Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics (ファイナルファンタジータクティクス) - PlayStation (1997)


This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Final Fantasy Tactics

When it was released in 1995, Quest’s Tactics Ogre shook up the strategy-RPG formula with its strong, politically oriented storytelling and complex tactical combat. It wasn’t exactly new – it was building off the backs of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem – but together with Square’s Front Mission, released earlier that year, essentially redefined a whole sliver of the subgenre. After its release, key members of the team, including writer/director Yasumi Matsuno, and artists Hiroshi Minagawa and Akihiko Yoshida, left Quest to join Square, where they essentially created a Tactics Ogre sequel, using the Final Fantasy name. The result is one of the best games in the SRPG genre, Final Fantasy Tactics.

Tactics Ogre took inspiration from the real life struggles of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, while Final Fantasy Tactics looks much farther back in history to the War of the Roses. It takes place in a newly created world, focusing on the land of Ivalice (very transparently England). It bears some superficial similarities to George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, particularly since it uses the same war as its inspiration. But they’re also similar in that they take place in worlds where there are magic and monsters, but the emphasis is primarily on war and politics. While it feels far more like Tactics Ogre, right down to using the same character designers and composers, it does borrow some elements from the Final Fantasy games, particularly the use of Chocobos as steeds, the use of Gil as currency, and other small things. But the influence from Final Fantasy is felt more strongly in its mechanics than its world, even though later games, like Final Fantasy XII, borrow the Ivalice setting.

The plot of Final Fantasy Tactics focuses on two friends, the highborn Ramza and his commoner friend Delita. After the death of the king, the two are caught up in a civil war for control of Ivalice, known as the War of the Lions. One faction is attempting to track down mythical objects known as the Zodiac Stones, in order to obtain immense power through demons known as the Lucavi. That’s about the best summary one can give of the concept in two sentences, but the overall story is far more complex.

Characters

Ramza Beoulve

The youngest of the four Beoulve brothers, Ramza was born into royalty, and shares his father’s sense of morality and justice, attitudes which some of his siblings don’t share.

Delita Heiral

A lowborn commoner who nonetheless befriend Ramza in their childhood, and grew up together. While the first chapter begins with the two fighting together, eventually their paths diverge after the death of his sister Alma, though regular cutscenes keep up on Delita’s story.

Princess Ovelia Atkascha

A young princess who is manipulated by the forces around her, as those who claim to be a Regent in her stead essentially becomes the Ruler of Ivalice. She is naive and sheltered, and wishes for a simple, regular life, rather than as a political plaything.

Agrias Oaks

A Holy Knight of the Atkascha Royal Family, entrusted with defending the life of Princess Ovelia. She has special sword skills which attack at a distance and can cause status effects.

Goffard Gaffgarion

This mercenary is also hired to defend Ovelia, though his status as a sellsword means he is quick to change alliances to the higher bidder. He is a Fell Knight, with similar powers to Agrias but darker in nature.

Duke Larg and Duke Goltanna

The two dukes fighting for rule of Ivalice. Larg commands the Order of the Northern Sky, which Ramza and his family initially fight for, while Goltanna helms the Order of the Southern Sky.

Barbaneth (not pictured), Dycedarg, and Zalbaag Beoulve

Ramza’s three family members – his father and his two older brothers, both from a different mother – who fight for the Order for the Northern Sky. Dycedarg is bloodthirsty with a lust for power, while Zalbaag is one of the good ones.

Alma Beoulve

Ramza’s younger sister, who is friends with Princess Ovelia as well as Delita’s sister. Though she is not a party member, she eventually becomes closely intertwined with the story, as she is chosen as the vessel for the resurrection of the Lucavi god Altima.

Count Cidolfus (TG Cig) Orlandeau

A general of the Order of the Southern Sky, who falls out of favor with Goltanna and ends up defecting to Ramza’s team.

Algus Thadalfus

A member of the aristocracy that travels with Ramza in the early portions of the game, and essentially acts as his twisted mirror image. Though there are many others in positions of power that see common folk as little more than pawns, Algus is even worse.

