Video Game Review: Final Fantasy Tactics

Details: Originally released in 1997 for the Playstation. It was subsequently released on the Playstation Portable, iOS and Android systems with additional content and with “The War of the Lions” added to the name. This is a review for the original Playstation version. Beat the game in about twenty-seven hours, though that does not include the number of times I died and had to reload an older save file. My actual time to beat this game is probably double that. Official site is http://dlgames.square-enix.com/fft/en/

Score: 7.4/10

Other than five minutes of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I’ve never played a tactical, turn based role playing game before. Final Fantasy Tactics is the first such game I’ve played of this genre. It’s considered by many as one of the best games of all time. Decades after its first release, I’ve finally got a chance to play it and, despite my many game overs, I really enjoyed the game.

I don’t have a complete grasp of the story because… it’s all over the place. Final Fantasy Tactics takes place on the continent of Ivalice, a land of magic, knights, kings, monsters, etc. It’s your standard fantasy setting. The king has just died and now a power struggle between his sons has broken out. The church also gets involved and creates a bigger conflict. You play Ramza, a knight who seeks to protect the people from the machinations of those in the shadows.

It’s a confusing story with not a lot of details. You could argue that it simply seeks to stay true to the political nature of medieval stories… but its still a lackluster story with unsatisfying payoffs.

Luckily, the primary draw of this game is the gameplay. Tactical, turn based role playing games are pretty much Dungeons & Dragons in electronic format. You control a small group of characters who do battle with enemies on a grid based map. Each character gets a turn to attack, defend, or cast a spell. They also get to move long the grid to a different point on the map. Terrain matters. Having higher ground increases damage. There are swamps, river, hills, etc. Attacks are only effective to enemies in range.

Combat is fun. Each subsequent mission in the game introduces something new. Maybe it’s new enemies, maybe it’s new terrain. You’re constantly having to learn as you go, which I like.

The most unique aspect of this game is the large number of jobs. I think there are around twenty jobs in total that each have their own purposes and roles. Each character can take on a job and use the skills that job offers. As you level that job, you unlock new abilities and spells. Some of the jobs are knights, wizards, lancer, dancer and samurai. Leveling certain jobs unlock other jobs. The most unfortunate part is that while I really wanted to unlock each job and see what they all did, it simply takes too long. I finished the game long before I came close to unlocking all the jobs.

There are no towns or 3D environments for you to walk through outside of combat. Outside of combat, the game takes place mostly on a big map and you just move a cursor around to where you want to go. Story moments mostly take place during battles as well.

Progression in the game largely relies on equipment. Your character level matters, but no matter how high your level, without the appropriate equipment, you will most likely get crushed. There are some exceptions, but they are few. Equipment can be purchased from towns and forts on the map. If you over level your character before progressing far enough in the story, you create a circumstance where the monsters you fight may be unbeatable at your current equipment level. While the enemies on story missions have set levels, enemies in random encounters generally match your character level. So if you are level 99 with gear suitable for someone level 14 (because you haven’t progressed far enough in the story) and you fight a random encounter, the monsters will be level 99 and probably wreck you. Accordingly, it’s a good idea not too over level until you’re near the end of the game.

Visually, the game looks like a really well done Super Nintendo game… even though it was initially released on the Playstation. Even though this is the same system and Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII, this game retains the pixellated look of role playing games on the Super Nintendo. The character models are pixelated and sprite based. The environments are mostly 3D models with some pixelated effects to them as well.

Personally, I really liked the look of the game. Many of the sprite based animations as well as many of the special effects are simply too complex for the prior generation of video game consoles. It’s a retro look with Playstation level improvements. Kind of an old meets new look. You could draw comparison between the visuals in Final Fantasy Tactics and the newer game, Octopath Traveler.

The music, though mostly synth music with no real instruments, is amazing. There are some really memorable melodies here. Hitsohi Sakimoto is the composer and does a great job here.

It should be mentioned that there were many things wrong in the version of the game I played. There were glitches. Many of the scenarios are badly planned. For instance, in one fight that seemed like a boss battle, a computer controlled character simply one shot the boss and ended the fight before I had a turn. There are also various typos throughout the dialogue, though they are few.

Overall, this was a really fun game. I just wish there was more story and that it was more satisfying. As it is, the story feels unfinished. There are some side quests I missed (apparently you can get Cloud from FFVII in the game) and I probably would never have learned of if not for the internet. After that, I may just level up all the jobs and see what that yields.

Score: 7.4/10

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