Monday, 13 May 2013

Final Fantasy V (PSX)

final fantasy 5 playstation title screen
Today I'm taking a quick look at Final Fantasy V, the last of the numbered FF games to not get a Western release, at least not for a long while. But FF2 and FF3 were skipped over at the time because the NES had become obsolete before they could make it across the ocean. FF5 on the other hand could have made it into US shops mid 1993, around the peak of the system's popularity, so why didn't it? Apparently the reason was that it's "just not accessible enough to the average gamer", which has me a little worried, because I'm an average gamer! I don't want to get hopelessly confused by a SNES RPG, that'd just be embarrassing.

Incidentally, Square's refusal to give the world a English release made this one of the first games ever to get a full fan translation. Fortunately I don't need it though as Square eventually did give English speakers their own version of the game a decade later on the PlayStation.

Like the other PlayStation Final Fantasy ports, the game starts with a brand new, entirely superfluous CGI intro. Though I don't remember the other games starting out in deep space, with ominous music. I feel like I'm watching the start of an Alien movie.

Actually damn, now I want to see a big budget sci-fi action thriller with music by Nobuo Uematsu. Hollywood, steal my idea!

Ah there we go, back to dragons and castles. Actually I'm kind of all castled out after the last few Final Fantasies to be honest, but it's a nice looking shot.

Oh right, this may have hit Western shelves around the turn of the millennium, but Japan got the game much earlier and the CGI is definitely 1998 vintage. I mean it isn't bad for the time at all, maybe not at FF8's level, but a clear step above FF4 and FF7.

Not that it matters much in the end. I get the feeling somehow that the characters in this intro are based on the original concept art and so any resemblance to in-game persons, living or dead, will be purely coincidental.

Well I've finally reached the original SNES intro cutscene, and yep the princess from the video has pink hair now. Kinda makes the CGI intro feel a bit disconnected when the people in it are unrecognisable.

Anyway the King is going off to the Wind Shrine as its seems that the wind has gone a bit wonky lately and may need fixing. He commands his daughter to stay put and not try to follow him, and then flies from the top of the tower on the back of a dragon. So I guess she either has her own dragon somewhere or he's worried she'll take a running leap.

Cut to various other people across the land realising that the wind has disappeared, including this pink haired sailor. You know I think there may be another reason their ship has stalled (hint: both anchors are down).

And then just to add a little extra catastrophe to the crisis, a giant potato plummets from outer space, then steers itself across a Mode 7 map to crash down upon a specific spot.

Meanwhile, these two are camping nearby when they hear the impact. The man immediately leaps into the chocobo's mouth and... oh wait, I think that was supposed to be him jumping on top to ride it. Anyway they head off to find out what just happened.

But then I'm given control, so our heroes actually turn around and head in the exact opposite direction to the meteor. Hah! Your days of self determination are over my friend. From now on you are nothing but my puppet and your own goals are irrelevant.

Crap, there's nothing actually up here but a dead end. I suppose civilisation must be on the other side of the meteor impact crater. I can't even fight any random battles here as he won't get off the chocobo. Still, being railroaded into investigating a rock is much much better than being stuck inside a bloody maze of a castle, like at the start of Final Fantasy 4.

I suppose I'll go do what he wants and check out the crash site then.

OI! What the fuck do you two think you're doing? Cheeky goblins, trying to drag off the princess while she's unconscious. I'm not having any of that.

Well the Final Fantasy combat interface seems to be more or less how I left it in FF4, with a menu popping at the start of my character's turn to give me a choice between my available actions and whom I wish to act upon. Except now they've added an ATB bar to indicate when my character's next turn is coming up, which is handy. I'm not a big fan of the flashing box they put over my character to show who I'm controlling through, it just looks wrong somehow.

Oh and I'm playing as ? apparently: the main with no (default) name. Though I'm sure I can come up with something for him.

