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Squenix's Games of War Pt. 1 The Zodiac Brave Story
Few games boast the prestige and astute reverence that Final Fantasy Tactics has come to acquire—and for good cause. For many this was their initial foray into the world of strategy RPG’s; likewise, for most this remains the game by which all others in the sub-genre are judged. Almost all who play it are intrigued by its dark story, majestic score, expansive gameplay, and deep customization options. But how much of this is deserved by the game, and not by its name? All of it. The fact remains that when stripped to its core, Final Fantasy Tactics is the true RPGamer’s game.
No where is this more expressly evident than in the game’s innovative take on the revered Job System. Perfected in the SNES masterpiece Final Fantasy V, it is expanded here for optimum customization. Players can choose from a myriad of classes/jobs from the Final Fantasy games, ranging from series staples such as the Knight and White Mage to more exotic ones such as the Calculator and Samurai. Each class gains special abilities that the character can utilize for support, action, reaction, or movement. Thus, the character can be outfitted with abilities from several classes: imagine a Summoner who can also cast Time Magic, with the armor capabilities of a Knight! The customization options are endless, and mixing and matching different combinations is only a fraction of the fun of the battles.
Unlike the main series titles, battles in Final Fantasy Tactics can last for over twenty minutes, with epic 45+minute battles occurring quite frequently. Being a strategy RPG the difficulty is quite a step of from traditional games of the genre but it is not insurmountable, even though you can only take five units to battle with you (that is, five units that you yourself can control…). However there is the option to send extra characters on different assignments—most of which result in more gil (money) for the party, others which turn up with mystical treasures or even discoveries of unexplored lands. Due to the fact that as the game progresses you will have the option to recruit more and more characters and monsters, you will be sending many characters on these ‘treasure’ hunts.
This in turn highlights the problems inherent in the battle system: since you can only bring five characters to battle (and you have slots for up to 16 units), some characters may not see much use as you resort to using the same ones over and over. There is even one character you can get later in the game that just about renders almost every other character obsolete! Due to the nature of the system these characters can be raised to uber-powerful levels, to the point were you can have a team of ruthless demigods at your disposal (which you need to take on the sadistic Deep Dungeon in Chapter 4).
Besides this trifle flaw the battles are a royal treat, playing out like a heated battle of chess. Actions take place based on character speed, though turns are entered in ally and enemy ‘phases’. Unit location is important, especially for some jobs: it is more strategic to place an Archer at a higher elevation, for example, so that he/she can have increased range. Any action—whether it is a spell, steal attempt, or throw—has a certain percentage that is shown when the action is picked; obviously, higher level (and more useful) skills frequently carry low percentages. In addition to this, every action performed also adds a certain amount of Job points and Experience points: with every 100 Experience points the character gains a level, and accumulated Job points are used to actually buy the various skills and abilities that the job entails, so that they could be used.
Seeing as how more than half of the game is spent in battles, a great deal of the other half is spent in the menu screens preparing the characters for battle. In lieu of all the options, the menus succeed for the most part in facilitating in matters of user-to-game interaction. There is an expansive ‘database’ listing of most every character in the plot; you can review every cutscene in the game; there are multiple ways to access specific information for each character/unit (in an effort to ease needless menu backtracking); and each and every weapon/item/armor is divided unto its own kind. However, the biggest problem with Final Fantasy Tactics’ interaction is not control-related; it is instead something that the game is probably just as famous for as its battle system or soundtrack…
…The localization. It is not the worst ever, as some are led to believe, but it is pretty bad (besting Final Fantasy V and even Final Fantasy VII as Square’s worst localization job on the PS!). The game is littered with misspelled words, misplaced (or just missing) punctuation, alarming grammatical errors, and misused names. The epitome of this decadence is the massive tutorial, which hinders even itself in this regard by being incessantly wordy. As bad as the translation is though you cannot help but laugh at it, as the ‘nobles’ you play as speak in the same syntax as the tortured thieves and rogues you are trying to defend against!
The setting for this game of epic battles and sub-par translation is the country of Ivalice, a land divided into six clans and fresh off of the cease of a 50-year long war. With the abduction of the princess chaos ensues, as the nation plummets into a civil war. The story, which truly stands out in respect to most strategy RPG’s, grows from these meager beginnings to weave a truly epic tale rife with political (and religious) intrigue, deception, and betrayal—along with a cast that rivals a Suikoden title. The story can and does get quite confusing, but as stated before all cutscenes are available at your convenience.
Thankfully for all of the time you will spend battling (and scratching your head) in this game, a truly amazing soundtrack accompanies it. Resounding with symphonic splendor, the soundtrack quickly propelled Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata to the forefront of videogame composers. Utterly littered with numerous gorgeous battle themes, Final Fantasy Tactics is frequently cited as one of the greatest videogame soundtracks ever, and I wholeheartedly agree.
I love the graphics. They are compact in design, with super-deformed (and noseless) character sprites. In spite of all of the complaints against the design the graphics present Ivalice in such a way to immerse you in all of its unique goodness. There is nothing groundbreaking graphically in this title, although some spell animations in battle (especially the summons) are pretty nifty.
Final Fantasy Tactics is a long game, taking on average approximately 80+ hours to complete. Trying to get a ‘master’ game, though, can take upwards of 150 hours. However long you spend on this game it is time well spent in the end; it has its share of bad times, but when it is good it is REALLY good, offering up some of the PS’ finest moments ever. This game is a veritable masterpiece, it should be a staple in every RPGamer’s diet, and comes highly recommended—at the expense of sleep, of course.
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