I'm on the board! As planned, my first tally for 2020 is a replay Final Fantasy V
for the Super Nintendo.
Final Fantasy V is "peak nostalgia" for me. It wasn't the first Final Fantasy game I'd ever played, but it was the first one I played through on my own. I had just watched my best friend play through Final Fantasy VII in its entirety before taking it on myself, and with the follow-up still a year away, I decided to work backwards and play the fan-translated ROM on ZSNES.
FFV is how I learned that so many quirks of FFVII were actually tropes. Moogles, chocobos, Holy and Meteor magic, old engineers named Cid, etc. At that time, when we were still adjacent to the 16-bit generation, the sprites still seemed colorful and expressive. The job system - which allowed you to specialize in certain abilities before equipping them to your character - was nothing short of incredible. The developers intentionally made it so nearly every boss and dungeon could be "cracked" easily with a specific combination of jobs and abilities, which turned boss fights from slow grindfests into interesting puzzles.
People criticize FFV for being simplistic compared to its older and younger sibling. Twenty years later, I was definitely a little more aware of how basic the story and its progression were. In spite of that, watching crystals shatter still makes me feel like the world is ending, especially after watching the party struggle for an hour trying to save them. While later games may have developed the personalities of each character more, this game does a good job of making you feel attached to your squad. There's no character swapping and no party swapping; your four characters are all you have, and they're with you the whole time. We didn't see another Final Fantasy game like that until many years later with Final Fantasy XV, of all things!
Above all else, though, FFV's music is nothing short of enchanting. It makes incredible use of the SNES sound hardware, so instrumentation is almost as well crafted as melody. The music used from Bartz' hometown both literally and figuratively plucks at heartstrings, and the "Fate in Haze" cave theme is probably the best dungeon music in the entire franchise. FFV's "Dear Friends" arranged album ended up being the very first game soundtrack I ever bought, and no arrangement - either from a fan or from Square themselves - impressed me as much as it did on first listen.
I played through FFV first on ZSNES all those years ago. When Final Fantasy Anthology was released, I played through it again, dealing with the lame translation, awful load times, slow battle transitions, and other emulation snafus. I was salivating over the GBA release and loved the new translation, but GBA's sound hardware ruined the sound effects and music for me, though not enough to play through the game a third time. The sound, in fact, was wildly different in all three versions on all three platforms, which had me wondering for years... Which of those effects that I enjoyed - Holy, Bahamut, Meteor - was actually the sound the developers wanted me to hear?
For that and other reasons, I've wanted to revisit FFV for a while, but it's tough to knock out a 30-hour RPG these days with a wife, an intense job, and a baby at home. After falling down the retro hole last year, though, and with 2020 being my year of replays, this seemed like the perfect way to kick off a year of gaming. I'd play through the game on my commute using a SupaBoy SFC - not ideal, but at least the sound was pretty good - and on an Analogue Super Nt while I was at home. It was nothing short of glorious, and I'm debating transferring the save to the GBA version so I can pick through the additional content and start where I left off.
Coming up, I'll be working on Lunar: The Silver Star for the Sega CD (which I'll be playing on my Mega Sg using the Mega SD) for Lunar New Year (credit goes to @Lunar for the pun), Portal 2 on the PC for Frank's GOTM, and whatever the Retro GOTM is. Road Rash on 3DO and the Link's Awakening remake on Switch are waiting in the wings.