If you want an example that life isn't fair and the best quality games don't always get their day in the sun even when they share a name with one of the most popular video game series ever, then I ask you to examine Final Fantasy Tactics as a key example of this. I believe this to be the best game in the Final Fantasy series and one of the best games ever made. Possibly the greatest JRPG aside from Dark Souls
So whats so great about Final Fantasy Tactics? Isn't it just a side gimmick game that no one should care about? Before I talk about FFT singularly lets talk about the Final Fantasy series as a whole up to the point that FFT came out. In the very first Final Fantasy game you didn't play set characters with names and defined personalities, you played 4 characters whose name and move set were defined by their current job. In the main series having a job system where characters learn abilities by leveling up in an occupation was par for the course for a long time. This would be something we see off and on until Final Fantasy 6 became the new set formula for most games in the series and peoples abilities were based more around their characterization rather than just their job. Forever after the idea of a job system was confined almost entirely to side games in the series and the MMO entries that were stupidly given mainline number titles.
The Final Fantasy series was famous for not really being "a series" for a long time in that there were no direct sequels in the games until FFX ruined the series, video games forever and my life by proxy. That is a tale for another day though, so moving on. Tragedies aside, what I mean to point out here is that the series relied more on its own internal tropes, in jokes and own recurring names, monsters and creatures to feel a semblance of continuation from previous games. This contrasts it heavily with Japan's other big RPG series and one that is a lot more loved there than Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, which not only has all the things final fantasy games have in terms of recurring things, but also has a story that connects most of its games together in blocks of "histories."
The combat in almost all the Final Fantasy games was a traditional JRPG Turn based system. FFT was one of the first to go a different direction with it's strategy grid based combat system. A combat system that had actually been inspired by earlier Ogre Battle [オウガバトルサーガ]
games made by Yasumi Matsuno, who would go on to be the director of FFT. More on him and those games later.
It's an SRPG meaning the combat is grid and turn based battle system, where you move and attack on a grid based isometric plane and you and the computer take turns attacking until one of you wins. It kind of plays out like chess, but with all the other stuff you would expect from an RPG like this melee combat, magic, healing, etc. Although the combat system is different I think FFT does the absolute best job in the entire series of incorporating all the previous FF's aforementioned internal tropes and things, while also being the absolute mastery of the FF's job class system. I feel like these types of strategy games and FF's job system were bound to become one and be a perfect sympatico coupling. Like Genetics and evolution, it was inevitable these two ideas would come together to make a more perfect union. So what is so great about these two things you circle jerking hack? Well, in strategy games like this you have to actually do battles using "strategy" surprising I know. Your long range attackers and magic users need to be protected, your tanks and heavy hitters need to be in front, and you should have your mid power physical attackers and weak story characters protected in the middle. In games like this terrain, weather, elevation, cover and other forms of basic geography play a big part in the way you do battle. So fit all this with the job system, which allows you to utilize all those classic final fantasy job types, but in this somewhat realistic strategy laden way and you just get so many great options to do so. The job system really makes the experimentation with these types of battles near infinite and is one of the main reasons why I have played this game over and over and over again. Or you can just have a party full of all self healing monks & ninjas with Count Orlandeau fucking up the balance as well. Yeah, I admit this is not the most balanced game and not all classes are as useful as others, but The experimentation with jobs and these battles goes even further when you get to set each non story characters abilities which you can learn more of by leveling up jobs and master their skills completely and/or just level up enough to get certain skills you want from that specific job. So you can combine various job skills and bonuses you get from them even when you don't have that particular job.
I really love the grid based magic system and the summons... You know what, let us pause talking about the magic for a second to talk about the graphics and art style, this game's art is so great that I still haven't quite gotten over it when I try to imagine my own fictional characters today. Yeah, I don't just fail at non-fiction review writing, I fail at fictional stuff I'll probably never release but enough about that bullshit. The art style is kind of like a mix of the series regular Yoshitaka Amano's designs, Matusuno's general taste in art and character design, the way anime looked at the time and a minimalism to the faces to counterbalance the complexity of Amano's usual flair. The art of the characters all looks very 2D'ish but hand drawn, in the PSP remake this is more accentuated through the use of beautiful cutscenes that look like they were drawn with color pencils. Given that it's a grid most of the locations look like hard lined geometric shapes of terrain, but they all manage to look like a new and varied setting, despite the need for such rigid geometry given the grid based gameplay. The Golden Armor of the churches Zodiac Knights is a particular favorite of mine. It doesn't look as gaudy as the likes of golden armor in Warcraft
stuff, it has a more realistic simplicity to it and it's unique to each one of the knights in this game by adding a special colored sash to each character. I also love the reversal of expectation with it, usually golden clad knights would be heroes or at the very least exemplars of morally gray law based moral archetypes like with the aforementioned Warhammer
, but basically everyone wearing it in this game is a deceitful villain and in at least one case an outright demon even before they tapped the Zodiac Stone's power. I really like in general how armor and class outfits look in this game. I stopped talking about the magic for a second and the gameplay by extension, to talk about the graphics here because I still think this game's magic looks the best out of any of the Final Fantasy games. Its mix of pre-rendered 3D and the hand drawn 2D'ish characters and landscapes just makes for some of the most beautiful magical animations I have ever seen in a game. The summons though... The fucking summons are amazing I mean really on a class all on their own. Even though I have played this game many, many times I had to go back and see if these were skippable, because despite all my previous play throughs of this I can't think back to a time where I ever tried to skip the animation to a summon. These summons are just one of those times where game play functionality, style and music come together to create the perfect experience in a game. There are very few games on the original PlayStation that I would say look as good as this game still does. Lunar: Silver Star Story [ルナ~シルバースターストーリー]
, Legend of Mana [聖剣伝説 レジェンドオブマナ]
and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night [悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲]
are the only ones that I think are real contenders. I think this one is the only one out of those that manages to utilize some amount of good looking 3D though where as the rest of those cases are all mostly 2D affairs. I think it's inarguable that at the very least it's "aged" better than any other FF of the era.
