Strategy RPGs can be insane time munchers...
January 26, 2019

I've been flirting with Final Fantasy Tactics since it first landed on the PlayStation in 1997. The capabilities of the little grey box were a land of promise on a new technological horizon, and it still holds a point of fascination of me. One of the fun aspects of retro gaming is seeing what the developers could - and couldn't - do with the limitations of the console.

I actually think it's a shame that Microsoft and Sony are pushing things to such an extreme. Where's the fun in working with a system that can effectively do anything you want it to? Sure, I know that every time you add capability, someone can push it, but reality doesn't pan out that way for the masses.

Just look at VR. Every time someone throws a few million in its direction, the viability of the platform increases, but it still isn't "mainstream". I firmly believe VR is at its saturation point, because even though there are technical hurdles to overcome, they can't be achieved in the simple, low cost means upon which console gaming thrives.

Let's not forget that development costs explode with each advance in capability, technically speaking. Indies have enjoyed massive mainstream success thanks to the practicalities of game development and return on investment. Of course Nintendo and Sony welcomed the Indies; Microsoft even enjoyed some tasty profits thanks to their hard work.

What I'm saying is that the PlayStation was a tight package that enabled less than a handful of coders to realize a concept quickly with some flare, style and personality. Even if all that personality was exuded by the console, not the software. Final Fantasy Tactics doesn't lack, however... and even though I haven't finished it I'm tempted to write a review simply because I'm not sure I'll be able to.

Here's where I'm at. Tactics is horribly balanced. I said it. It has an utterly massive failing that only backtracking and hours upon hours of grinding can resolve. In a nutshell, my party is top heavy with three 40th level characters whilst the rest of my squad dwindles somewhere in the mid 20s and lower. It's not pretty, even though it has gotten me though a good portion of the story. I'm not enthusiastic about the idea of taking on high level mobs just so I can grind out new classes... even though my level of frustration has given me a sense of accomplishment the rare occasion that I strategize my way out of a tough spot.

It's a damn good game, okay? I get that.

In and of itself Tactics has aged very well: Its sprite work is top tier, character designs top notch, story engrossing and music well above board. I have yet to tire of the Character Management Theme. Much of what makes Tactics unpalatable is a consequence of gaming tastes having changed. We rely on auto-saves and shorter gaming sessions because we have less time to invest in them. Tactics requires dozens of hours of grinding for a single character and you can have as many as 15 in your team. Contrast to this Valkyrie Chronicle, which levels all classes as one. Gear and upgrades are handled in like fashion.

The purpose of this is to get you back out on the battlefield as soon as possible. It is mechanically efficient, just as you would try to be on an actual battlefield. Tactics was entranced with class mastery, adopted from Final Fantasy II, and later V, which also sit on the grind-for-endless-hours spectrum of RPGs.

To my dismay I found the game working hard to fill in my recruiting gaps. I have three Chocobos in my team because I haven't spent enough time grinding up those lowbes. Seriously, why? When I can only use 5 in any given fight, what's the requirement for? Front Mission 4 makes the same mistake: By mid-game I had eight squadmates and could only ever deploy four of them. I surmise this was to reduce combat fatigue, but it does - perhaps needlessly - increase stress and my disadvantage. It was adjusted in FM5 so that you could deploy everyone you can recruited, so... it seems to be a "teething" pain in terms of balance.

If it weren't for that darned story - which I've progressed more than half-way, I think... I haven't looked up any guides. Just throwing a lot of stones and leaning on my party of Monks with a side of Red Chocobo, a Knight and few magic users to balance things out. I haven't invested enough time to unlock even the Ninja at this point, and the Dragoon is so far out of reach as to nearly be invisible. They are scary on the battlefield, and yes I want one.

Honestly I would be receptive to a version of this game that asked 1/10th of the grinding time so I could just get through it! I really don't mind putting the time in, when I've got it... but I do seem to run out of patience. After 20 hours I tossed it on the back burner; I've only had so much energy for games anyway.

But this is the appeal of those slow burners, isn't it?

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jerec jerec - January 27, 2019 (12:54 AM)
Yeah, Tactics really makes you work for the good stuff. I remember playing through the game for the first time, and I was doing okay up until one fight early on where you're up against archers and mages and they have the rooftops. I got absolutely slaughtered. My party could only do small amounts of damage, if they could even get close enough.

Turns out the solution was to go and grind on an early map. I ended up clearing a map of all but one enemy, then set all my party of Squires to just focus endlessly until I'd saved up enough JP. Then onto the next class with the 50% extra JP skill attached.
overdrive overdrive - January 27, 2019 (07:36 AM)
And then there's the end of chapter 3. Where if your party isn't balanced just right, you are screwed.
hastypixels hastypixels - January 27, 2019 (10:28 AM)
The idea of having to re-balance my squad after a defeat doesn't intimidate me so much as the time it takes to do that. Tactics tries hard to justify that time, but this feels like Dragon Quest syndrome, where there devs fully expect that the players are okatu with literally nothing better to do.

Maybe it's a little thick headed of me not to look up a guide, though I did employ the "Gained Job Points UP" method for leveling, throwing a lot of stones and using Accumulate. As it stands now every character has the Item ability regardless of class, because enemies are knocking them down to half health in a single attack, and only X-Potions can keep them going.

It's evident that I'm going to need a White Mage (Priest) to power through the last section of the game... and I don't mind that Monks in armour make for useful and effective damage dealers with their ranged attacks... It's just plain as my face that the answer to the issues of game balance is "grind those mobs like a wheat stone".
overdrive overdrive - January 28, 2019 (02:43 PM)
Well, to be fair, I was asking for having to re-balance my squad. I fell in love with tank characters due to the strength + durability factor and wound up in a fight where you have to defend a suicidal idiot or two from a tiny group of fast-moving enemies, where if your party is all heavy armor and stuff, the suicidal one(s) will be dead before you even get a turn and all is lost.
hastypixels hastypixels - January 28, 2019 (07:50 PM)
Oh yes, heavy armor and heavy hitters are tempting to rely on, but the game will make you pay for heavy reliance on too narrow a spectrum. That Red Chocobo is my MVP just because of his attack and movement ranges. He can't take more than a couple hits, but my monks have "Equip Armor" and range increasing gear whenever possible. Also they've got those tasty ranged skills... so who needs archers?

I could say that balance isn't Tactic's strong point, but you can build a flexible team if you're willing to sink the time in to train them up. I'm actually not comfortable playing without a level advantage - Tactics is one of the tougher SRPGs I've played, in part because there are so many options.

Case in point: Did you know female characters can equip a C-bag or D-bag that will hit harder than anything else they can use regardless of class? At 57k a shot, it's a luxury item, but ... it's puzzling things like that keep Tactics interesting.

It's good enough that it's hard to put down, but frustrating enough to want to throw down when you start to lose or are on the verge of losing a character that you've sunk 30-40 hours into. I'm not above save scumming at that point.

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