Fighting Final Fantasy V - Part 3: More People Should Play This Game And Don't Forget To Support The Four Job Fiesta!

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Part 21: Old Game Design Habits Die Hard

Oh, you bet I did more power grinding in this game!
Oh, you bet I did more power grinding in this game!

When we last met, Galuf sacrificed himself to protect his friends and granddaughter from Exdeath. I still maintain his death is one of the most emotionally gripping moments in the game. However, it is soured by the fact you are stuck with Krile for the rest of the story. I forgot to mention in the previous episode how Krile has the best outfits, but an interesting character she is not. Another nitpick I want to mention stems from the story's lack of emphasis on Exdeath being a GODDAMN TREE WIZARD! There's one dialogue-heavy cutscene wherein Ghido says Exdeath is a corrupted conifer from the Great Forest of Moore. Unfortunately, nothing in the story addresses this fact until the final level. You don't even see the characters jump in shock that this sinister knight they have been fighting is a goddamn tree!

There's another aspect of Final Fantasy V that drove me bonkers around this point, and that's not knowing where the fuck you need to go during different parts of the story. Look, I understand Final Fantasy V is a by-product of its time. Nonetheless, in a game this big, it's downright unforgivable Final Fantasy V lacks a quest log listing what you and your characters need to accomplish. Worse, Final Fantasy V has THREE different world maps! There's the first world, Galuf's world, and the third "merged world," the last of which comprises the game's final two acts. On top of that, the second two worlds have "underwater maps" that differ ever so slightly from one another. That's all to suggest I HATED navigating the overworld in Final Fantasy V!

The submarine stuff is JUST THE WORST GODDAMN SHIT!
The submarine stuff is JUST THE WORST GODDAMN SHIT!

And I know I harp about this issue every episode, but it's worth repeating how easy it is to miss an optional town or location. In this case, upon Galuf's death, you have the opportunity of visiting the Chocobo Forest. However, to get there, you have to follow a byzantine number of steps using the submarine to locate the exact entrance to the correct forest tile that leads to the Chocobo Forest. If that sounds like a mouthful, it's because it is! While there, you wander around until the optional summon Catoblepas (a.k.a., Shoat), pops up. Again, it's one thing to hide fun cutscenes in optional locations. It's another thing to hide half of the utility of specific job classes, in this case, the Summoner, in environments that are ten steps removed from the game's main path.

Don't get me wrong; I did not "hate" Final Fantasy V's side quests. It is a testament to how much I loved Final Fantasy V's story, characters, and mechanics that I completed virtually every possible side quest. The only two side quests I skipped were: 1) traveling the world with a Chocobo and 2) figuring out whatever the fuck was up with the "magic lamp." I got all of the useful summonses; I collected the lithographs; I unlocked each of the legendary items; I watched the optional cutscenes; I picked up the Mime job. The only additional line I drew was when I butted up against the Final Fantasy V Advance content. When it came to those jobs and the optional dungeon that ensued, I threw my hands in the air while blowing loud raspberries. The idea of playing a new Final Fantasy V experience with minimal story trappings and a soul-crushing amount of grinding did not sound appealing to me.

I was not lying about Krile's outfits being GREAT!
I was not lying about Krile's outfits being GREAT!

Part 22: This Game Gets HARD Out Of The Blue!

We now return to the issue of Exdeath being a magical tree wizard. With the spirit of Galuf guiding Krile, the Warriors of Light return to Exdeath's Castle. There's some brief summarizing of the story's current events, but it's concise enough to fit on an index card. Exdeath wishes to obtain the power of "the Void." Should he manage to do so, he would bring forth a "new era of chaos." It's your standard Final Fantasy narrative silliness, what with one of our characters being an interplanetary traveler capable of piloting goddamn meteors and all. We hear of a legend of what created this void in the first place and the origin of the evil that corrupted Exdeath, but it's just enough lore to keep the story moving forward, and not an inch more. And unlike other games bearing its namesake, it doesn't beat you over the head with expository dialogue and proper nouns; a point of differentiation I happily applaud.

That said, the second assault on Exdeath's Castle represents a tonal shift with the story. The characters are on a straightforward mission to beat Exdeath once and for all, and in spearheading this quest, they abstain from their usual quips and humorous one-liners. Likewise, the game ratchets up the stakes to an almost absurd level while driving the player towards its point of no return. At the same time, the comedic undertones of the narrative take a bit of a backseat. Part of this is due to Galuf's death as his acerbic puns and jests are gone. The other cause stems from Final Fantasy V's design. You see, the designers did not know how much more of Final Fantasy V they thought their audience would want to play at this point, and this is an issue we will discuss shortly. I say all of this to suggest that I enjoyed Final Fantasy V more when it was a deliberate light-hearted adventure rather than a badass power fantasy.

I'm not even going to lie. This level has the worst textures in the iOS/Steam port, bar none.
I'm not even going to lie. This level has the worst textures in the iOS/Steam port, bar none.

To further underscore how the game wants you to treat its final handful of acts more seriously, it considerably pumps up its difficulty. The most significant example is the boss battle against Exdeath, which functions as a rather cruel "gear check." For those unaware, one can only defeat a "gear check" boss if their characters are the appropriate level or have suitable equipment. There's no conceit to take advantage of, nor are there "easy outs." This version of Exdeath has no status vulnerabilities, can inflict "Death," casts top-tier magic spells, and can rearrange your party's rows whenever the fuck he feels like it. And this is just one of many encounters where the game forces you to approach its mechanics with little to no freedom. The battle with Exdeath represents the point where the game directs the player to solidify their party compositions as they ready to finish the game.

