Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Final Fantasy Tactics (Playstation, 1998 / PSP, 2007)

 This is one of my favorite games of all time. I played it in early 1998 on the original Playstation, and it was a magical gaming experience. The great soundtrack and the unparalleled atmosphere gave it an edge over other strategy RPGs, while the gameplay and class/ability system were super-compelling and fun. Best of all, it doesn't have that stupid Judge system from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. If you've only played those games, do yourself a favor and check out the original. This where it's at.

It got a PSP remake in 2007, which I've never beaten, so that's what I'm on now. With a redone translation and some new additions like cutscenes and optional endgame stuff, this should be well worth a playthrough for me.

The intro video is redone from the PSX version. I prefer the visuals of the original but I appreciate the effort.

This intro is something I remember well, as an old sage introduces the story of the game and you name your character. Most importantly, the music during this section is outstanding. I'm going to be linking lots and lots of music with this game, starting with this track. The Hitoshi Sakimoto soundtrack is unreal.

 I'd put Sakimoto second only to...maybe...maybe...Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross) as far as great game composers go.

We get another cutscene as Arazlam looks at maps and reads books. This game is the tale of an era of strife in the land of Ivalice. An era known as...

...the Zodiac Brave Story, when the fate of the world rested on a small group of individuals. 

The music during this intro movie is truly outstanding, going from majestic to foreboding to adventurous. This game evokes SO MUCH emotion from the audio alone.

Here's Delita, one of the two main characters. He has a love/hate relationship with the other main character, Ramza (aka you) that reminds me a bit of the hero and Jowy in Suikoden 2. They're at the center of the Zodiac Brave Story. Ramza is a highborn noble, while Delita is "lowborn". He gets to hang out with nobles due to being Ramza's friend.

More incredible music plays as the game begins in a church. The knight talking here is Agrias, a powerful mage-knight who reminds me of Beatrix in Final Fantasy IX. She possesses some extremely potent attacks that aren't really magical OR physical; they're in that overpowered gray area that some games have.

I mentioned the music here being incredible. Well, here it is.

Man, I love this new PSP translation. The original PSX version did NOT read like this: 

The dark knight here is Gaff Gafgarion, a bastardly fiend who commands the Blood Sword. He's another OP mage knight, and a particularly annoying one since he can steal the health of his foes.

Unfortunately, the peaceful tunes must come to an end, as enemy troops attack the church. Time for more great music:

 Yeah, this is an "Enemy Attack" theme if I've ever heard one.

The first battle of the game isn't very interesting, but it does a good job introducing you to the game mechanics. In this battle, you control Ramza, but that's it. All of the other ally and enemy units are AI-controlled.

The fight also introduces Gafgarion as a badass dark knight who can absorb enemy HP.

The gameplay is simple enough. You move units around on the battlefield and have them attack other units. One odd thing about this fight is that the Ramza you play as here isn't the same one you play as once the game really begins. He's a higher level, which makes sense because this fight takes place a bit later in time. However, his Bravery and Faith scores are 45 and 57, while in the rest of the game they're 70/70 to start. Bravery affects general physical strength while Faith affects general magic strength. It's odd that they're lower here.

The meat of the game is the skill/class system. You can change between a variety of classes between battles, and each one has all kinds of skills to learn. The Squire class is pretty much the initial starting class, and as such the abilities it has aren't very good...with a couple exceptions that I'll get into later.

Not to be outdone by Gafgarion, Agrias attacks with Holy Sword abilities like Stasis Sword, which freezes enemies and does significant damage.

This fight ends up being a bloodbath, and so it goes in this game. Once a character falls, you have three turns to revive them or they're gone forever. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW.

Cutscene, as Ramza's friend Delita kidnaps the princess and takes off on a chocobo. Ramza isn't sure why his friend is doing this. Time to backtrack an unspecified amount of time for a while and work back up to this point in the story.

The game begins for real with a younger Ramza and Delita in military training. This isn't your typical Type-0 style game military academy where the little girls are all wearing tiny plaid skirts, either. This is down-and-dirty, gritty, armor-on-our-boots military training. Everyone's suited up and ready for combat in a world gone mad.

Regardless, the game takes place after a massive war that led to a bit of a power vacuum. I'm not going to get into the story too much because it's something one should get from actually playing the game if they haven't, and if you have played it, then you know the story already. Mostly going to focus on the gameplay.

The generic knight class NPCs in this game have a striking resemblance to Rufus from Final Fantasy VII, something I noticed right away back in 1998.

It isn't a stretch, considering that FFVII had just recently launched at the time.

Before battles start, you set up where you want your characters to be positioned at the outset. It isn't much control, since the game doesn't give you a lot of space to choose from. Also, the maximum size party you can bring into most battles is five, meaning you're almost always outnumbered by the enemies. This is the one thing I don't like about Final Fantasy Tactics and I would have liked to see more battles with character limits of eight or so like Tactics Ogre.

