Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
I did it! It took me just over a year, but I beat Final Fantasy Tactics! Really didn't think I was going to be able to get through it, but I'm really happy I stuck it out. As always, here are my thoughts on the game (spoilers below!!):
I'm very bad at video games. I feel like I've said that a hundred times on these forums, but it bears repeating for this game: I don't have twitch reflexes in my fingers, and I can't think tactically at all whatsoever. This game doesn't involve any twitch (thankfully), but as the name would imply, it did really task my ability to get around difficult situations. The game establishes its difficulty early on: it took my three tries to finish the "save Argath" mission, and it took me probably five or six tries to get out of the Dorter Slums. These missions served to teach me two lessons: don't rush in to a fight mindlessly, and be aware of unit placement (or else you'll get wrecked by an AoE attack). This is probably common sense to most people, but I'm a slow learner. It was frustrating, but I appreciate that the game didn't give me a text box saying something like "be careful of enemy magick!" It just let me get wrecked over and over again until I finally got the point. That's good game design.
For the most part, the difficulty throughout the game felt fair, even if I couldn't get through it at times. If I lost, it was usually because I wasn't thinking properly. This brings me to probably the best aspect of the game design: the insanely complex job system. It took the best aspect of Final Fantasy V (being able to mix and match abilities from different jobs into your primary job) and cranked it all the way up to 11. Want a tank that can cast magic while still maintaining good mobility? If you put in the time, you can make one. The game is clearly designed in such a way to make you consider different combinations of jobs not just in terms of party make-up, but within each character. If I got stuck on a level, chances are it was because I was refusing to consider other job combinations or possibilities. Case in point: the level that almost made me hard quit the game (Orbonne Monastery) was almost impossible for me to finish with my classic 2-mage setup. They'd get killed in one hit from the dragoons. I didn't want to sacrifice my healing, but I realized that white magic was too risky (since magic always has a chance of missing, from what I understand). Easy solution: switch to items. I grinded out a chemist, which can throw healing items to my units in roughly the same range as a white mage without the threat of missing. I also realized that if I buffed out Agrias, she could deal more damage than a black mage while still maintaining the AoE damage (but sacrificing some of the range). Again, probably obvious stuff to most people, but to me this was a breakthrough. This was also the point where @SabotageTheTruth told me about Dual Wield, so I decided to grind out some ninjas to get that as a secondary ability for my big physical damage-dealers. After about six hours of grinding to get the part I wanted, I came back and tried again. Beat it with no difficulties. Two battles later I was in a one-on-one battle with Weigraf and got stuck again. After about four attempts, I realized the solution wasn't changing my jobs out, but to focus on buffing my speed like crazy for several turns before finally going in close for the kill. I finally understood the importance of buffs and debuffs. More importantly, I learned that even with a crapton of grinding, I was still going to have to think strategically if I was going to beat the game.
These breakthroughs made the game incredibly satisfying, but there were several frustrating moments that hurt the game for me. I don't think I ever landed a hit if there was <85% chance of hitting, but the enemies were literally always successful in steal or rending my armor. Probably just bad luck on my part, but still felt pretty bullshit. I also think the game could have been more user-friendly on the whole. I don't get why I couldn't set up my units on the field of battle (like in Fire Emblem), especially given how important positioning is. Going into maps blind just kind of sucks. The turn-list is also an extremely important tool, but you can't see enemy an enemy unit's name if you're targeting them for an attack. You have to go through the turn list, unselect your active unit, and then manually go through each of the units around the map to figure out who you should be targeting based on their order in the turn list. A small but effective change would be to highlight the units on the map as you go through the turn list, speeding up each encounter dramatically. It would also help if the sprites were more distinct; I often found myself confusing two units for each other and going after the wrong one. I also still don't understand bravery and faith really, which is kind of a bummer since faith apparently strongly affects the accuracy of your magic. Also, in a game where the job system is so important, why is it so hard to figure out the requirements to unlock each job? GameFAQs had my back, but it's still annoying that you can't easily access that info in-game. Finally, and this is just a nitpick, but the sound effects in this game are really bad. Dramatic moments are neutered by the goofy "death" noise, and any time someone used a thunder-based attack I had to lower the volume because of the mosquito-like pitch. Not enough to hinder my overall enjoyment, but still some rough patches.
