In the realm of classic RPGs, one title stands out as a unique and cherished gem: Final Fantasy Tactics. It's a game that has left an indelible mark on the world of tactical role-playing games, known for its deep, intricate battles and compelling narrative. Yet, it's also a game that polarizes players with its mixture of remarkable strengths and glaring flaws. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will dive into Final Fantasy Tactics, exploring its impressive battle system, enchanting narrative, and a few drawbacks that might deter even the most devoted fans of the tactical RPG genre. As we traverse the landscapes of Ivalice, a world rife with political intrigue and moral ambiguity, we'll unravel the enigma of this iconic game's enduring appeal and shortcomings. Now, without further ado, I'd like you to join me on this journey through the complex web of warfare, politics, and character development in Final Fantasy Tactics in today's article... a Final Fantasy Tactics Review: A fantastically flawed experience.
Battle System - 10
With a charge-time tactical battle system, tons of complex environments to traverse, story integration in battles, and colossal player parties, Final Fantasy Tactics has an incredibly engaging and large-scale battle system. Every battle feels remarkably different because each map has completely different environments, assets, and elevation, which I've never seen replicated to the same degree in any other game I've played. As a game about a war-torn country in which you spend most of the game battling, it is a relief that this game has a phenomenal battle system. And since every battle has dialogue or emotional stakes, every battle feels so different! If you are a fan of tactical battle systems and have yet to play this game, you are severely missing out!
Music - 8
Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata created a soundtrack that perfectly captures the atmosphere of Final Fantasy Tactics's medieval setting. This music incredibly enhances the immersion and emotional impact of the game! However, I will admit, even though this soundtrack fits perfectly with the game, I can only give out 9s and 10s if I absolutely adore the music and listen to it a lot... and that just isn't how I feel about this soundtrack. It's great but could be more extraordinary.
Art & Graphics - 7.5
The 2D spriting here and intricate maps look solid. The spell effects and menus? They also look solid. The cutscenes and animations? Still solid. However, as a whole, this game looks like a product of a distant era more than most older games do—it just isn't quite as timeless as a lot of other RPGs of its time. Even with this review talking about the War of the Lions version, which looks a little smoother and nicer, the style still doesn't look outstanding compared to many other RPGs I've played. Nonetheless, this aesthetic sure isn't bad—it is just mediocre, and for that, it deserves a score of 7.5.
Characters - 8.5
This game has some fantastic characters! From Ramza, who has a lot of character growth and is filled with an unwavering commitment to justice, using his power as a noble to make the world better, to Delita, a childhood friend of Ramza's who is driven by his retribution against the noble class, as well as having deep, complex, and morally ambiguous motives. From Agrias, a loyal knight and servant to the princess, to Algus, a noble whose actions create significant conflict; from Mustadio, a technologically-inclined character who owes Ramza for saving his life, to Cid, perhaps the coolest Cid in the franchise. From Wiegraf, the game's primary antagonist who possesses extreme beliefs and ideals, to Princess Ovelia, an important character who acts as a political pawn amidst all the conflict. Amongst these characters, you also have your unnamed troops, all instruments in the conflict, minutely contributing to the greater cause. My most significant problems with the characters here? They are all great, but there's an element missing here: a character cast—a loving comradery. I know there's betrayal and themes of not trusting people, but having Ramza have a couple of friends to lean on that were removed from the entanglement of the plot would add a lot to the game, at least in my opinion. Nevertheless, this game has a fantastic character roster, and it is excellent the way it is.