So back to the magic proper, I really like the way it works in this game. It's a really powerful form of attacking, but at the start of the game, it's a risk to use it because all the time it takes to charge it might be wasted if an enemy moves out of it's tile range or if an ally is forced to move away from a buff. As the game progresses, your range of attack grows with certain types of magic and you can get abilities to speed up the process. I really like the risk/reward nature of this magic system and the feeling of progression it gives you as the game goes on. One of the things unique about this game's magic system is the magical sword techniques a lot of the story character's have later in the game and of course it is something I really like. Even though the magical sword techniques aren't direct melee attacks the animation and the sound design still convey a sense of melee damage when these are used. I think these special attacks have really great looking animations too.
Another thing I think this game does really well that I never really cared for in the other FF's is the way it incorporates the use of Chocobos. Since the movement in the game is mitigated by terrain factors, sometimes having these things as mounts is actually really useful in game. Especially since the black ones can fly and do so reliably. In the other games, I always found Chocobos more of a hassle than they were worth and they were quickly replaced by an airship anyway, so putting a lot of effort and time into catching one or breeding them always felt wasted. In this it only takes you having a really cheap invite mediation skill to get them on your side and near the start of the game you actually have the option in one battle to save one and gain it as an ally, negating the need for that mediation skill if all you want is one Chocobo. Once you have one, the game starts breeding them as you walk through the world map. They also have really powerful spells near the beginning of the game and they stop being powerful around the same time that their terrain advantage is no longer useful around 3/4 of the way into the game when you probably have the ability to move many tiles each move or have flying and teleportation yourself.
Those movement modifiers remind that with all the kills and power you have with your characters by the end of the game, your characters feel a lot more powerful and there is a great sense of progression to it all that very few games like this achieve with their game play alone. I mean in every RPG your stats increase, progression is endemic to the genre, but it's more so the feel in the difference.
So it manages to perfectly align the FF job system with its strategy game play, it keeps the traditional look of Amano's designs in the look of FF's classes, it incorporates the magic and summons of the previous games really well and it manages to integrate Chocobos in a way that makes them an asset and not a detriment. As I'll later show with the story and characters it manages to incorporate a lot of the other tropes and ideas from previous final fantasies, this is in part why I see this game as the culmination of the series.
One way in which I think this game isn't very much like its predecessors is with its soundtrack. Despite that, this is my favorite PS1 soundtrack and probably my favorite by Squaresoft in general. I get to mention Castlevania: Symphony of the Night [悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲]
for the second time in this review as I think it and another Konami game Metal Gear Solid
are the only PS1 games that are a contender for best PS1 soundtrack and I don't think either of those are that close. I'm a big Boards of Canada fan, so I really like music that manages to sound ominous, mysterious and yet somehow weirdly triumphant in the end. I think the FFT soundtrack manages to hit a lot of those same emotional marks with its music. The songs sound fully orchestral in this and they really convey the feeling of battle and a sense of wonder about the world of Ivalice. It also has a general tenseness to it and it all works really great for the battles. Ordering stuff abroad wasn't always cheap kiddo's and Japanese import prices in particular were steep, if you liked their games and animu before the mid 2000's your wallet was fucked hard with a barbed buster sword. I mean harder than when Gabe takes Viagra, pulls the gold ring out, puts the full body gimp suit on and announces a seasonal sale. So I had to pay close to eighty dollars to get the soundtracks to this and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night [悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲]
off of an order form from a gaming magazine and it was a huge hassle, but I did it because i really liked this music THAT much. My favorite song is the one titled "The Pervert" and not just because it starts playing whenever I enter a room. It just fits the look and feel of the particular boss really well. I do have to admit some slight disappointment in the fact that they didn't try to do any rendition's of older FF themes the victory music in particular. I would really like to hear Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata's rendition of some of those olde Nobuo Uematsu themes. As a side note, those two guys, also made the soundtrack to Odin Sphere [オーディンスフィア]
which I also think is one of the best soundtracks of its generation and also a really good game everyone should play.
A warning here about spoiling basically everything in the story below. A rough summary of the story of FFT goes as follows. You start out as Ramza a new squire in the kingdom of Ivalice who with his best friend Delita, manages to get caught up in a bigger conflict involving some unpaid soldiers and peasants from a previous war and some of the lands nobles. During this time the head of Ramza's family dies and that leaves the oldest son Dycedarg in charge of the families affairs. Ramza also has another older brother named Zalbaag, or as I like to call him "douchebaaag," as he is the one that confirms the order to kill Delita's sister at the end of this chapter, but I'm getting ahead of myself here. Ramza also has a sister named Alma who becomes a bigger part of the story later, but doesn't really do anything at the start. Their family is called Beoulve and they have close ties with the royals of the land. In the intervening years that royal family loses it's lynchpin the king and a conflict between two dukes who are backing two different heirs causes the kingdom to go into civil war. The first Duke is Goltanna and he has a black lion as the crest of his order of "Southern Sky Knights," he is backing Princess Ovelia's claim to the throne. The second Duke is Larg and his crest is a white lion for his order of "Northern Sky Knights," he is backing a baby boy's claim to the throne named Prince Orinus. Because of their crest's this civil war is called the War of The Lions.