Ultimately, the main reason FF Tactics will stick with me is this: it has one of the best stories I've ever seen in a video game. It was complex but not overly convoluted, and they establish who the main players will be early on. Side characters are introduced throughout, but they always have a clear relationship to the main plot (e.g. the Corpse Brigade plotline). The cast does balloon to a pretty insane degree at some points, but the "personae" and "events" options in the main menu do a great job at sorting everything out when the plot threatens to become overwhelming. The arcs feel well-earned; Argath turned from a victim, loyal to his leaders, to a complete dick, and it never felt forced. Orran's skepticism wonderfully sets up Ramza's alliance with the Order of the Souther Sky and Count Orlandeau (easily the coolest character in the game). And then there's Ramza and Delita. I think it's a wonderful take to follow a character that was forgotten to history, while still allowing the player to see the grander schemes unfold. Delita's story is clearly the one that would be remembered: a peasant falls into favor with a noble family despite his lowborn status, and after bringing peace to the land after a hundred years of war becomes king. Of course the history books wouldn't fill in the details of how he got there, what's important is that he is a legendary figure. Ramza, despite his role in the story, was always on the wrong side of the battle. Why would history remember a heretic who mysteriously vanished? He fought the mythic battles, but who believes the myth? I respect the game tremendously for establishing early on that this is going to be a tragedy, and then committing to it whole-heartedly. Everyone dies (I choose to believe Ramza and Alma haven't really returned to Ivalice), and rarely do they get a noble death. My only complaints are the Ovelia and Alma were sort of underutilized (too many Women in Jeopardy moments for my liking), and that the final scene with Delita and Ovelia should have come before the credits. I know that chronologically it likely happened far after Alma's funeral, but it's a strange note to end on, all the things considered. They really made it seem like Delita loved Ovelia, and to have him kill her in the final scene - even if it was in self-defense - leaves a bitter taste. Regardless, it doesn't detract from the fact that this story was superb.
What do you all think? I'm fairly certain that the general opinion on this game is very positive, but I feel like it's still underrated. Why don't more people talk about this game?
SabotageTheTruth last edited by
@naltmank Glad you pushed through! Final Fantasy Tactics was my favorite game for over a decade, finally getting dethroned by Persona 5 last year. It's funny some of the difficult moments you mention because it's that way for most players. The Dorter Slums I remember extremely well because it was the first roadblock I hit as a kid - I was barely beginning to play games by myself at that point and had no clue what a tactical game even was and it wiped the floor with me over and over. Now, I just grind like crazy right at the beginning so I can demolish that stage. The fight you mention with Wiegraf I've seen on many "hardest bosses ever" lists and it's fitting, you're so used to having a party with you that it forces you to approach the situation completely differently.
I wish Tactics got brought up more when the great PS1 Final Fantasies are mentioned, but up until the recent rise in popularity of Fire Emblem, I don't think most people really paid much attention to SRPGs. I really wish Fire Emblem would learn some lessons from Tactics, such as focusing on more personal storytelling, being able to progress characters in more interesting ways, and making encounters feel important. The dream (and what my "final bet" has been for awhile) is either a complete remaster of the original game or a sequel, although it doesn't necessarily have to take place in Ivalice. While the GBA games weren't bad mechanically, the story felt childish and non-consequential, so I eventually gave up on those.
@sabotagethetruth Near the end I kept thinking, "this game needs a full remake." Updated visuals, orchestrated soundtrack, full voice acting, etc. Not that the base game doesn't stand on its own. More that I think more people would pay attention to it if it got the full AAA treatment. I really liked FE:Awakening (played on #casual mode), but this game blows it completely out of the water. It deserves to be on more peoples' radars.
FF tactics has always been a weird one for me. I think a big part of why it isn't on a lot of people's radar is it has a pretty awfully paced introduction /slow first 2-3 hours
While the GBA games weren't bad mechanically, the story felt childish and non-consequential, so I eventually gave up on those.
For me, the mechanical superiority alone pushed me into the triple digits in terms of gameplay hours across both advance games. I really like the faster pace of combat and the greater flexibility in character/party building
@ochi Maybe it's because I played the PSP version (which has gorgeous CG cutscenes), but I actually really like the opening part of the story. Lets you warm up to the cast before throwing you into the fire of political intrigue. I played a little of A2, but don't remember much outside of the music and the fact that you fall into a book. What about it is different from the original tactics in terms of mechanics?