Final Fantasy V Advance

Depending on the context, the term 'role-playing game' can mean many, varied, and sometimes unsavoury things. In the comfy confines of Pocket Gamer, however, you'll be safe plumping for princesses, swords, and castles.

But while Final Fantasy V Advance has its fair share of those three RPG staples, it's much more eclectic that that. Do flying yellow chickens, white cats with small purple wings, a turtle sage, and cross-dressing pirates sound more enticing? If so, you'll find yourself at home in this enhanced remake of Square Enix's 1992 classic title.

Despite the kookie trimmings, the core plot of Final Fantasy V Advance will be familiar to any Lord of the Rings audience member.

The four elemental crystals supplying magic to a planet's inhabitants are losing their power, and shattering. Meanwhile our wandering hero, Bartz, finds himself at the crash site of a meteor where he meets wayfaring pirate Faris, amnesiac warrior Galuf and plucky princess Lenna. The four then begin a quest to save the crystals, although naturally it turns out the crystals are merely a metaphor for something much more nasty and dangerous. And so the tale develops.

While that plot twists and turns its own merry way, you'll spend most of your time in the midsts of battle. For as Bartz and the rest of your party journey through the game's locales, the screen will periodically swirl and the sound effects clash to signal the beginning of a random encounter. And then it's you versus the monsters.

In the series' signature battle style, each character waits until it's their turn to make a move, whether a physical attack, summoning a creature, or drinking a health potion, with the exact ordering being worked out by the game's 'active time system'.

It can be frustrating – Final Fantasy V Advance doesn't wait for you, and monsters will make their moves while you're still making decisions if you're not fast about it.

Once you do get into the swing of things, however, it proves surprisingly strategic. You'll soon find yourself holding back spellswords to let your mage weaken the enemies first, or preparing your healer to cure poisons and curses before they're even cast. And after a successful encounter, experience points for your characters, money (in the form of the in-game currency, gil) and ability points will gratifyingly flood in.

The variety in the setup of your four-strong party comes from the Job system, which is Final Fantasy V Advance's take on the standard role-playing classes. Characters can take on jobs (there are 26 in total, including four new ones just for this GBA version), and over time learning their job's associated abilities proves key.

The jobs vary from old favourites like the knight and black mage, through to the unusual such as the cannoneer and necromancer. Our favourite is the geomancer, who's what your old geography teacher dreamed of being, assuming they'd fought their way through dungeons out of school hours.

By carefully choosing abilities that compliment each other, you can make sure your group bristles with effective combinations.

For instance, you might start Bartz off as a monk. Monks are masters of hand-to-hand combat, and can fight without weapons to inflict higher damage. Once he's learnt that Barehanded skill, he can take that ability with him to another job. Change him to a berseker – gaining a huge attack bonus at the cost of losing control during battle – and he'll still be able to fight barehanded as well as any monk, but with a boosted attack stat.

Plot aside, the job system sits directly at the centre of the gameplay. Once you've got the hang of it, you'll begin to build up a powerful party, with characters changing jobs as you go.

You'll have to make sure you don't get too unbalanced, as the vagaries of the plot can seriously mess up your plans. It's all too easy to skip through dungeons and deserts meeting a couple of asthmatic tapeworms on the way, only to find yourself up a tower against the largest ogre you've ever seen, with you wielding nothing but a pointy stick and a copy of Geography Today.

This never feels like bad design though, just old-skool design. You'll really need to consider what you're teaching your main healer as well as making sure you're getting the best equipment gil can buy from the item shops, because those mini-bosses can pack a punch.

For this reason, it's hard to recommend Final Fantasy V Advance as a good place for an inexperienced role-player to start – Final Fantasy IV Advance is more forgiving from that point of view.

But if you want to get in-depth with character classes, as well as enjoy a typically mythical and tragic Final Fantasy storyline, sign up here.

Final Fantasy V Advance

While not for those lacking experience points, Final Fantasy V Advance offers a highly customisable adventure for anyone seeking a role-playing challenge