Amidst this war these early events lead to things that happen one year later when a disenfranchised Ramza is working as a mercenary and shunning his noble family. He is dressed in all black now and he wears a lot of spikes like he is me and he just discovered punk music at age 12. He is being paid to protect someone from the Church this person ends up being the formally mentioned Princess of the kingdom and a different sect of the church wants her because they're collecting Zodiac stones and they need a certain female sacrifice once they have collected all the stones to bring back the messiah of the Ivalice church St. Ajora. I talk more about the church in a section below, but for now let's continue just explaining the other parts of the story not related to that to the extent that we can. Goltanna also wants the princess brought under his safe keeping so that he can make his claim to the throne valid. So a battle ensues here between Ramza's party and a disguised group of the Duke Larg's Knight's sent to assassinate the princess only for an unexpected party to be the victor. That unexpected person is Delita, Ramza's old friend is now clad in gold and riding away with the princess on a Chocobo, but not before he mocks the crowd and god as he rides off. Delita is working as a double agent for both sides of the War of The Lions and he seems to have good relations with the church's rogue Templar sect. He end's up letting the princess go into Ramza's possession for a while, but quickly gains her back and bring's her to Goltanna. This is seemingly because he is on Goltanna's side, but we actually learn it's because Delita wants to protect the princess himself. Meanwhile Ramza is trying to help an engineer who has a lead on one of the Zodiac stones and some other things. Most of the plot from this point onward involves Ramza looking for a zodiac stone meeting some new characters that either become party members or enemies and the chapter ends with him fighting one of the Zodiac Lucavi. The non-church related plot from this point on mostly involves talk about the politics of the land and people like Delita's ever changing allegiances and actions against one of the parties involved. The end of the war of the lions results in both of the dukes being killed by people who are supposedly their allies. One of them is lord Dycedarg Beoulve, who is again Ramza's oldest brother. He kills Duke Larg while pretending they were both mutually caught in the same poison trap. He did this being a tentative ally of the church, but also because he thought he might become king if enough of the rest of the line of succession was killed off. His potential alliance with the church though, ends up being his undoing as his brother Zalbag end's up eavesdropping on a conversation where it is revealed that Dycedarg murdered their father by poisoning him with the same poison he used to kill Duke Larg. So Zalbaag goes to confront his brother and Dycedarg turns him into a mindless vampire like puppet warrior of his. They then both fight Ramza and Ramza kills two bro's for one stone. Delita on the other side of the conflict kills Duke Goltanna and officially takes Ovelia for himself, he also send's his old friend Ramza a gift in the form of Count Orlandeau, a knight so old and powerful he literally breaks the game with his sheer awesomeness. He is also this FF's "Cid" and the monads really danced with harmonious reverie with this one, because I think he is the best of all possible Cid's. He also might be a veiled reference to early Enix games hero's as his title is "Thunder God" and the heroes of Dragon Quest [ドラゴンクエスト] games always had thunder as their base element. Assuming of course that he isn't just a more obvious reference to Zeus. This wouldn't be the last game to make that dual reference though if so, according to Hidetaka Miyazaki, Dark Souls was influenced heavily by his playing Dragon Warrior III [ドラゴンクエストIII そして伝説へ] as a kid, so I can only imagine a a thunder throwing hero of the past like Gwyn had to take some influence from that game as well and I mean the hero's in those games killed dragons/dragon related beings... Why the fuck do I keep talking about Dark Soul's? I already did a review so long I reached the character limit on this site, you think that would be enough prattle about a game, shit. Send help plz. Anyway, more church related plot happens for a lot of the rest of the story and then at the end we learn that Delita perfectly maneuvered himself into becoming the new king of Ivalice. So all his scheming wasn't for not, he even get's to marry Ovelia and her name doesn't sound like "ovulation" for nothing. There is trouble in paradise though, as even though Delita got seemingly everything he wanted out of this war, his new wife tries to kill him at his finest moment, because she thinks she is just a pawn in his plans. In the end he mutters "Rosebud" and wonders what became of his old friend Ramza and those other dudes and dudette's that were with him. Ramza was actually cleaning up the rest of the dirty members of the Templar and trying to save his sister which is explained more in depth here:
St. Ajora was a man who lived a long time before the present in the game world and when he was alive Ivalice was in a cultural and technological ascendency, similar to the roman empire except it had air ships and guns from the 1700's and other machine age marvels. Ajora's birth marked a turning point for this technological civilization and he started performing miracles at a young age. In the other section when I called him a messiah I mean just that a messiah, his story in the official histories looks similar to real world messiahs like Jesus who performed Miracles, did saintly duties and fulfilled prophecies. Just like the aforementioned Roman's his ascendancy marked the downfall of the empire he spread his ideas in, just like Christianity. This was due in part to the fact that he was actually a host to a demonic blood angel and he was trying to resurrect a band of Lucavi (demons) who would take up residency in his 12 disciples/friends. Ajora might have been more than just a proxy cause of the downfall of his civilization at birth as it is later implied that bringing his ultimate form into reality requires a massive blood sacrifice so he may have actually caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands if not millions trying to attain his goals. You learn later that the church actually engineered the War of the Lions in part to hide their actions under the guise of being neutral observers in the war they are some of the only people who can travel freely between the warring states and because as stated before the resurrection of Ajora will require a huge blood sacrifice and the wars ensuing chaos and carnage ends up not being enough for the blood gods insatiable appetite. This is kind of like how Aldrich in Dark Souls III starts eating... Wait, I caught myself that time. S-so A "heretic" named Germonique was chronicling the actual evil Ajora was doing behind the scenes. Subsequent leaders of the church hid Ajora's misdeeds and Germonique's writings and a religion was formed around the lie of this messiah's graciousness. In extension to this first lie, they also made a mythical legend up about the Zodiac stones, they had them called "holy stones" and a legend was made up about how Ajora and a band of heroes collected them to stop a group of demons. The ironic thing about this tale is that even though it's initially a lie Ramza actually ends up doing this very thing throughout the game. It's also a subversion of the usual FF trope of collecting colored crystals usually associated with the elements to stop some evil force. That started with the first game and featured heavily in a lot of the rest. In this game the crystals are in part the source of the evil you're trying to stop. It's not a huge subversion, but it is enough to note here I think.
