Final Fantasy Tactics - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Lion War: Not for the Sheepish
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

30+ Hours
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   To come down on this game like a professional wrestler was nothing short of tempting; after all, this reviewer had horrible adolescent memories with it, chiefly pounding his Playstation after a losing battle and scratching the disc. Though doing so only made the game's tutorial inaccessible, this reviewer's parents nonetheless forced him to purchase another copy. That's how frustrating the Final Fantasy franchise's first tactical RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics, can be, especially to players used to less punishing titles in the genre such as Sega's Shining Force series. While it may satisfy those used to games with annoying mechanisms, those who don't have a high tolerance for such gameplay mechanics may easily find themselves with another coaster.

   Battles occur regularly throughout the game and are of course necessary to advance the main storyline. Before each fight, the player places up to five units onto tiles that will represent the area where they'll appear once the battle commences. Though the game doesn't give players a clear idea of the battle map's layout or its enemies before choosing characters, the player's starting party formation, mercifully, is rarely critical.

   Actions taken during battle, however, are, since even one small slipup can cost the player a long, exhausting fight. Characters and enemies take turns depending on speed, and can perform a variety of moves depending on their classes. One things players must adjust to is that when moving their characters across the field, they cannot undo their movement, unlike in most other tactical RPGs (apologists may attribute this to technical shortcomings, but even the Shining Force games allowed players to undo movement), so experimenting with various locations for want of executing certain commands is completely out of the question, which can be a burden given the game's general pickiness about map elevation and such.

Probably speechless because he doesn't have a nose SILENCE, MONKEY!

   For successfully performed actions, each character gains experience points and job points that both gradually increase the level of a character's current class and allow the player to purchase various skills from his or her current class. Furthermore, other characters who are of different classes too gain a few job points for the class of the acting character. Each character, in addition to having a list of commands from their current class, can also use one skill set from another class in addition to three innate abilities from various classes determining things such as counterattacks and movement range.

   The battle system has some decent ideas, though their execution leaves something to desire. For one, the game is far, far more punishing (though not necessarily "harder") than most other games in the genre: if the player spends an eternity on a losing battle, the game doesn't take away half their money and give them another chance with retained experience and such (like in the Shining Force games), but rather gives players the middle finger with a generic, soul-crushing, controller-breaking Game Over screen, and unceremoniously dumps them back to the title screen.

   Another potential restriction of combat is that using healing items requires players to master the abilities of a whole class, so in some instances it's not worth giving characters a secondary skill set other than "Item." Moreover, when a character dies in battle, the player has three rounds to revive him or her before s/he turns into a crystal or treasure chest and dies permanently. Furthermore, some class abilities have irritatingly fluctuating charge times (while the player can check when such skills will execute in most instances, there are some, like the Lancer's Jump ability, when the player cannot), and what's more, support and revival skills can "miss."

Hard not to laugh at a serious scene like this Can't seem to find the right words...

   Most, however, can concur that Final Fantasy Tactics can be an unbalanced game, since some classes are terribly underpowered, some are overpowered, and a few are somewhere in between. Level and class building can be risky, too, since there's no escape from non-story battles, and all enemies then will have the level of the player's highest-level character. There are also several points in the game when the player has to fight consecutive battles and can't back out for level grinding if necessary, sometimes wasting more of the player's time if one of these battles is in vain. Ironically, many of the game's final battles are *easier* than most other fights throughout the game, especially since then, the player gains a character who can take on all enemies himself. Ultimately, the battle system does have its strong points, but can somewhat lose its appeal the more the player wrestles with its irritations and spends time on losing battles.

   Lamentably, there are many irritations outside of battle, as well. The menu system is actually the least of these irritations, though, and is in fact one of the better ones to appear in tactical RPGs. However, the biggest flaw of interaction lies in overworld exploration, with locations represented by dots. At some of these locations, random encounters can occur, and can especially burden travel since shops across the world sell different equipment, and if the player changes a character's class, s/he might not have the equipment for him or her and have to search all around the world for a shop that sells equipment for that character's class. There are, moreover, some quests from bars that the player can send up to three generic characters on, with the player needing to travel around the world to get time to elapse to finish that job, though again, sudden random encounters can dissuade players from such quests. In the end, it would've been nice if non-story battles were entirely optional rather than randomized and forced.

   Final Fantasy Tactics is in many respects an original game and distinctive part of the Final Fantasy franchise (with traditional series elements playing part, as well), yet does derive some elements from Tactics Ogre, developed by many of the same people.

With Agrias would have a cemetery named in her honor

   The story follows the conflict between two rival dukes for their nation's throne, the Lion War, witnessed through the perspective of the protagonist, Ramza Beoulve. The plot deals with issues like religion, family honor, and such, and certainly has many things going for it. However, once story characters officially join the player's party, they're basically forgotten and get no more dialogue for the game's remainder, and there is very little, if any, interaction among the player's characters. The biggest shortcoming of the story is the lousy translation, with lines such as "A gang of tortured thieves is trying to sneak into this town," "Surrender or die in obscurity!" and endless incoherent battle dialogue such as "Life is short…bury! Steady Sword!" In the end, the story, like combat, has some strong points, but somewhat falters in execution.

   The soundtrack, composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, is perhaps the game's strong point, with a number of epic, bombastic tracks that are never out of place, whether in battle, out or battle, or during cutscenes. Some of the sound effects, though, like the whale-esque sound human characters make when dying, are fairly irritating, but the music leaves little, if anything, to desire.

   The visuals, however, are a mixed bag. The character sprites look decent, as do the rare FMVs, but the environments, while decently-colored, can be somewhat blocky and pixelated at times. Furthermore, the character art, consisting chiefly of noseless characters, looks plain asinine and doesn't really fit the game's serious tone at all, and the character sprites look somewhat silly in battle walking in place. Overall, Final Fantasy Tactics doesn't have the best graphics on the Playstation nor does it have the worst.

   Breezing through Final Fantasy Tactics, finally, can take as little as thirty hours if the player is lucky. While the game's internal clock showed that this reviewer spent around thirty-five hours, it doesn't include time squandered on losing battles, so in reality, it was more somewhere from forty to forty-five hours.

   In the end, Final Fantasy Tactics, in many instances, is a game of gambling. Every fight is a risk, with the player sometimes wasting a long time on losing battles, especially if he or she encounters its several points of no return, although combat still has many things going for it, like its class system. Ultimately, the game's many annoyances in and out of battle make it difficult to recommend to newcomers to tactical RPGs, although it's certainly not without redeeming aspects such as its music. Still, lions among RPGamers used to games with irritating mechanisms may enjoy it, but lambs in the genre will certainly wish to look elsewhere.

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