The level design of Final Fantasy V's dungeons also notably skyrockets in complexity. Every dungeon from this point forward has anywhere between seven to twelve levels, and I'm not counting the Interdimensional Rift. These levels also repeat the same pitfall that earlier Final Fantasy games were guilty of, which was having unnecessarily labyrinthine floor plans that can cause the player to lose track of their progress. Worse, in the last dungeon, I often got lost as a result of the monochromatic color palette and did not know how to fix the error of my ways. On top of that, the excessive number of floors force you to repeat the same encounters far more often than you'd like because of the escalating random encounter rate. I recognize this provides the player with a steady supply of experience to "top off" the job classes they have gravitated towards the most. Nonetheless, the last handful of levels in Final Fantasy V simply are not as rewarding or enjoyable as the game's first half.

This fucking guy....
This fucking guy....

And before you ask, I hated the final ascent up Castle Exdeath.There's no goddamn reason why that castle needed to be twelve fucking levels! Likewise, this level also removes a lot of "quality of life" features most dungeons in Final Fantasy V utilize. For example, after the werewolf king Kelger dispels an illusion, the previously ornate castle turns into a horrifying eldritch abomination. It is a shocking and exciting visual effect. Still, the unfortunate result is that your usual first-floor "pool of healing" turns to lava, and the monsters encountered here transform to mimic the new setting. That last part might not seem like much, but finding out my preparation for the castle was all for naught was undoubtedly frustrating. Oh, and by the way, this is one of those levels where the floor inexplicably transforms to lava! Thus, as you are trying to explore this castle, your party is often absorbing damage.

Part 23: Now It's Time For The Story TO GET WEIRD!

Before we transition away from Castle Exdeath, I'd like to remind everyone that the fortress features THREE boss battles! The first, Carbuncle, is rectified if you inflict it with "Petrify." The second, which is against Gilgamesh, provides one of the funniest moments in the entire game. You watch Gilgamesh take a violent beating before he deploys a shiny new saber only to find out it is a forgery. He is then banished to the Interdimensional Rift by Exdeath for his incompetence. Finally, the battle against Exdeath is a bunch of cheap bullshit! His suite of immunities and powerful spells makes him capable of sweeping your party when you least expect it. On one occasion, after KO-ing two of my party members, Exdeath ended my game in one fell swoop by casting "Zombie" on everyone still standing. However, when a game gives you cheese, I say make quesadillas, and you bet I found a way to fuck him up. Fun fact, if you equip a Knight with a "Blood Sword," "Ice Shield," and the "Rapid Fire" ability, they cannot die during this boss encounter.

There's a quick joke about Faris needing to wear a dress, and Bartz swooning over her like a dog. It's not great!
There's a quick joke about Faris needing to wear a dress, and Bartz swooning over her like a dog. It's not great!

After appearing to slay Exdeath, the Warriors of Light witness the crystals they had sought to protect, shatter before their eyes. In what I can only describe as a Parthian shot, Exdeath "merges" Bartz and Lenna's world with Galuf's. To illustrate, strings of islands along the southern hemisphere become a single snakey continent. Additionally, there are many landmarks whose locations are slightly different from what you may recall. And as I hopefully made clear earlier, this change makes exploring the world of Final Fantasy V a colossal pain in the ass. Luckily for all involved, the merging of the worlds results in the most significant worldbuilding you'll see in Final Fantasy V. Though, I have to wonder, did Galuf live on a different planet, or did he come from an alternate dimension? The game starts with meteors from "World Two" crashing into "World One," which would imply Galuf lives on a different planet. However, whenever Ghido talks about the "Interdimensional Rift," he rambles about a long-gone wizard ripping apart the fabric of reality into two dimensions.

If that quandary has you dizzy, then buckle up, because the next handful of interstitial levels are some of the weirdest shit you will see in the entire game! Which is a bit odd given how the game previously spent so much of its time convincing you shit was getting real. Instead, the characters wake up after being knocked out and eventually migrate to Tycoon Castle, where a massive welcoming banquet greets Lenna and Faris. Krile and Bartz explore the castle, and if you interact with an obscure book, you can watch a touching flashback wherein Faris refuses to learn how to ride wind drakes and professes a love for the open seas. Be that as it may, Faris and Lenna are busy attending to royal duties, befitting people of their status, and Bartz and Krile fuck off to have an adventure. For those of you wondering, this game indeed has a sequence where you are limited to just TWO characters!

That is what I would refer to as a
That is what I would refer to as a "DICK MOVE!"

Bartz, wanting to reconnect with Boko, heads off to Lenna's old pirate hideout with Krile in tow. If you are wondering if the game modifies its random encounters in response to you being down two party members, I can assure you it does not! Admittedly, the fights are relatively basic, but even a battle against an army of goblins can take some time with just two characters. No matter, Bartz runs into Boko and discovers he's formed a relationship with a female Chocobo but is still willing to help Bartz explore his surroundings. Boko, Bartz, and Krile explore a cave and end up fighting an Antlion, which goes down relatively quickly. Lenna helps the two exit the cave and dresses them down for having fun without her, and all three decide to visit Ghido to figure out what's going on with the world. Even so, Krile ends up getting a splinter and curiously spends the next ten minutes complaining about her finger.

