Retro Review: Final Fantasy Tactics

by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

Retro Review - FFT - Cutscene

According to many (like Kenny), Final Fantasy Tactics is the greatest game ever made. Final Fantasy Tactics revolutionized the turn-based strategy RPG, changing the genre forever. There has yet to be a tactics-based RPG that is as strong all around as FFT, but I’d argue that Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is pretty damn close. FFT changed my life in a variety of ways though, not just in gameplay, but in the story, and the people I met in the community (both positive and negative). Most of the Final Fantasy franchise games up until this point were pretty standard “save the Earth from the absolute evil butthole” in some fashion or another. Kefka, Zemus, Hojo, Chaos, et cetera. In this game though, you are dealing with a god in the end, the majority of the game it’s the nobility vs. the common man. The church of Glabados vs. everyone (The church killed my family!! Sorry, inside joke), and the struggle of being in the world to make money, a killing, if you will, versus doing the right thing because it’s right.

Retro Review - FFT - Asshole2

Algus is an asshole. Full Stop.

The story is incredibly deep, especially for a game where you can create whatever party members fit your needs. There are still named PCs that join you, but the main one is Ramza Beoulve, a man aligned with the nobility, who befriends the peasant Delita. Final Fantasy Tactics is a game of intricate, compelling storylines, and though many players get wrapped up and lost in the grind to get classes unlocked, doing side missions, and leveling up. But beyond that is an incredible story, arguably my favorite one in the series, even moreso than Final Fantasy IV. You’re fighting a god, but there’s a lot that leads up to that, and it’s far deeper than “this person is good, that person is evil”. Is Wiegraf actually evil? He leads the Death/Corpse Brigade, which is fighting the tyrannical rule of the nobility, but he’s done some fairly despicable acts, despite being a Holy Knight. Everyone you save or help is not always truly aligned with your goals and ideals, and it leaves the player with a sincerely large amount of things to think about.

Retro Review -FFT - Dead

Noooo, Agrias!

This is a turn-based strategy RPG, and the timer system that determines who goes when is fairly complex, at least to me. It’s known as a CBT system (Charge Time Battle). Actions require a charge in many cases, and the more powerful the ability, the greater the charge. There are also, of course, ways to influence this. This is the first Final Fantasy game to feature permadeath too, and one of the only ones. If a character on your team dies, it has three turns to be Raised/Resurrected or they become a Crystal. Sure, you can gain an ability/restore HP/MP for the person that picks it up, but that character is gone forever. You can also save them simply by beating the stage before the timer runs out. If you’re anything like me, if you lose someone, you wind up resetting, no matter how far back you saved last. The party must be saved, in my opinion anyway. You really get attached to them. But if Ramza becomes a Crystal, instant Game Over. There are a host of different classes, powers, and abilities. Each character can have a Main Job, a Secondary Job, an Inherent (Passive), a Counter Ability, and a Movement Ability. In the base version of this game though, there’s only one honest choice for a counter, and that’s Blade Grasp.

Retro Review - FFT - Jobs

So many classes, so little time.

Blade Grasp is the Reaction/Counter ability from Samurai, that lets you evade physical attacks. It’s incredibly powerful and far more useful than any of the other ones. Monk’s counter/first strike are okay, but Blade Grasp is incredibly powerful and far more useful. This is where the game begins to get frustrating though. To get new abilities, you need JP, which comes from hitting/healing. Some of the classes that have long charge times (Dragoon, Archer, Black Mage, Caller) really don’t get the JP they deserve for how long they have to wait. And if the enemy is gone, they’ve wasted half a battle doing something stupid. There is a glitch for JP, for the really heavy-ability classes, but I won’t go into that here. It’s worth it in the PSX version, and I don’t care who knows it. But combat is reasonably simple. You position characters when it’s there turn you move, pick an attack, and pick a direction to stand. Most enemies will just move behind/to the side of you, to increase the chance to hit (you can/should do the same). Also note, that enemies that are humanoid can also become Crystals, and Monsters become Treasure Chests.

Retro Review - FFT - Asshole

Have I said Algus is a scumbag yet? Because he is.

One of the things that’s a positive/negative, depending on your point of view, is that this game is very rough in terms of ability balance. Monster Skill (Support) is absolute garbage. In the PSX version of the game, the vast majority of the monsters are all but useless. Why would you bring a Goblin, when you can have a Squire that stacks Accumulate, and obliterates things? There are combos like Monk/Squire on Ramza (with Dual Wield from Ninja) that is insanely, unnecessarily powerful. Well, I said “unnecessary”, but that changes when you get to some of the more difficult fights (Wiegraf/Velius encounter). You can stay out of an enemies threat range, spam Yell/Accumulate until you get several attacks in a row, cap Physical Attack/Speed, run up, and kill the boss before they have a chance to even react. While there are some very broken combos (such as anything involving Calculator), many of the major encounters are obscenely difficult, especially for someone new to the game. Not being aware of boss fights with instant-kills, Velius’ ‘Clops’ Summon, just to name a few perils.

Retro Review - FFT - Vellius

Velius/Belias is one of the coolest designs in the game.

There are lots of little intricacies the game doesn’t make you too aware of, too. Such as, if you have Low Brave or High Faith, that character might leave because they are a coward (Brave) or too pious (Faith). Brave is attached to physical damage, and Faith is attached to magical damage, and these are very important when picking/creating characters… If you have a high Faith, you deal more magical damage, but you also take more magical damage and vice versa. But what I do, is I strip all of the generic PCs you get after the first battle, fire them, sell their gear, and use them to make a team that I want. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a plan by stage 1. Have an idea of what you want your team to be. The grind is rough in Final Fantasy Tactics. Not to mention the Random Encounters level with you, while the Story Encounters do not. So if you decide halfway through to do something else, you stand a pretty good chance of being obliterated by Choco Meteor.

Blame Yourself, Or God: 4/5

Retro Review - FFT - Delita

Say it again, for the people in the back, Delita.

Final Fantasy Tactics is easily one of the best RPGs ever made, in terms of visuals, story, mechanics, choices, replay value, and so many more things. Sure, it can be infuriatingly difficult, you can get stuck in a fight if you only have one save (Wiegraf’s final encounter lets you save before the Belias battle; if you only have one save file, and are underpowered, you may have to start over. I know many who have had to), but overall, it’s a game that changed how RPGs are developed and viewed. The story is the greatest thing for me, though. It’s the deepest Final Fantasy story, possibly of all time, even up to XV. It’s not perfect, it’s riddled with design flaws and difficulty spikes, but the game tells a story masterfully, and makes the player think. Even simple lines like “Blame yourself, or god” really speak to me. Almost nobody is who or what they seem, and no matter which version of the game you play (PSX, PSN, War of the Lions or its re-releases), you cannot go wrong.

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  • Herschel Pilcher III

    The Church killed everyone’s family. I thought that was like Commandment 1… Thou Shalt kill everyone’s family. For lo, they are like unto bags of deuce…

  • Herschel Pilcher III

    Let’s not forget that your Zodiac signs play a roll in determining what damage you take and what damage you deal, based on a complex table of comparability.

    Overall, an amazing game. Cutting edge graphics without sacrificing any performance or playability. The storyline is deep, nuanced and compelling. And jesus christ is this game hard. Like brutally hard (Unless you go the ninja/monk route.. then ggez)