RPG Review #95: Final Fantasy Tactics

NuMetalManiak The first time I ever got acquainted with Final Fantasy in any way was when I saw some guy playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. For a time, that's what I thought most of the Final Fantasy games were about, but as it turns out, these are just the tactics games which function entirely as tactical-RPG games instead of the traditional ones that the other games are more known for. And then I had a look to see which JRPGs for the Playstation were often considered the absolute greatest, and one of the more common ones just so happened to be Final Fantasy Tactics for the Playstation. It's the first of the Tactics spinoffs, eventually being remade using the name The War of the Lions for PSP and also having the alternate title of Zodiac Brave Story. This is also number 6 as we count down to the final stretch that will lead to the 100th review. You can tell I'm stoked especially given how long it took me to finally beat this one.

Gameplay: Turn-based tactical RPG, characters get their turn from CT as it goes up, then get to do movements, actions, or both. Attack is basic, while sets of skills exist to help out characters in battle, so they don't have to rely solely on equipment. So a character in battle can have a specific job (the job system is similar to FF3 and FF5, allowing for changes at will) with a skill set of that job, plus a secondary one if needed, along with a few passive skills that can be learned on the Ability tab. Equipment in this game actually dictates just how much HP or MP a character has as well, so it's not just level gains. And on that subject, enemies in random encounters actually scale to the level of the player, so apart from story battles, grinding isn't gonna be as prevalent as it would seem. Magic attacks along with major abilities can have charge times, and can either hit a unit or a specific panel, allowing for strategizing just when to use the best attacks. There's also Zodiac compatibility, which can play a part depending on what you're going up against, along with Brave and Faith values which dictate physical and magical damage, respectively. Characters who die in battle have three turns before their unit is permanently removed and turned into a crystal (gain HP/MP back or abilities) or treasure box, and in the case of the main character (or perhaps a plot-important character), it's a game over.

When characters successfully pull off actions, they gain both experience and JP (job points), with experience going up to 100 to a new level and JP helping in increasing both a job level and to get new abilities. It's somewhat like FF5's job system, gain the JP so you can get the best abilities for that job class. I spend a lot of time in this game galavanting between the numerous job classes, trying to get the utmost best in terms of what they've got. Oh, and this game features monsters that can be invited as well, they of course have high stats at the cost of not having armor of any kind and unique attacks.

When you're not fighting enemies, you're on a line-drawn world map, where you can tweak your characters to the customization that fits best or look up the Brave Story where you get to look at records of who's dead or alive as well as numerous explorations and treasures. Dots on the map dictate a plot area (red), a potential battle location (green) or a town (blue). In towns of course, you are limited to only going to shops to buy stuff as well as soldier offices, where you can recruit fresh new expendable units (all start at level 1 though). Bars will give you rumors as well as propositions where expendable non-story characters can leave for a few days then come back telling you whether or not a job is successful or you get treasure/unexplored lands out of it.

All in all, like any other Final Fantasy game, the gameplay is made rather complex, daunting but will eventually let players get the hang of it and utilize customization to their preferred ways. Grade: A

Characters: Aside from the recruits you get, Final Fantasy Tactics has a boatload of named characters that will be met numerous times during the story. And yes, I mean a boatload, but given the nature of this game, spoiler alert, a LOT of plot-important characters will die. So let's just get some of the main ones only.

Ramza Beoulve: This is our main character, a simple squire and a member of the noble Beoulve family with brothers Dycedarg and Zalbag, sister Alma, and father Balbanes. He's the youngest of the three brothers, raised as a member of the Hokuten knights before breaking away and becoming his own fighter. Eventually gets branded as a heretic by the church, but still fights for the good, justice, and honor of the people like any other hero.
Delita Hyral: Ramza's best friend, who eventually has a tragic moment and separates from Ramza. He's a full-on foil in comparison to Ramza, while Ramza is more honourable, Delita was more of a commoner without nobility and seeks to get to the top by a different means. While seemingly antagonistic to Ramza, the two never are actually enemies, and in scenarios with the both of them, Delita is always an ally.

So these two are the main characters for the entire game, despite being polar opposites. There are a few story characters who permanently join as allies during the course of Ramza's journey. These include Mustadio (an engineer), Agrias Oaks (a female holy knight), Meliadoul (a divine night), and Cidolfas Orlandu (otherwise known as "Thunder God Cid", the most overpowered character too). Some characters are actually optional, including Beowulf (a magic swordsman), Reis (a dragon, who in another sidequest becomes human again), Worker 8 (a giant robot), and, is that Cloud Strife? Yep. The non-playables and guest characters (who can't permanently die in battle) are all interesting and given backstories as well. So many actually good characters for once. Grade: A

Plot: The Zodiac Brave Story, as its called. This game takes place in the location known as Ivalice, a very dreary medieval setting. Ivalice is used later in the Final Fantasy series in Final Fantasy XII, as well as even Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. And it's also the location of Lea Monde in Vagrant Story as well. So the preface of the plot has the ending of what's called the Fifty Years War, where political strife rocks Ivalice and goes into a civil war called the Lion War, with two rival princes, Larg and Goltana, all over who should take the throne of Ivalice next, either Princess Ovelia (supported by Goltana), or Prince Orinas (supported by Larg, also an infant at the time). The narration is giving by a man named Alzalam Durai, who tells the story of what Ramza basically did, and you get to control the game from then on. It's divided into four chapters.

The prologue involves Ramza being a mercenary under Gafgarion, protecting Ovelia from attack along with Agrias Oaks and an old priest named Simon. Delita gets behind their lines and kidnaps Ovelia, and then Chapter 1 starts, which is actually the prelude chapter.

