Thursday, December 09, 2010

Final Fantasy V Advance

I don't know what part of the human brain it is that just enjoys seeing small numbers become larger numbers, but whatever it is, it's the only thing that made me finish this here game. This is the second time I have played through FFV; the first, of course, being the fan translation well before there was any sort of official version in English. Finding out that this was something that could be done was a real holy-shit moment: obviously, at the time--and this time, for that matter--FFs IV and VI were very high indeed in my gaming pantheon, and the idea that there was another game in the series, smack-dab between these two giants, was just brain-melting. How could it NOT be a thing of beauty and a joy forever?

Well, long story short, it managed it somehow. Never particularly warmed to FFV, did I. Obviously, nostalgia is at least a factor here, but I roundly reject the idea that it's the deciding factor: there are plenty of other eight- or sixteen-bit games that I played at around that same time and still look back on fondly. But this one, I dunno.

Even the game's fans generally concede that the story isn't much to get excited about. When you're an RPG, there are limits to what your story can really do (unless you're Mother 3); one does not expect truly literary feats. But if you know what you're doing and know your limitations, you can create some pretty effective emotional impact. Why do so many games have stories that kick off with an exile? Because that taps into our deepest fears and insecurities and like that. It's an easy bit of shorthand to get us involved. Redemption is another big one--I suppose I don't have to elaborate as to how that ties into our religious/mythic narratives. There are other good ways to do this. Point is, though, FFV doesn't do any of them with any degree of effectiveness. The characters are mostly bland ciphers (and the main character is a dickhead who enjoys torturing turtles--true story), and the plot is just a mess. I know it's been remarked upon derisively so often as to make the observation banal that the villain of the piece is an evil tree, but still: the villain of the piece is an evil tree. There's just no weight to any of it. There are definitely intangible factors here that I can't really articulate--not saying this raw material couldn't have been molded into something special. But it really wasn't.

But never mind that! the fans will exclaim, 'cause all that is trumped by--big ol' trumpet fanfare--THE JOB SYSTEM! ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY SYSTEM OF JOBS!

Or, you know, not. Okay, so it's cool that all the characters have a different sprite for each job, though it would be cooler if this were evident outside of battles, and yeah, okay, there's a certain amount of freedom with what you can do, but really, people, what does it all amount to? There are places here and there where it's gonna be necessary to think somewhat strategically about this stuff, but generally, you take two fighter-types and two mage-types, and bam, you're done. For all its vaunted flexibility, it doesn't ever feel particularly necessary to me. Or much more interesting than FFIII's substantially more limited job system, to be honest. Sure, it paved the way for the sublimity of FFTactics, so there's that, but in itself, it leaves me pretty cold.

(A brief note on the music: yes, there are a few good-to-great tracks, but people who think that as a whole the soundtrack is anywhere near the level of its predecessor or successor are insane.)

So why did I play through it a second time? Well, because I didn't really remember much about it, I suppose. As with Seiken Densetsu 3, it has a certain atmosphere that is kind of enjoyable even if the specifics aren't so great. And the fact of a GBA port--with bonus stuff!--gave me the impetus I needed. And I have to say, it was a surprisingly painless experience. The translation, at any rate, was a big improvement over the fanjob; not that it makes an inert story into anything great, but it at least makes one of the characters--Galuf--kind of likable, so there's that (it also changes the former Cara into "Krile," which may be more accurate but nonetheless makes her sound unfortunately like some sort of alien). And yes! The fact that, as alluded to above, I am the kind of person who likes to see small numbers become larger numbers means that I did enjoy leveling up jobs, in a mindless sort of way.

I also played through the bonus stuff because, hey, why not? I was Interested to see what new material the developers could come up with. As far as I'm concerned, FFIVA holds the record for Most Awesome Bonus Stuff--the Lunar Ruins is a truly exemplary dungeon, and a blast to play through. FFVA's bonus dungeon?'s better than Chrono Trigger DS's, at any rate. I played through it fairly avidly, just to see what was coming next, but it lacks the variety and interest of its predecessor, in spite of some tough new bosses (including the absolutely ferocious Neo-Shinryu). There are also new jobs--Oracle, Cannoneer, Gladiator, Necromancer--but while it's cool to see new character sprites, the actual jobs are pretty redundant, and there is always the essential fact--which the developers seem to have missed--that the fact that you get them so late in the game means that you can--and will!--easily max them out by fighting the 199-AP movers, and then forget about them. The necromancer in particular opens up new vistas of pointlessness: sure, you get to see ol' Butz in a cool skull mask, but you don't get the job until you've completed the entire bonus dungeon (save for an easy and pointless "boss rush"). There is simply no earthly use for it.

