Final Fantasy V has hit a few speed bumps on its way to the West. Originally published in Japan in 1992, it came to North America in 1999 for the Sony PlayStation. Unfortunately, the first American version of the game suffered from poor translation and technical issues, marring an otherwise great game. The second time's a charm for FFV, as Final Fantasy V Advance is the best this excellent game has ever been.
Fans of modern FF games will surprised to learn that story and character development aren't a big draw in this game. You play the role of Bartz, a strapping young lad that wanders the lands with his trusty chocobo. As meteorites pelt the planet, you get caught up in a worlds-spanning adventure that starts with saving your planet's mystic crystals, which becomes a battle against the powerful Exdeath (whom you can tell is really evil just from his name). It's a customary save-the-world-from-the-evil-guy scenario that's neither remarkable nor offensive.
Now, what's most certainly remarkable is the game's job system. As you discover more crystals, new character classes are unlocked. In addition to gaining experience points and money after winning a battle, you're also awarded job points. To get the most out of any job, you must spend time adventuring with it. As you earn more job points, you unearth more abilities. In addition to the innate abilities of each class, you can choose secondary abilities you've learned from any job.
Mixing and matching jobs is a thing of game design beauty. If you're looking to build a straight up tank then you'll want the knight's two-handed ability (it doubles attack power) and pair it with the samurai's deadly gil-throwing technique. You can make a more diverse warrior by coupling the mystic knight's spellblade ability (which imbues swords with black magic) and the ninja's 2-swords ability. You can mix and match abilities from any of the classes in the game. The choices are so diverse that you can have a drastically different experience playing Final Fantasy V depending on the jobs you pick. A party with the customary fighters and magic users feels entirely different than a party comprised of a chemist, a dancer, a mime, and a beastmaster.
Longtime fans of Final Fantasy V will be pleased to know that the GBA translation of the game is exponentially better than the PlayStation version. The dialogue is much more interesting (though there are a few lines that are too modern and seem out of place), the graphics have been improved (particularly the backgrounds) and there are no technical issues to speak of. As an added bonus, Square Enix has thrown in a bonus dungeon, new jobs, a bestiary and a music player. This is truly the best and most complete version of the game ever.
What makes Final Fantasy V outstanding is that there are essentially two ways to enjoy it. You can play straight up and go through the game's narrative using the customary character classes. This is a fun route to take, but it's totally conventional RPG fare. Things get really fun when you get lost in the job system. Learning and mastering new jobs while mixing and matching new abilities is such a deep and entertaining experience that the narrative becomes secondary. You can easily spend dozens and dozens of hours leveling up jobs and experimenting with them. No matter how you play the game, it's clear that Final Fantasy V is a great RPG that offers tons of bang for your buck and, for the most part, stands up well 14 years after its initial release.