When they reach Ghido's Cave, which is no longer submerged, they discover the wise turtle flipped on his back. After helping him right himself, Ghido explains how long ago an evil wizard, Enuo, split the world into two after discovering the power of "the Void." Enuo was defeated when twelve warriors each forged a weapon that allowed them to seal the nefarious mage away, but in doing so, the splitting of the worlds continued. As with anything related to Final Fantasy V's story, it's "interesting" but held back by the fact the game is only interested in serving lore that makes its surrounding world possible. For pity's sake, Enuo doesn't appear until the GBA port, and there's nothing more than Ghido's long lectures that build up the mythos surrounding the Interdimensional Rift. But, much like the rest of Final Fantasy V's narrative, it gets away with such disinterest because it avoids bludgeoning you over the head with its simplicity.

It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without some convoluted sci-fi plot twist!
It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without some convoluted sci-fi plot twist!

Part 24: Let's Talk About The Unfortunate Consequences Of The Four Job Fiesta

As Ghido nears the end of his speech, Krile complains about the splinter in her finger. The splinter jumps out and reveals itself to be none other than Exdeath. Yup, the evil magical tree wizard from earlier was a goddamn splinter in a 14-year-old girl's finger! What's more, after offing our party members with relative ease, Exdeath challenges Ghido to a fight. To everyone's surprise, Ghido battles Exdeath to a draw after spouting an endless supply of TMNT references. Exdeath fucks off, and Ghido teleports everyone to the Library of Ancients to discover more about what Exdeath is planning.

While at the Library of Ancients, Ghido and the Warriors of Light learn more about Exdeath's grand scheme. The scholars there surmise that Exdeath merged the worlds to harness the power of "the Void," a type of magic he used to send Castle Tycoon into oblivion. The scholars then report that the Warriors of Light will need to collect the twelve legendary weapons used to defeat Enuo many years ago. However, what they fail to say is that using these weapons is not necessary to defeat Exdeath. In fact, this is where the design and structure of Final Fantasy V gets a little "weird." Oddly enough, there's no actual mechanical requirement to use these weapons during the final battle against Exdeath. You can run up against Exdeath's final form, spam bullshit, and finish the game in record time. Which, if you were wondering, is what I did when I reached the last level.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Exdeath destroys half of the world. Yeah... I probably should have mentioned that earlier.
Oh, and I forgot to mention Exdeath destroys half of the world. Yeah... I probably should have mentioned that earlier.

Furthermore, and this is a point we need to discuss in further detail, the game doesn't require you to collect all of the legendary weapons. The only requirement is to pick up the Earth Lithograph at the Pyramid of Moore. Somewhat comically, the game doesn't even require you to "cash in" the Earth Lithograph for the first three legendary weapons. In hindsight, it is hard not to think Final Fantasy V informed the design of Chrono Trigger. Both games have an open-ended structure wherein the player can opt into however much or little of the game's content as they want, and both present a portal that transports the player to the final boss. The difference is that Chrono Trigger's open-world structure defines the entire game. In contrast, Final Fantasy V waits until its last act before allowing the player to explore its nooks and crannies. Nevertheless, you can see the kernel that Squaresoft used from Final Fantasy V to inform their design choices in Chrono Trigger.

However, we now need to discuss one of the unfortunate consequences of the Four Job Fiesta phenomenon surrounding Final Fantasy V. Before I jump into a bit of a "rant," I want to make it clear, I love the Four Job Fiesta movement. For the uninitiated, the Four Job Fiesta is a challenge in which players get through Final Fantasy V with just one randomly selected job per crystal. The event raises a significant amount of money for charity and has revived interest in Final Fantasy V. I'm not joking about that last point. The Four Job Fiesta has driven waves of speedrunning and general gaming communities toward Final Fantasy V by the bucket load, and I'm not about to scoff at that. Also, to everyone who prefers experiencing Final Fantasy V from a job-driven perspective, I applaud you.

Then again, it's hard to take a game that has dialogue like this too seriously.
Then again, it's hard to take a game that has dialogue like this too seriously.

However, the downside to the Four Job Fiesta is that it provides a very mechanics-based experience and guts almost all of Final Fantasy V's storytelling upside. The issue here is that the experience a Four Job Fiesta provides is incredibly one-sided and just showcases the tip of the iceberg in terms of what makes Final Fantasy V truly special. In the case of the optional dungeons, a standard Four Job Fiesta skips all of them in favor of immediately jumping into the Interdimensional Rift and battling Exdeath post haste. This shortcoming is something the dominant Four Job Fiesta website addresses outright in that it states a fiesta should NOT be your first impression of Final Fantasy V. Unfortunately, this memo hasn't gotten out to many of the people currently playing the game. I have come across no less than three people who have never collected all of the lithographs, and all I want to say to them is: you are missing out.

Part 25: The Optional Dungeons Are Fucking AWESOME!

Those who avoid collecting the lithographs can almost be forgiven as your first impressions of yet another McGuffin "collectathon" isn't exactly rosy. The Pyramid of Moore is the only lithograph-based dungeon the player is required to complete, and it is an absolute slog of a level. The player has to deal with a slew of poison-inflicting enemies down a party member. That's right, Lenna is nowhere to be seen following Exdeath obliterating Castle Tycoon, and the game takes its sweet-ass time before pulling a deus ex machina in bringing her back to the fold. And the pyramid features eight goddamn snaky floor plans that require an absurd amount of backtracking. The only exciting part about it is that the boss battle here occurs at the level's entrance, allowing you to explore its interior at a more relaxed pace.

