An American Tale
Chris Kohler’s book on Final Fantasy V is a snapshot into the gaming passion of a teenage boy growing up in America in the 1990s. I’d like to share a quote found on the beginning pages of this latest publication by Boss Fight Books.
“Poring over more issues of magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly as the years went on, I slowly became aware that not only did Japan get the cool games first, sometimes Japan got games that we never got at all. Eventually those feelings of childhood jealousy turned into teenaged resentment: Why didn’t we get these games? Why were we this second-rate video game dumping ground? Why did America suck so hard? Why couldn’t I have been born in Japan?”
What I like about Kohler’s anecdotes is that he shares the same frustrations that I had being a passionate gaming teen during the 16-bit era. He just did something about it! Final Fantasy V has always been the red headed stepchild in the Final Fantasy lineage due to its neglected history with the American audience. Kohler’s book on Squaresoft’s black sheep provides an entertaining but passionate tale of importing a game from overseas in a time without Amazon, modding the SNES hardware with pliers from a sketchy internet suggestion back when the internet was just starting to become a thing, the anger that comes with plagiarism, and the struggles of playing an RPG in Japanese.
One of the major highlights revolve around quotes from the developers. Placed strategically throughout, this detailed insight is a rare but insightful glimpse into what the developers were thinking at the time. To track down Japanese developers from games that are close to 20 years old, convince them to spend time in an interview, and translate into English is no easy feat by Kohler pulls it off with ease.
Without giving away too many details, Kohler’s book of approximately 160 pages is a quick read because of the passionate story of one kid’s journey of importing a Japanese game, writing a FAQ from Japanese to English, while providing analysis of the title’s inner workings. The book talks about the job system, how America finally received this game so many years after the Japanese release, the game’s pacing and how it is a bookended title, the best places to grind for job points, the musical score, and even how to break the game using a combination of special abilities. The book’s conclusion even highlights how gamers from around the world gather to play FFV for charity every year by playing through the entire quest using a specific set of jobs. Even though this book is loaded with quality content, Kohler makes the reader realize that Final Fantasy V is usually placed towards the top of Top 100 lists in Japan but never scratches the surface from an American point of view; FFIV and FFVI usually take those honors.
My only complaint about this inside look of FFV is the complete lack of any screenshots, box art, or anything visual of the actual game itself. Outside of the blue crystal on the cover, this book is text only. This is a publication about a video game, after all, and games are designed to be seen. It would have made more sense to display screenshots of that area in the basement of that one castle where it is great to mindlessly grind ability points. Or it would have been awesome for the reader to see that battle of the bridge. Or what Gilgamesh looks like. Kohler also points out that Final Fantasy V is the first time Moogles, the Tonberri (spelled “Tonberry” in later games), the countdown timer, and superbosses make an appearance in a Final Fantasy game. Pairing these facts with a screenshot or sprite work would have been the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, I am guessing adding art or screens would have required some licensing fees. Four-color printing also require yields a higher cost. But the asking price of only $5 for the digital version of this book easily justifies this concern.
If you are a fan of Final Fantasy V, then you should check this out as most of the stories contained within could have very well happened to you. For those of you who have not played Final Fantasy V, you should go do that, then read this book. Only then might you realize why America sucks so hard and we were just a dumping ground for second-rate games.
ISBN 13: 978-1940535-18-0
Release date: October 24, 2017
$4.95 – ebook version
$14.95 – paperback version
Official link – https://bossfightbooks.com/products/final-fantasy-v-by-chris-kohler