Possibly the greatest installment of Square's long-running and extremely popular Final Fantasy series of role-playing games isn't even part of the series proper. In many ways, 1997's Final Fantasy Tactics is a game that's difficult to learn, difficult to understand, and far less accessible than other games in the franchise. That's because, as the name suggests, combat in Final Fantasy Tactics is a highly complex affair--though the game's entire presentation is decidedly unorthodox. Though not the first strategy RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics remains one of the most involved, serious, and intricate of all such games, so, despite being more than 6 years old, it remains as playable and enthralling as ever--which is the sure sign of a true classic.
Moreover, Final Fantasy Tactics is notable for its incredible storyline--a storyline that is certainly one of the best, if not singularly the best, in the Final Fantasy series. This carries considerable weight, considering how well-known Final Fantasy is for its high-quality stories. The hero of the tale is named Ramza Beoulve. Ramza is a young noble, fresh from the military academy, who is embroiled in a terrible, bloody conflict with a rival nation. The story is truly epic, in the purest sense, as it spans many years (in fact, Ramza noticeably ages over the course of the game) and features a cast of dozens of characters. Final Fantasy Tactics tells such a sweeping, poignant story that few games could possibly ever compete. Especially jarring is the game's presentation, which uses a distinctive art style that makes all the characters appear doll- or childlike. The game's grim, and often tragic, storyline, finds characters routinely betraying and often brutally killing one another. This sharply contrasts with the seemingly lighthearted look of Final Fantasy Tactics. As if all that's not enough, the story is presented through the eyes of a historian who has discovered Ramza's story long after the fact. It is this historian who willingly divulges the truth behind certain historical events, knowing that in doing so he is committing heresy against the current ruling powers.
The gameplay itself is just as outstanding, though in many ways it's just as strange. Unlike console RPGs, where combat can be tedious and usually presents itself as a roadblock between one story sequence and the next, the combat really is the star of Final Fantasy Tactics. The game features a complex "job" system, first introduced in Final Fantasy V, which allows characters in your squad to readily switch classes. Characters may shift from such class designations as squires, knights, and mages, to samurai, ninjas, chemists, mediators, and more. These classes aren't necessarily well balanced; however, there are so many unusual skills each character can learn, and there are so many viable and interesting combinations, that Final Fantasy Tactics ends up offering tremendous variety and replay value. In addition, the game is incredibly challenging at times. This forces players to think carefully about each move, to plan well-ahead in a battle, and to bring the best possible strategies and tactics to bear against many cunning opponents.
Final Fantasy Tactics is simply a one-of-a-kind game. Many games, since its time, have attempted to copy and improve on its formula, but none have managed to do so with the same dramatic flair and unusual style. The game does have its flaws, not the least of which is an English translation from the original Japanese that is frequently nonsensical. However, over time these qualities have just added to the game's unique style and appeal. The game may still be found on store shelves as part of Sony's Greatest Hits collection for the PlayStation, though, for a number of years following its release, it was very difficult to find.
|Final Fantasy Tactics is my personal favorite game bearing the "Final Fantasy" name. I remember being appalled by the English translation when the game first hit Western shores, especially since I was a fan of the Japanese version of the game and was hoping for a translation on par with the game's extremely high quality. But looking back, I realize that the bizarre English dialogue fits right in with all the other highly unlikely aspects about the game. I still go back and play Final Fantasy Tactics from time to time, as it's one of those games that's equal parts labor of love and equal parts sheer skill and artistry.|
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