Oh... this fucking shit at the pyramid was no fun at all!
Oh... this fucking shit at the pyramid was no fun at all!

Yet, once you get past the Pyramid of Moore, you'll find the rest of the lithograph-based towers to be an absolute treat. For one thing, each optional level plays into developing at least one of the Warriors of Light. For example, one level will allow Krile to reconnect with the spirit of Galuf, whereas another juxtaposes to flashbacks of Lenna's royal upbringing. Furthermore, the story of Final Fantasy V feels more "complete" when you take the time to explore and collect the remaining lithographs. Following Lenna rejoining the party, Exdeath uses the power of the void to consume virtually every town and story-crucial location into oblivion. The depravity and immediacy of Exdeath's act thoroughly establishes that he's above your party, and our heroes will need all the help they can get. While that's certainly not the case with every playthrough, the message of the developers and writers is visible and impactful enough you feel you should oblige them with your time.

Furthermore, I found most of the optional towers to be some of the best-designed SNES-era dungeons I have ever seen. Take, for example, the Fork Tower wherein you split your party into two groups. On one side, you'll face predominantly physical-based enemies, whereas the opposite tower contains magic-based enemies. It's a simple concept that plays into the strengths of the job-system and one with a myriad of possible solutions. To illustrate this point further, the Water Lithograph is found hidden inside a waterfall, which requires the player to use the Thief's dash ability to acquire all of the treasure there and the Geomancer to avoid traps. Then there's the Great Sea Trench, where you explore an underwater cavern system with an ecosystem unlike any you have seen before and whose lava-based levels encourage the use of the spell "float."

Have I mentioned how Exdeath IS ON THE FUCKING MOON!
Have I mentioned how Exdeath IS ON THE FUCKING MOON!

Then we have the sidequests which I found to provide some of the more dynamic moments in Final Fantasy V. The most evident examples are the battles against Gogo and Bahamut. The first of these is a brilliant puzzle. Upon entering the Sunken Tower of Walse, the player is greeted with a timer in which they must race to its bottom or risk drowning your characters. At the tower's basement, they encounter Gogo, a mime who asks them to observe his behavior to gain access to the final non-GBA job crystal. With the timer looming threateningly, many players incorrectly guess that they need to spam a powerful spell or whack Gogo with a potent sword. Instead, they must do nothing and wait until Gogo is satisfied. It was a battle that inverted my expectations, and I LOVED IT!

The battle against Bahamut is more straightforward. A legendary dragon appears before the Warriors of Light and challenges them to a duel. It is an incredibly tiresome battle but requires the player to master a handful of useful strategies that come into play in the game's final level. Bahamut's elemental spells can be easily absorbed if you equip the appropriate rings or shields, and is susceptible to time-based magic. Finally, the Phoenix Tower provides many opportunities for the player to become accustomed to late-game status effects. There's even an earlier battle against Odin, but he's vulnerable to the spell "Petrify," and as a result, I was able to off him in one turn. That said, it is a helpful reminder to double-check the vulnerabilities of each of the game's bosses. All in all, these levels were an absolute joy to play as they rewarded research and job-based experimentation. They are cleverly designed, and the fact most people skip them is a damn shame.

That said, not all of these weapons are
That said, not all of these weapons are "created equal." Why the Geomancer get's its own legendary weapon drives me up the wall.

Part 26: The Late-Game Character And Environmental Storytelling Is Underrated!

Another criticism I have about the Four Job Fiesta phenomenon is that it has resulted in Final Fantasy V developing a bit of an unfair reputation as a "mechanic-based" Final Fantasy game. While valid for the most part, dismissing it as a game that can only be appreciated for its dynamic job-system undersells the worldbuilding and character work the game provides in several optional locations. Yes, it is lamentable these character arcs and moments are conveyed in skippable cutscenes and missable side quests. Regardless, they are there, and they add a lot of emotional weight to the events of the game's final two acts. In fact, portions of Final Fantasy V's story straight up do not make sense without exploring these levels and cutscenes.

Also, you can miss out on an extra scene with Mid and Cid, which seems like an odd thing not to include in the story.
Also, you can miss out on an extra scene with Mid and Cid, which seems like an odd thing not to include in the story.

Take Exdeath as a bit of a case study. If you skip all of the optional lithographs and fail to cash-in a single tablet at the Sealed Temple, you miss out on a cutscene in which Exdeath recruits his army of followers that you end up battling during the end-game boss rush. Yes, it is a simple rousing villainous speech wherein Exdeath booms about destroying the universe as we know it. Nonetheless, without this cutscene, Exdeath appears to accumulate an army of goons by pure happenstance. Likewise, there are a few "required" cutscenes that preempt Exdeath being an evil tree wizard commanding an army of monsters on the moon. Nevertheless, the two optional juxtapositions showing him on his lunar throne drive home this point further by providing additional context.

I have no idea what the design team was thinking in terms of structuring Final Fantasy V end-game. On the one hand, I appreciate being able to blow through the last third of the game when I want a mechanics-based playthrough. I know I have been on record of how much I hate needing to see the same cutscenes, repeatedly, when attempting an onerous boss the third or fourth time. On the other hand, whole characters feel woefully underdeveloped should you never seek out several of these optional locations. The most significant of these oversights, by far, comes with Lenna's late-game character arc. Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, I want to clarify that none of these story developments are on-par with the games that follow Final Fantasy V. While pleasant and touching, Lenna's backstory isn't a revelation I hold up against Aerith's death or Final Fantasy X's ending. Even so, it is one of the many examples of Squaresoft injecting an emotional core to an otherwise breezy and light-hearted adventure, and what they accomplished is worth remarking upon briefly.

