Yoshida's art comes alive
It's tough to do a fair impression of a game like Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. I've already played the original game, and in fact it's one of my favorite SRPGs. So when I got to have a go at the PSP port of this classic at E3, I was really most concerned with evaluating the things that separated this title from the original (a game for which I would give an unqualified recommendation any day of the week). I wanted to know what would make this version worthwhile to someone, like me, who was a big fan of the original.
Three big differences immediately leapt out at me. The first two were positive, but the third... not so much. Let's start with the good news: this port of Final Fantasy Tactics comes with a complete retranslation. With Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth having come to the US with its original writing intact, I admit to some slight concerns that Final Fantasy Tactics wouldn't receive its much needed relocalization to replace the laughably poor original. But it did, and I'm greatly thankful for it. Now, it's a tiny bit disappointing to lose such poetic, campy lines as "Surrender or die in obscurity" and "Don't blame me; blame yourself or God," but it's for the best. The dialogue was all well written, exhibited proper spelling and grammar, and was full of the same grand, Victorian style that's so marked later Ivalice titles like Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII. It's hard not to imagine the entire storyline and characterization of Final Fantasy Tactics will benefit from this.
Words that make sense
Next, War of the Lions comes with some very, very impressive FMV cutscenes that will replace some of the key story points in the game that were originally done through sprite conversations. The opening movie has changed (and now features Delita pretty heavily, where he was absent in the original), and the trailer Square Enix put together showed a new cutscene for the scene between Delita and Teta at Fort Zeakden. The main cinematic I got to watch most fully, though, was the sequence following the game's opening tutorial battle when Ramza and Agrias try to save Princess Ovelia. I was struck by just how impressively these sequences brought Akihiko Yoshida's original character designs to life; the movies were stylish, high quality, and full of voice acting.
But now to the bad news: lag. Even in the tutorial battle, there was a very noticable issue with game slowdown during special attacks like Agrias' holy sword or Gaffgarion's dark sword skills. As the moves played out, the game slowed down almost to a crawl. I confess: at this point, I started running through my head all the times in the original I used this special ability or that, and pictured the seconds being tacked on each time. It inspired something of a sinking "uh oh" feeling.
The other main additions to War of the Lions are two new story based characters (Balthier from Final Fantasy XII and Luso from Final Fantasy Tactics A2) and two new character classes (Onion Knight and Dark Knight). Aside from some brief tinkering with the Onion Knight class in a battle against Meliadoul, I didn't get to play around with these additions. None of them strike me as a particularly big deal, though. Really, the main allure of this game is the idea of getting a completely retranslated Final Fantasy Tactics in portable form. It'll be up to each fan to determine whether or not the significant slowdown issues are enough to detract from that.