"It is hard to remember any games that rival Final Fantasy Tactics in longevity, depth, and dare I say beauty. Obviously this is nothing more than a piece of software, but it is a pure fusion of RPG and strategy, combining the best aspects of both and enhanced by (although not in service of) one of the most elaborate and intrigue-filled stories ever concieved in any medium. The unique magical kingdom of Ivalice combines a medieval aesthetic with a bestiary bursting with all sorts of twiste..."
It is hard to remember any games that rival Final Fantasy Tactics in longevity, depth, and dare I say beauty. Obviously this is nothing more than a piece of software, but it is a pure fusion of RPG and strategy, combining the best aspects of both and enhanced by (although not in service of) one of the most elaborate and intrigue-filled stories ever concieved in any medium. The unique magical kingdom of Ivalice combines a medieval aesthetic with a bestiary bursting with all sorts of twisted horrors and fearsome monsters, to say nothing of the dozens upon dozens of militaristic human foes pitted against you. What is even more remarkable is that it is also directly evolved from the decidedly mediocre Tactics Ogre, done by the same team in fact. While Atlus' title contains the same isometric grid-based battles and nail-gnawing difficulty, everything comes together so wonderfully here, not to mention there are now chocobos. A lot of them.
People want to kill Ramza Belouve from the moment he sets out from the Royal Military Academy with his commoner friend Delita, along with some fellow Squires and Chemists. Being a moody teenaged protagonist he fits nicely into Final Fantasy canon (although one could argue Tactics is better than any "proper" entry in the series), and he's also a member of a royal family in Ivalice, the youngest of three brothers. The six wandering mercs encroaching upon the nearby town are to be flushed out; upon confrontation with their leader, Ramza is called out on his bourgeois status, and the attackers ignore his pleas for peace. "Death to the upper class!" they shout, and he steels himself and knows this is the time he proves himself a man on the battlefield. You control Ramza and four other fighters, at most, during any battle, not including computer-controlled combatants such as Delita (referred to as "guests"). Before battle you must position them on a small grid to determine their starting formation.
The unremarkable town is about 15 by 15 squares large, containing a few huts placed along a canal. The downhill grade is controlled by the military cadets at the outset of the conflict, but two of the enemy archers soon scale the huts by crawling up crates stacked next to the walls, brandishing cheap bowguns. Each of your warriors can move four or five squares per turn on average, and factors such as class, speed, and terrain can have an effect on movement. They look goofy marching in place at first glance, but when you get close enough to an enemy and swing your sword, the swoosh and the "SPLORKKK" sound of newly rended flesh are quite satisfying on first sword stroke or seven thousandth. The archers sniping from afar and the opposing chemist chucking first aid potions hither and thither prove to be annoying and invaluable to a good team. The generic Squires have secondary skills such as stone chucking or Accumulating to gather strength to facilitate further torso splitting. Every successful action performed against an enemy or aiding a comrade gets your soldiers experience points to learn further skills. Early on, things are very touch-and-go, as no one has more than 50 hit points or so and death is always a distinct possibility. Dead units stay on the battlefield for three turn cycles, then their corpse vanishes, either turning into a Final Fantasy Crystal or an item. If Ramza's corpse disappears it's game over, something they surely stole from Shining Force.
Tactics is not nearly as brutal as it sounds, but like any RPG it requires a lot of levelling up before going on to some of the harder story battles. After the mercs are disposed of, Ramza is sent off to Igros Castle where his brothers attend to their ailing father, currently on his deathbed. Once a brilliant general in the Fifty Years' War, the previous conflict to devastate Ivalice, he now clings to life and only brightens up when Ramza enters his chambers. The two brothers, Dycedarg and Zalbag, secretly despise their blonde kin because he's adopted, merely some helpless orphan and not a result of the nine generations of inbreeding and incest in the house of Ivalice. The only living occupants of the castle who aren't douches are Ramza and Delita's sisters, whose fates are doomed from the start. For the moment, D and Z are going to use him as a pawn while they dispatch their brother and Delita to anywhere but the castle grounds, while they scheme in privacy. The two friends and their cadet companions roam the countryside, going between spots on a Rand McNally self-updating Ivalice map, eventually running into a snotty bastard named Algus who must be saved, like a helpless bitch, when set against a couple goblins, a mountain lion and a chocobo. Actually a few chocobos, when teamed up against one man, can tear him limb from limb with beak attacks, not to mention they have an infinite-use healing ability which also effects four surrounding squares!
