Review – Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (Switch)
It took Square an eternity to finally realise that the proper home for the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster collection was on the Switch, not mobile phones, so we finally have the best versions of the first six games in the legendary franchise available on Nintendo’s platform. With so many options available all at once, the entire team at WTMG was wondering who would review which game. In my case, it would be the opportunity to actually play most of these games for the first time (I had only previously played the excellent remake of Final Fantasy I on the PSP). Should I start with III? Maybe VI? I ended up going with the one I knew the least about, Final Fantasy V. And boy, did I feel like I made the right choice.
Why did I pick this one over, say, Final Fantasy VI or IV? Simple… I was trying to jump into the one I knew nothing about; to tackle it without any biases or expectations. Sure, some of the more die-hard Final Fantasy fans in the staff were already telling me I had done a good choice, but the point stood. All I knew about Final Fantasy V is that, back in the day, Square thought it would be too hard and complex for us dumb Westerners to enjoy, so they decided not to release it outside of Japan. Instead, we got Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest as a consolation, “you’re dumb but we like your money regardless” prize. Was Final Fantasy V really that hard? That complex? That advanced for us simpletons?
Booting Final Fantasy V up and playing it for the first hour or so showcased my biggest issue with these older JRPGs: they do a terrible job at being engrossing from the get-go. Maybe this is because I am looking at it with 2023 eyes, but even upon asking about it with the specialists at WTMG, they did in fact tell me the game’s plot would eventually take a long time before becoming interesting. When it did, it was fine and all, but the limitations imposed by 1992’s storytelling standards made a good chunk of the most important plot twists and set pieces feel just… alright. That being said, it was enough to keep me invested on the characters.
They were, for the most part, just interesting enough to make me care about them plot-wise. Bartz, the protagonist, is not Cloud levels of bland or emotionless, with the occasional showcase of traditional shonen protagonist idiocy, but wasn’t exactly my favorite character in the game. Neither were the supporting partners, Lenna and Faris, despite the latter featuring an interesting (but VERY VERY VERY predictable) backstory. Galuf was my man, being the one with the most character development, interesting backstory, funny quips, and emotional moments. Well, as emotional as non-cutscenes in a 16-bit art style could be, that is.
The pacing of the plot was a bit faulty. The first chunk of the game felt a bit rushed, with plot twists and reveals appearing and being solved almost immediately. It took me a while to start caring about the world around me and the looming threat caused by the main villain, this week’s evil knight de jour, Exdeath. The plot, as well as its pacing, improved after a while. It helped that, by then, I was already heavily invested in Final Fantasy V, but mostly due to its fantastic gameplay.
The reason why Final Fantasy V is so beloved by the people in the know (that means, not me before playing it) is because of its fantastic Job system. With it, you could do a lot more than just pick a class for your character, and have them evolve solely through that path. It was all thanks to the introduction of a second Ability slot that Final Fantasy V went, in my opinion, from a decent old-school JRPG to a damn addictive game whose mechanics have managed to age phenomenally well.
Things kicked off as basic as possible, as I only had access to super basic jobs like Knight or Thief. I proceeded to level up and learn new moves and abilities, but there was no room for experimentation… yet. Upon beating some chapters, the game would grant me new jobs, and that’s when the fun truly started.
I was able to freely change between jobs, but still keep unlocked abilities acquired from leveling up my individual levels. As a result, I was free to play as a Knight with access to ultra-broken Samurai skills, a Monk with access to Blue Mage spells, or a Mage who could handle two different elemental rods at once (courtesy of a Ninja-specific skill). The world was my oyster. Not only that, but further into the game, I started messing around with the Freelancer job; a blank slate of a character with access to three different ability slots, useless at first (as I had no skills to fill in), but a playground of insanity in later stages of the game.
This Job system made Final Fantasy V for me. It made me actually like the ATB system (I wasn’t that much of a fan of it in the original Final Fantasy VII, for instance), it made me like battling out. Yes, even though Final Fantasy V is, by and large, and old-school JRPG, I was having fun battling out and grinding. The reason for that is that I didn’t exactly need to grind that much.
There is a new mechanic present in this remaster called Boost. It is accessed via the options menu at any point in the game. In it, you can literally tinker with the amount of experience an enemy would dish out after being killed. You can toughen things up by halving it, or you can skip the arduous process of grinding in the overworld by increasing the multiplier by 4.
This ended up being a blessing. If I died to a boss, I wouldn’t mind that much. I’d spend around ten to fifteen minutes gaining a level or two with the Boost mechanic, revert back to the normal experience threshold, and then try things again. The Pixel Remaster versions of these old-school Final Fantasy games have finally solved the most annoying thing plaguing old JRPGs for centuries, drastically increasing their appeal. Furthermore, you can toggle off random encounters altogether by pressing R3, effectively allowing you to freely explore a dungeon without being bothered if that’s what you wish. Again, it’s all optional, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a noob or a purist; there’s fun to be had for everyone.
Square has blessed us with some truly gorgeous retro-inspired (or, as the kids call them, “HD-2D”) JRPGs in recent memory, but don’t expect the same level of visual fidelity in Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster, or any other game in the collection, for that matter. It’s still pretty pleasing to the eyes, I won’t deny that, but it’s just a prettier version of a 16-bit game with chibi-esque character models and every single enemy being a static, pixelated PNG. There are very occasional performance issues. Make sure to get rid of the “modern” font as well in the options menu, as it’s quite ugly. Stick to the classic one and things will be even more visually appealing.
Even though the visuals haven’t received that much of an overhaul, I cannot say the same about the soundtrack. You know how good Final Fantasy compositions are (hell, we gave a Final Fantasy rhythm game a well-deserved 10 this year), so imagine what happens when you rearrange these formerly MIDI-only bangers, taking them to a whole new level of epicness? This is Nobuo Uematsu at his best. From the celtic-inspired town music to the guitar-driven banger whenever you climb a mountain area, such as Drakenvale, Final Fantasy V took good care of my ears, even if the sound effects remained as retro and simplistic as possible.
Coming from a newcomer to this criminally underlooked classic, Final Fantasy V captivated me in ways I wasn’t expecting. Even though I cared very little about its admittedly generic story, its insanely addictive Job system, coupled with a handful of quality of life improvements stemming from the Pixel Remaster edition won me over like very few JRPGs, either modern or retro, have ever been able to. It’s more than just a neat way to revisit a classic if you’re a Final Fantasy fan. It’s a fantastic means for newcomers to enjoy it, as well as all other five Pixel Remasters, in the most accessible and appealing way possible.
It’s not as pretty as other modern 2D RPGs, but it’s still pretty pleasing to the eyes. There are very occasional performance issues. Make sure to get rid of the “modern” font as well, as it’s quite ugly.
The Job system is fantastic, and the Boost options help streamline the experience according to your level of patience towards older role-playing games.
A phenomenal soundtrack elevated to new heights with brand new arrangements. Truly epic.
Fun Factor: 9.0
The story takes an eternity before it finally gets interesting, but that wasn’t an issue, given how fun it was to mess with the Job system. Final Fantasy V has aged magnificently, with this remaster adding some extra features to remove everything we don’t like from old JRPGs.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster is available now on PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.