Review: Final Fantasy V Advance (Game Boy Advance)

In this review, we take on the job of playing Final Fantasy V Advance. We find out how playable this RPG game is.

This game was released in 2006 as a port that finally reached North American audiences (second only to the Playstation version). We are definitely familiar with the Final Fantasy series as we have already reviewed Final Fantasy IV which is supposed to be the game before this one. In that review, we found the game to be pretty solid and definitely worth the play for RPG fans even with its flaws. We have also played Final Fantasy VI which is a sequel to this particular game. In that review, we gave it a perfect score – one of only two games to have received that on here. In addition to all of this, we have reviewed Final Fantasy VII which was the next game in the series. In spite of its successful critical reception by others, that game, to our definite surprise, failed to even get a passing grade thanks to repetitive long animation sequences, flat storyline, poor implementation of minigames, and overall poor entertainment quality. So, it was with great interest that we give the fifth installment a try to see how the game evolved between IV and it’s sequels.

The story begins with Lenna seeing her father, the king of Tycoon, heading off. It turns out, there was something wrong with the winds, so he orders Lenna not to follow, knowing that he may very well be headed for danger. He heads off on his wind drake to check out the wind crystal. When he arrives, the crystal shatters.

Meanwhile, a large earthquakes occurs. You play the character Bartz (this name can be customized) and, with your trusty yellow chocobo, decide to investigate. You hop on and follow the path to a meteorite that has fallen. From there, you find Lenna who (obviously disobeyed orders) is unconscious and in the process of being taken away by monsters. Bartz fights the monsters and saves her. They also ultimately find Gulaf, an old warrior who has lost his memory, but has strong instinct on some of the things he needs to do, who ends up joining them. Together, they eventually start their journey to the wind crystal.

Like many other Final Fantasy games, this game is turn based. You have your hit points which indicates your health, and you have magic points which indicates how much mana you have. Initially, fights are mostly random encounters – though some in the very beginning sequences, are scripted to occur. Your abilities and supplies are very limited, but eventually, you’ll be able to earn a few items and maybe even a weapon or two. Weapons can be equipped either on the left, right, or (if you’ve earned the ability) on both. Weapons can allow you to hit enemies with increasingly greater damage as you obtain better weaponry.

You can also equip other items like armor, helmets and accessories. Helmets can also add to the defensive capabilities of your characters. Armor is often your main source of protection. Accessories can add to your defensive capabilities, but are often more valued for their enchantments that can improve your offensive or defensive capabilities. Red slippers, for instance, can allow a character with a certain capability to utilize a more powerful melee attack. A flame ring, on the other hand, can allow a character to simply absorb any fire-based attacks.

In addition, you can equip shields in one of your free hands. Shields, as you can imagine, also can enhance your defensive capabilities. Notably, they can raise your evasion abilities so that when an enemy attacks, the shield simply absorbs the full brunt of it.

Enchantments can make things interesting. Armor can protect against certain status ailments while certain weapons can sometimes cast a certain magic spell for additional damage.

In addition to this are various items. Items can provide all sorts of benefits for your party both in and out of battle. Items can raise your hit points, magic points, and even remove status ailments. Potions can raise your hit points by 50. An ether can raise your magic points by 50. A Phoenix down can raise a character who has lost all of their hit points and have been “KO”d. Eye drops can remove darkness status. A tent can restore hit points and magic points (a cottage fully restores this though later on in the game) but that can only be deployed in certain locations.

As mentioned, your party can be hit with a host of status ailments. Some status ailments, such as paralysis and aging, will go away once the battle is over. Other status ailments, such as dark and poison, must be treated either with rest, magic, or items. Something like stone can be the same as a KO. If all of your characters somehow become stoned, your party will also have fallen in battle and it’s game over.

Battles are critical for your characters development because at the end of each successful battle, you’ll earn both experience and gil. Experience points are added to your total experience. Once you earn enough experience points, you’ll be able to level up. If you level up, you’re character will have better chances of surviving battle mainly through increasing the limits of your hits and magic points.

Gil, on the other hand, is this games currency. With gil, you can go into various stores and buy better equipment or more supplies. Item stores, often located inside inns, sells various items such as potions, eye drops, and phoenix downs. Weapon stores, often denoted with the sword, sell weapons. Armour stores, denoted by the shield on the signs, sells armor helmets and, sometimes, accessories. Magic stores, denoted by the staff, sells various spells for your magic users (only one purchase for each spell is necessary to learn it). Finally, there are inns. Inns can allow you to fully rest up your party – often for a price. What is sold at stores and the prices depends largely on which store you go to. I am aware of only one store that, for instance, sells the insanely expensive elixirs, but there are no shortage of stores that sell potions.

While a lot of this is pretty standard fare for and RPG, there is one element that does separate this game from others – the jobs system. All of your characters start out as freelancers. While they can equip pretty much anything they like, they gain no bonuses or penalties. They also do not learn anything new. Once you have finished with the sequence at the first crystal in the game, you’ll earn a small set of jobs. As you make your way through the game, you’ll earn more jobs that are capable of new techniques.