Customization System - 9
The job system and diverse, unique characters in this game are fantastic. Unlocking new jobs by doing well in your original jobs was a cool and original idea, and this game had a lot of diverse, new jobs. From the infamous Arithmetician to the horrid Onion Knight to the incredible Dark Knight, there are so many awesome jobs to use in this game. Want to use a Dual-Wielding Knight who can use the Time Mage's Teleport ability to teleport behind an enemy and beat them into the ground? Go ahead. Want to use the Arithmetician to break the game with Black Magic and then mimic that magic with a Mime to dish out insane damage? Do it. Want to have an Archer with Dancer abilities for literally no reason? I wouldn't recommend it, but why not? On top of all that, eleven unique jobs are featured on special characters, as well as some monsters that can join your team! Some highlights include Cid, who is completely broken and can use every single unique sword technique and equip insane equipment; Luso, a good character who is a fun reference to Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift; Cloud, a horrible unit but a welcome reference to Final Fantasy VII; Construct 8, an awesome robot that can dish out tons of damage, as well as tank tons of damage; and Balthier, an incredible ranged unit, and a crossover character from Final Fantasy XII. I adored the job system but loved using these characters just as much! On my first playthrough, I ended up so engrossed in using these characters that I almost forgot about the jobs... that's how well done this system is! This game strikes a balance between unique characters and "everyone can do everything," something most Final Fantasy games have a hard time doing, but Tactics does it in spades. I almost gave this game a 10, but I just couldn't look past the utter mess that was the balancing in this game. I'm okay with some useless or broken jobs; that isn't the problem. The problem is spending a ton of time to unlock a job on your first playthrough and then realizing it sucked. That just isn't the most gratifying feeling! However, this is not too bad if you research for about five minutes before starting the game. In the end, this system had glaring flaws in terms of its balancing, but as a whole, that didn't detract enough from the overall experience to lower this score any further.
Locations - 5
I do love the map designs in battle, and in a way, those could be counted as locations. However, I consider that more of an attribute of the battle system, not this game's actual locations. As a whole, the locations visited in the story all felt incredibly similar, and the locations were either recycled or frequently revisited, causing less variety in this game's locations. Ultimately, without a world map and exciting areas to explore, the locations can't score any higher—something I know even the most diehard fans of this game can agree upon.
Sidequests - 6
There are quite a few intriguing sidequests here, from the Deep Dungeon to the Chapel of Orbonne, from finding Balthier, Luso, and Cloud to completing the Brave Story Missions... there were some pleasant things here. However, these few-and-far-between sidequests are all loaded at the end of the game, and by the end, after grinding through an endless amount of random encounters, these few sidequests felt like nothing special at all. In the end, the sidequests here weren't all that special or memorable to me, but they weren't offensive.
Quality of Life - 3
There aren't that many issues with this game, but the ones that are there are pretty significant. First, the random encounters are a huge issue. Since battles take up to forty minutes in this game, random encounters should not be a thing, and the amount of saving and reloading I had to do was a huge issue and almost made me quit playing the game. As somebody who often only gets to play thirty minutes or an hour at a time, the fact I may boot up Final Fantasy Tactics and not even get through a random encounter before I'm done for the day? That is quite the design flaw. Implementing a system akin to Blue Dragon Plus, where you can fight encounters on the map by your own will instead of being forced to fight random encounters, would've immensely improved my enjoyment of this game. Or even a triple-speed option would be nice. Luckily, this was enhanced in future installments of the series. Second, the balancing is horrible, and this game has so many difficulty spikes. I'm all good with a challenging game, but this game did it to a degree that started to take me out of the game and break the immersion. Third, there were some fundamentally flawed abilities, like the Mime's questionable usage of Mimic or the fact Black Magic hurts allies. Finally, this game lags quite a bit, which is never good. Overall, this game has no glitches or awful bugs, but it had some poor design decisions.
Story - 10
This game's narrative is its best aspect and one of my favorite Final Fantasy stories ever told. This story takes place in Ivalice, a war-torn world chock full of worldbuilding, history, political drama and intrigue, memorable villains, intricate plotting, plot twists, and heaps of moral ambiguity—this game never has any black or white, inherently good or evil... everything is shown in shades of grey. The player takes control of Ramza, the youngest son of the noble Beuolve family, as he begins to question his nobility and the role of the Church in society, which leads him to be involved in the War of the Lions, a prominent religious conflict. As the story unfolds, Ramza grows to become a deep character as he fights against the world's corruption. In the end, this game has a phenomenal story that kept me captivated, even when so many other aspects of this game were incredibly frustrating to me. Every RPG fan should experience this story at least once in their lifetime!
Fun Factor: 8
Overall Score: 75%
Letter Rating: A
Final Fantasy Tactics may have frustrated me and many others due to its questionable design flaws. Still, I'd be lying if I said the battles and story in this game were anything less than stellar. While this game didn't captivate me in many of the aforementioned categories, playing Final Fantasy Tactics was still a treat—a game that nearly won me over to its legacy. If you love tactical RPGs and have never played this entry, I implore you to do so. But otherwise? It likely won't win you over to the tactical RPG genre like some more fleshed-out tactical RPGs might. While I wouldn't call this game a masterpiece like many, it is still a great game.
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Primary Version: Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions (iOS)