The forms of these demons they wanted to resurrect and Ajora's true form are housed in the Zodiac Stones. The Zodiac stones are powerful gems made from a fictional material called Auracite. They're each named after a Zodiac star configuration and they seem like harmless gems on the surface, but they are actually prisons for each one of the 12 demons they wanted to resurrect. The game says there are restrictions on who the stones choose to possess, but we are not really shown or told about anyone they rejected, which might have made for a good scene. The only stone that does have restrictions and is very selective on who it chooses to possess is the stone housing Ajora's demon and this stone requires that a certain girl who looks similar to Ajoras Human form to take possession of. In this generation it ends up being Ramza's sister Alma. Now some people, including these two characters think it is in fact a terrible thing to have a thousand year old winged succubus blood demon inhabiting your body, but I have to ask the obvious here and what I'm sure you're all wondering as well... Is it really all that bad to be possessed by this demon? I mean I'd love to wake up and realize I'm a beautiful demon woman with immense power, ability and want to kill thousands. Just imagine the amount you can make doing niche monster woman "videos" if you know what I mean. I think they should thank the leader of the Templars for this glorious sex goddess ascendency, but my opinions and penchant for weird fetishes aside. Ramza collects the Zodiac stones and kill's the associated demon's they summon throughout the game. He then goes through a portal to a remnant of the past aforementioned technological civilization and confronts the head of the Templar's Folmarv right as he is trying to resurrect Ajora through Ramza's little sis. Ramza beats the "holy" shit out of this dude, so he gets desperate and sacrifices himself in Lucavi form hoping to move the resurrection along faster. It seemingly works and Ajora in all her monster girl glory, looking like the hot sister of them succubi girl's from Darkstalkers is back. She is quickly shunted to the curb hard by Ramza and then Alma rejects Ajora and the chance at an amazing career on the internet and the Templars plan to resurrect the demons is thwarted. Ramza and his band of merrimen and merriwoman march away from the castle in triumph and then it is not known what happens to them after this point. They ride their Chocobo's out of the land and fade into literal and figurative obscurity. So like Delita we're left holding are genitals wondering what became of the likely lads we helped navigate all that geopolitical and religious turmoil through.
So before I go into a character analysis I'd like to take this time to talk about the man who created this game and some of the themes and ideas that are common among his games. This game was written and directed by Yasumi Matsuno. The only other title by Square he would ever both direct and write is Vagrant Story [ベイグラントストーリー], but his history in video games goes a little bit earlier than that. His first game was called Conquest of the Crystal Palace [魔天童子], an action platformer for NES. This game was his first game for a company called Quest and it marked the first collaboration between him and composer Masaharu Iwata, the person who would go on to do the soundtrack for most of his games including FFT. Aside from this it's the one game I'll mention here that doesn't have a whole lot to do with FFT so I'll briefly state that while I don't think it reaches the grandeur of any of his other titles I do think it's an underappreciated platformer for it's era. It has a great soundtrack, it has a nice Asian artstyle like another somewhat overlooked, but now very popular title for the NES Little Samson [聖鈴伝説リックル]. I would say Little Samson [聖鈴伝説リックル] is the key comparison here as it's look, game play and charm are the most similar to that title.
At the start of the 90's Matsuno helped pioneer the specific iteration of the SRPG genre that FFT would eventually be a part of by directing the first entry in the Ogre Battle series for the same company as the previous game Quest. The game was called Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen [伝説のオウガバトル]. He then went on from that game shortly after to make the game that I consider his first masterpiece Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I want to compare this game in more detail to FFT later, but for now I just want to lazer focus on his history as a director and a writer so more on that later. After this he left Quest which continued to make more games in the same two series, but none of them were ever quite as good as the two entries he directed and wrote. Which is evidenced by the fact that Quest is now owned by the Company he left them to go work for which was Squaresoft. Now we have come full circle and the reason I wanted to mention all this is to point out a few things about Matsuno and his characteristics as a game developer before I talk about FFT's story in particular. Almost all of the world's he created in each of these games from the first Ogre Battle to Vagrant Story [ベイグラントストーリー] have large, detailed histories and I don't just mean he lays out a timeline and tells you what plot points went where. I mean in almost every one of these games history is presented in them the way we view it in real life, not as if it's a series of facts on a line, but with varying views and different opinions on what happened when and why. To the point that in FFT the game is made under the conceit that a "neutral" historian is attempting to uncover the truth of what happened during The War of The Lions and its preceding and subsequent events. His games have groups and people disagreeing on the "facts" of history based on their own interests and where they come from and more generally their position in life. Speaking of which, he also seems very conscious of the way people at the bottom and the top of society have very differing views about it and the characters are generally realistic to their economic circumstances and other mitigating factors. I mean he called his second game for Square "Vagrant Story [ベイグラントストーリー]" he didn't call it a "Knights Story," or a "Kings Story." I bring this up to note that as a video gamers and developers, especially of earlier eras, there was a strong impulse to appeal to people's sense of happiness and triumph especially in the RPG genre. This generally means identifying with people who are considered successful in society and not the fringe level low class people like "Vagrants." We generally see it as a bad thing to be called another euphemism for "bum" but nonetheless he decided to call it that and give us a story from a bottom up perspective. Another way in which we see more socioeconomic detail in his games is that foreigners are treated differently in them depending on whether they come from poorer, less developed nations, or if they come from richer more powerful or equally powerful empires. Like in real life, his games depict lower class foreigners and ethnicities as being scapegoats for a society's problem to the point that in TO: LUCT we actually see a ruler engaging in ethnic cleansing as a way to make himself a more popular, richer person while also using the cleansing as an excuse to eliminate political rivals. Wars are always depicted in his games as a way for the rich to gain more money and power at the expense of the people at the bottom of society. Most games have only recently started to show a scintilla of this kind of depth surrounding war and violence on a state to state level and among broad groups of people. People endlessly jackoff games like "This War of Mine" and "Spec Ops: The Line" but neither one of those has got into as much depth or as much elaboration on why the world ends up this way as Matsuno's games did almost twenty years before either title. I'm not even saying either title is bad, I think both are steps in the right direction in terms of the shallow storytelling of a lot of games today, but the concept had already been done better and with less on the nose "war is hell" moral navel gazing and while getting across more themes and ideas. His games often make broad comments about religion and its role in society, as shown above this is almost wholly the central focus of Final Fantasy Tactics and its story has been badly aped by Square in this regard in a lot of their subsequent games including my least favorite Final Fantasy X [ファイナルファンタジーX]. This was also what the plot of most of what Vagrant Story [ベイグラントストーリー] was about. I wrote all this out to say, his games generally have more complex economic and socio-political dimensions to them. This isn't just placed in the world through exposition dumps here and there, but exemplified in the attitudes and viewpoints of the characters and the way people treat other people in these settings. This is true to some extent about most of his games up to this point, but it is especially true about FFT.
