Sunday, November 11, 2007

Final Fantasy V Advance

Final Fantasy V Advance
RPG - Gameboy Advance
Battery Backup - 4 saves
1 player

I admit. I have a soft spot for the original Final Fantasy. Maybe it's the nostalgia or maybe it's the competition at the time, but it was the game that got me into jRPGs. And that's about all I play now. I loved having a party of characters. That opened up a lot of strategic options not previously available in games like Dragon Quest/Warrior, where you were only a single person. I loved how it offered a bunch of different classes, each very unique in the abilities they had. I loved being able to choose your party members to make your party the way you want to play. It gave you some customization options to cater the game to your playing style. FFV is an evolution of those original ideas. I played the original FFV on Super Famicom and fell in love. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked in the middle of playing it, so I only got about half-way through before the owner took it back. When Square decided to port this game to the GBA, I knew I had to have it. And sure enough, the magic was still there. Final Fantasy V is without a doubt the best FF I've played. But is that enough?

If an epic, well-read storyline is what you're after, look elsewhere. FFV is only slightly more deep than the plot of the first game, meaning it's not very deep at all. It's simply a bare-bones structure to keep the game going. I don't mind it at all. It makes no pretenses about what it is, which is refreshing. Modern RPGs have a lot more dialog and more fleshed out characters. But that doesn't make them any higher quality - just more wordy. Nevertheless, even in its simplicity, FFV does have a hokey script. It's almost embarassing. But thankfully, storyline is not the only thing FFV offers.

The meat of FFV is its class system. When you begin the game, your characters are "Freelancers", meaning no specific class. But as you progress, you'll be able to change any of your characters to any of the available classes by just opening up the status menu. Classes have their own inherent abilities, menu commands, stats, and upgrades. Change a party member to a Thief, and automatically their stats change to emphasize speed & agility. In addition, when traversing the overworld, you're now able to run at double speed and you can detect invisible paths to boot. In fights, your Thief character has an additional option: Steal. So now your thief can steal items instead of attacking an enemy.

While this system is very cool in of itself, FFV takes it a step further. When you win battles, you win your normal EXP which improves your stats. But in addition, you win AP (ability points) that level up the class you're currently using. The Thief, when leveled up, eventually learns Mug - an upgrade of Steal that combines an Attack with Steal. Pretty cool, huh? The kicker of FFV is... many of these abilities can be transferred. Once you've learned Mug, you can switch your class to a White Mage. Now your stats are biased towards magic usage (magic defense up, physical strength down) and you can use White magic to heal party members, etc. But equip the White Mage with the Mug ability, and now you've got a little Thief-flavor too. The possibilities are endless. A Black Mage that can cast Black & White magic. A Blue Mage that learns the opponents' spells, but has a barehanded attack like a Monk. It is this level of customization that separates FFV from other examples in the genre. And it's fun! Experiment with different combinations to try out strategies and see what works best for you.

The only problem is that it's still a Final Fantasy. I like a lot of ideas in FFV, and I found myself really enjoying it. But as I played on, it wasn't enough to overpower the shortcomings of the series. At every turn, it still reeked of FF: the tedium of random battles, the same rehash of a simplistic combat system, the lack of strategic thinking. It's a good take on a generic mundane RPG, but it's a generic mundane RPG nevertheless. So I found myself wavering between having fun and being bored out of my mind all the time. Unfortunately, boredom won out in the later parts of the game.

As far as the GBA conversion goes, I couldn't really tell any deficiencies. There's four new classes for FFVa that the original didn't have, which is a nice bonus. But having maxed out three of them (the fourth is not available until 2nd playthrough), they're really unnecessary, and I personally wouldn't use them in my party. There's also a long bonus dungeon for the OCD type. Nice extras though, for those who dig the game.

So there you have it: The best Final Fantasy is still a Final Fantasy. I cannot wait to play one that's not. FFXII is on my queue.

Sunday, November 04, 2007