Revisiting Final Fantasy V (Part 5)

This is the last post I’m planning to write for this series.  I finished Final Fantasy V this morning after two failed runs at the final boss.  There are technically still the two optional superbosses that I haven’t fought, but I’ve always thought of those as bonus challenges rather than an integral part of the game experience (it’s perfectly fair to expect any casual player of a Final Fantasy game to consider themselves done once they’ve beaten the last boss; superbosses are tough, and in my experience not necessarily a lot of fun to fight).

The final battle in Final Fantasy V comes after the party treks through a strange time-and-space displaced dimension known as the N-Zone (or something similar; my final thoughts on the translation of the Playstation port are that it’s adequate for conveying plot points, but otherwise incredibly clunky).  This is the place from which the Void, the source of power that X-Death craves, emanates.  It’s a mishmash of various locales around the world that have been swallowed up, filled with enemies that all qualify as mini boss fights on top of a series of scripted encounters with actual minibosses.

After I finished with the last mandatory dungeon, I stumbled into the N-Zone by accident and made it all the way to the first miniboss before I realized that I had made a major error.  The end of the game features about five optional dungeons that can be traversed to pick up powerful magic spells and grant access to the game’s ultimate weapons, which provide a massive boost to the party’s damage output.  I realized these things were all going to be necessary when I found myself stuck in an endless boss fight with the first miniboss who just continued to debilitate my party’s offense while constantly healing and buffing itself.  The fight became unwinnable, and I had to self destruct.

SNES/PS

The final boss is a tree, so there’s that too. (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

This ultimately ended up being a good thing, as the set of dungeons that you can explore in the endgame before going to the N-Zone all have some interesting gimmicks and are generally fun and challenging (there are still the occasional moments of absurd cheapness that hail from a design philosophy of “throw something completely new at the player that kills them before they can adapt, and let them deal with it after reloading the game”).  There were also a few moments scattered throughout that helped flesh out the party’s characters a little bit, though like I already said, they’re all relatively barebones moments with the clunky translation.

The big thrill of the endgame with Final Fantasy V is the rapidity with which you start mastering Jobs for your characters.  By the time I reached the last save point, each of my party members had at least five Jobs mastered, which carries with it bonuses that only become apparent when you get ready for the final battle.

The thing about a final boss in most RPGs is that it’s the moment where you can use all of your available resources with reckless abandon, because the game will be over afterwards.  It’s also a fight that carries no mechanical reward, meaning it’s useless for purposes of training your party members any further (one of the weird quirks of RPGs is the obsession with character improvement that tends to overshadow other kinds of incentives; you fight monsters to get gold and experience points so you can purchase better gear and earn levels, all with the ultimate goal of becoming strong enough to finish the game and give up all your progress).  This means that unlike every other fight in the game, which offers a reward that will make your characters stronger (and thus motivating the player to always be trying out unmastered Jobs), the final fight with X-Death is best undertaken with no Jobs equipped at all.

Final Fantasy V doesn’t explain this anywhere in the game, but the “Bare” Job class that party members default to at the game’s start is a special amalgam class.  It can equip any piece of gear in the game, and it has two empty ability slots instead of one to allow for extra customization of battle capabilities, which is all nice but unappealing since you don’t earn experience towards other Jobs while you have this Job equipped.  The other characteristic of Bare is that every time a character masters another Job, their Bare class takes on most of the passive abilities of that Job and pulls its stat block from the best available stats of all mastered Jobs.  Bare characters effectively become superhuman as you get closer to the end of the game.  In my playthrough Bartz and Krile, whom I used as my heavy hitters, had most of the heavily armored, high physical attack Jobs mastered, so they had exceptionally high HP along with passive abilities that granted them extra evasion.  Faris, who focused on fast and support-style Jobs, was able to naturally dual wield weapons and take extra turns quickly so that she could switch effectively between offense and defense as needed.  Reina, my mage character, had relatively poor HP since she only ever mastered magically inclined Jobs, but had exceptional magic power, making her an ideal healer.

All of this adds up to a boss fight that was fun because my party went from relatively strong to remarkably strong, and even then it was challenging.  My first attempt was doomed by a bit of poor planning on my part, and my second failed because of some bad luck with getting buffs in place.  Third time was the charm though.

As for the game’s ending, well, eh.  There’s some interesting meta-world building in play here, as the context of the Final Fantasy series as a whole suggests that the Void we see in this game is actually the connective tissue between all the different worlds depicted in the series.  That idea has had all kinds of things glommed onto it over the years, and its current incarnation is kind of an overbearing teen-pop mess, but the simple concept of a place where elemental forces constantly assemble to create new worlds from nothing has some poetry to it.  I’m glad I pulled this old game out (and finally finished it), and now I’m wondering what I should look at next.

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