Ramza is a very basic protagonist on his own, but what makes him one of the greatest video game main characters of all time is the way he contrasts with almost every other character in the game. The writers knew how to play the idea of "foils" against their main character well here. One of the first characters you meet is Algus. Algus like Ramza is a noble through tenuous connections in a family that is somewhat out of disfavor in the kingdom. Because of this he is insecure about his nobility to an absolute fault and will do and does terrible actions trying to prove his worth to other nobles and his higher place above others. He contrasts heavily with Ramza in this way in that Ramza often tries to do good things for their own sake and forsakes his own claim to nobility and becomes an outlaw in order to do what he thinks is right. One of my favorite characters Wiegraf Folles is a man who starts off a freedom fighter for a good cause, he is trying to get the payments owed to a legion of peasant soldiers and instead the ruling elite just want these soldiers murdered as rebel's. Like the "Bonus Army" in real life and the Defias Brotherhood in World of Warcraft. Ramza question's having to fight them at all and eventually agrees with their cause and is later inspired by the memory of young Weigraf Guevara to fight his own rebellion against the church. Weigraf later becomes a man consumed with power and plays the classic tale of a sellout to his cause, he is also tough as fuck when he goes full Zodiac demon form and you better have leveled up and have good group composition before fighting him. Wiegraf isn't just a contrasting foil to Ramza though he is also one to Delita. You see they both have sisters who die and both of them die early on in the games story because the poor are expendable to the rich. Wiegraf takes his sisters death as a reason to forsake his quest for justice and instead just try to join the rich and powerful in their weird religious cult. Delita see's his sister's death as a major turning point in his life and he believes absolute power and whatever it will take to obtain it is the only way to protect himself and the people he might care about after that point. So they both take similar paths after a similar death in the family, but Delita hold's onto the idea that what he is doing is moral, whereas Wiegraf admits outright that he no longer cares anymore. Delita is Ramza's best friend and the person I would argue gradually becomes the games main antagonist. Delita despite the fact that you don't ever face him in a boss fight or see him as an "enemy." He is more of a "narrative" antagonist, in ways I will try to explain here. Delita takes an inverse journey to Ramza in that he starts off a poor happy peasant and (possibly) dies an unhappy king with no friends and a wife who tried to kill him. Ramza starts off a rich naive young noble, who thinks his family and country are a source of good in the world. He later realizes neither thing is a source of good and after a period of inner turmoil he gives up everything to save his sister and in the end is surrounded by his friends. Didn't I mention that this game started with two sisters dying and it ended with "saving" another one.. Yeah there is a lot of obvious mirrored opposition here, but unlike Delita at the start of the game, Ramza no longer has the pretension that the world is a fair place anymore by the end of his journey the blinders have come off to the point that his religion, country, family and everything else are all in question. So it's this emotional journey that prepares him to "kill" his sister to save her. Which is ironically what you were trying to prevent in earlier scenarios with a similar setup. On a functional level it's just game play bullshit, you have to kill a last boss, because genre conventions dictates that this be so, but if you think about it from his personal knowledge at the time, Ramza has no way of knowing this will bring her back at this point and yet he does it anyway. I doubt Delita would have made the same choice, if he had a chance to see his sister again, even in glorious resurrected monster girl form. He would probably rather die himself than have to see his sister die a second time. So I'm admittedly entering shaky ground here, what I'm saying is conjecture, but Delita is surface level cynicism, at heart he still driven by idealistic beliefs they're just coated in a hard candy shell. Where as Ramza went on a journey where he truly learned the terrible in's and out's of this land and had to kill two brothers along the way. You can't really keep any kind of "innocence" after that. Later on in this review I list some games that came out in the glorious year of 1998, one of those game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time [ゼルダの伝説 時のオカリナ]. A game that is often floated about in conversations for being one of the best games ever. One of the reasons it is considered as such is it is seen as one of the few games that manages an almost wordless coming of age story. Now I'm not here to tell you these people are wrong and Ocarina is really secretly a trash game no one should like. No it's a really good game for it's time and now. But when I compare Link's supposed coming of age to Ramza's of the same year, the journeys in question have almost no comparison. Ramza goes through so much more and has to realize so much more than most video game protagonists. Nintendo did the best they could with a silent protag and told a truly compelling story with Link, but I think it falls rather short of the long day's journey into Ivalice's night that Ramza goes through. Well at least we know Link is a young lad who plays his Ocarina well or at least some friendly frogs told me that.
So at the end of Ramza's story he will forever be an outlaw/heretic and you actually learn that it is almost impossible for historians to even confirm his existence beyond a certain point in history despite his key role in saving the kingdom. Historians give Delita all the accolades and credit for everything Ramza did behind the scenes and Delita is considered the definitive "tragic" hero of the War of the Lions. Delita Baelish'ed his way to the top, while Ramza Ed Starked his way to true happiness is another way to put it. I think it's a bit more complicated than that in that unlike a lot of antagonists Delita is not wholly evil and unlike Baelish he isn't a complete slimeball, he had good motives for thinking power was what he needed most in life, he lost his sister because an absence of power and his formally low place in society made it so that she was expendable and he could do nothing about it. Ramza also despite his good qualities tends to be a little naive and like the character Phineas in the book A Separate Peace he refuses to see the bad in people to an absolute fault. Early on this makes him trust Algus which is a major mistake on his part. He also makes this same mistake later with trusting members of the church and former allies like Gaffgarion.
