Game Reviews

Final Fantasy V

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| Final Fantasy V
Final Fantasy V
| Final Fantasy V

And so we reach the fifth entry in the Final Fantasy series, as Square Enix continues its steady drip-feed of iOS conversions.

It was just four months ago that we covered Final Fantasy IV for Apple's platform, but a surprising amount has changed in that time.

Final Fantasy V has a number of inherent differences from its predecessor anyway, but it's also notable that Square has taken a completely different approach with this port.

Do these changes result in another role-playing classic?

Feeling a little flat

Whereas Final Fantasy IV was a port of the Nintendo DS game - which itself represented a chunky 3D overhaul of the 2D SNES original - there was no such advanced version to call upon with V.

Admirably, Square Enix took it upon itself to enhance Final Fantasy V's visuals especially for the iOS version.

There's no reworked 3D engine here. Rather, Square has produced new 2D sprites, closer to the spirit of the original but with much more detail and clarity.

I prefer this approach to the rudimentary 3D of Final Fantasy IV, which was never going to date particularly well. There's a timeless quality to these visuals, even if the animation is a little basic and the character portraits that accompany the text bear little resemblance to the sprites.

Wandering ways

But what of the game at Final Fantasy V's heart? It's the same epic early '90s JRPG, which means a sprawling world map that manages to ease you into its fantasy world without holding your hand.

There's the same basic formula of wandering between towns, stocking up on more powerful gear before raiding a dungeon or tower to advance the plot. Sandwiched in-between are dozens upon dozens of random turn-based battles, though most can be dispatched relatively quickly.

The interface here seems much improved over IV to my eyes - particularly when engaging in those turn-based battles. It's possible to dish out orders without having to flit around the entire screen, with natural follow-on commands popping up within easy reach.

Plotting a course

Final Fantasy V's plot has come in for a bit of criticism over the years, and it's true that it lacks the depth and occasional gravitas of numbers VI and VII.

The setting doesn't initially feel as fresh as Final Fantasy IV either, with your generic gang comprised of a care-free young warrior, a plucky princess, an amnesiac (that old chestnut) old man, and a tomboy pirate.

But the charming tone, commendable variety, and speedy pace of the game's scene-setting sections overcomes many of these narrative shortcomings. There are a number of moments here that will make you smile and, yes, even care about these characters too.

It's far from the best Final Fantasy plot, then, but some of the more recent additions to the franchise could learn a thing or two from V about getting to the point.

Jack of all trades

And the point, aside from spinning a rip-roaring continent-spanning yarn, is Final Fantasy V's notable job system.

This was (and remains) one of the the most free-wheeling and customisable entries in the series thanks to its job system. Rather than setting your characters on a prescribed path as in IV, Final Fantasy V lets you assign roles from an eventual 20 or so jobs.

These include numerous variations on the old mage, warrior, and rogue templates. What's more, you can retain certain learned skills from these jobs as you swap to new ones, creating a truly mind-boggling number of possible variations.

As I noted in my Final Fantasy IV review, this kind of approach does rob the characters of some of their individuality and, well, character. But for those who like to tinker with and hone their parties until they're just so, it's a dream come true.

Golden age

In a way, Final Fantasy V marks a quick glance back to the series's roots before Square Enix plunged into the ambitious steampunk worlds and dramatic twists of VI onwards.

It's light on drama and high on breezy charm. Its plot is relatively simple, with the onus firmly on an in-depth and - yes - hardcore character customisation system.

It's something that might be completely alien to fans of the FMV-fests of the past decade or so, but Final Fantasy V is the perfect time capsule for showing just how fun JRPGs could be in the early '90s.

The only question now is: are you willing to pay £10.99 to dig it up?

Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V might not represent the high point of the series, but Square Enix's sympathetic graphical overhaul and that ever-engrossing job system mean that it feels surprisingly fresh in 2013
Jon Mundy
Jon Mundy
Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.