A little while ago, I wrote up an article on the history of Final Fantasy, including the fact that a whole bunch of spin-off games were released. One of these, which happened to be retroactively set in the same world as Vagrant Story (you can find my review of that here), was Final Fantasy Tactics. This is, surprisingly enough, a tactical RPG using the standard aspects that you would expect from a Final Fantasy game.
It features 2D characters on 3D, isometric maps, as well as chocobos, potions, huge great swords and a job system. Final Fantasy Tactics had a lot to offer at the time, but did it pull everything well? Let’s find out!
Final Fantasy Tactics is set in the world of Ivalice, which would go on to be the setting of Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 1 & 2, as well as Final Fantasy XII. Since Square very, very rarely use the same world between games, this should show you just how popular this game world became. Everything felt fleshed out, with the entire land having a deep and rich backstory. Myths and legends were everywhere, as were tales of the Church, royalty and more.
The main plot of the game sees Ramza, a fallen noble turned mercenary, being branded as a heretic after discovering sordid secrets of the Church. On the run from zealots and authorities, Ramza bands together will hundreds of other mercenaries and characters from all walks of life, as he attempts to get to the bottom of the conspiracy surrounding the world of Ivalice. And as if that wasn’t enough for him, he also needs to find and save Princess Ovelia and his sister. Along the way, you learn more about the history of the world, unravelling the legends that society has been built upon.
Without going into any spoilers, one thing I can say about Final Fantasy Tactics is that it shows a real disdain for organised religion. The entire storyline focuses on the lies told by those in power in order to obtain more wealth and power. It is an epic tale that will stick in your mind for years to come. Oh, and the ending is outstanding, leaving the game open for sequels but doing so whilst managing to close off all of the questions and plot threads raised in the game.
As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy Tactics is a 2.5D tactical RPG. Therefore, it throws away the typical turn-based J-RPG battle system and exploration in place for ongoing tactical battles with storyline sequences taking place within them. Yet, despite the lack of an open world map and huge amounts of exploration, Final Fantasy Tactics feels incredibly deep and engaging. There is a crazy amount of customisation as well, which largely comes from the Job System, making its return to the series.
Each character you get starts off with a bunch of default Jobs, or “classes”, whilst some will also have a unique class as well. From here, as you level up a default Job, it will unlock higher tiers for you to try out. This creates a web of character growth that is similar to the likes of Digimon World 2003 (see my review of that game here).
Combat involves moving your characters around tile-based areas to get into position for attacking or defending. With everything from height advantages, line of sight and range coming into play, there is a huge amount of strategic thought and planning needed in each battle. This makes for tense situations where you need to react as quickly as possible whilst also working out how to take out your foes.
Graphically, the mix of 3D, isometric maps and 2D sprite-based characters might take some time for you to get used to. Being completely honest, it can be a little jarring at first when you go back to it. However, once you’ve gotten into the first battle scene, that all goes out of the window. Suddenly, you find that the quality of the animations, the ability to swing the camera around the battlefield, and how easy the user interface makes playing the game.
The animations, themselves, are incredibly well done. Each attack feels different and unique, including spells and summons. As you unlock and learn new skills, each one feels bigger and better, with the animations growing in scale and beauty. The developers, Square, also put enough time and thought into having the various different weapons actually look different in battle. This may not sound like much, but when you consider that many 2D sprite-based games use default weapon animations, this is a really nice little touch.
When it comes to story sections, there aren’t any FMVs (full motion videos) in Final Fantasy Tactics (except for the opening and ending video). Instead, storyline elements are shown through cutscenes that play out in maps build with the same 3D isometric maps and 2D characters. These means that you never get a sudden change in graphics, so the immersion of the storyline doesn’t get broken. The graphics may not be that incredible compared to all of the fully 3D graphics in other PlayStation games, Final Fantasy Tactics uses its mix of 2D and 3D very well. The developers did a great job of making the two graphics styles work hand in hand.
And That’s All Folks
Whilst Final Fantasy Tactics may not be the most graphically amazing game compared to other games released at the time, the gameplay and storyline really bring everything together very well. Because of this, I am more than happy to say that Final Fantasy Tactics is definitely my favourite in the long-running series. Even though I can admit it may not be the best game technically, to me, it is the most enjoyable all around.
Have you played any version of Final Fantasy Tactics? Let me know in comments below!