Even though Ramza is the main character a designated special story character his default job and official title is that of a Squire the entire game like other unknown characters. He also until the remake doesn't get any special sword abilities or special abilities aside from three "mettle" abilities which are mostly just enhanced Squire stuff and near the end of the game the ability to learn Ultima by getting hit by it. I think this was a way of mixing storyline with game play, without explicitly stating things as so, it shows his true place among other commoners of the land to never rise above his actual low station and title. It also shows that unlike the rest of the story characters he stays essentially an average human being, of no special talent or merit and yet still managed to have a huge impact on the world. Where have I seen this in fantasy media before.... Hmmm Guess I'll have to come "there and back again" to try to find the correct reference to put here. The examples I listed above are just a few but this game has many characters that seem consciously crafted to be mirrored oppositions and comparisons to the main characters in a way that you only usually see in fine literature.
Comparisons alone do not a good character make, but the compelling interplay between the characters is underpinned by even better character motivation and the world building I mentioned earlier when discussing the history of Matsuno's games. Almost all the characters make sense and have realistic motives given the context they're in here and Ramza most of all. He is one of the few main characters whose choices I can't wholly make for myself who I still end up mostly agreeing with anyway and there are only a few times like his previously mentioned over trust of some people that I can really say he has unrelatable faults or positives. I guess if I can make one criticism in this regard it's that the game does rely a bit too much early on, on women being helpless but even this is counterbalanced a bit by women like Agrias and Meliadoul who are strong and helpful in a game play sense and nothing about their story makes me have to do a half cringe. Even Alma is ultimately the one who resists the return of Ajora. Part of the problem with these female characters is they don't have the same complex arcs and comparative journey's that the male character's do. They're mostly a "thing" reacted to rather than a driver of the story in their own regard. So overall I would like to see more development to their characters. To Square's credit in the remake they did try to add more story content for Agrias and Ovelia alone and together, but what they didn't know and what they can't understand with their small minds made of pus and stale Jello is you can never have enough Agrias content, because she is a beautiful knightfu among the manlet men of lost Ivalice. In an ideal world she would have become queen with me at her side. I'd be the first submissive king of Ivalice, worshiping at the alter of her bo... You know what, I get a little carried away sometimes sorry.
As a sidenote a scene in this game that always made me laugh was when Delita rolls up on Goltanna's castle and Duke Goltanna thinks he is coming to save him. I always laugh when he stabs Duke Goltana in his millimeter peter and tells him no one wants him to be king. I think Delita gets a lot of the best lines in the game, another favorite of mine from him is when he tells his future wife and possibly fake princess Ovelia that "they're both miserable people forced to live other peoples lies." What I like about this line is we know Delita is essentially a liar and he too is intending to use her in the long run, but on a story level it is actually true the characters do have a lot in common given their circumstances and they probably would make a good couple and common allies if he was telling the truth. You almost want to believe at this point too because given his past and his sisters death his want to protect Ovelia could be genuine and possibly a redeeming quality of his absolute want for power. This is one of those games that makes me cherish each moment with the characters to the point that I keep wondering how certain characters who never interact with each other would interact had they did. I just want to see how each one would play off each other and how they would react.
The main thing to take from all this bullshit is that these characters and their motivations feel real. Each one of them is interesting and feels like they have a place in the games story, if not in it's "history." Even the ones that aren't particularly great on their own often have another use as a way of distinguishing a defining characteristic out of one of the main characters. In my ideal review in my head, where I can ramble on forever, I would describe the importance of each person in the game, but I went with just a bit of levity out of sympathy for the reader and I just hope the greatness of these characters came across at least a little bit out of all of this crap I wrote.
It may have seemed like a mistake for me to say the twelve friends of Ajora up above, because there are seemingly only twelve stones and one of them contains Ajora (Ultima) him/herself, but the reality is there is a secret 13th stone and this is the start of my introduction on a lot of the games side and bonus content. In just the original version of the game, you get a large side quest about the hidden 13th zodiac stone that involves a hero named Beowulf named after the character and epic poem of the same name. The game has other references to Beowulf all over it, but especially in this side quest. In game Beowulf's wife was taken and turned into a dragon and his best friend betrayed him. So you go through a long series of quests to find out exactly what happened concerning this. At the end of the side quests you end up with a lot of new characters in your roster including Beowulf's wife Reis who can use all the different styles of dragon breath and a Robot that looks somewhat similar to the one in Chrono Trigger. Branching off of the end of this side quest is an even longer one where you can obtain Cloud from Final Fantasy 7 and then get some of his gear which is strewn about in a bunch of weird places like his Buster Sword which is at the top of a volcano. In the remake you also get a bunch of new scenes with the characters if you take them to specific places and dates. Including a birthday party scene for Agrias. You also get two additional characters, Luso from the second of two inferior sequels to this game, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift [ファイナルファンタジータクティクス A2 封穴のグリモア]
and Balthier from Final Fantasy XII [ファイナルファンタジーXII]
. I don't think any of this extra content is great of it's own accord, but I do think it adds more things to do in an already great game and if like me you still haven't got enough, it was fun to go back and do all this extra stuff for a completionist play through.
If you have played a lot of FF games or JRPG's in general you probably know that they incorporate a lot of references to earlier myth's and legends. So the inclusion of a side plot heavily involving Beowulf might not seem that out of the ordinary on the surface in a game like this. The story is actually very different from Beowulf the poem in some interesting ways, which I'm going to spoil now, so avert your eyes if you don't want that to happen. So in the original story, Beowulf is a hero in an area that encompasses modern Denmark and the southern tips of Norway and Sweden. He goes to several of the kingdoms in this area and does various heroic deeds, like killing monsters troubling the common folk. At the end of the story he confronts one such beast a dragon, he defeats it, but because it's an epic poem and genre conventions demand it, he tragically dies after the battle. In the FFT version Beowulf falls in love with a women who get's turned into a dragon and is actually trying to kill his fellow humans and former comrades to save her. Throughout the rest of FFT people with names of allies of his in the source poem are actually villains throughout the story. I think this is a subtle way of getting across a very common trope, that villains aren't always who you expect them to be or more generically than that not to judge a book by it's cover. It's not the greatest story ever written on it's own but as an added dimension to an already dense narrative like FFT's it is an interesting added layer. In the same way that the pirate comic in Watchmen add's another layer of allegory to that story. Although I think the subversion of genre in the novel Grendel which is also derivative of Beowulf is much better and that is actually one of my favorite novels.
