Console: PSone Company: Squaresoft Release Date: December 1997 Genre: Strategy/RPG Number of Players: 1 Save Feature? Yes
This is the game that finally got me into the strategy genre of video games. Final Fantasy Tactics is the perfect choice for fans of traditional RPGs who want something a little more complex. The gameplay is polished, the storyline intriguing, and the soundtrack outstanding! The class system is also one of the most brilliant ideas ever cooked up by Squaresoft. Once you're hooked, you will not want to put this game down for anything! Gamespot put it perfectly when it dubbed Final Fantasy Tactics a "masterpiece."
Overview: Growing up, I played just about every type of video game imaginable. Action, adventure, sports, puzzle, shoot 'em ups...you name it and I probably played it. I could just as easily get into a taxing puzzler such as Tetris as a great adventure game like Metroid. It took me a while, but around 1994 or so, I finally delved into the RPG genre. It all began with Dragon Warrior and steadily progressed to games such as Crystalis, Final Fantasy III, and Chrono Trigger. As you have probably seen already, many of my reviews consist of RPG games (especially in the Super NES arena).
However, I was never able to get into strategy games. These games seemed to be one step above RPGs in terms of complexity and one step down in terms of fun. I just couldn't see how this type of game could actually be intriguing. Besides, many of the early strategy games that I grew up with (for the NES and Super NES) had very bland graphics and seemingly uninspired gameplay. They just couldn't compete with the fast-paced action games of the day such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Contra. However, that all changed when I happened across Final Fantasy Tactics for the Playstation console last summer (2002). I had actually purchased the soundtrack a year earlier and was very impressed! I watched my good friend Gene Peelman (your name is on this site, Gene!) :) get into this game and I was intrigued. Not only did the game contain the attractive "Final Fantasy" label but it looked fun! It also seemed to be a real steal at $15.
Although it took me a while to really get into FF Tactics, there is no going back once you're hooked. I don't know how I can summarize the objective of this game in a few sentences, but I will most certainly try. The general goal in FF Tactics is to defeat your enemies without getting shaken off yourself. Sounds simple enough right? However, the battle system is unlike anything that you will find in a traditional RPG. Every battle takes place on a unique isometric board/field that combines both 2-D and 3-D elements. This unique perspective really gives the game a unique feel! Depending on where you are in the game, the terrain (grasslands, deserts, forests, castles), layout (Is the battlefield flat or is there high ground?), and even the climate (raining, snowing) vary. This endless variety combined with a large array of enemies results in each battle being unique. Your strategy will vary depending on factors such as the ones mentioned above.
What makes Final Fantasy Tactics so appealing (and complex) has to be the wonderful job system integrated by the geniuses at Squaresoft. There are roughly around 20 character classes available in the game and 400 abilities associated with those classes. This results in endless variety and the unique "customization" aspect within the game. For example, your character could be anything from a sword-wielding samarai to a life-saving chemist. There are also ninjas, wizards, lancers, thieves, and archers available at your disposal. There is so much variety in terms of strategy and the game really allows you to customize the game to your playing style. For example, a good strategy for one particular battle might be to include a knight, a white mage, a chemist, a lancer, and a summoner. The knight and lancer could reek havoc in terms of one-on-one physical combat, the summoner could cause massive damage from a distance by summoning magical monsters, and the white mage and chemist could heal/protect the party with items and spells. Of course, this is just one example of what I would do in a particular battle. You might choose a different strategy and that is the beauty of FF Tactics. You can make your journey whatever you want it to be. Each battle is different as well; your strategy will vary as the game plays out. Sometimes, knights and thieves may be more helpful than time mages and wizards and vice versa. Also, there are situations where your hero will fight an enemy one-on-one. It would definitely be advisable to know how to heal yourself in these situations. It all depends on your playing style. The only catch regarding character classes is that most classes only open up after you reach a certain level in another class (or classes). For example, the geomancer job does not become available until you become a level 3 monk. For this reason, it is probably a good idea to change jobs frequently and to build up your levels in a multitude of jobs. New classes are sure to open up this way.
Up to this point, I haven't talked about the battle system in FF Tactics. Due to the hands on nature of FF Tactics and the extensive tutorial within the game itself, I don't intend to go nuts and write down all the details. However, I feel that I should mention a few things before moving on. First of all, the battle system is very innovative yet loads lot of fun for those who have the patience to learn how it works. Basically, each character in any given battle (whether friend or foe) has the option of moving and acting once per turn. This is based on the Active Turn system which takes attributes such as speed into account. If you want to have success in this game, it is so important to learn how the AT system works. Know when you and your enemies will get to act (e.g. 7/10 means that the character in question will be able to act only after the six faster characters get to act) and form your strategy around that. Rushing into a host of enemies is probably not a very good idea unless you can take them out before they have a chance to attack. Sometimes you want to make the enemy come to you. Although it can be hard to compare the two, FF Tactics can be a lot like chess at times. You can either choose to be aggressive and attack or you can wait for the enemy to come to you. It all depends on your strategy and which characters are on the board.
