Genre: Tactical RPG
Year: 1998
Developed by: Squaresoft
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: Playstation
Feeling Like: Spinning Off

If you really want to get a glimpse of how revered Final Fantasy Tactics is, just go ahead and google any “best Final Fantasy Games” list and I almost guarantee it will be on there, and usually near the top. Considering how niche a genre Tactical RPGs are/were, especially compared to the mainstream success of something like Final Fantasy 7, it still sold extremely well and I guarantee an announcement of a modern, updated version would send hardcore fans into a tizzy. The focus on political strife and a large cast hit a note with gamers and I’m not even sure Squaresoft expected this kind of positive reaction. The slow, methodical and lengthy battles made each encounter feel like a real event, contrary to the hundreds of quick, random battles found in other Final Fantasy titles. This a completely different kind of game for millions, and they liked what they saw.

I wish I was better at it.

If you’ll remember the entry #500, my very first line was “I am terrible at puzzle games.” Well, I feel it’s appropriate to invoke that here because I am also terrible at tactical and strategy role playing games. It’s one of the few types of games where the first thing I do is find the difficulty settings and crank that sucker down to easy. I love the management of armies, I’m always intrigued by the story developments. I am not down with failing a 45 minute battle and having to do it all over again. Risk/reward indeed.

I’ll never get enough of that isometric camera. Obviously the graphics shown above are not cutting edge, but there’s still a huge amount of enjoyment I get just looking at screenshots. The one above, is colorful, it’s easy to see where all the units are, and the battleground is displayed clearly. Even new players will understand the fundamentals of what they’re seeing. The machine behind the curtain is far more complicated than cartoony looking fantasy tropes, but one of the strengths of the game is teaching through experience.

This isn’t the kind of game that you take nibbles out of – this is a commitment and not meant for casual play. I think the main difference between Final Fantasy Tactics and something like Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was the social connection for myself. Playing this, for the first time, at 36A King meant I could rely on my friends for tips and their running commentary during battles. I never felt pressure, rather it was a small committee helping me along. That goes a long way, at least in my mind.

There’s an enormous amount of depth that I almost enjoyed every step of the way. Changing class and finding more powerful soldiers meant every new area was a potential discovery of something new. The intriguing story, focused heavily on two friends was far different than any other Final Fantasy game I’d played. This was far more akin to the Suikoden series, which means comic relief is sparse and warring factions are at the forefront. The way Ramza and Delita’s motivations are developed are fantastic, each understanding their comrade’s goals but disagreeing with their methods. There are no easy answers for peace in Final Fantasy Tactics.

Because I was only able to bring along a few units per encounter, I felt the micro-management and overall strategy much more easy to comprehend. This was less armies fighting a battle than groups engaged in skirmishes. The developers have constructed a playground that gives you an incredible amount of freedom ; you’ll start out with a few basic types of soldiers, but you’ll eventually gain stronger classes. So, what is it? Do you go with the tried and true, or do you expand your horizons? Do you have a large cast, each specializing in a single skill or do you focus on a smaller group that are jack/jills of all trades? The amount of ways to build your heroes and learning new ways to take down the enemy is addicting.

The soundtrack is sublime, which is unsurprising for a Final Fantasy game, but it’s the different tone the music takes that really caught my ear. There are far less upbeat, optimistic melodies and far more dark, ominous scores. Even with a victory, you’re reminded there’s another threat right around the corner and not everybody is going to make it.

When it comes to Final Fantasy Tactics, the memory that’s imprinted in my brain more than any other is the Wiegraf boss fight. It’s notorious for those who haven’t mastered the mechanics, and it’s an early test that many new players fail. It’s particularly cruel because players can get stuck if they haven’t created multiple saves, proverbially painting themselves in a corner. One of the multiple golden rules for any kind of RPG – make multiple save files. It’s a terrible feeling – realizing you’re not strong enough, but you can’t go back and grind levels. You’re stuck in an endless loop of defeat. Up yours, Wiegraf!

Randy came to my rescue by stepping in after my verbal resignation of defeat. He ensured Ramza could power up and speed up and doing wizardry I wasn’t even aware of. Shows how close I paid attention to the tutorial, or how narrow my focus was in terms of progression. It’s this kind of wall I tend to hit in strategic or tactical RPGs that causes me to hesitate to dive in. I’ve learned my lesson – easy mode and/or a guide will accompany me. I would offer an apology, but who the hell cares? I’m not going to let a little thing like a lack of talent or patience prevent me from experiencing the brilliant soundtrack, the epic story or the satisfying army creation that comes with this genre.

I mentioned how micro-managing a lot of units can be cumbersome, but for me, it can be equally parts relaxing. The second screenshot above shows a menu with various characters and stats showing. Honestly, this kind of graphical style becomes more and more endearing to me as time goes on. It’s simple, it’s clean, it’s artistic, it’s wonderful. Visuals like these are a huge reason why Octopath Traveler resonated so strongly with me. It certainly taps into nostalgia, but the cleanliness of the UI and ease to navigate it is not something modern games have necessarily perfected.

I have a very strong feeling that if I’d had more time with Final Fantasy Tactics, or played it earlier in my life, it would be far higher on the 500. I see the 277 ranking as a tribute to how well constructed the game is, rather a punishment for being “worse” than 276 other games. I barely touched it, all things considered, and it’s this high. I’d put Final Fantasy Tactics 3 high on my list of anticipated games, if it ever came to pass.

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