One of the Most Engrossing Games Ever.
Possibly the greatest game of all-time — really!
Ape’s Ranking: #12/100
Square had a ten year period where they could do no wrong.
In an age before copious reviews online, buying games was mostly winging it with a dash of expert advice from the Electronics Boutique employee. The only thing that came close to a guarantee was seeing a Squaresoft logo. Starting with Final Fantasy VI in ’94, Squaresoft would go on to produce some of the best games of all-time and in rapid succession.
Known mostly for traditional RPGs, Square began to explore other genres with the playstation 1. It’s amazing the amount of side projects they juggled which even included a realistic, one-hit-kill sword fighting game that is well regarded. Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT) is the company’s foreray into strategic gaming where they melded the genre’s typical elements with the Final Fantasy feel of chocobos, summons, and classes.
It might be their best game ever, and that’s saying something given their catalog which includes the ever popular Final Fantasy 7.
What makes FFT so good is the combat: the battles are intricate doses of choices, strategy, and chance where you become highly invested in the outcome. Even random battles become gripping as every decision you make has a ripple effect on the outcome. The learning curve is huge and the game mechanics are harsh, but as you get better, you start to unlock the beauty of the immensely customizable classes.
After the end of the Fifty Years War, there is still no heir to the throne. The next in line is an infant, so a Regent must be selected to rule the kingdom of Ivalice before he comes of age. There are two factions: Goltanna with the Black Lions and Larg with the White Lions. This leads to the Lion Wars as both sides politically plot to take over.
Ramza, a noble, and his childhood friend Delita, a commoner, get swept up in the machination’s of Ramza’s brothers who are supporting Larg. Seeing the truth of the unscrupulous actions of the powerful, Ramza becomes a mercenary while Delita begins to unfold a plot to ruin the royal ruling power.
Since the game really spins around its combat, I’m going to spend most of my time talking about that. However, its story is good, too.
The main themes are about class and fate. Ramza represents royalty but as someone who no longer wants to be controlled because of his heritage. Delita represents the common man but wants to be in control and decide his destiny. They go their separate ways after the prologue of the story and the rest of the narrative weaves them in and out of the political intrigue surrounding the Lion War. If you can keep up with a somewhat hefty list of characters, you are in for plenty of double and triple crossing as everyone is competing for the crown.
Let me see if I can recount all the variables.
Every character is allowed a main class. Successful actions in combat lead to experience points for levels and job points for skills. Spending job points gives you new abilities that are unique to that class. For instance, a Wizard is mostly centered on attack magic and can learn things such as Fire, Ice, Bolt, Flare and more.
There are four types of abilities: Active which are the attack skills; Counter which happens when you take damage; Passive which is always on; Movement which is tethered to moving. You are allowed two active slots meaning you have a main class and a sub class. This allows an endless amount of mixing and matching.
Take that Wizard for instance. Its main active skills are going to be about magic for offense, but if you spend some time as a priest, you could use that as your sub-skill to make a mixed mage capable of dealing extensive attack magic while being able to cure and protect allies. This still leaves three more slots (the counter, passive, and movement skills) to allocate that can come from any of the classes.
Mixing and matching is the beauty of this game. Slight changes in any of these variables give you way different strategies on the field.
Surveying the Field.
The battle takes place on a 3D floating field. The aesthetics still hold up extremely well while being very useful: it allows you to rotate to make calculated choices. Each parcel of land is divided into blocks. Each character is able to walk so many blocks to position themselves for attack. Some attacks, like a basic melee, requires you to be within a block of another enemy. Others, like magic or archers, are able to fire away from quite a distance changing tactically where you place them.
FFT shines with using all of this to its advantage: every battle is different due to customization and geography. If you have to scale tall building, there are only a few classes that excel (Monk and Lancer come to mind). However, not all is lost if you are stuck with units that aren’t mobile. Magic users can cast spells from a certain distance away regardless of height.
And this is the kind of thing that makes FFT so fun: everything matters. While the big things are obvious, like what your main/sub-class are, something as simple as being able to move one extra space might be the difference difference between win or defeat. Winning a random battle is something to champion given how hard it is to win.
Making things even tricker is the fact that characters can die…forever. If someone not named Ramza goes down, you have three rounds to revive them before they turn into a crystal forever. This added layer of difficulty can be absolutely maddening. This takes certain tactics off the able (like suicide missions to take out specific troops) unless you are damn sure you can revive them.
This again goes back into everything mattering. That approach might work for a specific battle, but you will have to tinker a little bit to make it work (have a few extra people who can revive; change that unit’s inventory; space your troops differently). It’s all determined by all the small actions that add up.
I should take a couple moments to stop venerating to get a couple things off my chest: the game has problems.
The first one is the steep learning curve. Everything that I’ve been so effusive about isn’t something that is intuitive. It is forged after many, many resets. Even with this being my THIRD play through of FFT, I still got caught in several situations that required me to turn the game off and walk away in complete frustration. Luckily, the endless possibilities pull you back in quick, but its respect is earned not given.
Second, the game sputters near the end even with doing everything right. Along the way, you start to learn a few game hacks where there may or may not be a couple arrangements that are near invincible. Eventually, you get access to a couple of overpowered knights with immense power and range. The power scales eventually tip forever in your favor, and the call to continue to explore the customization is no longer necessary.
Third, there are some very dumb things this game does. So dumb, in fact, that you won’t believe it unless it happens to you. The most classic one is where the game encourages you to save between back-to-back fights. What happens if you aren’t strong enough to beat the second fight? The only answer is to start over from the beginning because you naturally saved over your previous file. This is a well documented occurrence when you scour the message boards.
But you want to know what’s really wild about it? The response is not usually one of anger, but muted acceptance: people love the game so much, they were willing to start over from the beginning.
If you are willing to learn, you will go for the ride of your life.
Other People’s Takes:
- Socks Fell Off: “Right from the starting missions you will get your ass handed to you. You’ll go back and read the tutorial and this time parts of it will make sense because you’ve experienced the game play. You’ll restart the level and you’ll still get your ass kicked and you’ll have no idea what you’re doing wrong.”
- Watch, Game, Read: “Battles play out in the isometric, multi-tiered field where you move characters across the battlefield where movement and attack ranged are dictated by the individual’s stats. Battles can often feel like a game of chess where the pieces differ greatly from one another.”
- The Review Depot: As shocking as this may sound, its almost 2003 and I first played Final Fantasy Tactics just over 6 months ago now… And let me tell you, I regret waiting so long.”