Crystal Vision: The Action Heats Up

Crystal Vision is a short series about one inept player’s annual humiliation in a fun but difficult fundraiser: Four Job Fiesta. This installment includes spoilers for Final Fantasy V.

Five is my favorite Final Fantasy game, partly because I have reason to play it again each year for Four Job Fiesta, but not only for that. My colleague Rebecca Parks humored me and played through the first few plot beats of FF6 recently, and then I read Tristan Ettleman’s great essay about playing FF6 for the first time ever. His comments resonated with me, then I saw that he listed FF5 as his favorite.

Most folks I talk to say their favorite is either 6 or 7. Six has a cool story structure that fractures partway and makes you put your party back together, like the Blues Brothers, if the town of Joliet were separated from Chicago by a brand-new ocean. But Tristan’s right that it’s a badly paced game, and picking it up with Rebecca reminded me how the game’s beginning is somehow both too slow and too quick. Seven holds up and earns its place as one of the very, very best, but the low-poly graphics of original Playstation are aging badly and casting aspersions on a lot of great games.

I don’t mind which ones other people think are the best, but I feel good about 5. It’s set in the same kind of steampunk world as 6, but includes some far-out space contact and aliens like 4. The job system necessitates way more equipment and availability of skills. As my friend Tyler makes clear, savvy players can circumvent any pacing problems in the game with strategy and by changing jobs before boss fights or other potential slogs.

But here’s the most interesting thing to me: changing jobs frequently means your characters are always in the middle of leveling their skills, and the lowest levels have just 10 or 15 XP. Like the Pavlovian satisfaction of 2018’s best freemium idle game, 26-year-old FF5 is always feeding you a tiny morsel of achievement. Unlike 2018’s idle games, you also get a well written and provocative story. Speaking of which . . .

Back in the fantasy world, my party of all black mages beat Garula with Tyler’s help: I walked into battle holding an elemental rod that I threw at my enemy. The FJF community talks about “jobs that can break rods” and I had no idea what this was until now, because my previous parties were less vulnerable. It just means your character can throw a weapon to do damage, and elemental weapons do the equivalent of the third-level spell of that element. So I threw a fire rod at Garula and did thousands of points of damage. He died and the entire peninsula sank into the sea.

After that, we did some regular exploring and plot stuff, and I tried a few times to get the water summon Shiva before deciding life is too short for that shit. The next major obstacle is Karnak Castle, where another royal is exercising undue influence and exploiting nature to further their capitalist goals. Everything explodes after an innocent bystander gives up their life to give my party more time to escape.

Every FF game has a Cid, and he’s the mastermind behind the firepower that’s destroyed Karnak. Afterward, he’s so depressed that we can’t rouse him to help us. Instead, we travel to a huge ancient library to ask for help. We fight a lot of monsters and then we meet Cid’s grandson Mid.

I’m sorry we interrupted his reading but he comes back to Karnak to talk Cid into rejoining the band.

During Mid’s pep talk, Galuf flashes back.

Before now, he hasn’t remembered anything. But the wolf who died to save our lives in Karnak Castle spoke to Galuf with reverence and called him “my lord.” Finally, Galuf remembers that he’s a king from another planet who helped to seal away a terrible evil power called Exdeath. Check out these Ziggy Stardust-style exo-rulers preventing the death of the world decades before:

With Cid back on the helper team, I have a working airship. We live him and Mid to rebuild their lives and I travel all around the entire world to look at every single place I can access now. The last thing I do before press time is add a song to the offensive jukebox of my hypothetical bards.

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About Caroline Delbert

Caroline Delbert is a writer, book editor, grad student, researcher, and avid reader who lives in Chicago. She's also an enthusiast of just about everything.
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