Aside from the strategy battling stuff you do all throughout the game you can also send your non-story characters on missions to earn JP and EXP on their own called "Errands" after the first chapter of the game. Aside from the bonuses your characters get from these if you set them to leave the maximum number of days you're guaranteed to get a wonder or artifact from these missions and possibly more gold and other rewards. These wonders and artifacts help flesh out the story and history of Ivalice and while I don't think an average player has to see them, they're a nice touch by the developers. Sometimes a wonder is actually a place you can visit on the map and it offers you some extended variety for leveling up battles by giving you new places to go to. A lot of the wonders and artifacts while serving to elucidate the games own history also serve a dual purpose in being references to previous Squaresoft games. This is true for some of the artifacts, but almost all of the wonders.
A little bit more on the remake. Despite playing the original many times, in fact I played this and Resident Evil [バイオハザード]
so much the cheap black discs these were made on started to show their track and I think I actually "broke" this game from over use. I can still say despite nostalgia I think the remake is the superior version in every way but one and I have to mention this one because if I don't some turbo nerd will come out of the tall grass over yonder to mention it and then slink back into it with a look of sheer smug pride on their face. This is something I never want to encourage or have to endure ever. So the remake suffered a hit in framerates from the standard sixty to thirty. A more common issue in games today and normally I'd side with the smug nerds on this one, it really is bad to see such a huge drop in frames on a lot of genres of games. I would say this could make or break a game especially if this was much more action packed and or even just a platformer or something like that. It doesn't really bother me with a strategy game like this that is essentially chess though. In fact in every other way the remake is a graphical upgrade, including textures and resolution. So the framerate drop doesn't really hurt this as much as it would some other games being remade. In an ideal world we would have a remake with all the great bonus stuff the PSP version brings and 60 frames but given the choice they had at the time with PSP's limited hardware I think they nerfed the right thing in this case. Aside from this, the remake also gave the game a better translation, the new characters and bonus events I mentioned above, two new job classes, a much needed increase to the amount of recruited characters you can have in roster. Also those really great color pencil looking cutscenes I mentioned a lot earlier in this review and a multiplayer mode I'll never play. One of the bonus things it adds, is a new boss fight with a resurrected Algus that happens near the end of the game. The bastards job title is listed as "Death Knight" for this battle. So as a personal side note I was playing through the remake around the time World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
came out and I named my first death knight and longest played World of Warcraft
character after this tiny little bonus boss battle. The last time I was playing WoW a few months ago I was making a character to look like Gwyn from Dark Souls
. My insanity aside for a second, I jumped on my old classic Algus which I had recently just transferred to this server to send him some money and I ran into a guy named "Mustadio" outside of one of Stormwind's inn's which is another character from FFT. I normally never talk to anyone in games or ever really, but me and this dude talked about FFT for a good two hours. We then went to the Goldshire Inn and Bob's yer uncle... Just a little magical moment I guess.
So if you ever exclaimed your excitement about this game somewhere where video games are discussed, I'm sure you have run into the inevitable comparison between this and the previously mentioned Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
(TO: LUCT) and by comparison I mean some asshole is going to tell you immediately that this game is an inferior rip-off to that. I want to state up front that I think TO: LUCT is an underappreciated classic in it's own right and by directly comparing it here I'm not trying to hate on it, but just trying to tease out why I like FFT slightly over it. In a perfect world I wouldn't even compare the two games but I feel compelled to since I know it will come up anyway. I hope to one day do a review like this for TO: LUCT on it's own because again it does deserve an indepth look and appreciation. Well first I note that most people who make this claim don't seem to know that it was made and directed by the same person so if my main aim is to show this isn't a rip-off right off the bat I can show that it isn't really possible for someone to rip themselves off. I guess you can more accurately say that this work is too derivative of his previous work(s) but I wouldn't agree with that either. I think his games show a natural building progression in writing, complexity, artistic merit etc.
The way in which they're most similar is in terms of game play and from that angle I think FFT is the clear winner between the two, you have more options through the FF job system rather than TO's limited one, you have more variety in everything like the characters, abilities, level design, equipment etc. It's also hard to describe this in a review unless the recipient has also played both games, but FFT just functionally feels less clunky overall. Especially when it comes to the controls, menu use and more general UI stuff.
I wont say FFT completely trounces this game. There is one really great thing about TO: LUCT that is really a great game play mechanic that FFT doesn't have which is it's morality/alignment system. Similar to mainline Shin Megami Tensei [真・女神転生]
games, rather than more broadly based western RP moral systems, the game had three branching moral pathways law, neutral and chaos. It fits the game and it's dark storyline really well and offers a dimension of replayability that FFT admittedly doesn't have. If the morality system was better utilized and the branching paths resulted in endings that were drastically different enough that I thought it mattered more, I might give TO:LUCT the nod over it's successor regardless of the other games strengths, but I don't really think that is the case here. While I really like this moral system and the potential of it as a story telling device and I certainly can't knock it's inclusion at all I do have to say that it didn't make the game sufficiently different enough across play throughs for me to be too impressed by it or throw FFT of the throne over it. I give Matsuno a lot of credit for this feature and to be this ambitious with something when you're essentially making the first squad based SRPG ever and you have a lot of other shit on your plate, I really can't stress enough how great I think this was, but alone it's just not enough to overcome FFT for me.
One of the reasons why I don't think it's quite that impressive is a story comparison between the two. I think there are a lot of great characters and the general arc of the story in this game is excellent, but when I compare the two games, FFT story is massive in scope and incorporates a lot of the themes of TO:LUCT. Whereas while that games plot was ambitious and more heady than most games of it's time, it's story is about as big as the abbreviated geopolitical section I talked about above with FFT. It's essentially a shorter version of the political parts of the War of The Lion's plot line, but without the church conspiracy or other stories FFT has. In it's simplicity though and it's sharp focus on this plot it does have slightly more interesting antagonists in Heirophant Balbatos and Abuna Brantyn, both of which are admittedly more interesting characters than either of the Duke's in FFT. FFT picks up that slack in other areas though and the sheer amount of complexity and grandeur to the story eclipses this while retaining a lot of it at the same time.
