Ten years ago Final Fantasy VII came out for the PlayStation and was instantly hailed as one of gaming’s greatest achievements to date. It wasn’t the only game in the series to come out within the next few months leading into 1998 though. Final Fantasy Tactics came out in January, a few months after Final Fantasy VII, and completely flew under the radar. Final Fantasy VII wasn’t all at fault for this though. Final Fantasy fans weren’t typically used to the strategy RPG genre so they generally weren’t interested. Strategy RPG fanatics picked it up though, because it was developed by the same person responsible for the fantastic Ogre battle series, Yasumi Matsuno, as his first project for Square. Whether you were one that picked up the original Final Fantasy Tactics or not, Square Enix is giving you a second chance with Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for PSP.
If you have never played a strategy RPG before, you might want to do a little background check on them. I advise this because Final Fantasy Tactics is hard to learn for newcomers at times, and can be quite difficult in the early going if you don’t understand the game. Those who have played a strategy RPG before will fare much better in getting used to the rhythm and flow of the game. Final Fantasy Tactics is actually pretty straight forward once you get used to it, which just might take a few failed attempts in the early going to achieve. Of course, those who have already played this game know what it is I’m talking about. For those that have played this game, there is plenty new content here to give you reason to re-purchase this game though. You may just find yourself coming out of this with an entirely new perspective on the game than you did on the PlayStation.
The first notable thing that is improved upon is the English translation. The original had some awkward “Engrish” moments where typos and sentences that didn’t make much sense took the player completely out of it. This is all fixed here. Square Enix tossed the old translation completely out the door and has redone it from scratch. The first things people will notice who have played the game is that many of the names of characters, items, jobs, and abilities have been changed for the better. Algus is now Argath, breaking is now rending, and Lancer is now Dragoon. Many of the things changed help Tactics fit more into its series traditions (like Fire 2 now being Fira). These changes might be a turn-off for some purists, but as long as you come into it knowing the experience will be better, it really shouldn’t matter. It helps the game fit more into the style of a traditional Final Fantasy game. While the changes to these areas of the translation shouldn’t be complained about, I can see reason as to why some would complain about the dialogue. I personally loved it and felt it made the overall atmosphere of the game that much sweeter, but there will definitely be that crowd that just “doesn’t get it.” This is because Square Enix went with a more Shakespearean approach to make it fit the tone of the story and setting. Those who aren’t accustomed to this old style of language will probably protest this completely, but for the overall quality of the game, it completely helps it.
Improvements to the story are definitely a great thing for this game, since it is one of the best stories in the series. The story always keeps you on your toes with emotional resonance not matched by many video games. However, it is clear that if all Square Enix would have changed is the story then I wouldn’t be warranting a purchase of this game to people. War of the Lions also has new content never seen in the original version. Two brand new classes were added into this PSP version, which include the onion knight and dark knight respectively. These classes derived from the first game in the series to feature job classes, Final Fantasy III, and help round out the stellar system used in the original Final Fantasy Tactics. Also added was a new multiplayer feature that enables players to pit each others teams of characters against each other vis-a-vis the ad-hoc system of the PSP, as well as co-op missions similar to those in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. In these missions is where you can get equipment not sold in the game as well as some of the stronger equipment early on. The only thing is that you need to make sure your partner is around your level because if either of you is higher than the other (we are talking about 5-10 levels or higher) you will be at a complete disadvantage in the co-op missions because the enemies level is that of the highest character used. You need to be aware of this for the player vs. player mode as well because most likely the higher level will win. Of course, there are a few things added in to the player vs. player so that it isn’t just a traditional battle (like being able to lock swords and having to rapidly tap a button faster than the other to win the sword clash). One disappointment with the multiplayer though, is the fact that there is no online mode. Even still the multiplayer is very solid and worth trying out if you have a friend with the game.
The biggest thing that has been added to the game though, is the brand new animated cutscenes. They are absolutely gorgeous to behold and are used for the biggest story pieces in the game. Not only does it have this, but the cutscenes even feature voice-acting. The voice-acting is stellar and really brings out the best of each of the characters involved in the story. It adds more drama and suspense than ever before. This, to me is the biggest draw to bring back those who have experience this game before. The in-game graphics haven’t really changed that much, still featuring the PlayStation era graphics, but they absolutely still fit the bill nicely. The sprites are very well animated for the story sequences to bring out the emotion of the characters, and all the 3-D effects that are mixed in go well with the art design. The soundtrack to the original Final Fantasy Tactics was a riveting, engaging piece of work that really helped the game bring drama to the story, as well as soothing to your ears during battle with extremely hummable and excellent music. The same can be said for the PSP version as well because it sounds identical to the original version in nearly every way. The soundtrack is easily one of the best in the series. The sound effects are largely the same to, except for a few changes that most probably won’t even notice.
There are a few things that haven’t been improved though, that easily should have been. The original Tactics for the PlayStation had some slow-down when trying to perform the more powerful spells and abilities and nothing has changed on the PSP. There is actually a more substantial amount of slowdown in this version compared to the original. Even worse is the fact that the animations and sound effects are less in synch than they were in the original. The camera in the original also didn’t always give you the best view of the battlefield and there were some amounts of frustration from that. This still has not been remedied in this remake. None of these are problems are truly game-breaking, but Square Enix easily could have spent a little more time on these small problems to make the overall experience a better one.
Despite the fact that Final Fantasy Tactics is a decade old game, I still feel that it is absolutely one of the finest RPG experiences you can find. There are some things that Square Enix could have ironed out, but Final Fantasy Tactics is still, in my mind, the definitive strategy RPG experience of its time. Whether you have already played the game or not, you simply can’t go wrong with this modern classic remake.