Mustadio Bunansa

A machinist who is rescued by Ramza’s team from a smuggling organization. His specialty lies with guns. Retroactively made to be related to Balthier, from Final Fantasy XII.

Orran Durai

Count Orlandeau’s stepson, he is captured by a band of thieves but rescued by Ramza’s team. He is the lone Astrologer, which has a special ability that can randomly halt enemies movements.

Wiegraf Folles

The leader of the Corpse Bridge, the rebel group that previously fought for Ivalice in the Fifty Years War but has become something of a terrorist organization. An early encounter pits Ramza against his sister, Milleuda, after which he swears revenge and becomes a major antagonist.

Meliadoul Tengille

A member of the Knights Templar who offers to join Ramza’s party. She is a Divine Knight, whose powers can both harm enemies and destroy their equipment (regular knights can only do one or the other.)

Rapha and Marach Galthena

Two siblings with incredible powers called “mantras”, who were kidnapped as youths by the Grand Duke Barrington, and forced to serve in a group of assassins called the Khamja. They later defect to help Ramza in his fight against the Lucavi.

The game actually opens as a frame story, of a historian finding a lost document detailing key figures in the War of the Lions, whose stories were previously untold. (This is because the original author of the articles was burnt as a heretic to cover them up.) Within this, the action starts in media-res, as Ramza and a group of his compatriots are protecting Princess Ovelia from attack. During the fight, Ramza is struck by seeing his old friend Delita, now fighting on the opposing side, as he stealthily kidnaps the princess and rides away. From this prologue, the first chapter jumps back in time as it details the two friends growing up, and how they slowly began to follow their own paths in life, despite both believing in the power of justice. Eventually past meets present and the second (and subsequent) chapters continue linearly, with the two friends occasionally meeting, not really antagonists but never really on the same side either.

This ambiguity plays much into the type of story Final Fantasy Tactics is trying to tell. The focus of Ramza is how sheltered his royal upbringing was, and how he tries to apply his naive views of justice in a world he’s just beginning to understand, especially compared to Delita’s more ruthless methods. Again, the style is far more Tactics Ogre than Final Fantasy, as each of the characters are defined more by their status, attitudes and goals, rather than by any particular personality traits.

And there are tons of characters. While this results in a far more complex story than a typical RPG, it also makes it difficult to follow any of the individual characters, or even keep their names straight, especially ones that don’t appear in combat. This is especially true since so many characters only show up a few times, or referenced only between hours and hours of combat. Even understanding the history of the world requires some reading, though the “rumor” section of the tavern helps establish some bits of lore. Still, at the end of the day, it becomes a more typical “villain summons evil god and must be stopped” kind of story (including showing the evils of the church and religion, a rather popular theme of RPGs from this era), so at least it comes to an easily understood if disappointing climax, even if the player doesn’t necessarily understand  the intricacies that led to it.

The same can be said of the combat and character development systems, which is remarkably complex while still attempting to make them easy to understand. There is no overworld, but rather a map of Ivalice, where you can travel between key battles (highlighted in red) or stop at towns to chat or buy items. If you move around the map, you may encounter random battles too, though these aren’t overwhelmingly frequent and usually fought at your behest to raise your characters’ levels. It keeps the isometric perspective from Tactics Ogre for battles, though with the move to the PlayStation, the maps are created with polygons, while the characters are sprites. With the ability to rotate the map, this allows for more elaborate stage designs, particularly for mountains and city streets with different building elevations.

As to be expected, the combat is a mish-mash of systems from Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy. From Tactics Ogre comes the “Wait Turn System”, where individual characters get to take their turn based on several factors (speed, previous actions, equipment) rather than each side getting to move all of their units at once.  From Final Fantasy comes elements of the “Active Time Battle System”, introduced in the fourth game and used in many subsequent titles. In Final Fantasy Tactics, it’s still strictly turn-based, but while melee attacks are executed immediately, certain other abilities (mostly magic spells and other secondary abilities) take a short time to charge. What this ultimately means is a lot of set-up and forethought – you might target an enemy with a fire spell, but if that enemy gets to act before the spell is cast and it moves out of range, then you’ve essentially lost a turn. There’s enough room to play with strategies on both offensive and defensive levels – with magic, you can target specific areas rather than units, so you’ll still hit anything that’s within its area of effect, or you can increase the time you charge attacks for extra bonuses (extra strength, higher accuracy, and so forth). This emphasis on speed also makes Time spells more useful than they’ve been in the core Final Fantasy series. While much of it is seems complex (the tutorial doesn’t really help), you can bring up a turn list at any time to see when each of the units, friend or foe, can act next.

