If you grew up playing 16-bit games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, then you're probably familiar with Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III. These were some of the defining role-playing games of the early 1990s and featured surprisingly deep storylines and interesting characters, as well as plenty of tough battles and great presentations. At the time, though, it wasn't apparent that there were a bunch of Final Fantasy games that came in between these and the original for the 8-bit NES. The middle child of the 16-bit Final Fantasy era has now finally arrived on the Game Boy Advance, nearly 15 years after it was first released in Japan. Playing Final Fantasy V Advance will be a revelation to some fans of the series. After all, this is the game that introduced many great gameplay concepts and went on to be featured prominently in later, better-known games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XI, and more. Sure enough, the game holds up well even by today's standards, offering up a lengthy and challenging quest. You'll also be able to sink your teeth into lots of interesting gameplay.
Final Fantasy V lets you freely switch between many character classes, or "jobs," which opens up the gameplay in some exciting ways.
This version of Final Fantasy V isn't an exact translation of the Super Famicom original because it's intended to be a faithful adaptation with some key enhancements. For example, it features a new English translation from the original Japanese; this localization is different from the one found in the version of Final Fantasy V included with 1999's Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation. Most of the dialogue is nicely done and succeeds at giving the main characters of the story their distinct personalities. The script has a few too many unnecessary attempts at humorous pop-culture references, but for the most part, it's very good. The visuals look just as you'd expect from a 16-bit game. If you remember playing Final Fantasy II or III in their heyday, this game will look instantly familiar. While some of the graphics are pretty plain, there's a lot of personality in the main characters. Some of the monsters and other foes you'll face still look great. Final Fantasy V Advance also features an updated soundtrack that sounds very true to the style of the classic games in the series--a style that Final Fantasy has held onto even as the series' graphics rapidly evolved. What's more, this version of the game features some new content found later on in the adventure, most notably some new job types for your characters. A bestiary and a music player are a couple of other extras.
The Final Fantasy series is known for the quality of its storytelling, but this is an area in which Final Fantasy V Advance doesn't hold up remarkably well. You'll still be in for a number of surprises and some almost disarmingly emotional moments, though the premise is pretty simple. When the wind crystal suddenly shatters and causes the wind in the world to simply stop, Princess Lenna Tycoon sets off to discover exactly what happened. It's not long before she's joined in her quest by an adventurer named Bartz, an amnesia-stricken old man named Galuf, and a feisty pirate named Faris. This unlikely quartet is quick to unite as a team despite having so little in common. And together, they set off to try to prevent the world's other elemental crystals from shattering. Their journey will wind up spanning much more than just the world they know. They'll travel the land by land, sea, and air, from town to town and dungeon to dungeon, in what's a typically epic Final Fantasy adventure. The main characters don't seem all that likable at first, and aspects of the story that were probably inventive at the time now seem predictable or trite. However, this is still a more sophisticated tale than what can be found in most of today's games.
The game's audiovisual presentation isn't fancy by today's standards, but it still has plenty of charm.
The gameplay of Final Fantasy V Advance is the best part about it. It's so good that it compares favorably even to the recent chapters in the series. While the game is rife with the random encounters that have always been common to Japanese role-playing games, your ability to freely choose between a wide variety of job types for your characters really opens up the game and creates the potential for lots of interesting, unique combat tactics. Your characters will earn new job types during the course of the game. Thus, their ability to freely switch from, say, being a knight to being a monk is justified in the context of the story.