Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions Hands-On

We clock in some time with the import version of Square Enix's makeover of the classic title.

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MAKUHARI--One of the games garnering a substantial crowd on the Square Enix Party showfloor, despite having just hit stores late last week, was Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, an update of the 32-bit classic strategy game. To celebrate the title's release Square has gone back to the original game and refreshed it for the PlayStation Portable, adding a host of refinements and new features so that a new generation of gamers can see the classic in a new light. Besides spending some time with the game on the show floor, we headed on out and picked up a retail copy as well. It's safe to say that Square's revamp of the classic appears to be handily living up to the beloved original.

The game stays faithful to the original title and features all of its characters and missions. However, Square has made a number of notable additions to the original experience that promise to make this great game even better. The game features enhanced graphics, 16:9 widescreen presentation, new quests, totally redone cutscenes, two new character classes, the "onion knight" and "dark knight," as well as new playable characters. The new characters hail from FFXII, Balthier, and the upcoming Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Luso. Finally, the game offers ad hoc multiplayer support for competitive matches against a friend or cooperative play that challenges you to work together to complete missions.

The core gamplay in FF Tactics is true to the original game and offers a deep, turn-based battle system and job system that lets you tweak out your fighting force to perfection. You'll still rely on a bevy of menus for your turn-based battling, but we expect many to be surprised by how well the 10-year-old gameplay holds up. The turn-based nature of the game makes it an easy adaptation for the multiplayer mode. One addition to the deliberate action is a button-mashing contest that comes up in competitive multiplayer matches. Whichever player manages to mash faster and win the minicompetition during a fight is rewarded with extra attack damage.

The presentation in Final Fantasy Tactics has gotten a swank makeover with cleaned-up polygonal visuals and sprites. The most striking addition to the mix is the revamped cinematics, which are beautifully redone with CG that mimics the lush art style of the game's hand-drawn 2D. The audio has been polished up some as well, for consistency's sake. In a session with the game's developers and the assembled press at the show, we were pleased to hear that the US version of the game is due to get some nice perks over the original domestic game. A new localization and full audio for the cinematics are being added to the game for the stateside release.

Based on what we've played and seen so far, Square Enix has done right with its remake of the classic title. The slick update to the game's presentation is terrific. On the content side, the additions to the single-player experience seem to have been done carefully enough to not imbalance the challenging experience. The addition of multiplayer is a welcome cherry on top of the whole package. Fans of the original game owe it to themselves to track the domestic release of the title so they know the exact moment they need to go pick it up. The import is a nice teaser, but it's obviously not the easiest game to buy and play through considering it's all in Japanese. Newcomers who've heard the crazy talk of the game's mythic status but haven't had the chance to try it out will need to snag it, as it's a must-play. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions has just released in Japan, with a US release slated for this October. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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