Equipment works more like it does in Tactics Ogre – there’s no defensive stat, as armor simply increases HP and shields increase the probability of defending. There are also a few additional statistics, as each unit has a Zodiac symbol based on their birthday; each symbol either compares favorably or unfavorable to others, which can determine the effectiveness of status effects and other things. There are also Brave and Faith values; Brave determines the probability of triggering “reaction” abilities (what a unit will do after they’re attacked or under certain other circumstances) while Faith determines the strength of magic and magic defense, as well as the success rate of other spells. There are various ways to raise or lower these abilities, though these can cause issues – if the Brave value gets too low, the unit turns into a “chicken” and is unable to fight; if the Faith value gets too high, then the unit decides to leave the party to follow its own religious pursuits. Also added are weather effects (randomized based on the time of the in-game year for non-story battles), as well as day/night encounters, which modify things like evade rates and certain magic spell abilities. Altogether, the usage of these elements are so minor, however, that they can be safely ignored if they seem too complex, though expert players will find extra layers of strategy to take advantage of.

Also added are taverns, which in addition to fleshing out the story, also lets you send characters out on various missions. They’ll leave your party for a number of days and (hopefully) come back reporting success, along with some gained experience. It’s not particularly complex but it’s a good way to build up low level characters rather than having them fight (and more easily die) in combat. There’s also an optional dungeon called the Deep Dungeon, a reference to Square’s old PC/Famicom first person dungeon crawler series.

Since the games does bear the Final Fantasy name, it does tend to simplify things from its predecessor, with both good and bad outcomes. The combat maps are smaller and you’re usually only allowed a maximum of five units per battle (not counting AI-controlled allies). While the more intimate scale may disappoint fans of more epic fights, it has the side benefit of making the pacing much faster – the fights in Tactics Ogre could drag on for quite awhile, while in FF Tactics, a typical battle is resolved in less than twenty minutes. It also makes the suffering after a loss more bearable, since there’s less time lost. In one of the game’s biggest improvements, fallen characters don’t die immediately but are rather knocked down with a timer over their head. If they aren’t resurrected in three turns, they’re gone for good. (They’ll either turn into a crystal, where you can inherit one of their skills or regenerate your health/MP, or drop a treasure chest.) This minor change already works to make the game less punishing than Tactics Ogre, particularly its original SFC outing – there, retraining fallen units was time consuming, or oftentimes it was simply better to restart the battle completely if one person died.

Despite these changes, Final Fantasy Tactics is not an easy game. The enemy AI is often brutal, exploiting all of the intricacies that the player may not be aware of, and single mistakes can cause cascading effects that doom the entire battle.

The enemies in story battles have set levels, while the random battles on the map screen have scaled levels. But simply leveling up won’t have too drastic of an effect – instead, you’re meant to customize your units with the help of the Job System, the single biggest thing drawn from the Final Fantasy series, specifically the fifth game. In addition to your main level, you can assign your character one of twenty different jobs, each of which have their own level as well. Each job has a specific utility, and has various base stat adjustments as well as equipment requirements. Chemists can use (or throw) items. Monks have extremely high damage output while not needing equipment, as well as a variety of skills that don’t require MP. Knights can break opponents’ equipment, Thieves can steal, Ninjas are even faster and can equip two weapons at once, and so forth. When you take on a job, every action will give Job Points, which in turn earn skills in that Job. These are unlocked permanently even when changing Jobs, though you can only equip a certain number of them.