Any random monsters will put up a fight like any self-respecting wild animal. Some are already dead such as the possessed skeletons and teleporting spirits inhabiting Sweegy Woods, hurling previously claimed souls of innocent creatures as projectile weapons. The cunning player will use his White Mage to simultaneously damage the unholy spirits and heal the Knight bruisers using swords at close range and absorbing most of the damage doled out by your enemies. Thieves can rob them of anything from EXP to their hearts and alliegance (gender determines success factor), Lancers can slay slow-moving enemies with well-timed jump attacks (although it takes forever to acquire a Spear for them to use). Oracles can attack with words (!), Time Mages can manipulate the balls of Father Time (and wear the goofiest hats ever concieved while doing it), to slow down foes and speed up allies. Every class has their own insane abilities to learn, moving and reaction skills in addition to attacks and spells. You decide exactly how everyone evolves as a full-spectrum warrior by distributing EXP.
Sooner than you'd think, Ramza will have an army of height-defying monks or teleporting ninjas at his disposal. Meanwhile in Ivalice, a war is breaking out over who is the rightful guardian of the infant heir to the throne, following the untimely deaths of the royal family. In the shadows there are mysterious shadowy figures cackling delightfully and hinting at a much larger conspiracy. A vengeful knight known as Weigraf carries out a dignitary's kidnapping, and always kicks your ass whenever he decides to show up along the course of your journeys. Ramza's two brothers decide to hug Prince Larg's cock, whilst mustachioed Prince Goltana's forces mobilize in the East. Algus has become a tool for the two dick-huggers (and hast become one himself), after breaking off with Ramza's group over a disagreement of personal politics. Delita's sister is killed in a surprisingly dramatic moment and now is as good a time as any to mention the uncommon power of the musical score. It is incredibly varied and melodic, lushly orchestrated and still fresh a decade later.
The themes, naturally, get darker and more foreboding as Ramza ages physically and mentally, as he bears witness to more deadly betrayals and reversals of fortune, Delita since having become a wandering amoral mercenary but always crossing paths with Ramza at opportune moments. Meanwhile our hero's alliegances are challenged at every turn, occasionally having to take down a boss one-on-one, you will be well equipped to do so by the time this happens, to be sure. While Tactics remains challenging (the levels of the random encounters change according to Ramza's level), it's never ridiculously hard. Sometimes the AI pulls off some bonehead moves; during the rare scenarios where you must protect a computer-controlled ally, they sometimes forget to protect themselves and stroll happily into the fray. I can accept this as being realistic, though. One thing is constant: the feeling of satisfaction after taking out an equally matched opponent. You can totally control this even when offered some of the more overpowered characters. Even if you don't boot them immediately you can do it at any time.
During the late game, the musical themes become even more beautiful, the locations span the entire McNally map. Climes from canyonous desert to freezing tundra vary like the weather conditions and musical motifs. My favorite story scene is the rescue of hapless astronomer Olan Durai (who, by the end, turns out to be the narrator of the story), as he is marooned atop a rustic wooden three-story house in the middle of a snowstorm. The music is slow, deliberate and kind of quirky, never intense or urgent. Things might look grim when he's surrounded by a couple thugs, when all of a sudden he casts Universe Stop and puts debilitating status effects on all five of the hulking goons. Unfortunately he never becomes a party member, but there are just as useful characters who aid Ramza in his quests for the all-powerful Zodiac Stones. Around Act 3, these glowing, levitating chunks of raw power begin to factor into the story and the introduction of several outrageous new demons and colon-demolishing thrust attacks. Characters you once assumed to be merely human (yet still assholes) turn out to be fucking demons from Dimension X, transmogrifying at the most inopportune moments. When the uptight yet God-like knight Weigraf staggers from the field of battle, mortally wounded but still clinging to the memory of his dead sister, the last thing on his mind is an offer to merge with furry and oddly cute goat demon Velius, but well, how can he refuse when that stone is right there waiting for him?
There are entirely optional characters you can recruit to your party by the time you literally venture into Hell during the endgame dungeon. There's a pistol wielding machinist who can help you breathe life into a recovered battle robot. There's also Cloud Strife and Aeris from Final Fantasy VII. There's also a character named Cid who is the most grossly overpowered in the game. By the end everything has reached such apocalyptic proportions, it's Shakespeare multiplied by 1000 with a twist of hellspawn and eternal damnation. The only character left standing may surprise you, the scope of the whole plot is truly amazing.
It is consistently wonderful to behold this game. The look remains timeless, a combination of 2D sprites (with some truly excellent animation) with 3D backgrounds. The countless cut scenes are also rendered in-game from the same perspective as the battles, with minimal camera movement, and all dialogue is text in speech bubbles. There's a certain organic feeling and continuity throughout the game because of this. Every scene down to the final, senseless and tragic death adds to the overwhelming power of the story and the game remains consistently challenging and accessible to most any gamer old enough to handle the surprising amount of carnage contained within this one magical disc. Final Fantasy Tactics was worth tracking down and paying $50 for before the re-issue, and no doubt even that will become sought-after as this game will continue to live on through the ages, ripped off quite constantly but never improved upon.
Community review by johnny_cairo (July 03, 2007)
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