Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions Review
Everyone will always remember Final Fantasy VII on the PS1, but die-hard fans of the series also remember another title, one that didn't get anywhere near enough recognition but was arguably as good (or even better) than FFVII: Final Fantasy Tactics. Certainly an all-time favorite of ours at PSXE, we've been hoping for a true-blue console sequel for a decade now, and unfortunately, we haven't seen it. However, we did get the next best thing, which is a remake of the original classic for the PSP. This one features slightly enhanced visuals, a few added cut-scenes, and the addition of a brand new Job Class, which is more than enough to entice any fan of the initial title. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions doesn't boast a huge amount of bonus content and is, for the most part, the same game only with a glossier look. However, that being said, this remains the single best strategy/RPG in history, and while the genre remains very small and probably won't make it past this generation, things like the Disgaea series keeps it alive.
Visually, fans of the original will notice the difference in how some of the summons look and, of course, the added cut-scenes. Besides that, there isn't much to talk about; we basically have a game with 10-year-old graphics, here. Therefore, this category is the primary shortcoming of The War of the Lions, even though it certainly wasn't a drawback in 1997. Back then, a lot of this game was actually very pretty, with some of the best sprite modeling we had ever seen. As of now, we can only call the graphical presentation "quaint," because that implies simple and charming, which is probably accurate. We can't very well compare it to current-generation games, because even some handheld titles outstrip this remake. Many who purchase the FFT remake will likely be familiar with the visuals, but if you're not, just expect some slightly refined PlayStation-era graphics with a decent amount of detail and color. It's not flashy - although some of the bigger summons still look pretty cool - but it's solid and consistent. Besides, the graphics aren't the focus, anyway.
There is no voice acting - remember, this is an older game - but the soundtrack and effects are top-notch for a strat/RPG. The game had some great dialogue (despite the iffy translation), and even though we can't hear speech, we do get a chance to revel in the sweeping orchestral productions and excellent battle effects. Really, the sound was always one of the more appealing facets of FFT, and that hasn't changed in the slightest. As far as we can tell, there are no major updates in this category as there clearly are with the graphics, but that's okay. Nothing really needed to be updated. This isn't the type of game that would be better suited for a different set of tracks, and there was never any issue with the combat effects. Everything is spot-on and there's even a surprising amount of diversity throughout. After all this time, the sound of Final Fantasy Tactics remains stellar, and in some cases, can even outstrip that of modern-day video game productions. Now, that's saying a lot. Heck, when the sound is this good, who really needs voice acting, anyway?
At its core, FFT was always about the gameplay. It's why there are those of us who claim it's the best strat/RPG ever; the balance, variety, style, challenge and solidarity are all top-notch. None of this has changed in the slightest, and with the addition of a new Job Class, that's just more frosting on an already delicious cake. For those of you who don't know, we'll offer a brief explanation: the game is turn-based strategy, where you bring a team of up to five onto a grid-shaped battlefield. This battlefield is comprised of squares, which dictates character movement and position. Unlike pure turn-based strategy games like Disgaea, speed is a factor, in that faster units will move before others (in true turn-based, all units of one team move and act, than the other team goes). Here, you have to consider the strategy of speed; how far a character can move and how long it will take to execute an action. This is the inherent challenge of FFT and one of its most endearing qualities, primarily because it's ceaselessly entertaining for strategy junkies who want to get everything perfect.
As you play, new locations will open up on the world map, and each spot on the map indicates a potential battle or a town/castle. You can't actually explore any of these locales on foot - you merely select from a menu when in town to hire new units, buy equipment, go to the bar for rumors, etc. - but that's not really the point. You will spend the vast majority of your time in combat, and that's certainly not a bad thing. After all, that amazing Job system lies at the center of the gameplay, and it's one of the most robust and fully realized character advancement methods ever seen in the industry. There are over 20 Jobs to unlock and experiment with, and each Job contains dozens of different abilities. Best of all, while a character can only hold one Job at any given time, he/she can also equip a skill set from one other Job, plus three more learned abilities from any available Job. As you progress, your character and Job level will increase; the characters don't max until 99 but the Job class maxes at Lv. 8. And in order to unlock the better Jobs, you'll have to meet certain requirements.