The graphics and sound while really good for their time don't quite compare to FFT. I mentioned FFT's PSP remake so it seems only fair that I also mention TO: LUCT's own PSP remake, it does update a lot of this and in some way's it brings the quality a lot closer to FFT in these technical ways, but it is still slightly inferior in almost all of them. I also think that without the Final Fantasy tropes, this world of the TO/OB games just feels like generic fantasy. I realize this is one of the more subjective statements I made and it could very well be the case that the FF elements turn you off as much as they make me give FFT a slight nod of approval here.
Overall I really like both games, but even while weighing the pro's of TO: LUCT of which there are some as stated above, I can't quite get behind the idea that FFT is inferior because of these. When you look at both games as a finished package, there is just so much more to FFT in terms of quality and quantity.
One thing that absolutely unequivocally sucks about FFT is the original North American box art. I mean I could make some better shit just with MS Paint. The Japanese FF releases have this nice simplicity to them with the those all white boxes and just the title showing, but the American box art with that screenshot and the title lazily cropped over it was just awful. The box for the remake is great and at the very least a huge improvement over the first iteration. This is a minor reason albeit not a big one for why I don't think this game ever achieved the popularity I think it deserved. Another reason and probably the biggest is, it came out right after and has since been cast in the long shadow of Final Fantasy VII [ファイナルファンタジーVII]
. The funny thing is I was actually looking for that game on my birthday of 1998 when I bought FFT instead. While I did get Final Fantasy VII [ファイナルファンタジーVII]
shortly after, I don't think I made the wrong choice the first time as this review might indicate, I think VII is just middle of the road given the FF titles, whereas I think FFT is the absolute best game in the series. Video game critics in print at the time and game players in general, didn't have my same enthusiasm, in fact this was considered the first in a series of several games that they would consider "failed follow ups" to VII. In the case of Final Fantasy VIII [ファイナルファンタジーVIII]
I would whole heartily agree with that sentiment, but with Tactics I think they were out of their fucking minds. I would also defend Final Fantasy IX [ファイナルファンタジーIX]
from this accusation, but I think that game has started to see an uptick in people who like it or maybe the kids who played it at the time have grown up and they can now voice their positive opinions about it. If the eclipsing shadow of Midgar wasn't enough to sink this title then maybe coming out of one of the most fruitful years in video game history did. 1998 was the same year this list of game from a list I'm making for other reasons came out: Fallout 2
(PC), Resident Evil 2
(PC), Metal Gear Solid
(PS1), Sonic Adventure [ソニックアドベンチャー]
(DC), Baldur's Gate
(PC), Breath of Fire III [ブレス オブ ファイアIII]
(PS1), Tekken 3 [鉄拳3]
(PS1), Suikoden II [幻想水滸伝II]
(PS1), Xenogears [ゼノギアス]
(PC), Tenchu: Stealth Assassins [立体忍者活劇 天誅]
(PS1), F-Zero X [エフゼロ エックス]
(N64) and of course The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time [ゼルダの伝説 時のオカリナ]
(N64). I mean just look at all that... Quality. In fact I think this is arguably the best year in video game history if the sheer volume of excellent titles is the main criteria of what makes a year great for the medium. I really like a lot of these titles, in fact you can take this list and have a pretty good start on my top X number of games list of all time. So it's not with levity or malice that I say that FFT is the best game of this year. I'm not sure exactly how it fell through the cracks of all this other stuff, but I really think it deserves the title of best of the year and possibly best of the decade and a lot of great games came out from 1990 to 1999. Most waves of successful RPG's come with a media blitz explaining to the public that their concave heads will be able to comprehend this type of game if they put in a tiny amount of brain power, but neither Square or Quest before them ever tried to market the idea of SRPG's to people in a way that made them seem more palatable and easier to play than they may first seem. Enix always tried really hard in most of the rest of the world to market the idea of RPG's in general and their ease of use to everyday people, but Square surprisingly never did this much. They mostly relied on hype to carry their products and this strategy was kind of a dumb one in general because it only ever really worked for them in North America. While Sega RPG's dominated a lot of the rest of the English Speaking world and Brazil, and Enix was the official king of Japan, Square always held on like ill fitting underwear to the North American market by putting in almost no effort at all. I'm still not exactly sure how they were ever successful the more I read about them and their history behind the scenes, but really a game like FFT required a lot more hands on marketing and spelling out of the appeal of this genre, to an audience this was mostly a new thing to. Not only that but the only public relations they did receive was from reviewers in magazines who probably had to play this 70+ hour game among a sea of other titles within a month or less deadline. So those reviewers rushing through the game probably felt the game was harder and less rewarding than it actually was because they had to rush through it. Giving them and the general public by extension a bad impression of the game. Assuming they weren't just paid to have a positive or negative opinion. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly made something that is otherwise great fall short in term's of financial success. I can ruminate on this all day, but I'll stop for now.
So in a better world, I would be stomped to death by Agrias while she wears her fine hosiery and boots, hopefully this review can help lead me to that promised orgasmic death of yore I never got in this waking nightmare. Wait let's try this again. So in a better world this game would get some accolades for it's better attributes and accomplishments, hopefully this review can help lead some people to that promised land of yore we never got in this world. Damn that was a bit too limp. So in a better world this game would be appreciated as the absolute masterpiece it is, hopefully this review can help lead some to that promised utopia of yore we never got in this life of toil, death and misery. So in a better world, you would just understand how great this game and Agrias is without me having to write all this shiz. Well I think there is really only one way to end this review and that's to ride off into the sunset with my friends on Chocobos. Only that's impossible, I have the Chocobos but absolutely no friends. Ah whatever, play me off anyway Sakimoto... <Chocobo slowly fades into the distance.> The reviewer was never seen or heard from again, were not sure he even existed in the first place. No one knows what became of him or his obsession with Dark Souls
and leg fetishes, but we hope he found happiness after the FANTASY was FINALLY "stomped" out.