages without the use of specific jobs. Unfortunately, I'm playing the mobile/Steam port, so
We now need to discuss another design aspect of the flying fortress that I hated: the Archeoaevis boss. This battle is frustrating for several reasons, the least of which is that it is a five-part battle. I found it disappointing how there is no transition or frame of animation to show when you have moved from one part of the fight to the next. Instead, Archeoaevis "transitions" during its turns whenever you inflict 1,600 points of damage. What makes this battle so untenable is how the elemental affinities and weaknesses change without any visible transformation of the boss's sprite. During my playthrough, I had one turn where lightning magic dealt max damage, and on the immediate next turn, without warning, the boss absorbed lightning damage. I simply do not understand why the designers didn't borrow the transformative boss design they used with the Shiva or Liquid Flame boss encounters.
Mercifully, the story pops off when Archeoaevis goes down for the count. With the beast gone, King Tycoon approaches the Earth Crystal and attempts to destroy it. Additionally, he attacks everyone in the room, including his daughters, until a young girl crashes into the room and dropkicks him out of his stupor. The little girl introduces herself as Krile, and calls Galuf "grandfather." Though she succeeds in knocking the king back to his senses, the damage to the earth crystal proves to be too much, and it shatters. Cue epic music, as we finally meet Exdeath in person. He proceeds to kick the ever-loving shit out of your party, Krile included, until King Tycoon sacrifices himself to stop Exdeath. Exdeath leaves, and the king has a touching aside with his two daughters before he passes away.
Part 16: LET'S TALK ABOUT THE SINGLE GREATEST SONG AND COMBAT SCENE IN FINAL FANTASY HISTORY!
With that, we need to discuss the big reveal . With Final Fantasy IV as its predecessor, it's hard to call Final Fantasy V's use of interplanetary travel a surprise. Still, Galuf being the leader of a kingdom on an alien planet, is something entirely different. There are other details we learn about Galuf that are worth mentioning. During a flashback, we discover he was one of the "original" Warriors of Light that sealed Exdeath using the crystals. Bartz makes the apt point that Galuf basically "dumped" his garbage on their world, and Galuf falls into a depressed state. He promises to "make everything right" and with Krile in tow departs for his world by stepping on a warp pad inside a meteor.
Not wanting to be left behind, the rest of the characters agree to work together and collect four crystals to follow Galuf. What ensues next is, without a doubt, the single worst sequence in Final Fantasy V. The primary reason I disliked this part of the game is that I hate navigating the game's overworld. The in-game world map isn't as helpful as it should be for a simple fetch quest like this one. For some reason, the meteors are not present on the map, which makes tracking them down a drag. Likewise, each time you collect an Adamantite fragment, the game repeats the same course of events. The characters chime in with a passing remark about the meteor, Mid and Cid get into trouble, and you fight a boss. Finally, it would have been one thing for the game to subject you to a needless boss rush a few minutes ago, but now, you are playing a man down with Galuf fucking about on his planet!
Under normal circumstances, I would take this opportunity to chime in that the game does a terrible job of communicating how its mid-game "point of no return" impacts you. Are there any Blue Magic spells unavailable on Galuf's world? Are there any side quests that expire upon entering the other planet? Are there locations or cities which will become permanently locked away? Final Fantasy V answers none of these prescient questions. Nonetheless, all is forgiven as the game makes such a strong first impression when you land on Galuf's planet. After fending off a wave of goblins on a deserted island, Bartz, Lenna, and Faris end up in Exdeath's castle. After Exdeath does a bit of villainous posturing, the game cuts to Galuf, who is about to attack Exdeath. However, when the evil wizard announces the capture of Galuf's friends, Galuf calls off his siege and attempts a daring rescue. What occurs next is the
I want to say, if your only exposure to "Clash On The Big Bridge" is The Black Mages' rendition of the song, you are missing out. To fully appreciate the track, you have to experience it first-hand. The entire Clash On The Big Bridge sequence is one of the most "complete" moments and set pieces I have ever seen in a Final Fantasy game. It is evocative, action-packed, and does wonders to set the game's stakes as the story transitions from being a fun little adventure to one with worldwide impacts. Furthermore, the music is fucking awesome! Somehow the musical accompaniment convinced me that running the gauntlet was a timed mission with a fail state breathing down my neck.
