The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy V, part 5

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

I made a passing comment at the end of the last article that I think deserves to be unpacked a little bit, because it’s the basic problem that every single Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy V has been trying to solve.  How do you allow characters to share abilities while still making all of the diverse classes available be worthwhile for something unique?

The reason this comes up is because of things like Beastmaster.  As a class, Beastmaster is pretty awful.  Its big tricks aren’t useful, it doesn’t provied more damage or healing than any other class, and the one thing it has in its favor is the ability to control an enemy.  That sounds pretty screamingly useful, to boot… but then you realize that there’s no need to actually put that ability on a Beastmaster.  Why would you not just grind for a little bit on Beastmaster, unlock Control, and then never touch it again?

Such is the plight of several jobs in the game.  Such is, in fact, the plight of several jobs in every game, but this is the point where the struggles begin.  In Final Fantasy III, there were a couple of classes you could get away with never using, but a majority of those jobs were useful somewhere even if you weren’t likely to use them from start to finish.  In Final Fantasy V, even decent jobs pale compared to the jobs that combine nicely with other jobs.

This especially becomes clear once you get into the game’s last batch of jobs, but it’s very evident even now.  The amount of ABP I earn during a battle compared to how much it costs to earn high-end tricks in jobs like Knight or Monk make those jobs fundamentally not worth the effort right now.  They’re not bad jobs, they’re perfectly functional, but I get more mileage from using more advanced jobs and jobs with smoother ability curves.  Beastmaster, too, is a perfectly functional job, but it’s not one that’s worth using much simply because that one ability it gets used for can be learned separately.

Ultimately, the game asks for the player to reach a point wherein the party characters are circling back to using the generic jobs simply because they inherit innate abilities from mastered jobs.  Instead of classes having distinct identities, they’re stepping stones, skills to be practiced and then discarded.  It’s an odd state of affairs, I think, and it’s one that every game has tried to adjust in some way, trying to find some system whereby there’s a reason to use the natural class instead of just all of the relevant abilities on another class.  It’s also not something that’s ever worked perfectly well.

System spoiler warnings for a game that's been out for decades, I guess.

The group shares a moment of silence for realizing that in the final assessment, all of them are going to be either Freelancers or Mimes.

But that’s a problem for another day, isn’t it?  Right now I’ve got one last crystal to save.  The past couple have really not been going well.

In Karnak, Cid is moping and the queen is kind of delusional, convinced that the darkness is encroaching just because three-quarters of the crystals that sustain the world have been broken.  So… maybe not so delusional.  On the other hand, that wall preventing us from reaching the Library of the Ancients is gone thanks to the explosion of Karnak Castle.

Heading down to the library, we quickly learn that Cid’s grandson Mid has gone missing, and also there are a whole lot of demons infesting the book stacks in the basement.  The scholars there seem largely unconcerned, but enough of that, we’ve got a book-themed dungeon to deal with.  The enemy groups here are odd – instead of just being a gathering of enemies, one enemy with a page number will pop up, then another one may pop up, until the group has killed all of the pages of a possessed book.  Kind of clever.

I’m actually very pleased with the general weirdness of the dungeons thus far – both visually and thematically, the designers were reaching further than before.  One of the reasons that I tended to have few nice things to say about Final Fantasy IV was that the game had very little ambition, feeling like at the best of times it was content to just tell a pretty bland story with bland characters.  Here, the ambition is on giving interesting things for the players to do, which it succeeds at brilliantly.

Within the dungeon we find Ifrit, who once again gets beaten on for a bit so we can unlock him as a summon.  This also allows us to possess further through the bookshelves, which have a tendency to move around in a way that doesn’t immediately suggest a rationale.  At the bottom of the stacks we find Mid, only to swiftly be attacked by Byblos, a demon living in a book, and another boss that can really smack your party around if you aren’t prepared for him.  Unlike previous bosses he weathers physical attacks pretty well by casting Protect, making magic a bit more potent against him.

Oh, poor bosses and their low pain tolerance.

“Damn it, I hate pain! It hurts real bad! Who thought this would be okay?!”

To the game’s credit, though, you have multiple ways of dealing with Byblos depending on your party makeup, which is something that’s taken us a while to get to.  For most of the games up to now, either you had a fairly reliable set of abilities to use on everything.  In Final Fantasy IV, your party for any given boss was determined for you, so it was just a matter of how to use your characters.  In Final Fantasy III, you had some choice, but most bosses tacitly required one or two jobs which were there to make the whole thing work.  Here, though, you can bring lots of different toys to the Byblos fight, and the game gives you more abilities to deal with them.

If you’re at a loss – well, the dude’s a book.  Books are allergic to fire.

Once you’ve cleared away Byblos, Mid takes notice of the group and reveals that he’s found a way to reactivate the fire-powered ship without the fire crystal.  Upon hearing that Cid’s sunk into depression, Mid rushes off to Karnak, and the group rushes after him to help.  Sure enough, being yelled at by a child is all that Cid needs to get working again.

While Cid and Mid work on the ship, Galuf starts to get flashes of memory, remembering a young girl named Krile and the more relevant fact that he’s not from the same world as the others.  He was in the meteor that crashed near Tycoon, trying to stop the awakening of the evil warlock Exdeath.  Struggling to remember the rest, Galuf collapses, but it’s suddenly clear that making sure the last crystal doesn’t shatter is more important than ever.

So ten bucks says it still gets destroyed.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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