If you do not like Gogo, then we can't be friends.
If you do not like Gogo, then we can't be friends.

Within the context of the main story, Lenna is the group's level-headed moral compass. She's the typical naive princess with a heart of gold we have seen countless times prior. Or is she? Now, the Phoenix Tower is a motherfucker of a level. The Magic Pots you encounter are greedy little bastards who, despite providing 100 AP, require Elixirs to dispatch promptly. Nonetheless, once you reach the top of the tower, the game offers an incredibly evocative flashback. We discover that Lenna's mother developed a grave illness with only one possible cure: the tongue of a wind drake. Lenna, emotionally distraught, approaches her animal companion, whom she has known for her entire life, with the intent of killing them. The player then makes a dialogue choice to either follow through in killing the wind drake or not, though the outcome is the same regardless. This scene provides context to why Lenna has gone to such great lengths to care for the wildlife in Final Fantasy V. Furthermore, watching her Wind Drake pass away and transform into the Phoenix Summon is both profoundly moving and beautiful.

It's a goddamn shame most Final Fantasy V players have never seen this scene.
It's a goddamn shame most Final Fantasy V players have never seen this scene.

Other exciting moments go the distance in foreshadowing the game's conclusion. A trip to Faris' old pirate cove results in her saying goodbye to the spirit of Syldra. It's nowhere near the emotional heights of Lenna's moment, but it's a pleasant scene that showcases the similarities between the two sisters. Finally, we have the Phantom Village (a.k.a., Mirage Village), which I would argue should be "required viewing" before having a go at Exdeath. The town is a small village that previously was stuck in a time loop when the two worlds in Final Fantasy V separated. Every NPC shares a different clue as to what you can expect when you enter the Interdimensional Rift. Yes, the town not being represented with a map marker fucking sucks. However, it foreshadows so much of the end-game and provides so many exceptional mechanical resources that I cannot imagine skipping it under any circumstances.

Part 27: The Final Dungeon Is NO JOKE!

After you've had enough of your usual late-game fussing about, it is time to jump into the void and attack Exdeath. The Interdimensional Rift bears a striking resemblance to Ultimecia's Castle in Final Fantasy VIII. Both exist outside of time and space, and you move between several areas that have minimal physical relation to each other. What I think Final Fantasy V does better than Final Fantasy VIII is how it uses its last handful of levels to call back to earlier moments in its story. You start in a desert that works similarly to the Shifting Sands, and the game compliments this with a return to the pulley area where you picked up the airship. The robust visual design continues when you explore the Phantom Village stuck in time. It's a creepy moment that makes entering the rift feel like you are accessing a nightmare world.

I love Gilgamesh so goddamn much in this game! HE'S GREAT!
I love Gilgamesh so goddamn much in this game! HE'S GREAT!

Speaking of nightmares, the design of the final dungeons is downright cruel. The first issue is that the save points are too few and far between, with the player often needing to go three to four levels before encountering one. The second issue is that the random encounter rate spikes exponentially, and this is the point in the game when it throws virtually every status effect at you. Finally, we have the bosses which range the gamut between hilariously easy to downright soul-crushing. Luckily, most of the bosses have tricks and exploits you can take advantage of when you fight them. The most obvious example being Azulmagia, whose mime-like tendency allows you to perform the "Self-Destruct" Blue Magic spell and defeat him in a single turn.

The point of contention I have with the game's final boss rush is the number of bosses and the end-game's length. The Interdimensional Rift has EIGHT distinct parts, and each has a troublesome assortment of bosses that have the potential of whipping out your party. Because of the random encounter rate skyrocketing to the moon, these rather straightforward treks become slogs. I cannot begin to describe my frustration when I was moments away from a boss battle, got thrown into a fucked up random encounter, and needed to backtrack three levels to a save point to heal my party. And this grousing is ignoring the fact there are eight goddamn bosses in the Interdimensional Rift, and I am even discounting the "battle" against Gilgamesh!

Part 28: I AM THE KING OF THE CHEESE GODS! I DEMAND DAILY TRIBUTES OF CHEESE!

And if there was any debate about Exdeath being a tree... I present you with Exhibit A!
And if there was any debate about Exdeath being a tree... I present you with Exhibit A!

What I am about to describe isn't something I am entirely proud of having done. As I have said before, Final Fantasy V rewards you for investing time into its mechanics. To get the maximal utility of each job class, you do not need to "master" every skill or passive buff. You do, however, need to decide on the roles for each of your characters, and how to pair them with a complimentary passive ability. Whelp, let's just say my blasé approach to leveling my characters finally came to bite me in the butt. Rather than funnel my characters into tried and true build paths, I instead diversified their specialties to a fault. To highlight, Lenna had the Monk's "Power Up" passive, but none of the Mystic Knight's elemental attacks, which would have made her an effective "boss killer." Faris was the only character with the Red Mage's "Dual Cast" ability, but I failed to level up her magical job classes to take advantage of this effectively.