One could say Squaresoft could make carrying rocks between two points interesting with music like this, but instead, they have all the visuals work in tandem with the music. The bridge itself is well-deserving of its title as it is indeed a massive landmark and takes a considerable amount of time to cross. A length so substantial, mind you, that when the characters pass out in exhaustion, you cannot help but relate with them. Additionally, because the goal of moving forward on the bridge is so easy to understand, each battle against a different swarm of goblins or soldiers feels more impactful. And there are a LOT of fights against trash mobs here, and each confrontation feels entirely earned as it plays into the theme of the characters rushing through a siege. Shit, I haven't even talked about Gilgamesh's encounters, which are some of the most entertaining battles in the game!
Part 17: Why Does This Game Make Me Feel All Warm And Tingly Inside?
For the most part, Final Fantasy V performs a delicate balancing act between the dungeon crawler roots of the series' earlier entries and what we would equate with a modern game bearing its namesake. It employs a compelling mix of open-world backdrops next to its more guided cave or castle sequences. Additionally, Final Fantasy V is a game that knows when to give its audience some "breathing room." After your party successfully navigates the Big Bridge, Exdeath fires a laser beam that obliterates Galuf's forces in seconds. On top of that, the Four Warriors of Light are separated from Krile. However, Galuf identifies their surroundings, and they make their way to a nearby border town.
It is here when the game begins doling out its cutscenes at a more generous pace. As the party prepares to rest at an inn, Galuf and Bartz share a drink at a pub and trade barbs. Does this scene do anything to progress the story?NOPE!Do I give a shit?You bet your ass I don't! As I have said before in many series before this one, I appreciate RPGs that let their characters be themselves in low-stakes and vulnerable positions. During moments like these, you develop a better gauge of who the characters are and their metacognition. Plus, it's FUN watching our two male leads take the piss out of each other after they got their asses handed to them. It's goofy shit like this that I think Square-Enix forgot about until Final Fantasy VII Remake. And yet, these are the sorts of scenes that stick out to me more than actual storyline cutscenes!
Regardless, the Warriors of Light eventually make their way to a nearby forest, which reveals itself to be the home of a family of Moogles. Again, this set piece is a mostly comedic one, and it feels entirely removed from the mainline story. Even so, when I learned about the Moogle's plight, I knew what I needed to do. Sure, it's total fanservice, but it's "good" fanservice. I mentioned this point on the previous blog, but Final Fantasy V has impeccable worldbuilding. With the game's stakes ratcheting up by the minute, exploring distinct cultures in a microcosm provides the player with a better sense of what they are fighting for even as the odds appear hopeless.
This knack for sentimentality continues when everyone reaches the town of Quelb/Kelb. Werewolves populate Quelb, and when its people notice Galuf, they direct him to meet with their mayor, Kelger Vlondett. During this meeting, we learn that Kelger was one of the "Warriors of Dawn," along with Galuf, that defeated Exdeath thirty years ago. However, Kelger challenges Bartz to a fight and promptly loses. With Kelger bedridden, we discover Bartz's father was one of the Dawn Warriors as well. It is important to note; this scene is way more impactful if you completed Bartz's "optional" side quest in his hometown. Bartz always knew his father was a hero, but he never knew why Dorgann's adventures kept him away from his family for weeks. Without that context, learning more about Bartz's father seems like a hapless deus ex machina conveniently tying him to the narrative's recurring theme of "destiny."
Shortly after that, you encounter the Castle of Bal (aka Val Castle), the seat of Galuf's kingdom. Galuf's castle is lightly defended as a result of his army's beating at the Big Bridge. The location is also one of those backdrops that unlock additional cutscenes should you revisit it at different points in the story. However, what is more important, is the "secret" dungeon, which serves as the best ABP grinding location in the entire game. I put the word "secret" in quotations because this dungeon is one of the most well known "power peninsulas" in Final Fantasy history. For those unaware, at Castle of Bal, there's a basement where the only enemy is the "Objet d'Art" encounter. This enemy type is conveniently susceptible to Level 5 Death and the encounter rewards between four and eight ABP. As a result, I converted my entire party to nothing but Blue Mages and parked their asses in that basement for a long time. If you must know, I spent about three hours in this basement, and I don't regret a damn thing. My characters mastered anywhere between three to four jobs, and I busted the entire mid-game economy.
Part 18: Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair
Something can be said about the feeling of walking into a new town and buying one of every item. It is a beautiful feeling, by the way! A line of dialogue I had with myself as I entered Kelb Village was, "Oh, Power Wrists sure sound helpful... why don't I buy four of them?" Two to three hours is all it took for me to have two copies of every sword, shield, and armor set available from merchants. I didn't need to go to great lengths to land my characters on the gravy train, but Final Fantasy V surrounds you in a world of beautiful and shiny objects, and I wanted all of them like a child in a candy shop. Again, I have NO REGRETS!
