Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
The Final Fantasy series has been around since – what seems like – the beginning of time. Now a “new” chronicle in this storied series is upon us. Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions has arrived… again. Though it is nothing new, a game of this caliber doesn’t need to change much.
Strategy gaming has been around for a very long time. It found its home in the PC gaming world and slowly seeped its way onto consoles. Final Fantasy Tactics changed that slow seep into a tidal wave, bringing about a flood of clones and copy cats, and now it has been released onto the PSP. Does this title still hold up in todays gaming market? The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes. Those new to Final Fantasy Tactics read on; returning vets you may want to skip the next few paragraphs as they describe what you already know.
FFT changed what gamers expected from turn-based strategy games. The years of generic troops were replaced with people – unique people. This is where the game truly succeeded. Sure the story is well done, though a bit convoluted, and the gameplay is well balanced and enjoyable, but what makes the game truly shine is the characters under your command. Each character that joins your ranks typically starts off as a squire or an alchemist. Through good old fashioned monster bashing they will learn new jobs and skills. You have full command over who will take what role in your army and each trooper can switch to any job they have unlocked. Some jobs are easy to unlock, some require extra work, leveling multiple jobs or meeting other such requirements.
No game can stand on its characters alone though. Without good gameplay it is hard to stick through to the end to see what happens to the people that you come to love… in a totally normal video game way. Fortunately, FFT has gameplay in spades. Combat is a large departure from traditional Final Fantasy titles and should be researched a bit before dropping your hard earned gil expecting something akin to the new VII. You do not travel around in an open world randomly encountering small groups of monsters, instead the game transports you from location to location for more strategic battles. Fear not monster bashers, random encounters are still in the game, they are just not as prevalent as the more traditional titles. As you reach certain locations you will watch some of the story unfold before you begin the fight keeping a fine balance between story and sword swinging.
Battles are the meat and potatoes of this title and as such, most of the time is spent on the battlefield. Players that enjoy the exploration of the Final Fantasy series may be turned off by this. As battles begin you can choose who to bring to the fight and, depending on the battle, choose where to place them. From there combat is similar to chess – with a bit more of a random factor as stats come into play quite heavily. As your troops kill monster they gain both experience points (Exp) and job points (JP). Exp goes towards leveling your characters in the traditional sense whereas JP goes towards learning new jobs and skills. All this fighting and learning allows a great level of customization for each character in your party; at times it can be overwhelming.
Returning players will feel instantly at home with the game as the changes to the gameplay are very minor. What has changed largely is the localization of the game, multiplayer and the addition of cinematic cut scenes. The original text was far from perfect; often, items had odd names and the story would become very hard to follow. Those issues have been fixed. I’m not sure if it is more from my own maturity or from the far superior translation but playing through the game on PSP made me realize how great this story really is. FFT‘s writing is now on par with the high bar set by the gameplay and in addition to the fleshed out story are the previously mentioned cinematics. A wise man once said “A picture is worth a thousand words…” and after watching the cinematics it is hard to imagine how many words would be required to convey the beauty and power of what Square Enix accomplished.
A few other additions were added to this re-release and a few problems were left intact (apparently for the purists). Cloud makes his return, hidden somewhere deep in the world, and now Balthier (of Final Fantasy XII fame) makes an apperance. Two new jobs were added into the world of Ivalice and there are additional battles to experience; some adding to the story, some just for fun. Square Enix was kind enough with all this additional content to leave us with the annoyances we have all come to accept. Slow down runs rampant through FFT both visually and audibly. They are minor complaints, it just seems they could have been addressed for the ten year anniversary.
Multi-player ad-hoc only gets a small mention as it seems to be an after thought. Tactics games have always had an issue of balance and it is no stranger here. The major problem with ad-hoc is that just a few levels can make it impossible for the less experienced team to win matches. If you and a friend decide on a general level to leave your party at this issue is resolved. The one major benefit from multi-player is the rare items that show up a great deal more after ad-hoc battles.
The re-release of Final Fantasy Tactics is a great gift for all PSP owners. It will keep you busy for months to come and is easily one of the most enjoyable games on the system. If it had not been a re-release that so many people have played to death already FFT could have been the PSPs Halo.