To my defense, I was able to get to the final portion of the Interdimensional Rift before realizing I had made some poor choices. I realized something was incredibly wrong with my characters when I battled Necrophobe and could not survive to the point when Gilgamesh swoops in and saves the day. Despite completing the lion's share of the game's side quests, my characters were only level thirty-five. Veterans of Final Fantasy V will be happy to point out that the two-part fight against Exdeath requires a party to be around level forty during a"normal" playthrough. Surprisingly, my merry band of idiots could consistently off Exdeath's first form, but were woefully ill-equipped to handle his final appearance. If I can pinpoint one lousy habit of my playthrough to change, it would be my failure to develop an "end goal" for each of my characters. I never settled on who would be my Healer, DPS, Tank, or Mage until the very last level, and that was incredibly stupid. However, if I can mount a slight defense, the game doesn't front-load winning specializations or job combinations at any point.

Yeah... this boss wasn't a
Yeah... this boss wasn't a "fun time" before I deployed "THE CHEESE!"

How did I manage to finish Final Fantasy V if my characters and their job specializations were thoroughly fucked? Regrettably, this is the part of the story I suspect will make several of you incredibly angry. With my current party composition, my Summoner was my highest damage dealer when it popped off Bahamut. With that in mind, I assigned Faris to be a Summoner and paired her up with the Red Mage's "Dual Cast" ability. Things get a bit "cheesy" because I played around with the remaining characters in my party in the worst goddamn way possible. I made Lenna, Bartz, AND Krile Mimes. Yup, I did a dumb thing. As a result, in a single turn, I was able to pop off eight casts of Bahamut. I regret using such a "cheese tactic" to finish the game, and honestly, I feel as if I cheated myself of the impact of beating Exdeath. But at the same time, the game allows it, and I likely would have needed to backtrack and grind for four to five hours had I not done this.

I do want to mention; there are other hilarious exploits to take advantage of during the Neo-Exdeath battle. If every party member has mastered the Ninja class, they can dual wield weapons and then as a Ranger or Freelancer, land five to six attacks per character. If you have the materials, you can also employ a Chemist to level all of your party members to level 99 during Exdeath's rather passive first form. On a similar note, Neo-Exdeath's body parts have individual status effect vulnerabilities. The back portion is susceptible to "Doom," and the middle portion can be petrified. I say all of this to underscore how I did NOT need to cheese the battle as boldly as I did. And to be honest, I wish I had gone through a more orthodox route.

Look! I'm not proud of what I did! But I did it... and now I need to live with the consequences!
Look! I'm not proud of what I did! But I did it... and now I need to live with the consequences!

Speaking of which, this is an impeccable final boss battle that shoots for the stars. It is here where Exdeath finally assumes his tree-like form, a design that caused me to laugh uncontrollably. There's even a moment when Exdeath gets the upper hand, and the spirits of the Dawn Warriors bail out the Warriors of Light. And after sending Exdeath into the void, I was equally impressed by the sprite work for its final form. I have said it before, but there's something about the over-the-top pixel work on Squaresoft's 16-bit bosses that never fully translated when the franchise leaped to 3D. Something about Neo-Exdeath, despite its ridiculousness, felt more intimidating than 90% of the bosses envisioned by modern Square-Enix. And the music during each part of this battle is amazing!

Part 29: When The "True Ending" Is Worse

Once you defeat Neo Exdeath, Final Fantasy V deploys its rather novel conclusion. In the game, if any characters are "dead" upon Exdeath's final defeat, they are treated as dead for storyline purposes. If you lose anyone, THEY ARE GONE! In my case, despite my cheesy tomfoolery, Krile and Bartz "passed away." As a result, there are dozens of possible permutations for Final Fantasy V's ending with the "true ending" being one where no characters die. No matter, as the title for this chapter may suggest, I consider Final Fantasy V, one of the rare examples where the "bad" conclusions are BETTER than the game's true ending. Moreso, I strongly recommend people to avoid the "true ending" at all costs.

YOU DON'T SAY!
YOU DON'T SAY!

For those of you who may recall my series on Final Fantasy X-2, you remember I found the "normal" ending in that game far more resonant than the "true ending" involving Tidus coming back to life. Something about Yuna flying into the sky, knowing she's finally free to live her life as she sees fit, always manages to "get me." A similar effect can be found in Final Fantasy V. My issue with the "true" ending is that it lacks the "normal" conclusion's initial melancholic undertones and cannot match the cathartic release when the characters finally reunite. In most endings, when the game transitions to locations where a "dead" party member would be seen, you watch characters mourn the loss of their friends or family members. As a result of Bartz dying in my playthrough, I saw his Chocobo companion, Boko, struggle to raise his offspring while coming to terms with Bartz's death.

From a technical perspective, it is incredible to see a game like Final Fantasy V leave no stone unturned. From a narrative standpoint, the vignettes during the conclusion feel more impactful if the character narrating them does so wistfully while questioning if they could have done more to keep their friends alive. Moreover, the game canonically waits a whole year before its surviving cast members come together at the Great Forest of Moore for the game's final cutscene. If anyone "died" in the Interdimensional Rift, the surviving characters place flowers in the forest and mourn. During the "true ending," the cast recollects at the forest, cracks jokes about "the good old times," and agree to go on an adventure for "old times' sake." The tones here are night and day, and ultimately that's not the only reason why the "normal" endings are better!

Sure, this is a bait-and-switch, but the game earns it in the end.
Sure, this is a bait-and-switch, but the game earns it in the end.

