Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (PC) Review

A tale of crystals and... evil trees?

Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (PC) Review 7
Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (PC) Review 1

Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster

Brutalist Review Style (Version 2)

Square Enix’s surprise re-release project winds on to Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster, bringing new life to one of the series’ overshadowed entries. In many ways, this was one of the games in the compilation that intrigued me most, given its somewhat unique history and its original technical limitations.

Non-Japanese audiences never experienced the original Final Fantasy V (legitimately) in its own time. Market research suggested that foreign players might balk at its difficulty, and it eventually launched on PlayStation in 1999—within the same month as the blockbuster Final Fantasy VIII in North America, and with a bad translation to boot.

Despite its rocky arrival, Final Fantasy V has developed a cult following, indicated by the annual “Four Job Fiesta” event which challenges players to only use a fraction of its job classes, and a community of diehard fans who delight in experimenting with its battle system. In 2021, their go-to versions are either the original fan-translated SNES ROM, or the 2006 Game Boy Advance port, while another Steam/mobile port in 2013 divided fans with its odd pseudo-HD presentation.

Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (Pc) Review

Luckily, Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster may present the perfect alternative. Unlike the last port, which looked like something made in RPG Maker, this version stays true to its original character while modernizing its visuals—meaning squat, “super-deformed” sprites on the overworld and taller, full-featured models in battles. All the sprites have again been redrawn by original artist Kazuko Shibuya, using the new resolution to add detail and expression without breaking the original visual style.

Playing the original versions of Final Fantasy V, I’ve always had the sense that Hironobu Sakaguchi’s team had hit the technical ceiling on this outing. The game’s story demands a lot of the squat little actors—unlike Final Fantasy IV, these characters are truly acting with emotes, from bowing their heads pensively to capering during comedic scenes, and pulling off action sequences. They squeezed every ounce of expression they could out of the original Final Fantasy style, and ultimately moved 100% to full-featured sprites for the next game.

Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster, however, finally realizes the aesthetic of the original game. These new sprites can be more expressive than the SNES version without being put on the same stretching rack as the 2013 version. The overall UI updates are overall more pleasing as well, as are the environments.

I realize this may seem like splitting hairs—in the same way, I don’t agree with all the criticism fans have levelled at the Pixel Remasters’ font, which looks perfectly fine to my sensibilities. But I truly appreciate the work that Square Enix has put into walking the narrow line between “maintaining the original character” and “updating for modern displays.”

Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (Pc) Review

Once again, Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster has breathed new life into its score with a fresh reinstrumentation overseen by composer Nobuo Uematsu. Like previous entries, I love the new layers of complexity added by the expanded suite of instruments. This soundtrack has always been one of the most diverse and well-rounded in the series, and the new arrangements drive that home.

There’s almost a Kingdom Hearts-vibe to “Royal Palace,” while “Harvest” fully realizes the intended Irish jig style. Some battle tracks seem to draw on the experience Uematsu gained from his Final Fantasy prog-rock cover band, The Black Mages, as some tracks—like the boss theme “Battle 2” and “Battle On the Big Bridge”—are now highlighted by touches of scorching guitars and synth. Emotional tracks like “Home, Sweet Home” and “Dear Friends” tug at heartstrings like never before.

“Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster has breathed new life into its score with a fresh reinstrumentation overseen by composer Nobuo Uematsu.”

These presentation upgrades help sell one of the series’ biggest emotional rollercoasters. Unlike its dour predecessor, Final Fantasy V is generally more lighthearted, featuring pop culture references and a fair injection of pirate-speak. However, as the story goes on, the party bears witness to plenty of calamities, sees the very fabric of reality rewritten, and deals with personal demons in ways previous games never did. The ultimate threat is a little outlandish but believable, nonetheless, and perhaps the most personally dangerous antagonist Final Fantasy had seen yet, even if he would soon be overshadowed by Kefka and Sephiroth.

Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (Pc) Review

It all holds up well enough by today’s standards, albeit remaining a little shallow like most games of its time—and the best translation to date is a boon to this version.

Gameplay is the true legacy of this game, and Final Fantasy V Remaster brings it home. The remake engine is smooth and nearly lag-less, unlike some other versions. Its job system remains virtually unchanged but benefits from the updated UI. The modern quality-of-life tweaks like auto-battle save a lot of hassle, too—while I rarely used it in the previous four games, I did lean on it a fair amount this time around, especially when my party was lacking interesting abilities.

Many fans adore Final Fantasy IX for amalgamating all the most “Final Fantasy” features of previous games into one game, with a story that starts as light fantasy fare and dives deep into existential despair as it goes on. This is also true of Final Fantasy V. It melds the Job system of I and III with the heavier storytelling of II and IV, creating the perfect balance between them all and a worthwhile game in its own right.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the bonus content added to the GBA port is absent for now. Many fans are disappointed by this omission—namely, four new jobs, a bonus dungeon, and a superboss. For now, I hold out hope that they’ll be spliced back in at a later date, or perhaps when the series gets ported to consoles. But given the choice of core presentation over endgame bonuses, I’m going to side with the presentation. Plus the original superbosses, Omega and Shinryu, still await eager challengers.

Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster (Pc) Review

Returning to its world(s) for the Pixel Remaster, I was struck by how formative Final Fantasy V was. Each prior experiment led to this chrysalis-like stage. All the systems were in place, and now the presentation began to escalate to the cinematic styles that would make the next three games so influential. In many ways, Final Fantasy V walked so VI, VII, and VIII could run—and now there’s no better way to experience this formative step.

Final Thoughts

Chris de Hoog
Chris de Hoog

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