If there is something to be said, there isn't enough stuff to buy in the various shops in Final Fantasy V. Some of the best weapons and armor are in random treasure chests and separate from the in-game economy. If anything, there came the point when all I ever bought from merchants was high-tier curative items. Worse, comparing the stats of equipment is impossible, and the game's inventory management system is non-existent. But, let's return to the basement before we transition to the story. It is worth discussing; there are grind spots like that throughout Final Fantasy V. They are so plentiful from the mid-game forward that it is impossible to argue they are not deliberate by the game's programmers.
It is also worth remarking that I developed a general lack of respect for Final Fantasy V's mechanics. With the in-game leveling and economy broken sideways, what reason was there to continue playing the game "legitimately?" With my party of Blue Mages on the ready, I pulled up a guide and had a go at picking up all the useful blue magic spells. My excess of money allowed me to buy an absurd amount of "cottages" and raw materials for my Chemist. I get some people would call this "cheating." To my defense, the game doesn't do a great job explaining its mechanics in the first place. Libra doesn't provide any clues as to how to go about collecting spells or monsters for the Blue Mage or Beastmaster, respectively. Furthermore, would it have killed them to include some recipe books for the Chemist like literally any other JRPG?!
If you are wondering why I'm again spending so much time talking about Final Fantasy V's mechanics, it is because the next handful of levels do an excellent job of making you feel like you are in a power fantasy. At some point, Lenna discovers that Krile's wind drake is sick and needs a curative plant. The ensuing mountain sequence is a lazy copy-pasted fetch quest from the first world. The only difference is that every enemy encounter this time around is "undead." Luckily for your party, they pick up a song for the Bard that wastes these encounters in a single turn. As a result, it is a visually stunning level that makes your party look like total badasses.
Eventually, the heroes find their way to Castle Surgate and catch wind of another "Dawn Warrior" attempting to defeat Exdeath. After Galuf tracks down King Xezat, Xezat brings everyone up to speed about his plan. He hopes to use his navy to destroy a Barrier Tower protecting Exdeath's castle. Unfortunately, Gilgamesh launches an unexpected attack, and though they beat back his forces, the element of surprise is gone. Xezat leads our party to a submarine and uses it to sneak into the tower. Depending on how you "play" Final Fantasy V, there's a boss in the Barrier Tower that is either the toughest in the game or a total pushover. If dealt with "legitimately," Atomos is a pain in the ass as it can use the "Comet" spell to wipe out any character with a single attack. Also, it behaves unlike any other boss in the game. Upon the death of a party member, Atomos will suck them into its mouth, which, if you allow, permanently removes the downed character from the battle. However, you can also use the "Dark Spark" Blue Magic spell to halve Atomos' level to a number divisible by five and go to town ala "Death by Math."
Part 19: YO! THIS GAME HAS MOTHERFUCKING TREE WIZARDS!
We then witness another "shit's about to get REAL" scene. As Xezat prepares a cache of explosives to destroy the tower, he sacrifices himself so Galuf and the rest of the Warriors of Light can return to his submarine. With his dying words, Xezat directs the warriors to locate the reclusive wizard, Ghido, for more information about how to bring down Exdeath. Galuf has a scene in which he has an emotional outburst, and the game does a decent job of playing up the drama of Xezat's sacrifice. In a slight nod to Japanese myth, Ghido turns out to be a turtle with kung fu skills. Admittedly, Ghido clues us into some vital background information surrounding Exdeath. Our hero on the half shell reveals that Exdeath is a tree that became corrupted by evil. I'm not lying.
I loved this plot twist. It's the sort of harebrained story pivot I expect out of a Final Fantasy game, and goddamn does it deliver. After building up Exdeath as this nigh mythical threat, the game reveals he's a tree corrupted by evil spirits. It shows how not even he is immune to Final Fantasy V's irreverent wackiness. The plot twist is a bit "much," but it's an excellent fit for Final Fantasy V. The reason I give Final Fantasy VIII or X a hard time for their plot twists is that they come out of nowhere and do a lot to undermine their respective games' worldbuilding. In Final Fantasy V's case, discovering a land where trees are sentient beings that have lived for thousands of years isn't that big of a deal. I'd argue the revelation plays into the story's motif of finding different facets of life in the most unexpected places. Likewise, it makes the events at the Great Forest of Moore all the more heartbreaking.
Nonetheless, I have skipped how you reach Ghido's cave: the submarine. As mentioned previously, I find navigating the overworld to be the least enjoyable part of playing Final Fantasy V. The game's world is mostly unnavigable ocean and mountain tiles. Worse, everything that is explorable is spread apart to such a frustrating degree. The submarine compounds these issues even further. The underwater map is virtually useless as most of the points of interest for the sub are not visibly marked. In the normal world map, I'd estimate that only around ten percent of it is interactable or useful to the player. With the underwater map, that number plunges to single digits, and the repeating sprites and textures make tracing your journey in the submarine impracticable.