I should note that although each character can act once per turn (e.g. attack or use an item), many actions such as magic take time to charge up. Naturally, the more powerful spells tend to take longer to charge up than the weak spells. The key in situations such as these is to make sure that your action will take place before your enemies get a chance to act. For example, let's say that one of your characters is very low on hit points and you want to heal him/her with your white mage. You plan on casting Cure 3 (replishes hit points big time) on that character. However, let's also say that the charge time for that spell is 6. This means that the next five characters (and possibly the sixth) in the AT system (you can check this in the AT Unit menu) will get to move and/or act before your spell is charged up. If one of these five characters is an enemy and that enemy is close to the injured character, it's probably a good bet that your injured character will bite the dust before you cast Cure 3. It is so important to take things such as the AT gauge into account before acting. You don't want to waste magic points and a turn for your character! Mistakes such as these can turn the tide in any given battle.
Believe me when I say that I have only scratched the surface in terms of the gameplay and strategy within the vast world of FF Tactics. There are so many factors to take into account that I have not touched on (e.g. the Brave/Faith figures, reaction and support abilities, range and effect of attacks). I just want to establish the basics and give you an idea of what FF Tactics is like. The best way to really learn about the ins and outs of the game is simply to play it!
Graphics: If I had to summarize the graphics in FF Tactics in one word, I would probably choose the word "polished." From the stunning opening movie (one of the best ever IMO) to the battles themselves, I was throughly impressed. The attention to detail simply amazes me. From the wonderful character sketches to the pictures of the various locales, there is plenty of eye candy for those who appreciate it. The various character classes were portrayed very nicely and the scenary throughout the game is simply beautiful. The graphics throughout the many scenes that advance the story are very nice as well; they create just the right atmosphere for the given situation. And there are of course the battle graphics to consider. It is hard to beat having knights, wizards, lancers, ninjas, and archers fighting ghosts, chocobos, behemoths, and other mysterious creatures of the night on a waterfall or in a mysterious forest. Like I said, everything about this game just seems to be all neat and polished up. It became apparent to me within a relatively short period of time that the programmers really went through great lengths in making FF Tactics.
Although the graphics didn't really push the envelope for a Playstation game (i.e. didn't utilize all of the Playstation's power), I still think that they deserve high marks for effort. I could not ask for much more from Squaresoft...especially in a strategy game that is more focused on the game engine and overall playability than the graphics. That is not to say that the graphics are mediocre. Not by any stretch! They just don't push the limits of the Playstation like a Chrono Cross or Final Fantasy IX. However, I have to say that the summon monsters and some of the other various spells/attacks are pretty impressive. It impressed me anyway.
Music: To be perfectly honest, the Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack is what ultimately prodded me into buying the game. It wasn't the engrossing gameplay or the involved story; I had very little idea of both factors when I purchased the game. The only thing that I knew for sure was that the soundtrack didn't disappoint. This turned out to be the saving grace of FF Tactics as well. After playing FF Tactics for several hours, it occurred to me that it was absolutely essential for a game of this nature to have a great soundtrack. Since some of the battles can last for nearly an hour, you will be hearing the same music over and over. However, FF Tactics passes the test with flying colors! The music throughout the game is so enjoyable that I didn't mind hearing it repeatedly. There is a large variety of music as well which greatly enhances the game's playability and reduces the "annoying" factor. In other words, you shouldn't get tired of the same old music.
The quality of the music is what really impressed me. I was amazed when I heard the opening theme for the first time. This theme was really carried out nicely throughout the game too. Some of the music within FF Tactics sounds so much like symphonic music that you will wonder at times how this game could possibly be for the PS One. It is crystal clear, the choice of instruments is excellent, and it creates a cool medieval atmosphere. Since the game centers around battle/war, there are battle themes aplenty. Some are upbeat, others heroic, and still more ominous. Some of the music throughout the optional battles is very nice as well. Some tracks almost create a relaxing effect which is very ironic for a game such as this. It doesn't distract from the battle though; it seems to gel nicely with the graphics and causes the gamer to relax a little bit. The music throughout the scenes that advance the game's story does an excellent job of creating just the right atmosphere as well. Some tracks may not be all that "hummable" or good as stand-alone music but they sure do a nice job within the game itself.
