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Final Fantasy Tactics: An Undeniable Classic
In this series, I take a look at some of the most beloved gems spanning Sony’s (almost) two decades in the gaming industry. Potential spoilers ahead. (Click here for last week’s entry.)
Whether it’s the timeless story, passionate characters, or the addictive and carefully integrated gameplay, there is no denying it: Final Fantasy Tactics exudes bravura. Every battle in this game threatens to rupture the thread of gaming with its brilliance. Had this game not been branded with the Final Fantasy title, it may have not received the level of popularity it has, but it’s not for the name that this game’s recognition is so well-deserved. Never has a Strategy RPG (SRPG) worked quite so well, and hardly in any game, period, has such a well-executed medieval tale been illustrated.
Playing out more like a work of classic literature than what the general public would expect from a game in the late 90s, Final Fantasy Tactics tells a story of royal feuds between rival houses, deeply rooted religious corruption, and a man who dared to take on the whole kingdom in the name of truth. It’s a beautiful, if at times confusing, plot that really burrows to the essence of the Middle Ages. Hardly any game, film, or even modern book has done such a wonderful job of piecing together the varying elements that comprised one of Europe’s most distinctive time periods and creating a completely original story from it.
Not the first of its kind, Final Fantasy Tactics still succeeded where no other SRPG had: it was enormously successful. As noted earlier, much of that likely had to do with the game’s brand, having the fortune of seeing release at the pinnacle of Final Fantasy’s glory days (Final Fantasy VII was released one year earlier). Despite that fact, the game blended common Final Fantasy elements with SRPG staples to create a unique amalgam. Utilizing the job system that was first used in Final Fantasy III and later V, Square (still Squaresoft at this point!) crafted a superb tactical battle system. Having pretty much hated every iteration of the job system, I was amazed by how well it worked here. It almost felt as though the job system were created specifically for this game, adding that extra element of strategy that kept battles all the more exciting.
Final Fantasy Tactics’ legacy didn’t die with this title, either. The game spawned several sequels and spinoffs and was the launching pad for the Ivalice Alliance, a series of games in the Final Fantasy franchise set in the now iconic world that was first introduced in Final Fantasy Tactics. Heck, even a non-Final Fantasy game, Vagrant Story, was at one time intended to take place in a kingdom of Ivalice (whether that’s still the idea, I have no idea). Most notably, Final Fantasy XII returned to the world of Ivalice, albeit in completely different kingdoms.
While the original release did receive some level of criticism for a crappy localization into English and a questionable sidequest involving Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife in the final chapter of the game, a remake for the PlayStation Portable (dubbed Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions) corrected many of these problems. The translation was revamped into an older-sounding English (actual Olde English is nigh incoherent to the modern ear), the Cloud Strife side quest was moved up much earlier in the game (thus adding a bit more relevance to the character’s presence), other characters from the Ivalice Alliance were added, and more sidequests were thrown into the mix, some centering around the more intriguing supporting characters. If the original Final Fantasy Tactics was great, the PSP remake was fantastic!
Even the original PlayStation version is still a masterpiece, however. Though it has some minor flaws (don’t all games?), an awesome battle system and nonpareil plot render every second of this game worth experiencing. With depictions of love, camaraderie, betrayal, corruption, deception, malevolence, hope, tragedy, and so much more, this game really has a little bit of everything. Though too often overshadowed by its brethren, Final Fantasy Tactics remains one of the strongest entries the franchise has to offer, hearkening back to the glory days of the Final Fantasy brand.