Peppa Pig is OK, but kids are missing out on Joe Perry’s Spiderman theme

FFV_logo2

Final Fantasy V (1992)

I don’t mean to be the type of old fart that goes on about what the kids are missing out on, but let me ask this: are Saturday morning cartoons a thing anymore? Christ, is sitting your child in front of the telly a thing anymore? I can see neo-parents going “OK Google, put Peppa Pig on for 4 hours,” a child entirely raised by Google, morning noon and night. A great symbiotic relationship, actually: the child gets an always-on nanny. And as for Google, look at all that data they’re getting, from the cradle to the grave!

More fool them because they never had the opportunity to watch Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog. Actually the one I preferred, with Scratch and Grounder, tended to be on weekday afternoons rather than Saturday mornings, which meant that I sometimes had to suffer the grand annoyance of missing it.

It wouldn’t have mattered if I stayed at home all day every day in the mid 90s, because I still would have missed out on Final Fantasy V, which spent the first few years of its life saddled with that unfortunate ‘Japan only’ tag. There was, however, a scant possibility that the game was going to be released state-side as Final Fantasy Extreme, in reference to how the menus, settings and statistics were twice as radical as anything that’d come before.

Not that this would’ve been much use to me anyway, being dreadful Eurotrash, we wouldn’t catch sight of a proper Final Fantasy game until VII. Who starts a game series at instalment number seven? There’s probably poor fools out there who count The Force Awakens as the first Star Wars film they’ve ever seen. And do you know what that means? By the time they get around to seeing A New Hope, they’ll say it’s played out.

Anyway, I can’t say I’d have been altogether interested in a game called Final Fantasy Extreme unless it was an 80-hour sprawling epic of hot springs and sauna scenes featuring Lulu from FFX, Tifa from FFVII, and probably Fang from FFXIII for some lesbian appeal.

But as it happens, Final Fantasy V was the first of the series I’d played, which is pretty unusual, and it happened on account of me being a dirty pirate. When I found out about the glory of emulation, I downloaded as many SNES ROMs as human hands could e-carry, and found myself with a folder containing Final Fantasy II (really IV) and III (really VI). So the one entitled V had to be the best, better than II and III, right?

Well, it’s nowhere near beating VI, and in fact it probably doesn’t quite make it out on top of IV either (that’s enough Roman numerals for now), but there’s a lot to like about the fifth instalment. The version I played was a SNES fan-translation in its early stages, which meant that every so often you had the thrill of Japanese dialogue boxes cropping up that the guys had missed. And of course, they were obliged to insert some gratuitous bad language where none had existed previously. Other than that, the game played out like a slightly badly translated Saturday morning cartoon.

The biggest, or perhaps glibbest one-liner that people reel off about this game is that it’s got a great Job System, where you can train your party to be Knights, Monks, Harlots etc., but the story and characters are one-dimensional. Sounds great to me. They’re not really that one-dimensional, by the way. Your typical Dragon Quest protagonist, he’s a cardboard cutout. But the playable characters here do have some funny interactions, albeit rarely.

Probably the standout character is Faris, a cross-dressing pirate leader who masquerades as a man but who eventually lets the mask slip and finds the lads lusting over her. Now I don’t have a Twitter account, so I’m not exactly woke and therefore I don’t know how to treat cross-dressers or gender-bending without getting sacked from my next seven jobs – I always just go all muted and Catholic at Cloud’s cross-dressing scene in FF7, for example.

But I like the way (s)(x)he has the whole lot of the pirates under a tight ship (until they all hit the nearest town and go gargling). But even when the masculine mask slips, she still takes no messing. Call the characters one-dimensional, Faris still had more personality than half the pilchards in FF8, put it that way.

The game does start to lose its way a bit, particularly in the final third. It’s not overwhelmingly long, about 25 hours which is short-end stuff for an RPG, but with the hefty encounter rate you’ll really start to feel that time. On top of that, you end up having boss after boss thrown at you, all with different Achilles heels.

It’s not too tricky to think up an overpowered tactic to take care of enemy mobs and bosses, but the game can still be pretty hard anyway, and if you don’t know what you’re doing then forget it. When I did play that ROM for the first time, aged 9 or 10, I decided to roll about with a party of four Knights. I’d just brute force my way through encounters and chuck dozens of potions down my guys’ necks after each fight. Swords were the best, right? Why on earth would I have wanted to dress my party up in white bedsheets and have them use piddly healing spells and “attack” with a walking stick?

Needless to say, that gambit didn’t work out. Indeed, it is universally known as a “poor strategy”. It was a litttle like having four George Foremans as your Olympic relay team – they’ll look the biz, way more intimidating than anyone out there. Then the East Germans leave you for dead and you’re left with four big fat pieces of ham to feel embarrassed over.

It’s not really worth it anyway because the final boss is a tree, and even if you’re an FF5 encyclopedia and have the entire battle system bound and gagged, you’ll find it difficult to stop this terrible arboreal fiend from wiping your party in 10 seconds if you let him get too deep into a seizure – you need to know exactly what menus to access and spreadsheets to run in order to beat him. He’s got to be among the hardest of the FF final bosses.

Still, it’s a very satisfying game to beat, because the makeup of the party and how you get to the end are aspects that are 100% down to you. It’s like Football Manager, but the ‘players’ in this case actually do what you tell them to do. They’re limited in the amount of commands they can learn, however. That’s a shame because, being that the final boss is a tree, it would have been nice to supplement battle commands like !Black (for black magic) and !Drink (for gargling mid battle) with !Chainsaw. Unfortunately, you won’t get that until the next game.

You’ll have to console yourself with probably the easiest although certainly the most expensive method of winning, which is quite literally throwing currency at the enemies. I used that tactic, as well as throwing Ninja death scrolls, right the way through to the end. It didn’t matter to me that the ultra super mega mega final boss was the embodiment of death, the void and the great beyond. I had a metric ton of fat stacks coming into the final fight, and I was throwing them at the beast like there wasn’t gonna be a Central Bank tomorrow.

Eventually I was able to drown him in so much coinage it looked like Scrooge McDuck’s morning ritual turned nightmarish. At least he’d have a few quid to take to the afterlife, my protagonist didn’t quip, before a fiendish plot twist happened and the narrator gravely addressed the audience: “Will our heroes survive this perilous plot?! Find out next week, on Final Fantasy V!” before the end credits rolled to a badass electric guitar solo.

21 February 2020

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