My first take on tactical RPGs
As the year enters a new cycle, both on the Gregorian and lunar calendar, it’s inevitable for us to reminisce the past. Spring cleanings are always a must to welcome the new year (I don’t really believe that), which more often than not will conjure some old memories as you clear your trash. As I went through my Pandora’s box (it’s just a plastic container with remnants of my past in it) I discovered a certain game by SquareSoft (currently known as Square Enix), Final Fantasy Tactics. The discovery instantly brings back memories of a primary school kid me trying my best to understand the concept of tactical role-playing games, when I’m still trying to learn the basics of turn-based RPGs. I remember it wasn’t pleasant at first, but I learned to appreciate all the game has to offer, as it turned out to be an iconic FF title even by today’s standards.
What is FF Tactics?
In case you are much younger than me or you are not acquainted with tactical RPGs or the FF franchise, Final Fantasy Tactics is a tactical role-playing game developed by Square for the original PlayStation console. It was released all the way back in 1997 and it’ll celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. FF Tactics was considered a game changer back then as JRPGs are typically turn-based games, which is the same format used by previous and most subsequent releases of Final Fantasy. The game received universal acclaim upon its release, and most critical opinions of the game were generally positive. With that said, FF Tactics was by no means perfect as it did have its flaws.
Just like any other tactical RPGs, Final Fantasy Tactics puts you in control of a protagonist (default name: Ramza Beoulve), as you try to build a small squad of overpowered characters, each with a certain Job to rain hell and fire on your enemies. With that said, you can definitely get by with a minimally leveled square but hey, where’s the fun in that right? Battle takes place in generated maps with tiles across it, each with its own height and characteristics. Strategy and proper team building will come into play here as you take advantage of the terrain to gain an upper hand (eg. Archers should wear accessories with jump stat boost in order for them to access vantage points, where they can’t be reached easily and they’ll have a huge attacking range). Depending on your style of play and what kind of team you are trying to build, there are literally tons of ways for you to navigate the battle maps.
Make a good team, conquer the maps then you’ll be victorious. Sounds easy right? Actually, no. One of the few criticisms that were associated with Final Fantasy Tactics was its unbalanced difficulty system, where you’ll meet certain overpowered enemies that can crush your party without breaking a sweat. Combine that with a primary school kid still trying to learn the ways of tactical RPGs, it’s inevitable that you’ll use the easy way out, courtesy of a good old GameShark disc. The plot was also a bit convoluted and confusing at times, thanks to the poor localization effort. Now if only Square Enix can make an updated version of the game that fixes most of the problems stated above…
Bring on Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Thankfully, an updated version of FF Tactics was released on the PlayStation Portable in 2007, and later on Android and iOS devices. It was a fresh change to the classic as War of the Lions included new playable characters from other Final Fantasy titles, such as Balthier (FF XII), Luso Clemens (FF Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift) and good old Cloud Strife (FF VII), who was also playable in the original version, along with several changes including better localization, multiplayer features and others.
The only memory I had of playing the first FF Tactics was how I steamrolled every level by using GameShark codes, so it’s nice to be able to refresh the experience and understanding the story, thanks to the updated translations and new cutscenes. The difficulty curve is fairly the same, with certain encounters can be a tad too challenging, but personally, nothing can’t be solved with a squad of overpowered characters. That’s exactly how I completed the game (this time without any GameShark codes) as I grinded endlessly to power up the main characters to the high range of level 90+. Not to mention the tedious process of getting a Dark Knight, in which you have to master the Knight and Black Mage jobs, reach level 8 with the Dragoon, Samurai, Ninja, and Geomancer, while killing 20 enemies (they must be crystallized or turned into a treasure chest for it to count).
Some might view it as lifeless, but it was a rewarding experience for me to complete Final Fantasy Tactics again with the ability to bypass the difficulty system and understanding the story better, something which a younger me would have struggled to do with the original release of the game. Just to slightly jog my memory of the game, I popped up my old save file (luckily it’s still intact), had a look at my characters decked out in the best gears that you can find in-game and took on the last boss. A few painful hits later and down went Altima, who didn’t even get a turn of her own.
We need a new FF Tactics
Despite the game reaching 20 years old this year, it has aged well and War of the Lions did it justice by improving on the original. It’s not the only FF Tactics out there as we have FF Tactics Advance and FF Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, but something is just lacking in both of them, especially the light-toned story compared with the darker and mature narrative in FF Tactics. The FF brand is not dying anytime soon and the Tactics series have proven to be successful, so maybe it’s time for Square Enix to venture into the tactical RPG route again. As much as I missed FF Tactics, I can no longer go through all the grinding again, but it’ll be great to play a new and modern tactical FF. This Reddit post suggests that it won’t happen, but one can always hope.