So anyway, I got my guys to level ninety-nine with all jobs mastered, beat the entire damn thing, Neo-Shinryu included, and now it seems highly doubtful that I will ever again find occasion to play Final Fantasy V. Huzzah.


Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Well, for what it's worth, I think FFV Advance is the best possible version of this game. The script contains some pretty hilarious lines. For example, right after you beat "Cray Claw" (I think this happens when you first discover the underground Ancient Base), Butz and Galuf have an exchange of hysterical non sequiturs that I think were inserted into the script by translators out of sheer boredom.


12:39 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

I'll agree with that (though I forgot to mention the way battles keep momentarily freezing up, which was highly irksome--FFIVA also does that, of course). I probably understated the extent to which the script does the best job it can with somewhat unpromising source material.

5:32 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

…and incidentally, inspired by this post, I just checked out your capsule reviews at RPGclassics, and man alive, our tastes only converge at a very limited number of points. Since we all know that taste in videogames is the most important thing in life, that means you're DEAD to me! Dead! Well, okay, I'm glad to see someone else give Illusion of Gaia its due, but other than that, DEAD! DEAD!

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Now now, don't get all J. Parish on me. Which reviews ired you? I thought you'd at least appreciate my love of Suikoden II.


7:14 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Does Parish hate your reviews? I think I'm missing some context.

Sure, SuikoII is a point of agreement (though it sure woulda been nice if they could've ironed out all the bugs prior to release), but I disagree with you quite vehemently regarding Breath of Fire, FFVII, Live A Live, Lufia (well, okay, if I'm using what I laughingly call "objectivity," I probably have to admit that that one's pretty much justified), Robotrek, Secret of Mana (holy SHIT I disagree SO HARD about Secret of Mana), Soul Blazer, Threads of Fate, and--of course!--Xenogears. Others, I disagree with but not vehemently.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

No, I doubt he has seen my humble reviews. I was more referring to his typically strident tone when discussing his least-favourites.

Some of the games you mention, I was probably too hard on. Robotrek seems quirky and cool in retrospect, although I suspect it's more fun to think about than actually replay. Soul Blazer is not without charm, but pretty generic -- I think that, at the time, my intention was to give one star to games that were generic, not _bad_ per se. I was demanding, in those halcyon days of my wasted youth.

I honestly never got Secret of Mana. I liked parts of it -- it was definitely fun to run around some of the environments -- but the story seemed totally superfluous to me, like a few occasional snippets of dialogue with rarely-appearing characters, with long stretches of dungeon in between. I may have missed the point because I never played it multi-player.

Regarding Xenogears, I actually replayed it a couple of years ago, and still liked it a lot, though probably for very different reasons than in 1998. This time around, I got very little out of all the Freudian and religious stuff. But I _loved_ the atmosphere, I think the game is great at creating a sense of unknowable dread in places like Babel Tower, Nortune Sewers, and those ruins you go to during the Billy/Stone bit.

Anyway, I make no apologies! I generally do have the same opinion of most of those games now as I did then, but possibly (hopefully) a little more nuanced and articulate. But let us not let it come to fisticuffs!


12:01 AM  
Blogger Eyedunno pontificated to the effect that...

This game is my favorite in the series (a rare opinion, I know, but bear with me), and as such, I'd like to say a few words in its defense.

Things I like about this game:
1) The job system - You've already said a fair amount, but for me, the beauty of the job system is in the fact that it offers you ridiculous potential for party customization, while at the same time incentivizing a balanced party by limiting the abilities each character can have. Contrast this with FFVII, for example, where you should just put as much stuff on each party member as possible.
2) The music - It's about as good overall as the music in FFIV (which is saying a lot), but with the addition of the best track ever in a Final Fantasy game (Clash on the Big Bridge) and TWO chocobo themes, one of which (Mambo de Chocobo) is the best in the series.
3) The enemies - Having optional superbosses strewn throughout the game is awesome. Also, the enemy designs are some of the best in the series (up there with, and I would say marginally better than, FFVI).
4) All the little touches - there are about as many little random things to do as in FFVI (though granted, far fewer than in FFVII). And compare this to FFXIII, and... err, no, I'm not even going there.
5) The story - Yeah, I said it. Sure, there's not a whole lot to it, but it doesn't take itself too seriously (unlike most of the other FF games), and it keeps moving forward. Compare this to, say, the World of Ruin in FFVI, most of which seems to be there just to make the game longer by giving you random, out-of-left-field character vignettes as an excuse to find them and recruit them back into your party - the pacing of the whole game utterly dies at that point. Sure, that's an extreme example, but most JRPGs have moments where the pace slackens; not FFV. And there's a good deal of characterization in FFV that most people don't give the game enough credit for - Galuf and Faris in particular have some scenes that are just priceless.
6) Gilgamesh - 'nuff said.

5:40 PM  

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