When the old man falls out of a meteor five minutes after your adventure starts, you get the impression Final Fantasy 5 is a different kind of Final Fantasy. Any measure of doubt about that evaporates over the course of several hours when the mummies start attacking the pirates in a pyramid, you fight a giant evil tree, and this sassy gremlin named after a hero of legend just keeps challenging you to a duel.
Final Fantasy 5 is odd in the best of ways. In place of a dark tale of war, you get a group of misfits playing dress up and a game that wants you to have fun breaking it. The job system is as finely crafted and compelling as ever, though the Pixel Remaster version is still a few steps away from being the definitive FF 5 experience.
My Friend Boko...bo
Final Fantasy 5 is another tale of the crystals, though it’s a much more personal one compared to Final Fantasy 3. The world is out of balance after darkness corrupts the crystals, but you actually have a reason to care this time. The world of FF 5 feels lived in, which isn’t something you can say for most FF games.
The character writing isn’t quite as good as Final Fantasy 4. Tellah makes more of an impact in his short time on screen than Galuf does in the entirety of Final Fantasy 5, but that’s also in keeping with FF5’s overall themes. It’s not a grim piece of high fantasy, and that’s where it finds its unique identity.
There’s a bond between the party members and a connection to their world — Faris’ pirate ship gets around thanks to her childhood friend who happens to be a sea monster, for example, and Bartz has a pet Chocobo named Boko — you just don’t find in the more serious stories. It’s quirky and weird, and what it lacks in narrative immersion, it makes up for with giving you control over nearly everything else thanks to the job system.
Bravely Default and its sequels exist purely because of Final Fantasy 5. They succeed so well at capturing what made FF5 special that I wondered how necessary the source material would be anymore. The core mechanics might be familiar to many by this point, but there’s something timeless about throwing a ninja, dancer, monk, and mage at the ultimate evil and hoping for the best. Obviously, you want to put some thought into your jobs and can even break the game entirely, but that spirit of experimentation is what makes FF 5 so memorable.
It’s also why this particular version is slightly disappointing. Square Enix’s insistence on using the original games as a foundation is even more baffling with FF 5 Pixel Remaster. The previous remasters lacked character portraits and missed out on bonus dungeons. This one has no character portraits and misses a set of bonus jobs that used to be available in the GBA version and older mobile and Steam versions. You can’t buy those last two anymore, effectively erasing those jobs from existence.
Hear That? Sounds Like Adventure
Admittedly, the other available jobs give you plenty of variety to make up for it, and FF 5 Pixel Remaster has its own unique perks. The remastered soundtrack is sublime, its breezy themes a perfect for FF 5’s scope and tone. The enhanced graphics are pretty much what you’d expect after the first four remasters, which is to say “they’re just gorgeous” and far more attractive than the mobile versions’ sprites with their Vaseline shine.
Granted, the SNES Final Fantasy games had far fewer rough edges to polish, but it’s still remarkable just how good Final Fantasy 5 Pixel Remaster looks. The character models and environments are lovely, but it’s still the environmental details that sparkle the most — literally when it comes to light and spell effects.
Final Fantasy 5 Pixel Remaster still isn’t the ultimate way to play the game. That would be the Game Boy Advance version of it, thanks to the bonus classes and character portraits. However, it’s still a fantastic RPG, elevated by its spirit of fun and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack. Whether you’ve played another version before or not, it’s definitely worth experiencing.
Reviewed on PC via Steam
[Square Enix provided the copy of Final Fantasy 5 Pixel Remaster used for this review]