And so my hero Butz managed to rescue princess Reina (or Leena in every other version of the game), helped a poor amnesia victim called Galuf to his feet, and then bravely let the two of them go off and find the Wind Shrine on their own, while he got back to camping in the woods with his chocobo.

Hey, I guess the princess actually did try following the King after all, on foot. Well I wish her the best of luck with that save the world quest she'll inevitably end up roped into, but it's none of my business!


BUT THEN, A FEW MINUTES LATER.


Well it turns out that I had literally nowhere else to go but the place they were going, so fate has once again forced me to be the hero.

I suppose playing Han Solo to her Princess Leia ain't so bad, though I'm not so happy about leaving my chocobo outside this cave. "Wait here" he says, as if he'll only be in there five minutes. The poor poor creature.

Wait, if I'm Han Solo, does that mean Boko is my Chewbacca or my Millennium Falcon? Or both?

Man I am so sick of caves in Final Fantasy games now. What I played of FF4 was basically castle, cave, town, cave, castle, cave, town, cave etc. and it got old after a while. Still, it's not a bad looking cave I suppose. Much more pleasing to the eye than FF4's art, which seemed to have one foot stuck in the NES era.

After a few random battles the cave led us straight into a pirate hideout, which Galuf sees as a good thing. After all, if they're pirates, they must have a boat to steal, right? What could possibly go wrong with that plan?


TWO MINUTES LATER.


And then we got caught by the pirates and cast in irons. It seems that princesses are worth a bit of cash in ransom though, so at least weren't forced to take a long walk off a short plank.

By the way, I like how they've added some expressions to the characters. They're always laughing or freaking out and it's nice to play as someone who isn't stoic or miserable for once. Especially after FF4's Cecil, who seemed like he was ready to throw himself off the first bridge I came across.

Poor Galuf, memory's not his strong suit.

Fortunately Faris, the pirate captain, has a sudden change of heart and he decides to skip the ransom and take us all to the Wind Shrine instead. On a sail boat. When there's no wind.

OH I get it now, the boat's pulled by a sea dragon thing! Those aren't anchor chains, they're connected to a harness. Well that make more sense then.

Reina seems overly shocked by this for someone who's family keeps a pet dragon.


A SHORT UNEVENTFUL TRIP ACROSS A LAKE LATER.


Right, now we're at the Wind Shrine we've got to go through the maze of hallways to find a crystal. Of course it had to be a crystal, it's always a crystal in these games.

Oh by the way, Faris's overly piraty manner of speech is found exclusively in the PlayStation Final Fantasy Anthology localization. He talks perfectly normally in the Japanese version.

GBA
Later translations of the game, like the GBA version, are more faithful to the original Japanese text.

The GBA version also has character portraits, which don't even try to match the actual sprites in the slightest. Different hairstyles, different colours, and Galuf doesn't even have a beard in his picture! You know, I don't think the people who ported this across had a great deal of respect for the sprite art in the game. I get the feeling they'd have changed all the sprites to match the concept art exactly if they had the time and money to spare.


A FEW RANDOM ENCOUNTERS LATER.


BOSS FIGHT! Fortunately the bird's not that much of a challenge, as there's basically nothing I can do wrong at this point. I've got a full party now and I've gained a few levels, but each of my characters are still stuck with choosing either 'Fight' or 'Item', and it's not hard to figure which of them is going to do the most damage. Still, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to use up a couple of my tonics to keep Reina and Galuf healthy and in the fight.


BUT THEN, AFTER OUR GLORIOUS VICTORY.


Oh damn, the crystal exploded before we even got to it! Also Reina's father is a ghost now I guess.

Well that ain't no good, that means this world will be without wind forever! Still, on the bright side it turns out that we're the chosen ones (big surprise) and we can use the power of the crystal to get new character classes (just like in Final Fantasy 3).

