Book Review: Final Fantasy V by Chris Kohler
It says something about Boss Fight Books that they held (and completed) their “Season Four” kickstarter before Season Three even ended. And heck, they even released the first book of the new season before the last one of the previous. Granted, each Boss Fight Books volume stands on its own, but it’s still an interesting thing to note. Though the real kicker is that their fan-voted book on Final Fantasy VI (and the one I’m anticipating the most) probably won’t hit ’til they do a “Season 5.” They haven’t even announced who’s writing it– which is a shame ’cause I have a bunch of ideas and I could totally hammer something out for them in a pinch. Call me, Boss Fight dudes.
In the long run, though, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t wind up writing a book on Final Fantasy VI, because Chris Kohler’s Final Fantasy V goes deep into the creation of the Final Fantasy series in a way that I never could.
Y’see, Final Fantasy V was never released in the US in its original form, as Squaresoft decided the RPG was too hard and too complicated for an American release. Kohler, however, was determined to play FFV, and so he painstakingly tracked down an imported cartridge, modded his Super Nintendo to play it, and more or less taught himself Japanese so he could actually play the damn thing. On top of that, Kohler helped put together the first FAQ & guide to FFV– a guide that was eventually plagiarized by Bradygames’ published guidebook to the game a couple years later. Oops. Still, it’s this kind of expertise that makes Kohler just the man to write Final Fantasy V.
Kohler is the closest thing to an expert there is on FFV, discounting the game’s creators themselves … who are also in the book. Part of the “Season Four” gimmick is that each book includes interviews and input from the people behind that particular game. If Final Fantasy V is any indication, the next wave of Boss Fight Books are going to be great reads.
But, not only does Final Fantasy V provide insight into the making of … well, Final Fantasy V, it also uses the game as a case study of fandom in general. Kohler grew up in the heady, proto-internet days of the 90’s, when nerdy American audiences were slowly trying to figure out what this “anime” thing was (and why a VHS tape with two episodes of Ranma cost like fifty bucks). The fan-translation of Final Fantasy V is a direct parallel to the fan-subbing of various anime series, complete with a revolution in online distribution when the internet became more widespread. Kohler is, unsurprisingly, a bit of an otaku himself, as he loves just about all things Japanese, not just the Final Fantasy games.
As for the game itself? Final Fantasy V is … alright. It’s a fan-favorite for its intricate job system and gameplay, but the plot isn’t much to write home about. I vaguely remember playing FFV, even– on a ROM, of course. The funny thing is, said ROM (with a translation based the efforts of Kohler and his buddies) was viewed as the best version of the game for a long time, especially compared to a terribly edited release on PS1.
Also, the main character’s name is Butz. Yes, I’m snickering too.
Really though, the thing about Final Fantasy V is that its American fans are pretty much the ultra-fans. Kohler compares the game to the Velvet Underground– where it’s said that everyone who bought The Velvet Underground & Nico started a band, everyone who imported a Japanese cartridge of Final Fantasy V went on to work in the video game industry.
All and all, Final Fantasy V is the quintessential Boss Fight Book. Kohler provides a bit of fuzzy nostalgia to get things going, then branches out into just why Final Fantasy V is such an interesting game, and how it came to be. And, by tying it into the broader scope of Japanese culture taking off in America, there’s some interesting stuff for people who haven’t played FFV. Well worth a read, and I’m eagerly looking forward to whatever Boss Fight Books drops off in my inbox next.