If you equip a job, you’ll get a very limited number of things you can equip. Your appearance in battle will also change. Even your overall stats will change according to your job. Fighter-type jobs will probably net you a higher amount of strength and hit points. Meanwhile, a spellcasting job might increase your maximum amount of mana you can have. In addition, you’ll equip an ability specific to your job. You’ll also have the ability to equip an additional ability you have already learned (this doesn’t apply to absolutely every job, but a vast majority of jobs has one equipped capability and one optional ability). After you are done with your abilities, the game will “optimize” your equipped items. Early on, this isn’t a bad thing, but as you progress through the game, you’ll find that this only takes into account a very narrow set of criteria and powerful items like a gold hairpin will be discounted in favor of a non-magically enchanted item that happens to have a different stat that’s higher. So, be careful with this feature as you may find yourself equipping an item that has a negative impact on your characters performance.

You learn new abilities while battling with your respective jobs activated. At the end of each successful battle, you’ll earn APB points. This operates similarly to experience points, but if you accumulate enough APB for your job, you’ll gain a job level. With that, you’ll gain a new ability. There is a cap for each job as to how many levels you can achieve. How many depends on which job you have, though a number of them cap out at level 7. If you level up enough in a job, you’ll have that job “mastered”. This simply means that there is nothing else for you to learn in that job and, ideally, you’ll want to change to another job to continue expanding your characters capabilities. Under most circumstances, this is highly recommended as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to master every job available before the end of the game.

Since there are so many jobs you can obtain throughout the game, the question becomes, which job should you train in? Ultimately, there are no easy answers for this. Different jobs are pretty much mandatory depending on your strategy. Different guides available make different recommendation, though one character training up in white early on is definitely a good choice. From there, it’s pretty much up to you. While I think the job system is a great idea, this is where the game does lose me a bit. If you are going into this game cold with no prior knowledge, you are more or less guessing as to which job should be trained up in which order. The good news is that you can jump around from job to job whenever you feel like. So, if you feel like learning the level one skill of a large set of jobs, that is definitely an option as you can switch from one job to another without any restrictions. This does allow for more possibly strategies. Unfortunately, there is very little to nothing in the game telling you what you are going to learn next. Instead, you just level up in a job and out pops a new ability. These abilities are always the same, but unless you are leveling up a second character in a particular job, there’s no solid way of knowing what you’ll learn next unless you go running to a walkthrough/guide. Overlapping some of your abilities is also a highly recommended thing because if, for instance, a character that is capable of casting !White falls in battle, it would be nice to have another character that can cast !White magic to revive the fallen comrade. It’s ultimately hard to plan ahead in this game without prior knowledge, though. For instance, a Blue Mage can net you the ability to learn some of the enemies special attacks. Good, but you actually have to get hit by that attack before you learn it. Early on, it’s hard to see how useful that is over training your characters on Knight, White Mage, and Black Mage. Early on in the first world, there’s an enemy that casts level 5 death which can be learned. If you don’t think to learn that capability, you’ll have a harder time training your characters because an enemy in the second world that is susceptible to this ability will dole out tonnes of APB. As a result of not knowing this, I had to wait until the third world before finding this ability and going back and do some APB farming. How do you know to learn Level 5 death without knowing there is an enemy you’ll want to take down in the second world that you’ll want to kill off in large quantities? Even if you know to learn the Level 5 death in the first world, how do you know without trial and error or scanning abilities to attack with this blue magic in the first place? That’s why unless you are reading a guide prior to playing, this system is so hit and miss and ultimately guesswork with vague clues.

Also along the way are various things you can find in castles and dungeons. These include secret passages that can net you some extra loot through treasure chests. A lot of loot does come from treasure chests, but some treasure chests have nothing and can operate as switches. I thought this was rather creative uses for the chests. There are also other switches you can find in the dungeons. Most often are skull switches, but you can also find a level or two. Another unique thing in this game is the ability to climb things. Sometimes, this is simply a rockface, but other times, you can climb vines and even chain. While not utilized very much in this game, I thought this was an interesting feature in this game. Finally, there are safe points found in the dungeon. With these, you can pitch a tent/cottage and even save your game (something you can only otherwise do in the overworld).

In addition to all of the above are the various vehicles you can drive. At first, you can ride a yellow chocobo. Chocobo’s are able to run through land without enemy encounters. Unfortunately, they can’t pass through mountains or obstacles – with the exception of shallow lakes and rivers. Wind drakes can fly over many obstacles, but unfortunately, they can’t fly over mountains. A ship can sail over open waters. Black chocobos can fly over pretty much anything except snowy mountain tops. While this sounds like the ultimate mode of transportation, they have the severe limitation of only being able to land in a forest. A submarine can swim beneath the waves and access areas otherwise completely cut off. Finally, an air ship can fly over anything and land on flat stable land. I thought the various modes of transportation were interesting.

