During high school i played "Final Fantasy 2" (multiple times.) My first year in college i played "Final Fantasy 3". Then around that time i found out through the magic of that new-fangled internet thing that "FF2" and "FF3" were actually FF4 and FF6, and there were three Final Fantasy games that had never been released in the US.
When i read up about it i was amazed to discover that there was a modern Final Fantasy game that let you pick your classes like back in the first Final Fantasy. In fact not only just pick your classes, but change them! And there were over a dozen different classes to pick from!
FF4 and FF6 were great and all, but this seemed like something amazing that i'd missed out on. Unfortunately the import scene wasn't really that easy to get into back then, and emulators were far in the future, so i just figured i was SOL. But than a professor at my college announced that he was going on a trip to Japan and asked if there was anything anyone wanted picked up while he was there. So i went ahead and told him that if he could find a copy of FF5 that would be awesome!
He managed to come through and i _think_ it was either late 95 or sometime in 96 (or _maybe_ early 97) when we got a chance to play it. Once nice thing about the SNES was that the "region locking" consisted of some plastic tabs in the US version of the console that slid into little notches cut into the carts for US games, which were lacking in the Japanese versions. But if you were moderately careful you could remove the tabs from your SNES and then japanese games would play just fine!
kirinn was also interested in the game, so although i did most of the driving he watched over my should almost the entire time. We also had a friend who knew a moderate amount Japanese and was willing to help us out with the translation. (Kirinn knew a little then, but i knew practically none.) With that plus some help from an online FAQ (i'm not sure if we actually knew about GameFAQs at that point or got it off some other site. Or via Usenet. Certainly wasn't gopher at that point though.)
It took us quite awhile (it felt like months, but it may only have been weeks) but we eventually worked our way through it.
To this day it remains one of my favorite Final Fantasy games. Why?
It was right in the middle of the golden age of Final Fantasy (IMHO), the SNES era. Great (2D) graphics and great video game style music from Nobuo Uematsu.
It was also the last Final Fantasy game from that era that i got to play.
I discovered it on the internet as a kind of secret (for Americans at least.)
For awhile i didn't think i'd ever be able to play it, and it required more than the usual amount of effort to acquire it.
It required more than the usual amount of effort to play it, given the language barrier.
Playing it was a group effort with friends.
The Job system was amazing, for most of the game you were constantly discovering new jobs and wanting to try them out.
And more importantly after that you wanted to master the jobs so you could combine skills with other classes, making it great for completionists.
And then when i got play Final Fantasy Tactics i recognized the same Job system again, which created a link in my mind between two great experiences with two great games.
And it also helps that there are a lot of challenges you can do with the game because of the Job system. Every year there is a "Four Job Fiesta" event where you can have a bot pick out four jobs, one from each of the four crystals, and those are the only Jobs you're allowed to use. (I signed up for the event a year and a half or two years ago, but only got about halfway through the game. You may or may not be able to identify the part where i left off below =)
Times played: 1 (Complete) 2-3 (Incomplete)
First played: 1996 +/- 6 months?
Last completed: 1996 or 1997?
Last seen: Got partway through the Four Job Fiesta in... 2013?
Butz (or Bartz, depending on the translation) - Son of a space alien.
Boko (or Boco, depending on the translation) - a big bird, who is yellow.
Rena (or Lena, depending on the translation) - Dragon princess
Garuf (or Galuf, depending on the translation) - Old guy with amnesia
Faris (or Faris, depending on the translation) - Sexy pirate chief
Girl - Replacement for Garuf. Also his... granddaughter?
Gilgamesh - Well equipped asshole
Cid - Librarian
Werewolf guy - A guy who is a werewolf. Or something.
Exdeath - A tree. That is evil. (If the "death" part of his name didn't give that away.)
• You start with a pretty good opening movie, showing...
Butz is a wanderer who's wandering about with his chocobo Boko
Rena is wishing her father well as he departs for the wind shrine on a... Ryu? Dragon thing anyways, to go see what's wrong with the wind (which has been acting up or something.)
Faris is hanging out on a ship
Garuf (or Galuf) is in an unidentified location, talking about something or other which may or may not be foreshadow or ominous
Then you see something falling from the sky and there's a big crash. I believe it is at this point that the wind actually dies, and Rena is consequently worried about her father and goes to investigate. Butz is curious and goes to investigate.