PSP

It functions differently than Final Fantasy V in a number of ways. Rather than the skills being learned in a linear fashion, the Job Points let you pick and choose which skills to learn, with the more powerful ones obviously costing more. In FFV, you had a skill associated with your current job, and one extra slot for another skills from a different job (two extra slots if you decided to be a freelancer). That was pretty restrictive since many skills were often much more important than others, so FF Tactics breaks it down a bit. You still have the main job skill and secondary customizable skill (called “Action” abilities here) from another Job, but there are also the Reaction abilities (counterattacks, abilities when critically damaged, and so forth), plus ”Support” abilities (allowing you to equip items you wouldn’t normally be able to and other stat boosts) and “Movement” abilities (health restoratives, item bonuses).  The best strategy is to craft not just a unit but a team whose abilities can complement each other and make up for any potential deficiencies.

While you can draft generic units that can become any of the basic jobs, there are also story characters, most of which have their own unique Jobs with particularly skillsets: Mustadio is the only Machinist in the game, while Agrias is the only Holy Knight.  These factors give the unique characters some ability to stand out. Altogether, it’s a lot more interesting than Tactics Ogre’s rather straightforward system and character classes, plus you can mess with fun Final Fantasy jobs like the Lancer/Dragoon and its Jump ability, Geomancers and their abilities to use magic skills based on terrain, or just cool, unusual classes like Samurai and Ninja. There’s even the Mime skill from Final Fantasy VI! Each job also has level requirements from other jobs – these aren’t revealed in game but you can find guides that will indicate how to build your characters. This also allows much more freedom compared to FFV, which only doled out jobs at certain plot points.

Though some of the characters come as part of the plot, there are some subquests to recruit some extra characters. These are some of the most interesting, because many of these aren’t human, including Reis, a holy dragon; Construct 8, a robot that gives hints to the technologically advanced civilization that preceded the country of Ivalice; and Byblos, an enemy type called a Reaver, returning from Final Fantasy V. Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII also pops up as a recruitable character, along with a unique event featuring Aeris (though it’s pretty clear that he’s just a guest character, as he doesn’t really gel with the setting of Ivalice.) You can recruit Chocobos too, though they obviously don’t gain any job skills.

For as addicting as it is to customize your team in powerful, weird, and unique ways, it does open up a larger problem – if you know what you’re doing, you can completely unbalance the game. This is particularly the case with the powerful Calculator/Arithmetician class, who targets units based on multiples of specific statistics, and can cast magic without any wait time or draining MP. If built properly, they can be devastating.

In fact, particularly because of the Job System, the game has an oddly inverse difficulty curve. At the beginning, when your characters are still weak, even the entry level battles can be overwhelmingly difficult, especially if you’re the sort of player who came for the Final Fantasy name and aren’t familiar with SRPGs. But as the game goes along, and you gain more skills, it substantially reduces the frustrations. Even without using exploits, the final chapter grants you Thunder God Cid, who’s so powerful that he feels like a crutch, even if the gamer must have some level of skill in order to get that far in the first place. But to contrast, while you occasionally get other party members with unique skills, many also start out without much training in other Jobs. It may take so long to train them up to the level of the squad you already have, so they might not be worth it. (This is especially the case with Cloud.)

It’s not all easy-going though, as some of the missions where you have to save a guest character can be aggravating, since they act on their own accord and you have to do something to trick your opponents away from attacking them. And if they run out of HP, the mission is immediately failed, as you can’t even resurrect them. Plus, some of the chapter-end boss battles are divided into halves. If you save after the first part, there’s no way to go back to the main map increase you want to gain more experience or change equipment. This is particularly a problem in the climactic fight of the third chapter. If you’re not prepared, you can easily back yourself into an extremely difficult, or even unwinnable encounter, which can be hugely painful if you’ve played to that point using only a single save slot.

There are also some interface quirks, most of them inherited from Tactics Ogre. Once you’ve committed to move a unit, you can’t undo it in case you, say, find out that an enemy is actually out of range of your attack. The Turn List, one of the most important things in the game, is buried in a menu. You can pick your formation of units before battle, but don’t actually see where those are in relation to the map, so you’re just doing it until the dark, unless you start the mission, memorize everything, and reset. Even the equipment screen isn’t exactly intuitive – if you click on a unit to bring up their stats, you can’t directly equip them or change their job, you need to back out and then hit Triangle to bring up that specific menu.