No matter, the Warriors of Light dispatch for the Great Forest of Moore after Ghido provides them with a branch. Upon using the twig, the trees understand your party's mission and allow them to enter. Unfortunately, what ensues next is one of the game's more frustrating open-world dungeons. Every forest level in Final Fantasy V, for some reason, has a fog of war effect where you have a limited circle of visibility. Being unable to know where you are going makes exploring any forest level incredibly frustrating, and when you throw in random encounters, these sequences become a complete nuisance. In the case of the Forest of Moore, I felt as if the encounter rate hit an all-time peak as I would often take two to three steps in-between battles. I understand part of this was done deliberately as one of the hardest boss battles in the game is coming up soon. However, it was a pain in the ass to deal with as the frequency of fighting often caused me to lose track of where I was going.
Part 20: Exdeath Is Still A Threat And Krile SUUUUUUUUUUUCKS!
As our troupe of goofballs reaches the mid-point of the forest, they hear a loud boom in the distance. As they explore their surroundings, they discover Exdeath is attempting to burn the entire wood down to the ground. After the Warriors of Light seek refuge at an underground oasis, they return to find the Great Forest of Moore utterly destroyed. The luscious trees are gone and replaced with stumps, and smoke clouds even cover portions. There's also an interesting mechanic in this level wherein some treasure chests have their items turn to ash, whereas others will become potent elemental weapons. For example, if you skip opening one treasure chest until after the forest catches fire, it will bestow you a "Flame Saber" instead of a typical sword.
It is a testament to Final Fantasy V's worldbuilding how the game makes you feel something about the destruction of this forest. The trees of the Forest of Moore lacked human features and, at no point, speak to you as you might expect in a game pulling many of its cues from Japanese lore. Despite that, you still feel as if you have witnessed Exdeath commit a heinous war crime as the loss of this ancient civilization is just that, a tragic loss of living things with as much a right to live as your party members. As I explored the level's burnt remains, I couldn't help but respect the effort to make something as abstract as a forest feel like an emotionally resonant set piece. It also does a lot to establish the theme of Exdeath being one step ahead of the player.
We now transition to one of the boss battles in Final Fantasy V that drove me crazy. When you reach the "Guardian Tree" in the Great Forest of Moore, four nondescript crystals attack your party. The gimmick with these crystals is that each represents one of the four elements: fire, water, wind, and earth. However, each crystal looks the same, and if you use the wrong elemental spell on any of them, they counterattack with a high-level magic spell. This design quirk throws out most area-of-effect spells and necessitates a lot of micro-management of magic-based jobs. Luckily for me, the four Crystals are not classified as being a "Heavy" type, and thus, are not immune to Instant Death or Death Claw.
As the crystals turn to dust, Exdeath appears and wipes out everyone in the room. As the evil tree wizard moves to kill the heroes once and for all, Galuf stands and challenges Exdeath to a fight. Galuf summons the power of everyone murdered by Exdeath and forces the villainous conifer to withdraw. This battle plays out in real-time, and even if Galuf's HP reaches zero, he continues to fight back Exdeath. Galuf goes Super Saiyan and becomes impervious to the bombs that Exdeath drops on him. It is one of the few times outside of the Gilgamesh battles in which the story meshes with the combat. After Exdeath retreats, Galuf collapses to the ground. Krile, whom we see in an earlier juxtaposition hitching a ride on her wind drake, arrives in time to hear her grandfather's dying words. He implores her to take his place as a "Warrior of the Light." She accepts, and as Galuf dies, inherits all of his job specializations.
As the title of this chapter suggests, this moment leads me to the one indisputable storytelling mishap of Final Fantasy V: replacing Galuf with Krile. Galuf is a prickly but tender-hearted figure who often acts as the party's moral compass. He found ways to have the various party members compromise and find middle ground during some of the story's tense moments. He's a great character that evolves as the story progresses. Krile is a manic pixie girl, and she's never not that. Her two emotional states are: 1) crying about her dead grandpa, and 2) being enthusiastic about things she's never seen before. More importantly, Galuf plays off the other characters and finds ways to bring out everyone's best. Krile, on the other hand, doesn't do shit for anyone. There are several scenes in which the characters tend to her needs as if they are babysitting her. It's a real bummer that the game replaces its best character with one of its worst. And it is on that note we call an end to this entry. Next time I see you all,