So in Chapter 1, Ramza and Delita work as Hokuten knights for the noble Beoulve family. Both men have sisters, Alma and Teta, whom they try to keep safe. The Hokuten knights' main enemy are a group known as Death Corps, which are actually commoners tired of the whole caste system and the prejudice of being commoners. Ramza and Delita both befriend a noble knight called Algus, who's searching for Marquis Elmdor, who's missing. Later on, we meet some named faces in the Death Corps, including Miluda, Wiegraf, and Golagros, and some rifts are torn between Algus and the two main characters, causing them to separate. Teta is kidnapped and Miluda is killed, with Wiegraf (her brother) swearing revenge. Algus then shoots Teta as well as her kidnapper, Golagros, dead, which infuriates Delita. The chapter ends with an explosion, and Ramza and Delita are practially separate.

Chapter 2 goes back to the time period where the prologue was (so the present). Ramza and Gafgarion work as mercenaries, eventually finding Delita and Ovelia together. This is where Gafgarion betrays Ramza because he's all in it for the money. Agrias takes Ovelia to Cardinal Draclau, but of course the Cardinal is secretly evil while Ramza's group finds Mustadio. This is where we start seeing Zodiac stones, as Mustadio holds the Taurus stone. Eventually we find out about what Gafgarion and Draclau intend to do (it's the corrupt church plot again!) and Gafgarion is slain in battle. Draclau uses the Scorpio stone to turn into a demon known as a Lucavi. Slaying the Lucavi known as Queklain ends the chapter.

Chapter 3 has us knowing a few things about characters right now. For one, the real Ovelia is dead and the one in-game is actually an impostor, but is being used. Ramza eventually is branded as a heretic for the previous incident and is chased by Zalmo. Alma is kidnapped by the Knights Templar after trying to help get the next stone, taken by Izlude as Ramza fights Wiegraf again. Simon dies, giving the Germonik Scriptures to Ramza. Wiegraf then gets possession of the Aries stone, and can become a demon. He is also aided by a man named Vormav, who holds the Leo stone. Ramza then meets Rafa and Malak, two warring siblings. At Riovanes Castle (an infamous point in the game because of a specific duel), Izlude, the son of Vormav and the holder of the Pisces stone, is killed by his father as Ramza gets to duel Wiegraf, who becomes the demon Velius. Ramza then fights the presumed-dead Elmdor, who's assassins kill Duke Barinten after the latter shot Malak. Malak is eventually revived by the Zodiac stone and both join Ramza's group for the final chapter.

A lot of open stuff can happen in Chapter 4, the last chapter of the game, which includes getting the Cancer and Aquarius stones through sidequests. Plots happen behind the scenes, as Dycedarg is in cahoots with the Knights Templar and Vormav, eventually getting the Capricorn stone later on. Meliadoul, holder of the Sagittarius stone, wishes vengeance for the death of her brother Izlude. Orlandu is a target for assassination, being in possession of the Libra stone, and is freed by Delita who kills Goltana and an impostor of Orlandu as a plan, while Dycedarg has a plan for the Beoulves involving the killing of Larg. Eventually Meliadoul learns the awful truth and joins Ramza in taking down Elmdor, holder of the Gemini stone and the demon Zalera. Ramza then returns home to find Zalbag and Dycedarg at each others' throats, with Dycedarg eventually becoming the demon Adramelk and vanquishing Zalbag before dying himself, ending the Beoulve's main legacy as Ramza had already been excommunicated. At Murond Holy Place, High Priest Funeral (what a fitting name) is betrayed by the Knights Templar consisting of Rofel, Kletian, and Vormav himself, and the final parts of the game take place where it began, Orbonne Monastery. Heading deep down, the three Knights are all eventually killed, with Vormav becoming the demon Hashmalam prior to that, and Alma is found. The Lucavi, having taken over the church, seek to resurrect Ajora, a patron saint, except that this saint is also secretly a demon. Alma was kidnapped to serve as the host body for Ajora, using the Virgo stone, although Alma manages to avoid having her body being taken over. Ramza then fights the demon, known as Altima (or Ultima, bad translation), and this leads into the somewhat sad ending. While the grave seems to show Alma among the dead, and Ramza considered dead but not buried due to being a heretic, it turns out both of them are actually alive, but have to leave the land behind. Oh, and Delita gets stabbed by Ovelia, both of whom have become king and queen, but Delita then reverses and kills Ovelia with the same dagger.

In the end, this plot deemed Ramza a heretic, and while he did BASICALLY EVERYTHING GOOD in the plot, he never got a single ounce of credit. Delita in contrast manipulated his way to the tops of the ranks, but in the end, everyone he cared about is dead or in Ramza's case, forgotten. And to think that you wanted a happy RPG? Don't play this game if you want one. But as tragic as the game is, with all the deaths happening, this is a pretty warm plot. Grade: A

Music: Of course what do you guys expect, or actually no. Nobuo Uematsu for once did not create this soundtrack, instead it was composed by two other guys, Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata. But even without Nobuo around this soundtrack did pretty darn well. I enjoy the rather ambient tunes at the non-action segments, and the zodiac boss battles against the demons have rather appropriate music. Also gotta love how there's different tunes for random battles, gives the games a lot more flavor. Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A

Fans of Game of Thrones would enjoy this, certainly. It's got the medieval setting, the strife, lots of character deaths (rather atypical for a Final Fantasy game, believe it or not, I even made a blog post lampshading just how the Final Fantasy series were incompetent with deaths). Of course, gameplay is a major focus, and a good amount of customization and sidequests equates to this being a great RPG. It's long, but I tend to take long with tactical games anyways (about 75 in-game hours or so I spent here).