The sound effects throughout the game are a mixed bag. Some of the summon monsters such as Fairy, Lich, and Leviathan sound pretty cool. However, some of the sounds when you attack sound pretty "16 bit-ish." I don't mind though; you're talking to "Mr. Nintendo" here! :)
You just have to wonder why the overall quality of the music in the other Final Fantasy Playstation games doesn't match FF Tactics. The music itself is very nice in FF7, FF8, and FF9 but the quality is not nearly this good! As far as I am concerned, the FF Tactics soundtrack is right up there with the Chrono Cross soundtrack in terms of overall quality.
Play Control: The play control throughout FF Tactics is somewhat complex...complex in the fact that you have so many options to choose from! However, it was designed beautifully. You are able to access several menus/screens throughout each battle with ease. You can view the AT Unit screen (see who gets the act first), the Status screen of all of the characters in the battle (even enemies!), and even change the size/angle of the battle screen! The select button is even important in this game. It allows you to learn more about abilities, jobs, and every weapon/item in the game! Everything that you want to know is truly at your fingertips. Virtually nothing is hidden from you.
Moving and acting is a cinch as well. It might take you a few battles to get the hang of things, but the controls are about as flawless as they come. I like how you can see the likelihood of your attack as well as the damage it will cause before following through with the attack! You can experiment this way and learn which attacks/spells cause the most damage on particular enemies. The ability to rotate the screen and change the overall size is a major plus as well. You can see the entire battle field more clearly this way. Overall, there is virtually nothing wrong with the play control in FF Tactics. It is intuitive yet has a polished feel.
Challenge: Final Fantasy Tactics might very well be the most challenging game in the FF series due to its incredible complexity. There are so many factors that you need to take into consideration that it's enough to make your head spin! You have to take the speed of your characters, brave/faith figures, abilities learned by your party members, the move/speed figures and the abilities learned by your enemies, the terrain of the battle field, and spell placement (don't want to hit yourself!) into consideration...all at once! There is so much meat to FF Tactics that even the manual can't hold it all; there is also a very involved tutorial within the game itself! What makes the game even more challenging is the ultra-intelligent AI of your enemies. It can be downright scary at times! It takes everything into account and seems to almost always make the best decision(s) available. There are times when you will feel certain that you're playing against a human opponent...it's that good!
Although I feel that the challenge level within FF Tactics is very, very good, I must confess that there were a few battles that truly ticked me off. There are several scenarios where you will have to protect a particular character (e.g. Mustadio, Rafa, etc...). That in itself is not a problem because I like the variety of goals that you have to achieve within the battles themselves. You don't always have to defeat everyone...sometimes you just need to defeat one particular character or knock someone's hit points down to a critical level to end the battle. The problem that I had was that in these particular battles, the enemies got to act first and the character that I was supposed to protect was actually defeated before I could even move! Essentially, I "lost" the battle without having the opportunity to even push a button!! Talk about frustrating! The fact that I had prepared my characters so diligently for the battle (in the formation menu) yet had no opportunity to act was truly demoralizing. Thankfully, this only happened two or three times so it isn't a major issue. It still deserves mention though.
If you are the type of person who enjoys thinking up various strategies and you have the patience to learn along the way, FF Tactics will definitely be your cup of tea. Patience is the key because, believe me, you won't go through this game unscathed. There will be battles along the way that will seem impossible at first. However, if you think things through and devise a smart strategy for your sticky situation, you will taste victory and will really grow to appreciate the game. By the other side of the token, if you have a low attention span and tend to give up rather easily, it is probably safe to say that you will not make it through 2% of this game.
Storyline: In terms of complexity and attention to detail, it's hard to beat the Zodiac Brave Story presented within FF Tactics. It has all the elements of a great story: friendship, betrayal, a thirst for power, a search for the truth, deception, noble intentions, romance; you just couldn't ask for much more in terms of the game's plot. There is even a "Brave Story" option within the game that allows you to keep track of it all! You can learn about each individual character and even replay scenes that advance the story. We are talking about well over 30 characters and countless scenes too. The Brave Story also allows you to see your job status, mysterious areas located, and treasures discovered. Theoretically, you could spend hours just checking out this one section! That is how cool it is!
