Sandwiched between the release of FFVII and FFVIII was one of the most addicting and wonderful spin-offs of the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy Tactics is a hidden gem, taking on a look unlike any other series entry. A 3D chess-inspired game, series fans were introduced to this strategic masterpiece. Since its conception, there has been a spin-off (and a sequel to that) and an enhanced port of the original for a whole new generation of gamers. Combined with an intriguing new battle design, a dark story, and classic RPG elements, this cult classic is definitely worth the time.
Plot: Getting to know Ivalice
Ivalice is in a state of unrest after the end of the 50 Years War. The world is struggling economically and the politics are in shambles. The recent death of the reigning king causes more unrest, as the only heir to succeed him is an infant. From here, the kingdom splits into two different factions: Prince Goltana’s Black Lion, and Prince Larg’s White Lion. Both lay claim to presumed ‘heirs’ of the throne and are fighting to control the entire kingdom. This is the beginning of the Lion War. While this is the backdrop, the game is told by the historian Alazlam J. Durai as he recounts the story of an unknown fellow by the name of Ramza and how he shaped the kingdom.
The story follows Ramza and his childhood friend, Delita. While they grow up together, time, certain events, and social class pry the two apart; they adopt two very different ideologies. While Delita, born a commoner, seeks to use and manipulate the upper class, Ramza – born into a prominent family – claims that justice and honor are the proper way of life, regardless of social class. The story follows Ramza as he is swept up in the events of the war, but amidst the espionage, assassinations, and social upheaval, our hero discovers a third player in the game after the discovery of a mysterious holy relic. There is a far more heinous plot afoot and as the senseless war rages on, it is unclear if Ivalice will survive.
Choosing a Side
The basic plot of Final Fantasy Tactics is definitely on the darker side. Taking advantage of creative freedom, Square really took this story line to a deeper level. While it is an intriguing story of political unrest, class struggle, and the darker side of human nature, it tends to get a little muddy. Also, at a certain point, particular important characters are almost completely dropped after they are permanently recruited (with one exception). Also, the translation is quite terrible – something that was fixed in the PSP update version. On a whole, the characters are well thought out, but some are abandoned too quickly – but the plot is decent enough.
An interesting side note about Ivalice is the fact that this will not be the last time this world is used by Square; in fact, Ivalice has been used for Final Fantasy XI, XII, and for Vagrant Story, another Square game.
Game Play: Setting Up the Board
Unlike other Final Fantasy games, players can’t explore the world map freely. Instead, there are specific map points that players navigate across. While some of these points are towns, others are wild landscapes where the party can encounter random battles. The map grows as the game progresses and players can revisit areas in order to build levels or discover treasure.
While navigating the map screen, players can browse their inventory, arrange their party, check out statistics and read story or character lore. At each town/city, there is an option to check out the bar to hear rumors, shop for equipment, or head to the soldier office. Specific towns also contain “Fur Shops” later in the game where players can collect items from ‘poached’ monsters. What players find or buy changes per town/city. Players can also visit the Solider Office to pick up new recruits.