Final Fantasy Tactics - Retroview  

Feet of Clay
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Moderate to Hard
40 to 60 hrs.


Rating definitions 

   One of the enduring classics of the genre, Final Fantasy Tactics is a perfect example of how poor translation and slapdash playtesting can negatively impact an otherwise remarkable game. While FFT has one of the most entertaining and complex storylines available anywhere, it is rendered nigh incomprehensible by a translation that can only be described as painful. The combat system suffers similarly; while it has a breadth of fairly unique ideas and a system design which results in a complex, tactically challenging experience, the flip side of that coin is that the system is easy to break and even easier to abuse. The game also has a number of bugs which have the potential to give the player far, far greater abilities than he or she should have, resulting in a further breakdown of the system. It is a testament to the ability of the game designer and script writer that Final Fantasy Tactics still manages to shine through such problems, revealing itself as a enjoyable RPG, and a classic entry in the series.

   The combat system is more or less traditional for TRPGs, at least at its core. Players and enemies take turns moving around a map divided into a grid, though in a nod to the traditions of the Final Fantasy series, turns are taken not in a "player phase, enemy phase" method as in most TRPGs, but in an order of speed setup similar to the Active Time Battle system used by most Final Fantasy games. Still, the real meat and potatoes of the combat system lies in character development. The generic soldiers Ramza will recruit during the course of the game may be assigned one of two different classes in the beginning, though new classes become available by levelling up each class for an eventual grand total of twenty, each with a unique set of moves, stat growth and abilities. Abilities come in four flavors; Action abilities, which include things like Black Magic and the Item command; Reaction abilites such as Counter; Support, which handles passive skills such as Equip Axe; and Movement abilites, which allow characters to move further and jump higher. Once these abilities are learned, they can be set to any class nearly without restriction. It is perfectly possible to put together an army of Monks who all know the Break commands of the Knight class, for example, or to create a collection of Geomancers who use the Samurai’s Draw Out command while wielding Dragoon lances. Pretty much anything is possible, limited only by the player’s imagination. This freedom of play is Final Fantasy Tactics’ strongest asset, and one that it uses to great effect. The only problem with the system is that it tends to trip over its own feet now and then. Magic in particluar is given some serious handicaps in speed and damage calculation which make it difficult to use effectively in the later battles.

    Final Fantasy Tactics can be either a very easy game or a very hard game, depending on how the player constructs his or her party, and whether or not the player knows about certain bugs in the game which make it possible to unlock abilities before they should be available. The game also has one or two extremely difficult fights, including one in which it is entirely possible to die without getting a turn. The game tends to last around forty hours, but sidequests and player expirimentation can push it upwards of sixty-plus.

Caption Small party size means every character counts.

    At this point in the evolution of the video game, translation was at perhaps its lowest point in quality. With the adaptations of Wild Arms 2nd Ignition and Final Fantasy VII, RPGs were losing a major part of their appeal. It is a pity that Final Fantasy Tactics had to suffer such ham-handed attempts at translation, as the storyline of this game is truly remarkable.

   The plot of Final Fantasy Tactics follows a young squire named Ramza and his friend Delita as they fight against the corrupt power structure of church and country, and at times, against one another. The game takes a huge number of twists and turns, and uses political intrigue and mysticism to great effect. Again, the translation can make it very hard to enjoy, as it is difficult at the best of times to wade through the mess of poorly translated text to figure out what is actually going on. Frankly, the story would have required multiple play-throughs to understand even with a perfect translation, and this pathetic attempt only makes things worse.

Caption This sort of thing is all too prevalent in FFT

    The soundtrack of Final Fantasy Tactics is perhaps less remarkable than it could have been. The game uses a largely orchestral soundtrack, and its composition is reasonably solid. It does feel somewhat generic at times, but it more or less gets the point across where it has to. Sound effects are somewhat bland as well, and tend to be a bit repetitive in sword swings and basic attacks.

   From a technical standpoint, Final Fantasy Tactics is not a horribly exciting title. The game uses 2D sprites on a 3D polygonal playing field, with a mix of polygonal and sprite-based spell effects. From an artistic standpoint, the game is highly impressive, using a palette of earth tones accentuated by deep reds and blues. The style of the game is highly effective at creating mood and enhancing the feel and impact of each scene, and in general works exceptionally well as an example of what is possible even with somewhat limited technical options.

   The effect Final Fantasy has had on RPGs in general is undeniable, particularly where the level of popularity is concerned. Final Fantasy Tactics did much the same thing for tactical RPGs that Final Fantasy VII did for the genre as a whole - made it more popular, more accessible, and more visable to the rest of the gaming world. That Final Fantasy Tactics is a classic in the annals of gaming is undeniable; however, this is hardly the same thing as calling it a flawless title. With some serious balance errors in the battle system and a major misstep in the translation, Final Fantasy Tactics can tax the patience of even the most reserved gamer. It says something about the quality of the underlying writing in the plot and design of the combat system that this game can surpass its problems and become the widely revered and highly enjoyable title it has become.

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