• You start controlling Butz and go to the meteor. There you find Rena, get introduced, and then the two of you find Galuf who is uncoscious and suffering from amnesia when he wakes up.
• I believe there is some question about whether or not you're all going to stick together or whether Butz is going to ditch these losers and continue his solitary wandering, but of course circumstances, and Butz's good heart, consipire to keep them toegher.
• You have to run through a canyon while there's an earthquake going on, and fight some goblins, before getting to a cave.
• While traversing the cave you find a spyhole that lets you see a pirate ship docking in a hidden cave harbor. You are amazed, because the ship is moving even though the wind is dead.
• You sneak into the cave and try to steal the ship, but get caught. Faris is going to throw you in the brig or something, but sees the pendant that Rena is carrying and decides to help you out instead.
• In the morning(?) the ship sets sail, at which point you find out that it's not actually sailing, it's being pulled/carried by a cute sea dragon whose name i can't remember. (It's not just "Hydra" is it?)
• You take the boat to the Wind Shrine, where you discover some monks and some people from the castle in the bottom floor, who say that the king went up to the top floor and then crazy stuff started happening.
• You climb up the tower and fight some monster. After you defeat it the wind crystal shatters and i believe you get a teary goodbye with Lena's dad, although it's possible he was already dead when you got there, not sure.
• Then you get to grab all the broken pieces of crystal, and now you can get a Job! Yay!
• You are now on a mission to save the other crystals, but first you have to find them.
• At some point you stop at an inn. I believe you can do this optionally before or after the wind shrine. When you do you get a cutscene in which Butz and Galuf sneak a peek at Faris while she's changing and discover that she's a she! Of course if you don't pay much attention it's entirely possible to miss the fact that they ever thought she was a guy in the first place.
• Step one, go through the sea gate thing that links the little tiny sea you're in to a larger ocean.
• Get stuck in the ship graveyard and fight your way through, fighting some kind of boss at the end.
• I think this is the point where Hydra gets sucked into a whirlpool? :(
• Since you need some form of transporation now you go in search of Lena's dad's dragon thing. It's injured and you have to go climb a mountain to get some herb to heal it. But once that's done you have (very limited) flying transportation.
• I believe your next stop is the steampunk city with the fire crystal? "Coincidentally" a meteor just crashed near there too, and you discover you're able to teleport from one meteor to another.
• Once again you reach the crystal just in time for it to explode. Right before that happens you see a mysterious wolf-man person doing something or other that may or may not seem suspicious.
• After which you have a timed escape to get out of the castle before it burns down. (Did they have one of these in FF4? Because it definitely showed up in other FF games after 5.)
• After that i think you get a steam ship (so you can sail about despite the lack of wind.)
• Sooner or later you end up at the great library, where you meet Cid. He's less of an inventor in this one and more of a scholar, though that does includes knowledge of ancient devices like, airships. (Spoiler! ;)
• Actually i believe when you show up either Cid or his... nephew(?) named... Mid(?) is trapped in a magic book and you have to go in and rescue them.
• I'm not sure which crystal you go after next, earth or water. I believe earth is in a town in a deserty area the airship can't land in, behind a deserty pass through some mountains?
• And i don't remember anything at all about where the water crystal is.
• Somewhere in the process of this you need to go get the airship. Which is then docked in an underground base, presuambly near the Library, where Cid and Mid do maintenance for you.
• And as you're going through all this Galuf is gradually getting bits of his memories back. I forget at which point it becomes totally clear.
• I forget if it's now or in the second half, but at some point you get to go visit Butz's childhood home and get a few flashbacks.
• But in any case you eventually discover that once upon a time there was a big bad guy, but four heroes arose to fight it, and as part of the process of defeating him the split the world across two dimensions. (Or it was two dimensions to start with, and they banished him from one to the other? Or it was two worlds originally but then was joined briefly and then seperated again? I'm very vague on the details of this.)
• In the process of trying to stop something or other you get sucked into a gate between worlds. This is a little similar to the underworld in FF4, an entirely new world map that you're stuck in for awhile.
• I believe either immediately or very shortly after you cross into this new world you get captured and imprisoned in the castle of Exdeath.