For example, while moving up to a Lv. 2 Squire (which will probably only take one or two battles) opens up the Archer and Knight classes, you have to be a Lv. 3 Archer, Lv. 4 Thief, and Lv. 2 Geomancer to unlock the powerful Ninja class. Unfortunately, one of the biggest downsides of the game is you have absolutely no way of knowing the requirements unless you use the strategy guide or a FAQ. You can probably guess that you'll have to increase the Job level of a magic-based Job if you wish to acquire the Summoner class, but how are you supposed to know it's Time Mage that needs to be Lv. 2? And how on God's green earth could you ever guess you need to be a Lv. 8 Squire, Lv. 8 Chemist, Lv. 4 Geomancer and Lv. 4 Lancer to unlock that uber-powerful Calculator Job? Feasibly, not having a roadmap of any kind might frustrate and annoy certain gamers, but others might appreciate the open-endedness and mystery of the system. It encourages experimentation, that's for damn sure. Of course, the Job system encourages experimentation in all facets of the game, at all times.
It all comes together so beautifully during battle, it's almost indescribable. For the uninitiated, the plot-advancing battles will offer a fairly stiff challenge, but here's where the role-playing part comes in: how do you progress in any RPG when you're stuck? Level up, of course! In FFT, it's more about gaining new Jobs and skills and making sure your characters always have the best equipment money can buy, but the same concept applies. At any given time, you can fight at any of the green locations on your map, over and over again, to gain valuable money and experience. You could do that all day if you wanted, and some of us have done that in the past. For the micromanagement freaks out there, one of the many goals players have had in this game is to Master every single Job class with Ramza (the main character), and that takes a while. To Master a class, you must have the Job maxed with every ability learned, and unless you take some serious time to farm JP (Job Points) early on, you won't be Mastering a lot of Jobs in this game.
This remake doesn't change a darn thing in the gameplay, so we're simply restating the facts from the original. Considering how great the gameplay was to begin with, we're definitely not complaining, but perhaps they could've issued a few little tweaks. The AI, for instance, was always questionable in the original title, in that the computer enemies seemed capable of being...well, psychic. For whatever reason, they always seemed to nail you with a critical hit at just the wrong time, and always focused on the one character you didn't want them to focus on. Eh, maybe it's all in our heads. But anyway, the Archer Job isn't any better in this remake, as the balance is still messed up. None of the Charge skills are even remotely useful or effective, especially in the face of many other fantastic abilities, which makes the Archer Job nowhere near as good as it could've been. Oh, and Blade Grasp and MP Switch are still just a touch too powerful and too easy to get; those two abilities make the game far too easy for the skilled player. Still, the Dark Knight Job - only reserved for Gafgarion in the original game - makes up for some of the aforementioned lacking, and in the end, it's just another great Job to mess around with.
The storyline remains one of the best on record, even though it can drag a bit at times due to the pacing of the game. We've got great characters, a lot of twists and turns, and a genuinely involving political and religious plot that we don't often see. Now, we'd like to say some of the added visual bonuses enhance the story even more, but in all honesty, we think the extra cut-scenes doesn't really do much in that capacity. It's still the same story, and for the most part, it's all about the dialogue and writing. This game was never about stylish CGI or FMV; it was about understated yet wonderfully deep character interaction and development, coupled with a stirring story. You can't really make it any better by adding prettier pictures. On the other hand, those pretty pictures might appeal to "new-age" gamers, which means they might be more inclined to give this one a try. Either way, the story is still great, but the remake doesn't make it any better...although we can't be sure if this should reflect negatively on the score. Just know you're in for a treat if you enjoy well-constructed and engaging plots, along with likeable heroes and complex villains.
In the end, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is a must-have game for any PSP owner, simply because it's FFT. It's too bad Square-Enix didn't take full advantage of this opportunity and really go all-out (perhaps issuing expansion-like content), but even so, the gameplay, sound, depth, and storyline are all some of the best you will ever see, 10-year-old title or no. Yes, there are better-looking and even a few deeper RPG or strategy titles on the PSP by now, but that doesn't mean you should deprive yourself of a true classic. Square did just about everything right the first time around, so despite not taking big enough strides with this remake, they can fall back on something that was damn close to perfection in the first place. And that's not a bad way to look at it.
11/24/2007 Ben Dutka