Square Enix has been slowly working their way through the Final Fantasy catalog, bringing each game to Android with its own host of enhancements. Not far behind the wonderful Final Fantasy IV port, we finally reach what some might consider the series’ crescendo, Final Fantasy V. Unlike the earlier titles, this is not based on a previous port or remake, and it’s the first time the title has seen any real enhancements. Unfortunately, those enhancements are fewer and less ambitious than what we’ve grown accustomed to.
Final Fantasy V was left in Japan for its initial 16-bit release and never got the recognition in the West that it predecessor and sequel did. This only served to increase its mystique among gamers in the West, and it became one of the first console RPGs to get a complete translation hack a few years later. It reputation was buoyed by the fact that it was a real refinement for the series, arguably the deepest in the main series to date. With a focused, character-oriented story, unique world, and an improved implementation of FF3’s Job System, it culled the best elements of the series up to that point while still moving the series forward.
Compared to Final Fantasy IV, which clung to its tiny-sprites and bore many vestiges of its 8-bit roots, FF5 was built from the ground up for 16-bit hardware and looked much better. Character sprites grew taller and were better able to show off their details, and the environments had more unique details. This new treatment stays close to that aesthetic, but everything has been redrawn at a higher resolution. The sprites and tiles aren’t HD, but they’re a lot more detailed, and look much like the Android release of Final Fantasy Dimensions. They’ve been more or less traced over the originals, with the same layouts and animations, so the look stays very close to the spirit and style of the original.
This is a bit of a disappointment in light of the fact that the far less significant Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is slated to have a full 3D remake in the coming months, despite originating as a Super Nintendo-style retro affair. Beyond just the 3D graphics, there isn’t really much done to the presentation, either. Menus have been improved a bit, and Yoshitaka Amano’s character portraits now adorn the dialog, but there’s still no voice acting, and even the music hasn’t really changed much. The tunes are still excellent, of course, and the fidelity has been improved, but there’s so much more that could have been done.
This is still a better treatment than Chrono Trigger received, of course, and it’s great to dive back into this classic game, even if it is much as we remember it. Final Fantasy V did a lot of things right. Compared to FF4, it pared the cast way down to five main characters, and focused on their interactions to tell a more human story. By spending more time with each character, they were better able to actually develop the cast rather than constantly rotating characters in and out of the narrative.
To maintain the diversity of characters in the gameplay, Final Fantasy V re-introduced the lauded Job System first introduced in FF3, but with a couple major improvements. You can freely switch your characters between a huge number of classes, each with their own unique characteristics and abilities. You could then level up these classes in combat in order to unlock additional abilities which, in turn, could then be carried over even after a class change. In this way you could create a fighter that could use black magic, or a monk that use summons. This opens up tons of possibilities and it makes leveling up a lot more interesting.
It would have been great to see Square finally give this game the love it really deserved, but it’s hard to deny that the source material holds up regardless. Final Fantasy V is well-paced, with a character-driven plot, a great second-act plot twist, and the deepest version of the Job System in the series proper. The improvements are significant and worthwhile, too, and the improved graphics are definitely nice, but it’s hard to miss the fact that this release simply doesn’t have the production value of some of Square’s other releases, despite sporting the same price tag.
Final Fantasy V is one of the best games in the series, with a strong cast of characters and great gameplay. This remake is a nice improvement, but it still feels like a 16-bit game, despite the hefty price.