Final Fantasy V: Summoning and Obsolescence

Last night’s session consisted of little progress and lots of noodling around aimlessly in my airship. I’m at a point where the adventure is less directed than before. I know I have to try to protect the final Crystal, which means finding it. (I’m also pretty sure that finding it will trigger the plot event that results in its destruction, but that’s okay.) But since most of the map is open to me now, apart from a few mountainous areas where the airship can’t land, it’s not at all obvious where I’m supposed to go next. I had some leads, and I followed them, and now I’m stuck.

But one of the nice things about RPGs is that they give you goals you can pursue while stuck. I’ve gained a few job levels, and I’ve bought some better equipment (although I’m still severely limited by what’s available to buy), and I’ve conquered Ramuh, one of the basic summonables.

Final Fantasy‘s summoning mechanism is another one of the distinctive things about the series. Pretty much every episode from FF3 onward provides some kind of summoning, and FF5 makes it a Job. The way it generally works is: your summoner casts a spell (costing an ungodly amount of mana), and your entire party is temporarily replaced by a legendary being who does a great deal of damage, usually to all enemies at once, and then disappears. Summoning Ramuh amounts to casting a souped-up lightning bolt, and counts as such for creatures with resistance or vulnerability to electrical damage. Later episodes have elaborate non-interactive animated summoning sequences; how much you like the later games is in large part determined by how quickly these animations bore you. Sometimes summonables can be found or purchased, as is the case for a few low-level ones in this game. Sometimes, as in the case of Ramuh, they must be encountered and defeated.

Now, in most of the Final Fantasy games I’ve played, summoning is pretty much your biggest magic. It’s one of the things you bring out for the bosses. But here, it’s completely it’s overshadowed by other new class abilities. For example, the Geomancer can do damage comparable to the creatures I can currently summon, and do it at no mana cost. Geomancy doesn’t allow the kind of control that Summoning does — the effect is random, and if it’s an effect that requires a target, the target is random as well. But who cares, when you can cast it every single round?

Similarly, the Hunter has an ability to call on woodland creatures (yes, even from inside a dungeon) that sometimes does damage, sometimes does nothing, and sometimes heals the entire party for a few hundred points. Even though the healing only comes up every once in a while, it pretty much renders the White Mage job obsolete. Presumably I’ll eventually acquire new, more powerful spells for both the White Mage and the Summoner that tip the scales in their favor again. It’s just another way that this game puts the Job system at the forefront of the player’s attention.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 5 Dec 2007

    One of my biggest issues with IX was that, while the storyline practically revolved around summons, the summons themselves were far less useful than in any other FF I’ve ever played. They cost exorbitant amounts of MP, didn’t do very much, and moreover were split across two characters.

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