If everyone survives, after Krile lays down the flowers at the Guardian Tree, the characters jump for joy and start telling anecdotes to each other before the game smash cuts to the credits. If a character dies, one of the surviving party members lays down the flowers like before. However, this time the spirits of the Warriors of Dawn, Galuf included, appear from the ether and return the missing party members. Galuf has a few words about the importance of making the most of your time and disappears into the spirit world. The issue here is the normal endings provide a final moment with Galuf, where he challenges the party to make the most of their lives, whereas in the "true ending" they just go on a quest for shits and giggles. Never have I EVER seen a "true ending" in a game utterly GUT the driving motivation for the characters to stay together for one final journey. It is thoroughly baffling!

Finally, I'm a sucker for games grafting in consequences for the player's mistakes. Correct me if I am wrong, but Final Fantasy V appears to be the only mainline game in the franchise that "punishes" the player for mismanagement or poor play. There are "costs" to the final battle, and this game is one of the few that makes you understand that point. So often, games throttle you into a final dungeon or boss battle and reiterate your party is in a "life or death" scenario without any follow-through. Final Fantasy V makes good on that premise by punishing you for your failures. Finally, the story's last themes of the battle against Exdeath being an intergenerational fight, are perfectly communicated. You watch as each Dawn Warrior "passes the torch" to a member of your party. It is classic Squaresoft storytelling, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't put a smile on my face.

Oh... do you mean to suggest this adventure will continue in the Final Fantasy V OVA everyone forgot existed? I should review that at some point....
Oh... do you mean to suggest this adventure will continue in the Final Fantasy V OVA everyone forgot existed? I should review that at some point....

Part 30: More People Should Play This Game

What more do I need to say about Final Fantasy V that I have not already said? It's an amazingly well-made game that speaks of an oft-forgotten era of Squaresoft. An era where the company was willing to try out new gameplay mechanics and reveled in the inherent silliness of their games. At no point did I feel like I was a part of an epic melodrama that encouraged me to reflect on my behaviors or interactions with the world around me. Nonetheless, Final Fantasy V is a perfect example of a game that shows "less is more." Much of what Final Fantasy V ISN'T is what makes it so unique. You don't have to worry about a ham-fisted romance subplot. You don't have to deal with convoluted plot twists. You don't have to ignore shameless fanservice. You do not even need to grind until your fingers fall off your hands!

What a great way to do the final credits! BRAVO!
What a great way to do the final credits! BRAVO!

Stop and think about this point for a minute: when was the last time Square-Enix made a light-hearted adventure that didn't have moments of forced sentimentality or melodrama spoon fed into your gullet? When was the last time you played a game from modern Square-Enix that didn't demand your full emotional and mental investment? A Square-Enix scholar might point to Final Fantasy X-2, the VII Remake, or possibly one of the Final Fantasy spin-offs. Still, my money is on Final Fantasy V. No Final Fantasy game endeavors to humor its audience quite like V. It is shot much like a Gilbert and Sullivan stage-play, and the character pantomime as if they are performing a vaudevillian act. It's genuinely a pleasure to watch from beginning to end.

And the game is just plain fun. The job system is far more in-depth than I could have anticipated for a game of this era. The game's environmental design masterfully clues you into which jobs are best suited to handle whatever you may face. Nonetheless, the game rarely punishes you for sticking to a winning formula. The progression system for the jobs is incredibly rewarding, and the game's implementation of passive abilities is a deceptively clever mechanic. I spent hours grinding, not necessarily because I had to, but because I wanted to try out different job combinations. This underlying mechanic is easily broken, but that's part of the game's appeal. Finding new ways to play Final Fantasy V optimally is enthralling, and the broken job system ensures that it is surprisingly welcoming to JRPG newcomers. Unlike a more "modern" entry in the franchise (i.e., 13 or 15), there's no one way to play Final Fantasy V. There's a design genius buried in the game that is absent in, let's just say, linear corridors that pose no difficulty to the player for thirty to forty hours.

I was PISSED when I found out my cheese tactics screwed up my character's final stats!
I was PISSED when I found out my cheese tactics screwed up my character's final stats!

The last bit of advice I wish to offer is an endorsement of the best "version" of Final Fantasy V. My heart tells me that Final Fantasy V Advance is likely the version of the game you should play. Still, something about the GBA's terrible audio output makes me feel uncomfortable about recommending it. The Final Fantasy Anthology version would be a solid contender if it were easier to come by and was not plagued by an atrocious localization effort. The fan translations of the SNES game are perfectly serviceable if you are willing to play the buggiest build of the game and contend with the usual emulation-based weirdness with such an endeavor. Finally, there's the Steam/iOS port, or, the version I played for this blog. I know many of you are going to question my sanity, but I think this is the most straightforward version of the game to recommend. It works on modern technology without issues and has several quality-of-life additions that make the game more palatable. Yes, the smoothed textures are not great, but I found myself warming up to them by the time I finished the game.

I cannot emphatically recommend this game enough. I had a blast playing this game. So much so, I'm considering joining the Four Job Fiesta next year. I can honestly say that the mechanical diversity found in Final Fantasy V ensures that no experience in this game will ever be the same. Additionally, while it doesn't punch for the highest of highs from a narrative perspective, it features a strong enough motley crew that thoroughly charmed me. It is on that positive note that I close this series. Next time we meet and talk about a Final Fantasy game, I'll be reviewing a horrible mistake I made. An error that damn near ruined my entire summer.

Mistakes were made....
Mistakes were made....