Now I get to choose a class for each of my characters, such as Knight, Thief, Black Mage, Monk etc. to give them extra abilities. Finally I can do something other than just pressing 'Fight' each turn.

Plus every character has their own unique sprite for each class and I can switch between classes as much as I like, whenever I feel like. It even comes with its own tutorial to explain how it all works. Still waiting for the part where this becomes too inaccessible for average gamers.

Now that we've totally failed to save the Wind Crystal and Reina's father, we're off to sail the world and see what else we can fail at. There's three other crystals in danger, and we have to protect them or else the world will end up... well, basically in the state it is in at the start of Final Fantasy 1 now that I think about it.

The moral of the story is, don't rely on crystals to power your fundamental forces of nature. They're either going to go bad, get stolen by a miserable Dark Knight, or explode, and then your world is pretty much screwed.

Anyway being free to sail anywhere started getting old when I realised there was nowhere to go but this town, so I headed ashore to spend my cash and learn where to head next. So basically my next step is to talk to every NPC wandering around and break into every house until someone here gives me a clue I can work with to reach the second crystal. Standard JRPG procedure.

Hey I found a weapon shop. The game's nice enough to show me what weapons my people can equip and let me buy items in bulk, but the shop screen still won't tell me how good a weapon is, or even if it's better than what I have. How can we be at game five in the series, and it still hadn't occurred to any of the developers that players might want to know more about what they're buying than the name and price?


SOME NPC INTERROGATION LATER.


Faris had disappeared off to the pub to get some sleep while the rest of us were bothering the local NPCs, so I went over there to check up on him. Then suddenly Butz and Galuf decided to split up, sneak into his room in turn to watch him sleep, and then fall in love with him. I mean seriously, Butz walked in, stared at Faris for a bit, a heart appeared above his head, and then Galuf took a turn. I guess this is supposed to be a hint that Faris is actually a female pirate captain, seeing as the two of them have had their eyes on Reina as well.

I suppose my first clue should've been the fact that several of her job outfits are dresses. All the male mages in this have their hood down, or wear stripy pantaloons.

Anyway I know where I'm going now. To the ship!

Hey Faris, what the hell are you doing? Don't dismiss our pirate crew! Look at them standing there in their waistcoats, purple bandanas and matching eyepatches, they're awesome! You can't just expect us three to run the ship, we're rubbish! Galuf's got brain damage, Reina is a sheltered princess, and Butz... well, he's unreliable. He's the kind of person who'd tell his only friend to 'wait outside the cave, I'll be right back', and then disappear off to join some pirates.


BUT THEN.


You see, this is what happens when you dismiss your entire crew! Now there's no one but us to fight off the vicious... soccer? Or maybe that's the octofist. Man whatever it is, it's gross, and it's getting the deck all slimy. Plus poor Faris is getting the crap kicked out of her.

I'm getting the feeling I'm not quite ready to go sailing into adventure yet. After this fight I'm sailing back to town to bring Faris back from the dead, then I'm doing a tiny bit of grinding. Hopefully I'll get a better handle on how these job abilities work while I'm at it. I'm sure that second crystal can wait a couple more minutes.


MUCH LATER.


Damn abilities. I only wanted to get to the next job level to see what happened, but I ended up getting caught earning enough points to upgrade all my jobs a level or two just to see what I got. Now everyone's got the ability to cast white or black magic and my Monk can detect secret passages. Though they can only equip one ability from a different class at a time, so I have to choose carefully what I want. Agh, it's so inaccessible!

Alright I think I'm ready now. Ready for adventure! Time to get back on my boat and go save the next crystal.


BUT THEN.


Disaster! Faris's pet sea monster thing got caught in a whirlpool, once again proving that our group really can't be trusted around animals.

Well now we are fucked. We're adrift in the middle of a lake miles from the shore with no wind, and we forgot to pack any oars. Even if we could swim all the way to land from here (and this is the overworld we're on now, so its much further away than it looks) we're surrounded by cliffs.