• During the process of escaping you have to cross a Big Bridge. On which you a Battle. With Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was the first recurring joke boss in Final Fantasy as far as i'm aware. He's not quite as humorous as Ultros, but he does have the benefit of carrying around some very nice equipment, the Genji Gear. If you're fast enough and lucky enough you can steal one or two items from the set each time you fights him. I don't think this is the first fight with him, but it is definitely the most iconic, and "Battle on the Big Bridge" is Gilgamesh's semi-official theme song, and it is a very excelent battle song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0JnXdfoYpY or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHbYIbleQP8)
• You escape from the castle (and Gilgamesh) and get to explore this new world.
• At some point you get to Galuf's home. At some point he recovers enough from his amnesia to remember that he was one of the original Four Warriors and came from this world in a meteor to try and stop Exdeath, but i don't remember when exactly the relevation happens. Presumably this is where you meet his... granddaughter?
• After wandering around some more you meet the Werewolf guy who you first encountered in the fire crystal castle, and discover that he was also one of the Four Warriors.
• And again i can't remember if it was before, after, or during this whole sequence that you discover that Butz's dad was also one of the Four Warriors.
• You have to go do a mini-quest in some kind of fairly land, but i forget why.
• And after having many adventures that mostly don't stick out in my mind, there's some kind of climactic event. There may be a boss battle involved. Maybe with Exdeath? But in any case whatever the good guys intended to do it doesn't work out as planed, because the two worlds end up getting mooshed together.
• This is (again, i believe) the first time in Final Fantasy where the world map undergoes a major and permenant change "halfway" through the game. I can only think of one and a half other times that the same mechanic got used, but it is rather epic.
• And i believe it is during this climactic whatever it is that Galuf dies :( Thankfully his granddaughter decides to come to your aid and fill that empty fourth spot in your party roster! Even more thankfully it seems that she also learned all the exact same Jobs that Galuf had! What a coincidence! This does mean that your party now consists of one guy and three girls. I'm pretty sure there hasn't been any other (story based) Final Fantasy game where your party has been 75% female. Or even 60% female if you want to combine the pre and post-Galuf death statistics.
• At this point, uh, you wander around the new combined world a lot? I think you have to rediscover a new means of transporation and revist a lot of places you visited before and see how they're dealing with the new circumstnaces.
• The only one of particular note is Rena's castle. If you haven't picked it up from the blatant hints before i believe at this point they state outright that Faris is Rena's long lost sister.
• At some point you have the optional quest to go into an underwater tower(?) and fight Gogo and learn the "Mime" Job. I'm not sure if this happens before or after the cataclysm, or if you have the option to do it in both worlds. But in any case this is the introduction of Gogo, though i don't think he has a significant role in any other games besides FF6.
• Eventually you go to the final dungeon, which is... somewhere?
• And then you fight Exdeath. Who is a tree. I don't think he was a tree earlier in the game, but for some reason he is a tree here.
• When you win the battle you get one of the best ending cutscenes of any Final Fantasy game. I usaully think of it as FF6 having the better ending music and FF5 having the best ending story. Notably the ending varies slightly based on who survived the final battle. (FF6 expanded on that idea, but i can't recall any other Final Fantasy games that have done anything like that.)
In this game one of the jobs is Bard, and unlike in FF4 being a Bard is actually moderately useful. Although to unlock one of the best skills you have to find and play every piano in the world. There are something like 8 of them total. When you play the first one you sound like crap, but you gradually progress and when you get to the 8th one you can actually play real music and are rewarded with the Bard song. It's not really that important overall, but it's a cute little sidequest.
And even more so than in FF4, you have to collect a lot of the Summoner Spells by finding and defeating specific monsters, often in very particular circumstances in out of the way places.
I believe FF5 is also the first introduction of the Blue Mage class. Blue Mages are a little like Summoners in that they use the magic of monsters, but instead of defeating monsters in order to be able to summon them, you need to have the monsters use their abilities on you so you can duplicate them. Unsurprisingly a lot of the best spells involve monsters that are hard to find, or that don't normally use that ability, or that normally use the ability on themselves instead of you. But if you go through the trouble of collecting them all Blue Mages can be pretty stompy.