Revisiting Final Fantasy V (Part 1)

It’s that time of the year again when I get an itch to go back through my old game library and pull something out to play.  My catalogue’s mostly old Squaresoft games, and I was fully immersed in the RPG bandwagon during the ’90s and ’00s, so these replays tend to be pretty long and drawn out.  In the past I’ve done series on Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Chrono Cross with smaller sets looking at less time intensive games like Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire III.  The thing these games all have in common is they’re games that I had a special fascination with in my childhood, and which I played through multiple times before.  The game I’ve picked for this round is a little different.

Final Fantasy V has the distinction of being the Final Fantasy game that didn’t get localized originally because the developers thought it would be too difficult for Western players to understand the game’s job system (yeah, seriously).  For years the only way to play Final Fantasy V in the West was by way of a fan translation played on an emulator.  Sometime in the early ’00s, Squaresoft realized that people who grew up playing Final Fantasy games would be willing to pay for updated versions of the same games on more current consoles, so they started releasing “remastered” versions of their back catalog on the Playstation One.  This series included the original Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II collected as Final Fantasy Origins with an updated combat system and 16-bit style retexturing of the games.  There was also Final Fantasy Chronicles, which included Final Fantasy IV (previously released in the West as II) and Chrono Trigger with a few extras included like FMV movies and bestiaries, and the first collection that started the trend, Final Fantasy Anthology, which had Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI.

Anthology was the first official western release of Final Fantasy V, and it didn’t come with any extras the way Final Fantasy VI did; it was just a port of the original Super Famicom game with a brand new translation.  I bought Anthology because I wanted to replay Final Fantasy VI (unfortunately, it’s a pretty bad port of the game, with absurdly long load times just to open up the menu screen), but I got into playing Final Fantasy V in college because it was a gap in my knowledge of the series.  I never finished the game then, mostly because it was pretty grindy and because I lost interest in the story somewhere in the middle.  I don’t have a strong nostalgic attachment to this game the way I do to others that I’ve replayed in the last couple years.

Final Fantasy V logo. (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

So, let’s get into it and see if I can finish the game this time.

Final Fantasy V focuses on a group of four heroes who are destined to try to save the world in the wake of the destruction of the four elemental Crystals.  They meet shortly after a big meteor falls from the sky and they all find themselves drawn towards the Wind Shrine.  The four heroes are Bartz, a lone wanderer who’s traveling the world according to his parents’ last wishes; Reina, the princess of the kingdom of Tycoon, who’s trying to find out what happened to her father after he went by himself to the Wind Shrine; Galuf, an old man who appeared near the meteor crash site without any memory of his past; and Farris, a pirate captain who agrees to help the others reach the Wind Shrine after spying a pendant that Reina has.

The four heroes reach the top of the Wind Shrine just in time to see the Wind Crystal shatter, and to see an apparition of Reina’s father explain that they need to find and protect the other elemental Crystals.  The implication is that if all the Crystals break, then the world will die; the Wind Crystal’s destruction is marked with the cessation of all winds, making travel by ship extremely difficult.  Only Farris’s ship is capable of travel at this point, since it’s pulled by a giant sea monster named Hydra.  From the Wind Shrine, the heroes go to the coast town of Tule to get the key to the gate to the canal that connects the inner and outer seas.  On their way through the canal, the ship gets attacked by a monster in a whirlpool, separating the heroes from Hydra and leaving them stranded in a haunted ship graveyard.

All that happens in the first hour of playtime.

The storytelling in this game is (obviously) relatively barebones in comparison to later RPGs.  Most characters have only a roughly sketched personality, and large portions of the narrative are left for the player to fill in.  Because I’m playing the PS port of the game, I’m working from a very specific (and much maligned) translation.  Being on a Playstation disc meant that there was a lot more space for the game’s script, but that extra breathing room isn’t always put to very good use.  Since this was the first time Final Fantasy V was ported to the West, and it was on a system with much more lax censorship, many of the sex jokes and bits of crude language are preserved (Galuf at one point says Bartz is full of crap because he doesn’t want to admit he “has the hots” for Reina and uses the exclamation “for chrissakes [sic]”) presumably because the localization team figured there needed to be something edgy in an old game from 1992.  Besides that, there’s also the matter of Faris’s dialect, which is a persistent pirate snarl throughout the entire game; it’s not a good choice.  Besides all of that, there will also be some discrepancy with names; later official translations romanize certain character names in different ways (particularly Reina, who’s name is more often romanized as Lenna).

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