Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions Classic Review

Apartment Therapy Game Room Review

After the holidays, games tend to release in a slow trickle. With the hotly anticipated Bravely Default weeks away, I can't help but be tempted to play my favorite game featuring work from the same artist. Final Fantasy Tactics is a cult classic that borrows the job class system from the juggernaut franchise and engineers them on a board game like setting. It has a special place in my heart and is a game I can play over and over, which I've been tempted to do again after hearing about the possible spiritual sequel currently being Kickstarted. Am I just being blinded by nostalgia goggles, or does Final Fantasy Tactics truly stand the test of time?

Versions

Final Fantasy Tactics was originally released in 1997 on the first PlayStation, and was my introduction to the genre. Unfortunately, it was riddled with localization issues such as bad translation and spelling errors. However, in 2007, a remake was brought to the PlayStation Portable which not only fixed all that — it also gave us cinematic cutscenes, brand new classes, and multiplayer options that greatly improved the game.

The PSP version is, in my opinion, the best version, over the relatively recent iPad and iPhone versions. The touch screen controls on those versions are hit or miss, and the omission of multiplayer is a hindrance. However, the touch screen has the advantage when it comes to consistent frame rates and load times (and can even be more portable, depending on your hardware situation).

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Cutscenes help to enhance the story beyond what the original PlayStation was capable of.

Story

For me, this story was my Game of Thrones growing up. JRPGs tend to fall for one of several clichéd, done to death storylines, but Tactics was different. The narrative is told from the point of view of a historian, who finds a tome telling events that contradict the history books, that the one everyone believes to be a hero isn't really. And that it's the unwritten deeds of his friend who paved the way.

Our protagonist Ramza is a high born noble from a respected family of knights who throws it all away when he finds more and more that his name and blood has written his destiny for him. He negates all that is expected of his high born roots in search of true honor in his destroyed country that is further destroying itself in the midst of a defeated war. Two sides of the royal family fight for their prospective heir, who will take the country's reins, but behind the scenes there's actually a third party who controls events from the shadows.

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22 Job Classes are available for precise Strategists

Gameplay
As the name suggests, tactics are heavily involved with the gameplay, and the sheer amount of options and possibilities are staggering. Your ragtag army will start as Squires and Chemists, but as they gain experience many jobs open up such as Archer, Knight, Time Mage, and Black Mage, to name a few among the 22 to choose from. With five characters on your side of the board, it's up to the player to decide which skills each must learn to thrive on the battlefield. What opens up a lot more possibilities is equipping a secondary set of skills from another job — for example, a Knight can have the ability to cast White Magic to heal comrades.

You'll find yourself becoming sentimental the more time you invest into your troops, especially when they get KO'd in battle. A countdown begins and it's a rush against the clock to either revive them or end the battle, else they'll lose their life. (Or you can load up the nearest save file to try again.) When you're carving out the optimal team, various story battles will test to see if it really holds up against numerous scenarios, which include dividing your units in half and placing them across the field or rescuing a Princess.

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The land of Ivalice has dragons, beasts and the darkest foe of them all, man

Presentation
The medieval art style of Akihiko Yoshida and epic melodies of Hitoshi Sakamoto help give this game the perfect mood to carry such an intricate plot. Although the colors are mostly dull shades of beige, brown and green, it feels ripped from the Bayeux Tapestry, which tells various historical events of Medieval England and France (right where and when Final Fantasy Tactics could have taken place.) Noble characters are depicted with flashy armor, while humbler soldiers have a minimal design to reflect their social class — but each and every one is charming in their own right.

Opening

And to accompany all this is the music. Never has a game soundtrack fit the context more symbiotically than Final Fantasy Tactics. A battle begins with the drums of war, and you can feel the tenseness of the impending fight. Even the character select screen before a battle sounds like the march that precedes it. It all sounds so obvious, but it has to be heard and felt to be believed how Sakamoto gets it right. Watch the opening cinematic that plays when the game starts up and listen to the mystery, the whimsy and finally the adventurous eruption of horns as the title pops up.

Bottom Line
Final Fantasy Tactics is my favorite game of all time, but that's not to say it's for everyone. Players who play at a slower pace will find much to love with the job system and strategy behind battles. As for issues, the PSP version tends to suffer from extreme frame rate problems, and the difficulty can jump all over the place. It is ridiculously easy to become overpowered, but, for fans it's one of the charms and why we keep coming back. I haven't played another game quite like it, and will be keeping a close watch over this Kickstarter.

(Image credits: Square Enix)