"To win this fight, the game encourages you to run around the edges of the screen spamming Ramza's stat-up skills to boost him to super-human proportions while an enraged, mutated Weigraf chases you around like the victim of a poor Benny Hill sketch. After a few laps, Ramza will be so artificially bloated that Weigarf's heartbreaking final sacrifice will amount to naught."
It's important to state early that it's not like I dislike SRPGs; quite the contrary. I cut my teeth on titles like Shining Force, list X-COM as my favourite game ever and just penned a (mostly) glowing review for Luminous Arc. It just so happens that I think Final Fantasy Tactics is walnuty monkey balls.
But why, I can already hear you cry as you put word to angry e-mail as to bitterly complain and take shots at my manhood. Is FFt not a beautifully balanced masterpiece with a deep and engaging job system all wrapped up in an epic story deserving no less than an Oscar?
No, no, and hell no.
Your protagonist, Ramza, is an unapologetic retard that fails to process a single thought on his own and instead constantly turns to those around him for answers on what to do next, how he feels about the situation, and who he should despise or love. If Ramza does it, it's because someone told him to.
He starts the game hating his family and adoring his best friend. Despite the actions any of them take, it’s only when some random NPC pops up and says something derogatory or praise-worthy about either group that Ramza changes his entire outlook dramatically, and he does so right on the spot.
“Hey, Ramza, your family is high-class and, therefore, are typically portrayed as evil in overwrought Square plots.”
“Good enough for me! I now hate them.”
“Yo, Ramza, your family are noble and just.”
“They are!? Dear God, what have I done?”
“Good Morning, Ramzy. Did I mention that I mildly dislike your family for no real reason?”
“I see! They must be monsters! I’ll hunt them down and kill every last one, ignoring their actions and words!”
Substitute ‘family’ for 'best friend', repeat ad nauseam for thirty-five hours and you have Tactics' plot in its entirety. Add to this a depressingly cardboard cast of heroes and factor in Square’s irksome habit of giving every other villain a tragic past that turned them to the dark side through no fault of their own.
Let's talk about maybe the only villain this works for. Let’s talk about Weigraf.
During the 50 Year's War, a large civil uprising the world of Final Fantasy Tactics is still reeling from, Weigraf took command of the Knights of Death, a unit made up not of military personal, but from civilian volunteers. They opposed the rule of the nobles right until the end of the war, carrying out all the dirty work other units wanted no part in. The assassinations, the kidnappings, the underhanded threats -- but through all this, Weigraf and his sister, Miluda, kept their sense of honour and pride. They fought towards their ideals and they never forgot them.
After the war, the Knights of Death were quietly disbanded, probably due to the embarrassment of their awful name. Not to have his silly title taken away from him, Weigraf formed the Death Corps and the members rebelled against the government who dismissed their efforts in the previous struggle. They were suddenly made outlaws in a Sad Twist of Betrayal and Fate. As Square villains are wont to do.
But Weigraf wasn't about to throw away his pride or his goals, so he fought on. He protected those dear to him and drove the Death Corps towards a new purpose as an anti-Aristocratic faction loyal to the church. The Corps hungered for the downfall of the leading nobles, but the group was slowly whittled away from the inside. Key members of the faction double-crossed and tried to usurp Weigraf, Miluda was killed in a skirmish against Ramza (who was only fighting because someone had told him to) while trying to protect her homeland, and, little by little, his world fell to ash. When the game first showcases him, he’s vibrant, alive and ready to die for those he loves. As it progresses, you see the man fall apart from the inside out; his ideals are slowly eaten away by anger and frustration. He joins the church's elite Temple Knights, but no longer to protect; only to destroy.
In one battle, Ramza attacks Riovanes Castle where Weigraf is stationed. His party storm the gates and clash with the acolytes and guards stationed there. Swords break, magic flies, and, when the dust settles, there is only Weigraf left standing. He points a bloodied gauntlet at Ramza and demands the score be settled mano-a-mano.
Ramza is used to doing exactly what he is told.
In what promises to be an epic showdown, the two men square up. One a desperate broken pile of broken dreams and heartache and the other a dribbling idiot. Using a forbidden artefact, Weigraf sacrifices his very soul in order to obtain the power to rip his sworn foe limb-from-limb.
To win this fight, the game encourages you to run around the edges of the screen spamming Ramza's stat-up skills to boost him to super-human proportions while an enraged, mutated Weigraf chases you around like the victim of a poor Benny Hill sketch. After a few laps, Ramza will be so artificially bloated that Weigarf's heartbreaking final sacrifice will amount to naught.
You don't need to think, you just need use your stupidly over-powered cast members to mindlessly slaughter everything. Ramza himself starts the game overpowered, owing his starting class of 'Squire' thanks for providing him with the aforementioned stat-ups skills. Armed with these, it's not only possible but exceedingly easy to complete the entire game using none bar the brain-dead protagonist. So when you add in the rest of the team, you have less a challenging game and more an insulting cakewalk.
Party members come in two flavours: generic husks that gift you complete control over exactly how you transform them into overpowered behemoths, or plot-supplied characters who come assembled with unique skills that already make them overpowered behemoths, leaving it up to you how you take their power levels into the overkill.
While job levels and how each character learns new traits is executed competently, Square's unwillingness to let go of their RPG roots completely robs it of worth. It's all very well basing the job system on battles fought, but when every second step on the map throws you into a random encounter against bandits, monsters and giant chickens, you'll find characters completing job sets with ease. By not only throwing these battles at you while you travel from place to place but also allowing you to wander around the map before you reach plot points racking up as many battles, you'll soon find already-overpowered characters are over-levelled as well.
Limitations are slapped in to try and rescale the difficulty, but they just don't work. Slain characters can permanently die if not revived within three turns, but only if you're incompetent enough to let a walking God get struck down by ants. Some stages do make you think beyond the usual path of "march forward, slaughter all" and I recall having trouble on a stage where Ramza is trapped within a fort on his own with a battalion of evil-doers while the rest of his party pine and scratch at the door. It may have been the only time I ever died in-game, and it wasn't until I remembered that FFt had dropped a 'special' chocobo on my lap that could jump walls and collect people on its back that I could finish the stage. This only highlights that any real strategic moments are hand-holdingly staged.
By the time you’ve finally killed off the nigh-endless supply of "We used to be good, but fate twisted us" villains and move on to the super-powerful ones who seemingly exist for no other reason than to finish off the game, the challenge starts to rise a little. This is when Square force-feeds into your party the only guy in the game more powerful than Ramza, and the mindless slaughtering begins anew.
Ultimately, this leads to a game where you can destroy anything in a matter of blows using no other tactics than "line troops up, take turns handing target their arse". That's doesn't mean that it can't be fun -- so long as you like your strategy games sans strategy, challenge or interest. It just means Final Fantasy Tactics was given the incorrect moniker; the title it was looking for was Final Fantasy Mindless Bludgeon.
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