While many of us now would find this odd, back in the day we didn’t actually get any Final Fantasy games out in Europe. There was a made for the West one that was terrible but until 7 we in Europe didn’t get any real Final Fantasies. In America you got 1, 4 and 6. We also didn’t get any Jrpgs as they are called. Fortunately 7 showed there was a market for this and during the Playstation era with the exception of 3, Square released all the old Final Fantasies through releases and anthologies. Let’s go look at 5 one of the ones that never originally saw an official Western release until that one.
5 was the first Final Fantasy game made specifically for the SNES (4 was originally planned for a NES release but then got bumped up) It features 4 brave adventurers on a quest to save the crystals after a mysterious force is destroying them the very elements going mad. They fail. But the shards of those crystals let our heroes acquire new powers in the form of the job system allowing you to choose what roles the characters have in battle and much more freely able to swap outside of battle what job they have.
The Job system as it’s shown here is adapted from its appearance in FF3 but this is the one that really for lack of a better term “perfected” it and is the game later Final Fantasy appear to draw from when job systems reappear.
Our 4 heroes: Bartz a young man with his chocobo; Leena the princess of Tycoon (who has a pet rideable dragon); the mysterious amnesiac old man Galuf who they find inside of a meteor; and the best character in the game Faris the pirate. These brave heroes set out to save the 4 crystals (which as mentioned they fail to do) and find the evil force planning havoc in the world. Of note if you want to see what the characters look like… look up fan art based on the sprites as even the game devs by this point out Yoshitaka Amano art bears little to no similarity to how they look notably he makes them all blond. No Faris is a purple haired person not a blond, and she never wears that coat. No I don’t care they made CGI scenes based on the art, the sprite designs are how they look and that’s final, crossover games would later confirm this.
Those that have played 7 and 9 will recognize how battles work out with the ATB system. But as well as regular experience you will also get job experience from battles allowing you to level up that job. What’s more you can take skills from that job based on the levels of that job and apply it as a skill to another job you’re currently leveling. Want a samurai that can use white magic? Sure. Even more the bare class (just meaning not having a job class it’s the one you all start out with no you’re not naked) will acquire ALL the stat buffs from every job class you mastered so by the end of the game it’s the one you will use.
5 is also famous for being the first game to introduce recurring super bosses (aka bosses that are optional but harder than the final boss) Omega and Shinryu. Shinryu is not too much of a problem but Omega wanders about in an area you have to go passed so might accidently bump into him. Another recurring face is Gilgamesh who first appears here and you will find out just why he’s wandering about the Final Fantasy multiverse also first appearance of what became his signature theme music “battle on the big bridge”.
While for the most part the game is fairly linear (as are most rpgs) the final act is very non linear something that would be repeated with the later half of 6. You can do a bunch of additional challenges that while optional will greatly aid you in the fight to and against the final boss. Or you can just enter the final dungeon and head right there if you so wish.
The story is rather basic though, yes there are a few twists (like as said you failing to save the crystals) but in terms of grandiose revelations, it’s nothing compared to later entries. I can’t say the heroes get too much fleshed out as once elements of a character’s nature are revealed (and that happens early usually) they don’t play too much into the plot. The Villain is also sadly just one of those “because I’m evil” kind of motivations. Now you think this wouldn’t be an issue yet but this game comes between Goblez and Kefka so poor old (not saying name of villain) falls short, plus Gilgamesh was more memorable and steals the show.