Book Review: Chris Kohler’s Final Fantasy V

The cover of Chris Kohler's book Final Fantasy V from Boss Fight Books.
Image courtesy of Boss Fight Books.

Disclosure and Disclaimer

My thanks to Boss Fight Books for sending me an advance copy of this book for the purpose of review.

Up front I feel like I need to admit to some things about Final Fantasy V and the book of the same name.

I was one of those people who enjoyed the fan translation of this game in the late ’90s that Chris mentions. But I didn’t just enjoy the fan translation, I loved it.

I had played the other Final Fantasy games available at the time (also via emulation), but Final Fantasy V is still clearer in my mind than Final Fantasy IV and VI. I was also a blooming otaku back in the ’90s. Given these two facts, I feel like I am the exact target audience for this book and the following review reflects this.

The Review

In his book Final Fantasy V from Boss Fight Books, Chris Kohler artfully combines the story of a blooming ’90s otaku with that of the development of the “Lost Final Fantasy”. Kohler manages this blend of stories largely by shifting between them in a way that makes each inform and enrich the other.

This combination of video game and personal writing is the raison d’être of Boss Fight Books, a publisher that tries to get people to write about games and the emotional/psychological/social connections that they have with them. But unlike the other books that I’ve read from this publisher (Earthbound, Super Mario Bros. 2, Chrono Trigger, and Baldur’s Gate II), Kohler manages to shape his connection with his game of choice into a complete story in the classical sense. Both his own story and that of Final Fantasy V get off to an engrossing start, have a period of heightened interest and climax, and ultimately come to a satisfying conclusion.

Unlike with a few of the other titles I’ve read from Boss Fight Books, I wasn’t left with the sense that Kohler just wrote about a part of his life that happened to intersect with his initial interactions with Final Fantasy V. Instead, I could clearly see how influential Final Fantasy V had been on Kohler himself and the wider fan community, despite its window of broad relevance quickly fading after the release of Final Fantasy VI and the rest of the series.

Speaking of his personal story, I found it relatable and compelling. From his introduction to Japanese culture via Nintendo games, his importing Final Fantasy V, and his collaborating on a walkthrough for Final Fantasy V, it’s a story that I think will resonate with a lot of ’90s gamers. In particular, though, I think that Kohler’s coverage of the freedoms and limitations of the mid-’90s internet is a great example of the shape of ’90s fandom.

The other arc that Kohler follows is that of Final Fantasy V‘s development. This is where the book truly shone for me, since I found his interview with Hironobu Sakaguchi about working on Final Fantasy V intriguing and insightful. I also appreciated how the other material that Kohler pulls in fleshed out the story of Final Fantasy V’s development and eventual localizations.

To top off the construction of these two arcs, Kohler writes in an easy, conversational style. All in all, this is a fairly strong book.

Except for one thing. The summaries of Final Fantasy V‘s plot slow the book down.

I admit that when Kohler is writing about how the game’s development team combined party dynamics and gameplay with major story beats this kind of summarizing is necessary for context. But when he’s summarizing elsewhere it seems like too much of a wind up for nothing more than segues. Cutting these sections out in favour of leaner transitions would have made the book much stronger, I think.

All of that said, Chris Kohler’s Final Fantasy V is among the best — if not the best — of the books that I’ve read from Boss Fight Books to date. If the upcoming wave of titles from Boss Fight Books is of the same quality of writing about video games and the impact that they’ve had on people’s lives, then it’s not to be missed.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to re-blog or share this post if you enjoyed it.

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