One area where Final Fantasy Tactics does unquestionably suffer compared to its predecessor is the lack of branching paths, and there’s only a single ending. This was probably done to strengthen a single story rather than trying to tell multiple ones, but it’s still disappointing.

The characters were designed by Akihiko Yoshida, and while they’re similar to his work on Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre, there’s an odd cuteness to them, particularly since they lack noses. The costume designs are impressive, considering there are over forty of them (twenty base jobs, and one outfit for each gender). The game has a very medieval vibe, which especially contrasts to the anime inspired fantasy/sci-fi mashup that Final Fantasy had eventually become with the seventh entry. It’s perhaps not as distinctive, but it is classier. The initial PlayStation release has a few CG rendered cutscenes, but they seem to be there just because they’re expected to be there, and aren’t anywhere to the level of Final Fantasy VII.

The music is handled by the duo of Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, who also worked closely on Matsuno’s previous titles. Tactics Ogre was not only a brilliant soundtrack but represented some of the most impressive technical work of the SNES sound chip; Final Fantasy Tactics even bests that, with some of the most impressive synthesis to come out of the PlayStation, and the closest one could get short of recording an orchestra. The soundtrack hits many of the same high notes as Tactics Ogre in the same areas, with dramatic story themes and rousing battle songs. The “unit preparation” theme is short but just enough to boil the blood before battle; even the save/load data screen has a particular beauty about it.

The one big stumbling block, at least for the initial English PlayStation release, is its absolutely dire localization. A similar problem affected Final Fantasy VII, but at least that was occasionally coherent, with some effort given to give each character unique personalities. Here, the best you can expect is dialogue that’s translated accurately but with absolutely no flavor. At worst, you get grammatical nonsense (“I had a good feeling!”, said by generic characters when coming back from quests). Dramatic lines end up sounding ridiculous (“Blame yourself or God” has since become something of a meme), the complexity of the plot is even further jumbled, and the tutorial is so baffling that you’ll probably end up being more confused than if you hadn’t read it at all. One of the later missions actually completely screws up a mission goal: it reads “Defeat Dycedarg’s Elder Brother” (Dycedarg is the oldest brother), when it should read “Defeat Dycedarg, Ramza’s Elder Brother”.

Various other things have been cut. Generic units use to have little quips if you put your cursor over them on the status screen and hit Select – these have been removed. Like Tactics Ogre, the Japanese version had a sound test with jokey titles for the songs given by the composers – this is gone too. There were originally four short “sound novels”, text-based choose-your-own-adventure stories that didn’t have anything to do with the main story but fleshed out the world (including one based on a female assassin named Oeilvert), but these are nowhere to be seen. They had their own soundtracks too (though they weren’t composed by the Sakimoto/Iwata duo and are noticeably weaker), leaving these completely unheard in the English versions of the game.

When Final Fantasy Tactics was released in Japan, it was an incredible success – altogether, it sold more than 1.3 million copies, making it a mainstream success where previously SRPGs were considered a relatively niche genre. In North America, the reception wasn’t quite as large. It was released just a few months after Final Fantasy VII, which gave it incredible recognition, but the players who did pay attention to it found almost nothing in common with it. Indeed, neither Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy V had been released in English during that time in early 1998, so its origin were not clear or understood. And while the SRPG genre did have some background in Japan, most of these were not localized – for the most part, the closest Americans had were a few Shining Force games from Sega, and similar-but-not-quite-the-same computer games like Microprose’s X-Com. Still, in spite of this, as well as criticisms of its difficulty, it gained a good reputation and eventually reaching cult status; for awhile, it was extremely expensive on the secondary market, until a Greatest Hits release in 2001, three years after its initial publication, brought the retail price to $20 and made it more widely available. Still, all of this is better than in Europe, where the PlayStation version was never released at all.

