Making lemons combustible again
- Feb 9, 2008
While we wait for CG to slowly go insane replaying through FF13, someone no sane person has ever done, not even the people who made it, I figured I'd talk about final fantasy tactics since its sorta (well """""""""""""sorta""""""""""""") related to 12 and I think its the best damn game in the franchise (plus I'm stuck at a synchrotron doing experiment with lots of downtime and too tired to make any meaningful work).
While FFT was by no mean the first tactics, it pretty much set the standard that almost every subsequent tactic tried to emulate. But imo none of them has ever gotten close to it and that's because the game excel at both gameplay and story.
Lets start with story, FFT is setup in a pseudo European medieval setting. The two large power on the continent just went trough a massive war of succession and now both crown are too poor to pay the soldier their due so they have to deal with rebellion from their former soldier. And this is where FFT goes above and beyond most game, the game has a pretty deep geopolitical story, with a long timeline and event unfold for many complex reasons. But, if you don't feel like following all this, the game has also another story layer where the main character (Ramza) has a fall out with his best friend (Delita) and family while trying to understand the world he lives in better. This is pretty nice because just has Ramza learn more about the world the player is along for the ride with him. Delita is essentially a secondary protagonist, and could have very well being the main character. His story is the classic tale of revenge against the world. While he deal with the geopolitical side of things, Ramza follow some underground element to discover conspiracy. I'd say in a lot of way Ramza gets the more boring story since at some point it just devolve into fighting random demon, but it also mean you get to move around and see multiple side of the conflict. Anyway I won't go over it all, cause its pretty long, but it set up in a way where you don't necessarily need to understand the minutia of the succession crisis to enjoy the story, but all those element are there if you want to explore them (trough a pseudo codex system) and are shockingly well written.
The game also does a couple of fun things with the story too, like for most of the game one character is constantly talked as the greatest swordsman in the world and when he does join you, he turn out to really be insanely overpowered, unlike most games where the hype character join you and turn out to be no better than the random farm boy you recruit at the start of the game or w/e. The game is also technically setup as a researcher hundreds of years in the future trying to piece together the actual events that happened from a manuscript written by one of the NPC in the game, and there's a few time where this is relevant. The game also has multiple time skip, which allows the world to evolve and react to the actions of Ramza and Delita, which helps makes it feel alive.
Gameplay wise, what a lot of tactics game seem to miss is that FFT system works well because it force the player to constantly switch jobs so that even very similar battle will play differently because the class you'll bring won't be the same. You need to keep changing class so your character unlock new classes (which require leveling lower tier class) and to obtain skills from other classes. So compare to FF5 system, where you usually stick to one set of class once you unlock them, and there's not that many reason to switch classes on a semi regular basis, most of your character in FFT will spend relatively little time in the class your building them to be, which really help keep things fresh. It's not all great though, a lot of classes have significant overlap and the game does a piss poor job of telling you some pretty important details, like for example samurai, a class at the top of the physical class tree actually use magic stats when they use their special ability. The game also use small number for the most part, like max str/int is 99, but realistically most character won't even get anywhere near close to that, which makes it really hard to tell what the growth rate of the various class stats are. Classes are also very poorly balanced, with plenty having almost 0 use, archer are infamously useless while calculator break the game. The game also let you add monster to your team, but their so boring that I doubt anyone bother with that.
The game use an ATB system, where every character fill up a bar (based on their speed stats) and act when full. Personally I like that a lot more than the alternative system you often see where both side take turn using all their units. It avoid the problem of unit getting dogpiled on without the player being able to intervene and means you can differentiate class by their speed stats. The downside is that the game use this system for casting spell, with stronger spell taking longer to charge. In practice it means you never use the highest level of spell because they take so long to charge that by the time they're ready, units will have moved and with friendly fire on you might just do more damage to your guy than the enemy. This contribute to magic just not being that useful in general, MP slowly recharge and can be blown trough very quickly, while physical ability are instant and cost no MP to use and generally do about the same amount of damage. The only exception to do is the calculator that be use instant spell that cost no MP and hit every enemy at once (if your lucky, most of the time you'll get maybe half of them), but the calculator comes in very late and usually by that time your physical character can one shoot most enemy. This also apply to healing, with chemist (item user class) blowing the white mage out of the water, since they can instant cast and don't have to worry about MP.
But the biggest problem of the game is that at two occasion the game trap the player in a fight against a very strong boss with only the main character (although if you wait a bit your team comes and help you). This can flat out cause a player to quit the game because they maybe didn't build their Ramza in a way that they can take on very strong foe by themselves. If you're thinking of playing trough the game for the first time, make sure you send Ramza to the physical side but have him learn the skill auto potion, which will use the weakest potion available every time you take damage, if you make sure you have no "potion", Ramza will use "Hi potion" instead, which will heal for about as much damage as he take and make those section much easier.
Otherwise the game has this weird system where you can send your guy on expedition, where they leave for a certain number of days and then come back with a bunch of job experience, time passing whenever you move on the world map. I think the idea was to have the player make two team and have them rotate which goes on an expedition and which is used by the player. That's a decent idea because its a shame you only ever need 5 characters in your team and so won't get to experiment that much making all kind of crazy combination. But it doesn't work since its far easier to just send your real team and then wander around wasting time and just reloading whenever you trigger a random encounter. The game also has plenty of location where you can travel between two safe zones to quickly pass time. Plus this can easily be exploited to quickly gain class level in class that you'd rather avoid, which imo makes the game less interesting.
I'll mention music too, its fine, a few piece are pretty good, but I'd say its a bit too shy and you don't get many cool bold piece like almost every FF. Graphically speaking you have some very nice sprite on pretty crappy CG background, its okay overall, but its no graphical powerhouse.
But misgiving aside, I think FFT is an exceptional game and I can't believe they haven't re release it since the PSP port (they have to be working toward it since they just release tactics ogre port). Like I said, I think its still the reigning champ with none of the other tactics getting close, especially on the story side.
I'll mention final fantasy tactics advance, its not the worse game or anything, but it really fall flat compare to FFT. Gameplay wise it makes some strange decision, like having rule on what you can and cannot do in every fight (probably an attempt to make keep a large number of unit than necessery and swamping them based on the available rule). It also strangely enough has 5 different races but limit what class each races can be, limiting the amount of experimentation you can do. But the really weird part is the story. The character in the game get isekai from the real world into this alternate world. 4 of them get transported in. One of them is cripple in the real world but in the other world can walk freely. Another has a drunk loser for a dad but in the other world his dad is a respected judge. A third one... has a different hair color, this one is weird because the game treat it like this change is just as good for her than the two previous character even though it just mean she doesn't have to dye her hair. Then there's the main character who has a perfectly fine live in the real world and an even better one in the other world. But, for some reason, he decide that they have to return to the real world, even though all 3 other character strongly oppose this and he himself can't say why he wants to go back. This involve killing all the god in the world, which will make the world go back to normal, ie it'll genocide every other world person (and somehow the character you recruit in the game are perfectly happy with helping you do that). But really most of the game is made up of doing menial side quest, some of which have really obtuse requirement that pretty much mean you need to look up how to trigger them. It's not great and the sequel (FFTA2) is just more of the same. It's a real shame they never tried to make a true sequel to FFT, but to be fair, it would be almost impossible to top.
I'd settle for a FFT port to PC or modern console honestly.
Yeah I know it's on phone but I don't want to play it on my phone