LATER.


Eventually our vessel washed up against a ship graveyard, filled with the shattered remains of the unfortunate ships caught adrift in the currents before us. But hey if they're all piling up here, then there's a good chance that if I make it across the wrecks I'll eventually reach the shore. Either that or a big rock miles from anywhere.

We have to make it through a few submerged decks along the way, but it's fine, we're good with water. I mean it doesn't seem like any of my team can swim, but it's not an issue as they can all walk underwater, holding their breath indefinitely. Hang on, just gotta test that actually...


TWENTY MINUTES LATER.


Yep it seems like it's impossible to drown these people. Which is good, because this level seems to be going on for a while and there's even underwater fights down here. Square have actually discovered the secret to making a bearable underwater level: make it exactly the same as a regular level and then stick a water effect on top. Suits me fine, as I'd rather explore a ship graveyard than another bloody cave.

T'aar? She's just making pirate words up now. Yep, it has finally been revealed that Faris is secretly a woman, after Galuf and Butz try to strip her naked thinking she was a guy. You know, to stop her from freezing to death in wet clothes. It seems she was in disguise to avoid the rampant sexism in the piracy industry, and that's basically all there is to that. Funny how early that was resolved.

You know, I've played FF games that keep a steady party, and FF games that mix the team up, and I definitely think I prefer a consistent group like this. I can happily develop my team and follow their story without worrying that it's going to drop a Spoony Bard into the squad or take away my heavy hitter on a whim.

Final Fantasy 5 world map
Hey, I finally found a world map on one of the ships. A really tiny world map. You'd think these sailors might have actually labelled some of these locations so that they'd have some clue where they were going, but nope.

Anyway I've hit dry land at last, so I can resume my search for the second crystal.


SOME ADVENTURING LATER.


We've finally found the King's dragon! Suspiciously miles away from the King, on top of a mountain. I imagine the King told him "just wait outside the Wind Shrine for 5 minutes, I'll be right back", and the poor creature got bored waiting.

If you're wondering why Reina is having a nap, she noticed that the dragon was ill and decided to wade through poisonous plants to get it a cure. Damn, if only someone had remembered that the entire party has fire magic, then they could have burned a safe path through.

Fortunately the dragon has antidote powers and is able to save her, so everything worked out in the end. Wait a second, we ALL have antidote magic and I've actually had to use it after walking over these plants in gameplay earlier and... oh who even gives a shit, I have a DRAGON now!

Well it seems that the dragon I found at the top of a mountain can't fly high enough to get over the tops of mountains. It's probably for the best really though, as I'd never find where I was meant to be going next if the game didn't block off practically everywhere else.

Though I've just realised where I can get to now.


AND SO WE FLEW BACK TO THE PIRATE CAVE.


Well there you go, Butz abandoned his pet chocobo in front of a cave and guess what, the poor thing went off to look for him and broke its leg. He might have even died in that cave if this kind wizardpirate hadn't dragged him to a bed. Butz, you're an asshole.

And yes I realise that I just abandoned my dragon outside the very same cave entrance to go look for the chocobo, but the difference here is that this time I really will be back out in five minutes.

Then I flew over to Reina's castle to tell everyone that she's okay and that I've found the King's dragon. I know I'm supposed to be in a rush to save the crystals and stop the world falling into ruin, but it seemed like a decent thing to do, and I got this little cutscene out of it where Faris does her impression of a confused horse.

I really do appreciate the that game didn't pressure me to come here (yet), it just provided me with the option. But yeah I should really go sort out that crystal now.


LATER, IN THE TOWN NEXT TO THE WATER CRYSTAL SHRINE.


Way to spoil the storyline, magic shop. A whole bunch of time related magic and summons I can't use, I wonder what that can mean. You might as well have just flashed up 'Oh by the way you will reach the second crystal too late to stop it shattering, though by collecting the fragments you will gain Time Mage and Summoner classes, amongst others'.