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions / Final Fantasy Tactics: Shishi Sensou (ファイナルファンタジータクティクス 獅子戦争) – PSP, iOS, Android (2007)

American PSP Cover

The PlayStation Portable was released in 2004, and with it came the ability to emulate games from the original PlayStation, downloadable through the PlayStation store. In spite of this, some publishers chose to port some of their back catalog with various enhancements. In 2007, Final Fantasy Tactics was given this treatment, with a newly added subtitle, The War of the Lions. This was done as part of the Ivalice Alliance project, meant to tie in with Final Fantasy XII (which took place in the same world), as well as the newly released at the time Final Fantasy Tactics A2 for the Nintendo DS.

The biggest enhancements comes in the form of some new cutscenes, shown in the introduction and ending, as well as important plot points. Reaching far beyond the badly aged CG cinemas found in other older RPG ports, these are technically CG rendered but use various shading techniques to make it look like a sketched painting in motion, a more elaborate version of what was seen in Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles. These look fantastic, both due to their impressive visuals as well as how faithfully they capture Yoshida’s original character designs.

There are a handful of added battles and scenarios, mostly focusing on some of the secondary characters, including a second fight featuring Meliadoul, another encounter with Algus/Argath, and a scene with Wiegraf swearing revenge in front of his sisters’ grave. A few new characters were added to tie in with the other Ivalice Alliance games, including Balthier from Final Fantasy XII (here presented with the same family name as Mustadio) and Luso from Final Fantasy Tactics A2, though his style doesn’t quite blend in as well. There are also two types of multiplayer battles, competitive and cooperative. Here you can obtain some equipment you wouldn’t have otherwise be able to get.

Two new jobs have been added: Dark Knight and Onion Knight. The Dark Knight is basically Gaffgarion’s class, which is useful since leaves the party fairly early on, while the Onion Knight, introduced back in Final Fantasy III on the Famicom, lets you equip any weapon or armor without restrictions, but cannot use skills. They are, however, the only class who can use the extremely powerful Onion equipment, which only appears in the multiplayer mode. Leveling up this job requires leveling up two other jobs, and their strength is tied highly to that Job level, which means it takes a very, very long time to max them out. A few tweaks have been made to some skills, but nothing major; in fact, due to the new characters and other skill tweaks, it gets even more unbalanced by the end. The original PS1 localization actually reduced some of the JP requirements, while the English PSP version keeps the same higher values as the Japanese release. As a nicety, your total roster has been expanded from 16 to 24 characters.

Most of this sounds pretty good, but it comes with significant technical issues. For starters, the adjustment to the wider screen of the PSP. The crux of the issue comes from the fact that Final Fantasy Tactics ran in the PlayStation’s low resolution (256×240, the same as the NES and SNES), where the graphics are drawn rather thinly but stretched to the proper proportions on a CRT television. For the PSP port, the internal resolution was expanded horizontally to fit more a wider field of view (this can be seen on the status screen, which fits five characters now instead of four). However, this still wasn’t large enough to take up the entire PSP screen, so this was stretched to fill up the remainder. On the upside, the sprites and the rest of the visuals are presented in the same aspect ratio as presented on a CRT as originally intended. On the downside, a filter was applied due to make up for the non-integer scaling, since it wasn’t stretched proportionally (otherwise the visuals would look jaggy). This makes the whole game look extremely blurry, and ruins the crispness of the visuals.

Perhaps even worse than this, every time a skill or magic spell is executed in combat, the game speed comes to a crawl, taking over twice as long to complete as they originally did. Though Square-Enix PR explained this was intentional for dramatic effect, it clearly wasn’t – the sound effects weren’t changed, and they’re completely out of sync with what’s going on onscreen. Considering how often skills are used in combat, it negatively affects the game’s pacing in a frustrating way.

Then there’s the sound. Compared to the butchering that happened in some of the SNES-to-PS1 Square ports, like Final Fantasy V and VI, Final Fantasy Tactics doesn’t come off nearly as badly. But the music is missing the reverb effects, something which doesn’t make it sound terrible, but anyone who’s spent time with the original game or listened to its OST album will definitely detect something is off. Some of the sound effects are missing their bass, other digitized effects are poor, and environmental things like rain falling generate unpleasant static.