One final feature of this game worth noting is the world system. While in the previous game, there was a world and a small set of additional maps, this game feature three full-fledged worlds. How they are organized was also quite interesting.

As you might suspect – especially with that last note – this game is quite large. For me, this element worked both in the games favor and against it. It’s great because there was so many different things to explore. I honestly lost count with how many dungeons there were that had to be explored. In some parts, it was also an open world concept where you can do whatever you liked. What I saw in the overworld was definitely impressive. Unfortunately, a lot of the dungeons just didn’t share that same level of epic exploration. Many of the dungeons were borderline a single path to the end. In some instances, the dungeon simply made you climb ad flight a stairs, turn the corner, climb a flight of stairs, repeat, go to the center of the room, fight the boss, and then jump out of a window to exit. It left a lot to be desired for me. I think it wasn’t until the end of the second world and the third world before I felt developers finally hit their groove in designing dungeons, but even that was sometimes hit and miss.

A lot of the dungeons were also really short. As a result of this, you could probably complete it in less than a dozen fights. While that doesn’t sound like that bad of a thing, the downside is that there are fewer opportunities to build up your experience. The end result? running around in the overworld grinding up levels in both general levels and job levels for hours on end to make up for the difference. I don’t think you could very easily beat this game without a large amount of grinding. For my, the first world was beating up bandersnatches until I wanted to throw the Game Boy out the window. In world 3, it was Level 5 death against a bunch of floating basement level 1 dwellers of a particular castle until I passed out. Before taking on the end of the game, it was wiping out slugs and spiders until I wanted to scream. Either the dungeons weren’t big enough for the encounters, or the encounters didn’t award enough. Either way, the grinding really killed a lot of the enjoyment in this game for me.

Still, when it was time to make progress, some of that enjoyment was restored. As long as I was progressing through the game, I was definitely enjoying the game, but once I got to a point where I needed to do some heavy duty grinding, the game became a real drag again. This game took me over 60 hours, but I’m quite sure well over half of that was simply me grinding up levels.

The plot was a bit hit and miss. It wasn’t as bad as Final Fantasy IV, but nowhere near as compelling as final Fantasy VI. The beginning of the storyline was a bit cringe-worthy when I saw the recycling of the four crystals. Fortunately, the story did more or less move away from it sufficiently to still be seemingly original. So, nothing special, but not the worst out there by any means.

Generally, I thought this was pretty good in spite of some glaring flaws. The job system is a nice concept, but it requires some guesswork to get right – and the success of your decisions will greatly influence how well you do later on in the game. Knowing what you’ll be learning would have made things a lot easier. The balance was a bit off in that this game requires a large amount of grinding. This grinding did wear away a lot of the games enjoyability. The storyline wasn’t bad, but wasn’t all that great either. It improved in the later portions of the game, but it was still a bit hit and miss sometimes. Still, the game was very enjoyable when you are making progress. An expansive overworld – some of which was an open world concept, made this game quite interesting. The dungeons could have been bigger and more complex, though – especially early on.

The graphics were pretty good. They weren’t amazing, but the fact that there was so much of it really made this game a great play. The effects were also nicely done. The battle animation sequences were nicely short, yet added a nice amount of flare. The artwork of the enemies, overall, was quite good. Overall, I thought it was a great play.

The audio was also pretty good. The music for the wind drake and the music for Battle of the Big Bridge were real highlights for me. The remaining music was decent enough. The sound effects were also nicely done. Different weapons had their own sound effects. Different elements in the game had a wide variety of effects as well. So, overall, the audio was quite good.

Overall, it was interesting seeing the connections between IV, VI, and VII. The multiple worlds concept was carried through even in this game. Elements in the jobs system can definitely be found in VII. the concept of buying magic can also definitely be found in VII. Building up your skills while equipping a job is definitely found in VI. The concept of the four crystals was definitely carried over from IV. Various vehicle concepts were carried over to VI and VII. So, seeing how this series evolved in this era was definitely fascinating. The jobs system was intriguing, though could definitely use some tinkering to ease strategy building. The story was hit and miss at times. The large over world was definitely an excellent feature. The large number of dungeons and cities played well in this game. The short dungeons were a drawback. The grinding also hurt the games enjoyability. Still, when you are making progress in this game, this game can be quite enjoyable. A number of the features also added to the overall gameplay such as the vehicles and climbing. So, overall, this was still a pretty good title even though it had its share of weaknesses. If you are a fan of RPG games, this is definitely a game to add to the “to play” list if you haven’t tried it already.

Furthest point in game: Characters averaging level 60. All but 6-8 jobs mastered for each character (not sure if entirely worth it). Defeated both Exdeath and NeoExdeath. Couldn’t defeat Omega or Shinryu, so sipped both. Found bonus dungeon and made it as far as you can without capturing an enemy (no teleporting out of there apparently and supplies ran very low to the point where I felt it was pointless to make the hike back to the surface.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 74%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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