Still, sounds cool to me. I'll grab the lot. Fortunately I only need to buy each of these only once to have it available for all my characters.

Hmm, this Water Shrine looks a little bit... sewery to me. It entirley uncavey and not even slightly castley though so I can live with that. All the enemies here are responsive to a bit of old fashioned violence as well, which is good because as my limited MP pool makes me hesitant to fire off magic if I can help it.

Oh by the way, if you've been wondering why I've had Reina as my lead character for half the game, it's because... well, she is isn't she? She's definitely had more of a claim to being the main character than Butz so far, seeing as she's got a goal, motivation, plus a mysterious connection to Faris she's trying to uncover, and Butz is basically just tagging along because he wants to bed half the team.


A FEW FIGHTS LATER, MY LONG JOURNEY IS AT AN END AS I FINALLY REACH THE CHAMBER CONTAINING THE SECOND CRYSTAL!


The Water Crystal exploded! And the fragments are giving me new jobs to choose from, including Time Mage and Summoner! The way things are going I'll be shocked if the next crystal doesn't explode as well.

Wait, if the destruction of the Wind Crystal ended all wind, does that mean that breaking the Water Crystal has just ended the existence of water?

Oh, I guess not, seeing as this entire chunk of land is disappearing below the waves. I half expected to see my team jump out of the tower and run to safety on the overworld, but then I realised that must something like 30 miles they'd have to run. In 10 seconds.

Well it's fine, they can survive underwater indefinitely right? So all they have to do is hike 30 miles on the sea bed.

But then, Faris' pet sea monster makes a shocking reapperance! It turns out that it didn't actually die in the whirlpool and somehow it knew where they were and has come to save them in the nick of time! Actually it just eats them all, the end.


So what did I think about Final Fantasy V? Well the story feels like a tired retread of first four games, the characters aren't overly compelling, and I won most fights by just holding down a button. On the other hand it's mercifully free of frustrations, the settings have been a little more interesting than usual, and there's been no need for me to grind so far. Well not to win fights anyway. Instead I needed to grind job points to satisfy my craving for new abilities. Weirdly it seems like the job system is the part that's grabbed my attention more than anything, as it's gotten me curious to see what sorts of hybrid super-classes I could create if I just got a few more job levels..

Plus I just can't dislike a game that has a bat cat in it.
They fly around in packs wearing their home-made wings and kick people in the face for no reason, how awesome is that? Awesome enough to earn the game a gold star.

Comments are welcome by the way, in case you were wondering. The comment box isn't just there in case of emergencies.

5 comments:

  1. I first played the GBA version and i didn't realize Faris's gender was a secret until they revealed it. I mean she has long pink hair, a somewhat feminine name, and the portrait is blatantly a women. Great post as always.

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  2. FF5 released on psx? Surprise O_O
    Liked the way you considered Leena as the leader..... I think that way!! Some FF really show a distinction between the hero-wanna-be and the most important character!

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  3. FFV definitely has one of the weaker character/plot sets of the series, but the level system may actually be the best one. So I don't think it's weird at all that the job system is the thing grabbing you since it seems to be the thing about the game that grabs most people.

    And I don't understand why the game was considered too incomprehensible for NA release. I think the head Japanese honchos at Square just had a ridiculously low opinion of US gamers.

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  4. One of the side installments eventually gave a job for the crystals. I think it's elegant and really clever, but it's also a retcon and colors your view of the things, so I'm putting it in rot13.

    Greensbezvat.

    Heh. Greensbezvat. Sounds like Soviet spec-ops gardeners.

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  5. The .gif files you make for this site are off-the-wall awesome. I try to do stuff like that for my own site but I can never get them to be all that good so I usually don't bother. I'm guessing you've got a better .gif-making program than I do. Either way, nice. Particularly enjoyed the title screen and ? fighting the Goblins.

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