Final Fantasy Tactics
- Platforms: PlayStation, PSP, PlayStation 3 (PS1 Classic), iOS, Android
- Suggested Platform: PlayStation
- Developer: Square
- Genre: Strategy RPG
- Release Date: 01/28/98 (NA)
- Why Play It?: Amazing story, music, gameplay, and characters.
- Why Skip It?: Long. Each battle is an ordeal, and if you don’t have multiple saves, you might get yourself stuck. The first half of the game can be pretty tough.
Final Fantasy Tactics is a wonderful spin on the Final Fantasy series that spawned a few “sequels” (although I use that term lightly, as the stories are not connected to this original) that were also quite good, but not exactly what I’d call “Best Game Ever” material. I played this game A LOT growing up; it was one of the games in my dad’s collection that he never really touched, so I wanted to see what it was all about. Little did I know that this game would engross me enough to make many of my own pen-and-paper style RPGs with my collection of assorted dice for years throughout middle and high school. I never actually finished any campaigns, and even if I did, I never really had friends that would play them with me.
Anyway, Final Fantasy Tactics takes the simple, turn based combat, interesting, unique, and magical world, incredible music, and stellar storytelling of the (older) Final Fantasy series and then tweaks it ever so slightly.
Instead of having fixed characters that excel in one main thing (Vivi is a mage, Cloud is a tank, etc), you can build a team of seemingly “every man (and women)” style characters and play to your team’s strengths. Everybody starts from the lowly job class of a Squire or a Chemist, and as you level them up, you’ll eventually get the more interesting classes like Time Mage or Samurai. You can really bond with your party in this game, and I often ended up naming each character after me and my friends.
A series of battles between the kingdoms of Ivalice, Ordalia and Romanda has ended in what has been known as the Fifty Years War. While the three nations share common royal bloodlines, major battles have taken place between them. In turn, the kingdom is facing economic and political issues, and not only that, but the king has passed away. The king’s only heir is merely an infant, so a regent is needed to rule in place of the prince. The kingdom is split between Prince Goltana, represented by the Black Lion, and Prince Larg, symbolized by the White Lion. This is the start of what becomes known as the Lion War (or War of the Lions). The game opens with this backstory and tells of a man who actually was the hero of this struggle, but was covered up and forgotten by history. This story is to remember him. His name is Ramza, and he is the main character in Final Fantasy Tactics. Kind of sounds like a history lesson, right? You’re not too far off, actually. There’s a wide swath of knowledge about these lands, and by the time you finish the game, you’ll feel like you just got a degree in Final Fantasy Tactics History. The story is huge, and filled with plot twists, betrayals and murders; you know, typical history book stuff. That being said, Final Fantasy Tactic’s story just feels so believable. If you bound the story in a hard cover book, made up some images and removed some of the more magical aspects of the story and world, I’d think it was a real account of something that happened long ago.
By the time you finish the game, you’re going to have some pretty strong feelings about what goes down.
The story is definitely the shining star of the game (like most Final Fantasys), but the gameplay is wonderful too. It is turn based, but it is a strategy RPG. This means that instead of merely trading blows with foes, you’ll be maneuvering around a grid, putting yourself in position and attack in the best locations at the best times. For example, you’re going to want to put your Archer on the high-ground so they can soften up the enemies before they can even get into range of the rest of your units to clean up. Magic isn’t instantly cast, so you’ll need to take into account which characters are going to have their turns before your Fire spell goes off. It takes planning and strategy to perform well in FFT, in fact, it’s almost like playing Final Fantasy chess. During your turn, you’ll be able to move your character around the grid, then act. Positioning yourself behind or to the sides of enemies will decrease their evasion. And guess what? If you’re attacking from the left side of your opponent and their shield is on their left arm, you’re gonna have a tough time getting through that. And really, that’s the beauty of this game, no detail is left unchecked.
Like I said above, the game starts you off with Ramza and a few generic characters, split between Squires and Chemists. As you level everyone up, you’ll get better classes and you’ll even be able to mix and match some abilities. For example, let’s say you’ve spent a lot of time level up Joseph, your Black Mage. But now you’ve decided that you want him to be a Time Mage and learn Haste, Slow, and other useful Time Magics. That’s fine, you can just set his secondary skill to Black Magic, and you’re in business. You want to make a powerful Knight with White Magic to heal and protect? You go for it, man. Your party is really decided by you and your playstyle. You gotta do what works for you, but brute-forcing it isn’t going to do you any good. You can’t go in with 5 Knights and expect a win once you get further down the road.
The first half of Final Fantasy Tactics is pretty unforgiving. You’re stuck with low level characters trying to figure out what works best without the money or experience needed to really get a good strategy going. You may need to grind a lot in the beginning. Each grind is going to be tough too, because random encounter enemies level with your highest level character. If that wasn’t bad enough, FFT punishes you for screwing up. Say you’ve sent Bobothy, your best Knight into the fray to mess some guys up. He takes down a couple guys before ultimately dying himself. If you can’t resurrect him with a spell of Phoenix Down before 3 of his turns pass, he’s GONE FOREVER. This is why it’s important to save after every battle and carefully figure out a strategy, sometimes going through multiple attempts at a battle. If your main character, Ramza goes down for 3 turns, no matter how well the rest of your party is performing, it’s game over. Not only that, but don’t be surprised to spend an upwards of 10-30 minutes on each battle. It’s really frustrating to spend 45 minutes on a single battle, then losing your prized Ninja, forcing you load up a prior save. Here’s the thing: once you get through some of the toughest battles in the game at about the halfway point, your rewarded with the best character in the game. He’s a unique unit who can absolutely destroy most enemies (and their equip items). By this point, you probably have a pretty good team that can deal with most anything. As a result, the second half of the game seems to go by much quicker with these new allies and their powerful abilities on your team. Honestly though, if you’re able to get to this point, you deserve it.
The game goes through a couple of time-skips, and it really makes you feel attached to characters, even the simple non-story characters that you’ve kept in your party since battle 1. You start as a fresh faced squire on your way to knighthood, and seeing the resulting conflicts on the characters is amazing. The character development in this game is stellar. The orchestra style music will stay in your head too.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions was a remake for the PSP (I believe this is the version you can get on most mobile phones as well). This version adds animated cutscenes, a few new items and job classes, 16:9 widescreen support, multiplayer capabilities, and a few extra bonus characters to find, but as a drawback, has a different translation than the original and the biggest complaint of all: slowdown.
Every. Single. Time. You cast a spell, you’re gonna wait. And then it’s going to go. So. Slow. Honestly, though, the cutscenes and other features are quite nice, and if you haven’t played the original, you may not even realize what you’re missing out on. That being said, I suggest playing the original on PlayStation if you can, then either just watching the cutscenes on YouTube, or doing your second playthrough on PSP.
Despite the long battles and tough conditions, I personally feel as though Final Fantasy Tactics is the best Final Fantasy out there.