There is definitely a medieval feel throughout this game that will appeal to fans of King Arthur and other legendary figures of the dark ages. Basically, the story itself revolves around a fierce war between two parties led by generals Larg and Goltana. This war had been triggered by the passing of the king. Since the heir to the throne is merely a child, someone needs to take control and keep things peaceful until the real king becomes of age. Ironically, war breaks out as a result of two parties wanting control. Although the war is the main focus of the story at the beginning of the game, there is a growing threat that seems to take over later on.
Ramza Beoulve is the protagonist throughout FF Tactics. He is of royal blood yet his intentions seem so different than his power-seeking brothers. His main goal is deceptively simple: he simply wants to know the truth. Why must those in power abuse the weak? How come people can't just resolve their differences peacefully? What makes those in prestigous positions think that they are somehow more "human" than their weaker counterparts? Once thing about the game's story that deserves mention is that it really seems to deal with reality. Everything doesn't always occur as it should. Tragedy doesn't choose sides. The good guys don't always win in the end. These lessons are presented throughout the game's story and are reflected by the surprise ending (I don't want to give anything away.) :) While some may balk at this, I feel that it was a nice change of pace (although I am still somewhat disappointed with the game's ending). Back to Ramza, he really seems to have the attitude and charisma of a true leader throughout his journey. He doesn't seek power and he doesn't work for money; he simply does what is noble and true. It was for these reasons that I found myself really rooting for him as the game went on
The game begins with Ramza and his party fending off members of a rebellion. A young man by the name of Delita fights alongside Ramza at this time and the two become good friends. However, a crucial event at the end of Chapter 1 separates Ramza and Delita and Ramza gives up Delita for dead. However, Delita later reappears but his intentions are truly mysterious. He seems somewhat...different. At times, Delita reminded me of Kain from Final Fantasy IV; you just didn't know for sure whose side he was on. Things don't become clear until the very end of the game, however.
In Chapters 2 and beyond, the focus seems to gradually shift from the war to the underlying plot involving the Holy Stones. Several groups seek the stones for themselves but there are very few who really understand what they are and where the power comes from. The stones seem to be evil but then again...other events seem to say otherwise. Ramza eventually learns of the true intentions of those in power and as a result, he fights for all that is good and true. It is not until the final battle that Ramza finally understands just how deceptive "the church" was and how twisted the old legends have become. I won't give it away but you will never guess who the final villain is. It sure shocked me!
I have just touched on the game's plot. I have tried not to give away any major spoilers; this game is just too enjoyable to spoil it for anyone. There are countless twists and turns along the way. Major surprises await those who decide to go on this amazing journey.
Funfactor: Final Fantasy Tactics is for me this summer (2003) what Chrono Cross was last year. It is such a fun game to play due to the engrossing gameplay and intriguing storyline. This game has kept me up into the 2 to 3 AM range on numerous occasions. There is just so much to see and do and you just don't get tired of playing this game! The replay value is as good as it gets as well. That is probably due to the complexity/variety throughout the game but also because of the many secrets in the world of Ivalice. There are secret areas, secret characters, and so many abilities to learn! Even after well over 100 hours of gameplay, I still missed some secrets! I love the strategy throughout the game as well. This game really makes you think.
Although the game can be somewhat frustrating at times, the thrill of victory far outweights that. You really feel a sense of accomplishment after winning a big battle in this game because it's no cakewalk. You can usually find several reasons why you lost too; it's hard to blame the game for anything. Even in the battles that I mentioned before, I was probably not prepared enough. If I had been wearing Sprint Shoes or had chosen the right jobs for the battle (e.g. Ninjas with high speed figures), I could have had a chance to act first. And as you can see, the frustration of losing has not kept me from playing the game. FF Tactics is definitely a learning experience; you can't expect to breeze through this game without running into a few bumps in the road. Perfectionists such as myself have a tough time dealing with that I guess. The game really does the job and it truly has a place in every video game collection.
Negatives: The tough learning curve is probably enough to keep some people from giving this game a try. Heck, the initial shock of the complexity of this game was enough for me to put this game on the back burner for nearly a year. Also, some of the battles put you at a disadvantage from the outset. There is the possibility, slim as it may be, of actually losing without having a chance to act! The one saving grace for this flaw is that you can always save your game before a battle. I found the game's ending to be somewhat disappointing as well. It seemed somewhat short (although the ending movie was a real gem) and was inconclusive in a few aspects. The very end of the game's ending was a travesty as well. It just didn't make any sense! Although I really liked the first part of the ending, the very last part left a sour taste in my mouth.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.4 Music: 4.8 Play Control: 4.5 Challenge: 4.5 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.8 Overall Score: 27.5 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!
Back to Playstation PowerLast Updated: May 21, 2006