Final Fantasy Tactics - Retroview

Plagiarism At Its' Best?

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 5
   Plot 7
   Localization 2
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

40-60 hours


Title Screen

   When Final Fantasy Tactics came out at the end of January 1998, it bore more than a few striking similarities to a previous game, Tactics Ogre. Besides the name, the battle system was almost exactly the same as well. Was this an act of Square plagiarism? Or was Square simply taking a flawed design and making it better? In all fairness, Square DID hire programmers from TO to work on FFT. But whatever the motivations were behind it, Final Fantasy Tactics turned out to be the sleeper-hit of the year. Highly revered by most RPGamers, copies of this gem are hard to come by, and for good reason. FFT combines the fun of tactical gameplay and micro-management, with a solid and engrossing plot.

   Considering the nature of the game, battles need to be one of the strongest suits. It is. It is fairly intuitive to any FF veterans out there, even if they have not played TO. As soon as you pick your party and you take a look at the 3D battlefield, it would be a good idea to check out the Active Turn gauge. This nifty menu tells you whose turn will be up next, or a number of turns from now, and that is very vital information in this game. Once it is one of your character's turns, you have several options. You may move him or her, perform an Action, or both. You are limited in how far you can move by your obvious movement range, but also height (your jump ability) comes into play. Equipment and/or class can change these factors, but that will be discussed later. Performing an Action can be considered everything else besides moving. You can attack, defend, use and item or cast magic, provided you have the ability to do so. If you chose to only Move or only to Act, that character's turn will come up faster than if he or she did both. Attacking usually is instantaneous; if you want to cast a spell however it will take a few turns to charge. It's a good idea to check the AT gauge and actually confirm your target is going to still be there after you cast it. Also of note are fallen characters. After losing all HP, the characters collapse and a "death counter" appears over their body. After that amount of turns is up, and they aren't revived, their body disappears forever and they leave either a treasure chest or life crystal. Life crystals can be picked up to refill all a character's HP and MP, or you might be able to transfer an ability the dead character once had into the one who picked it up.

Bahamut Gets Ready To Clear The Screen
Bahamut Gets Ready To Clear The Screen 

   A successful attack or spell will earn both experience points and job points. Experience points are obvious; the job points are added to you total in your current job. Job points are sort of like money, you "buy" skills with them. Skills can be individual spells, movement bonuses, counter-attacks, or other such bonuses.

   I hope you like micro-management; whether boon or bane FFT has it in spades. Outside of battle you have the daunting task of equipping your party AND changing their classes to suit your needs AND allocating numerous skills to each individual AND making sure your party's Zodiac signs complement each other. It is not uncommon to spend 15 minutes per character to get them up to speed. It certainly doesn't help to have 20 different character classes, with about 15-20 special abilities per class. You may pick one class and one secondary class for a character, and then you must pick a Reaction ability, a Support ability, and a Movement ability. The amount of different combinations is staggering. And welcome, provided you're into micro-management. Heaven help you if you are not. When you're not working with your characters you are probably moving about the world map. In FFT you do not actually explore towns, dungeons, or the countryside. You are simply moving between points on the world map.

   Without proper care, your army will very soon go to pieces before the very difficult story battles. These battles frequently pit you against a well-trained and well-placed army; you must strive to have the same. FFT has a very steep learning curve; you will die quickly during the 5th battle if you are not extremely prepared. And it goes pretty much uphill from there. Non-story battles pits you against a number of enemies who are always on the same level as you, so don't expect simple level-building to help you during those. Later on you must fight several battles in a row without resting in-between, if not prepared you could have to reset altogether. This is definitely a challenging game; you won't be able to win by simply blindly attacking anymore. Good tactics, sound judgment, and sometimes blind-luck are needed to advance in plot and make it to tougher battles. Good stuff if you're tired of all those easy games.

You Don't Want To Be On The Business End Of A Spear...
You Don't Want To Be On The Business End Of A Spear... 

   Speaking of plots, Final Fantasy Tactics has an excellent and twisting one. It deals with Ramza, the youngest son of the noble Beoulve family, and his exploits as he learns just how harsh the world can be. FFT is outstanding in the fact that besides being set in medieval times, it strays from the standard medieval plot. The two great countries of the world have just ended a 50-year war between them, and are looking for peace. A vast conspiracy is started as an evil force is poised to not only take control but to destroy everyone, and Ramza is right in the middle of it. The story is amazingly detailed, a press of the 'select' button on a town (or pretty much anything) will reveal a little snippet of text, while not directly effecting much, at least gives you some further insight into the game. It is suggested that you do this often.

   Complementing the tense battles, political assassinations, and general backstabbing is a very nice collection of songs. The music in this game is very epic, with great sweeping scores during brutal battles, sneaky and vile tunes for conspiracy, and other such combinations. The instruments in the music actually sound real enough; you hardly hear the sound of a synthesizer. Sound effects are very good as well, from the satisfying cry of a dying monster, to the metallic clang of a deflected sword, everything is accurate and appropriate.

   As far as originality goes, FFT has actually only a few new ideas. You may rotate the environment around and zoom in and out as you please. The AT gauge is invaluable during the heat of battle. The sheer amount of combinations of abilities and classes are all fairly new ideas. But as mentioned above, it borrowed a lot of ideas from Tactics Ogre, and a few other games as well (Vandal Hearts, FF5). Improving on existing designs is a good thing, but it's not innovative in of itself.

This Could Get Interesting.
This Could Get Interesting. 

   The localization of this game can only be described as...original as well. Actually, the localization for this game was the worst that I have seen in a Square RPG before. Frequently seen spelling and grammar mistakes don't detract from the game completely, but in several instances it becomes very confusing during story sequences. That's very mild considering the game's butchered tutorial mode. In it, the now-famous Daravon proceeds to explain the battle system with such poor speech that I'm surprised anyone actually knew what he was talking about. Chances are you've already heard some of the terrible lines from this game, from "Off course!" to "I had a good feeling!" This game went above and beyond the realm of stupid mistakes.

   Luckily this game is simply fun enough to ignore the shortcomings of the dialogue. While it sports no alternative endings, FFT has quite a few optional quests that range from the Deep Dungeon to even finding and recruiting Cloud from FF7. Besides those, there are probably a bunch of skills that you might have missed the first time around. You might find yourself trying to beat the game with a handicap just to see if you can, nothing but a group of wizards (which is very possible) for example. If you like strategy RPGs there is a good chance that you'll like to play this one over several times. I play it even today, which is more than I can say for my copies of FF7 and 8.

   As far as visuals go, they are pretty adequate. They are sprites imposed on 3D landscapes. The sprites contain a surprising amount of animation, they move fluidly during battle and story scenes. Most characters have portraits for when they talk, those look okay. They have no noses however. The landscapes themselves don't have anything particularly exciting about them. They're pretty drab. Spells, and summons for that matter, are short and to the point. No eye candy here. You should be focused on battle at hand anyway.

   Despite the difficulty, drab visuals, and weak localization, Final Fantasy Tactics is still an excellent addition to anyone's RPG collection. The engrossing plot, fun battle system, and simply gorgeous music are enough of a reason to finish this 40-60 hour epic at least once. Probably twice. If you find this game somewhere be sure and pick it up, if not for the hours and hours of great gameplay, then at least to witness those legendary localization mistakes firsthand. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

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