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ArbitraryWater

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From one of my favorite Final Fantasy games to one I don't think I'd want to ever be within a thousand feet of, at least after watching you struggle through it. Looking forward to that blog series (AKA: ZP and friends are reminded what MMOs were like in the early 2000s) because boy FF XI sure is a thing.

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TruthTellah

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Thanks for the blog! Been quite the ride. Has likely convinced me to play Final Fantasy V this summer. I've seen Four Job Fiesta runs around so much that it's high time I join in and see what the fuss is about. <>

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Hunter5024

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Hell yeah Final Fantasy 5!

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Efesell

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The magic lamp is a (refillable) item that summons in descending order the most powerful summons in the game. Anyone can use it and it's one of the most powerful grinding tools in the game for some Fiesta parties because you can one shot the horrible monsters in the undersea trench, which is extremely efficient exp.

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SethMode

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#5  Edited By SethMode

I love these thank you for writing them, and also, BOY there is a lot about this game's endgame that I had forgotten.

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iron_knuckle

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I like the idea that the vaudevillian moments round off the rough edges of the storytelling. I'm reminded of FF IX's deliberate grounding in theater, and how it made minor characters memorable.

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#7 ZombiePie  Staff

From one of my favorite Final Fantasy games to one I don't think I'd want to ever be within a thousand feet of, at least after watching you struggle through it. Looking forward to that blog series (AKA: ZP and friends are reminded what MMOs were like in the early 2000s) because boy FF XI sure is a thing.

I still have no idea if I award my "Worst Game of My Year" award to FF11 or Kokonoe Kokoro. On the one hand, FF11 is an awful UI and player experience with one of the most miserable new player on-ramps I have ever seen. On the other hand, Kokone Kokoro is a scam with some of the worst writing I have ever seen in my life. It's gonna be a tough decision, and in this case, everyone loses.

Thanks for the blog! Been quite the ride. Has likely convinced me to play Final Fantasy V this summer. I've seen Four Job Fiesta runs around so much that it's high time I join in and see what the fuss is about. <>

It is a fun time, but I again must advise you to play the game normally before you attempt the Four Job Fiesta. You are going to miss out in a lot of storytelling and fun job classes if you do a Four Job Fiesta as your first go at the game. Also, the Four Job Fiesta can be incredibly stressful if you do not know what you are doing, and it is best to play the game normally to appreciate its more relaxed pacing and tone.

Hell yeah Final Fantasy 5!

It's funny how most people who have played Final Fantasy V universally agree it is one of the most "fun" games in the franchise, but rarely do you see people come to its defense when there are discussions about the franchise as a whole.

This is just me thinking out loud, and thank you for your comment.

@efesell said:

The magic lamp is a (refillable) item that summons in descending order the most powerful summons in the game. Anyone can use it and it's one of the most powerful grinding tools in the game for some Fiesta parties because you can one shot the horrible monsters in the undersea trench, which is extremely efficient exp.

Cool! I think @thatpinguino was in a situation where he needed to use the lamp during his last Four Job Fiesta. Though, I seem to recall him relying more on his Chemist than his summons for his playthrough. Regardless, I should have mentioned that I used the lamp a handful of times and eventually got "Eggman," and when I realized it did not do anything, thought I had used the item to the point of exhaustion.

@sethmode said:

I love these thank you for writing them, and also, BOY there is a lot about this game's endgame that I had forgotten.

I'm still undecided about the game's end-game. Some of my favorite dungeons and boss battles are there, but at the same time, it is largely optional. Also, I like the scaffolding for the Interdimensional Rift, but the damn level is too long for its own good, and the game layers its random encounters heavy at that point. There's a lot to enjoy, and it continues to affirm that Final Fantasy V informed a lot of the design decisions that went into Chrono Trigger.

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jeffrud

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#8  Edited By jeffrud

I can't believe your friend made you play Final Fantasy XI.

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#9 ZombiePie  Staff

@jeffrud said:

I can't believe your friend made you play Final Fantasy XI.

And from the sounds of it, maybe said friend and I need to jump into this new FF11 expansion pack! WE HAVE TO GO BACK! WE SHOULD GO BACK! LET'S GO BACK!

I like the idea that the vaudevillian moments round off the rough edges of the storytelling. I'm reminded of FF IX's deliberate grounding in theater, and how it made minor characters memorable.

Sure, the theater element of FF9 comes to mind when discussing FF5, but I actually think 5 is more consistent about integrating the moments of levity into the story. I mean, there's the plot twist with Zidane and the sci-fi heavy plot twist during the third disc that has never sat well with me, and that compares unfavorably to FF5.

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Efesell

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I have always thought V is best described as Final Fantasy rendered as a Saturday morning cartoon.

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sombre

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Fuckin hell ZP, am I too late for the 4JF?

I feel like I've missed it AGAIN this year

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Efesell

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@sombre: It runs until the end of August.

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sombre

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@efesell said:

@sombre: It runs until the end of August.

i might look into the GBA version then.

That is the recommended one, right?

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Efesell

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Yeah I would say so. SNES has better music and the PSX version is a burning trash fire. The modern ports all look atrocious in my opinion but they work fine.

All in all though I'd stick with GBA.

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I know I'm a bit late to this post, but if you are willing to go and put the effort to get a Romhack translation, you might as well just get the effort to go and get the restored sound hack for the GBA version. It makes it the definitive version IMO because it has both the best version of the music and the not ugly graphics of the modern ports, while still having a professional translation. I recommend it for the Fiesta next year.