These are all significant problems that would overwhelm all of the other additions to the game. But the English version has one substantial improvement – a completely redone translation. The PlayStation’s original writing was absolutely dire, and everything has been redone here in an elaborate faux Shakespearean style, similar to Alexander O. Smith’s work on Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII, two other previous titles published by Square and directed by Matsuno. This includes changing some of the names and spellings of previously established characters, locations, and items. Most are good (“magic” is now a cooler sound “magicks”) though the theatrical talk does get a bit flowery in spots. Some of the original text had a very blunt feeling thanks to being directly translated from Japanese, resulting in impactful statements like “Blame yourself or God”, though they’re powerful more by accident than design. To contrast, the PSP version alters this to “‘Tis your birth and faith that wrong you, not I”, which sounds less goofy but doesn’t have the same striking tone. Some of the name changes are welcome – the “Hokuten” is now the “Order of the Northern Sky”, while the “Death Corps” is now the “Corpse Brigade”. Others are a bit much – Algus Sadalfas is now Argath Thadalfus, which is a mouthful when said out loud.

It also mucks up one reference – in keeping with the Ogre Battle tradition and their references to the rock band Queen, the fourth chapter was originally named “Somebody to Love”, after one of their songs. The new PSP translation changes this to “In the Name of Love”. The missing sound test was restored, but the sound novels are still gone. It restores the quotes on the status screen for the generic soldiers; conversely, it removes the incantations that units would randomly say before casting their spells. It’s minor, but these were pretty cool and added to the drama, instead of just displaying the skill name, so why they were removed is a mystery – they were still in the Japanese PSP version after all. Additionally, the cutscenes in the Japanese release were text-only – the characters moved their lips but there was only text at the bottom. The English version fixes this by adding voices, all with appropriate British accents, which adds considerably to the characterizations.

Final Fantasy Tactics is also quite popular with the hacking scene, something unusual for PlayStation games, as they typically focused on more easily moddable computer games. Beyond creating rebalance tweaks that drastically change the difficulty, some intrepid fan actually created patches for the PSP version that fix the slowdown and restore the graphics to its native resolution. Not only does it play smoother (identical to the PS1 version) but it looks much nicer without the smear filter slapped over the stretched screen. It requires a modded PSP but it will work with both downloaded copies or running straight off the UMD.

Smartphone versions were released for iOS and Android platforms, initially in 2011. Based on the War of the Lions PSP version, it fixes the slowdown from that release, though strangely, it actually runs a little too fast now. It’s still an improvement but the pacing definitely feels weird for anything familiar with the original PS1 version. The sound quality is improved, and both the sprites and the portraits were redrawn slightly to benefit from the higher resolution, so it does look marginally better than before. It still has the common mobile game problem where various aspects are created in different resolutions though – the font is almost exactly the same and it stands out against the rest. The multiplayer elements are gone, so instead the items that were normally exclusively to those modes can be bought at a city store after you finishing the game. The downside is, of course, the touch controls not being quite as comfortable as a gamepad, but aside from that, it’s preferable to the (unpatched) PSP release.

While the improvements of the later ports were welcome, even in its original form, Final Fantasy Tactics is an absolutely brilliant game. While it has a number of minor quirks and frustrations, it still stands at the pinnacle of its genre. It’s such an accomplishment that even Square had problems creating a true successor, as Matsuno switched to other projects, leaving them to put out the decent-but-not-quite-as-good Final Fantasy Tactics Advance series. The closest is, of course, Tactics Ogre, as some fans prefer its branching story and more challenging gameplay, plus its PSP remake showed substantially more effort than Final Fantasy Tactics’ low budget port. While other strategy game series – Fire Emblem, Disgaea, Front Mission, Devil Survivor – flourished in its wake, there’s little else that truly bests it.

Screenshot Comparisons

PlayStation

PSP

 

PSP (Aspect Ratio Fix)

Android

Links:

Let’s Play Archive – The source of some of the pictures

Socks Make People Sexy – Full review

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