The first real battle is against a bunch of brigands. It's as easy as fights get in this game, and features the only battle theme in the game that I don't like:

23 seconds in, since it isn't on the soundtrack. It has a good ominousness to it, but the rhythm is so repetitive that it gets annoying.

OUCH. Way to be a dick, Ramza. "No one loves you" he shrieks at his fallen opponents.

The overworld map is fun. By the end of the game it'll be full of location dots.

Ramza and Delita are the two formidable characters at the outset; Delita can't be controlled in battle, though, and he makes a lot of bone-headed actions. The rest of the squad are basically jobber characters, though the chemists are useful at this point and can be turned into mages soon.

My first order of business is to level up Ramza's Squire class and get a few very useful grinding abilities that'll help me build up his other, better classes.

Namely, Accumulate and Yell (which is called Tailwind in this version). These abilities increase strength and speed, respectively. Spamming the latter will let Ramza make a bunch of actions for every one action that the enemies get, and spamming the former a few times lets him one-shot all of them. He just needs to stay out of their reach while he does the spamming, and he'll very quickly become unstoppable.

Most importantly, these abilities give a lot of JP, which will let Ramza quickly level up his other jobs. Unfortunately, they also give EXP (10% of a level per use) which isn't a good thing in this game. Leveling up makes your characters stronger, yeah, but random monster enemies level up with you and tend to gain power much quicker than humans do. So it's very easy to ruin your game file if you overlevel Ramza. At least the main story fights will be easier with higher levels, but sometimes the level-scaled monsters creep into those too.

Ramza's adoptive father dies early in the game, and it's clear that he expects his sons to stay on the good side of history.

Ramza's father notes that Delita is a really good friend to Ramza, even if other members of the "noble class" look down on Delita due to his lowborn heritage.

The next battle is Mandalia Plains, another easy one. In this one you save Argath (Argus in the PSX version), a dickish noble frat-boy.

This is a good opportunity for some Tailwind-spamming, as Ramza grinds speed-ups for JP. The sooner I get his important Squire abilities and move him onto a better class, the better.

Argath expects Ramza's family to lend him a bunch of troops so he can rescue his own leader, and they're all like "lol no"

The music that plays during these story segments is another great track. So much atmosphere.

Alma is Ramza's sister...and the key to everything.

Tietra is Delita's sister, another lowborn youngster who the nobles have accepted. Well, "accepted", because she gets bullied at school for not being enough of a noble.

Dorter City is the first really difficult fight in the game, and likely the first point where new players will reach an impasse. But I'll get to that in a moment.

With Squire abilities done, I'm able to change Ramza into a Knight for a small boost in power. Knights can equip basically all the heavy weapons and armor, which is their biggest strength. The downside is that their ability lineup isn't great, consisting mostly of Rends/Breaks that reduce enemy stats or destroy their equipment. Aside from occasional situational cases, it's better to do damage than reduce an enemy's stat by 1; it's also better to steal equipment from enemies (with the Thief class) than it is to outright break equipment.

The Knight class is important because it's a pre-requisite for the awesome Monk class. Getting a Knight to class level 3 (of 8) doesn't take long at all, even at this early stage.

...especially Ramza, who spams more speed in the next fight to whisk through those Knight levels.

The great new translation strikes again, as our heroes trek through the woods. You can see a Bomb over on the left there, one of the iconic Final Fantasy enemies that show up in this game.

With Knight done, time to switch to Monk. This is probably my favorite class. It's a highly-destructive melee fighter with attacks at both melee and range. Combine Monk Ramza with the teleportation ability from Time Mage a little later on and he can essentially assassinate enemies before they even get close.

This setup is also extremely useful against Wiegraf, a one-on-one fight Ramza has to do later in the game. It's the hardest fight in the game and one you can EASILY get trapped on since it prompts you to save right before the battle starts.

Speaking of Wiegraf, he appears for the first time here. He's a temple knight with the same magic sword abilities as Agrias.

The battle of Dorter begins, complete with a nice gold "late afternoon storm" background. The big news about this fight...

...the enemy has both Archers AND Black Mages. One of the Archers even starts with the high ground to easily snipe your party.

The Black Mages have even more attack range, since their spells can hit multiple squares and they aren't bound by sight restrictions. If anything, this battle teaches you very quickly that range units and mages are important to your continued survival.

For instance, here we see Argath getting blasted with a Fire spell that also hit one of the enemy Archers. I lost this battle, but I'll give it another shot later.

Before I go: I've been avoiding random battles so far, but here's one of the three main random battle themes, and my favorite.


  1. I'd go with the PS1 intro video myself, but all of the other new videos... incredible.

    The first battle is also great to show you how amazing Gafgarion and Agrias are.

    Somehow I had never noticed how kooky Ramza's bravery and faith were in that first battle. It's not like they needed to lower his bravery so his counter-ability would trigger less. Bravery you pretty much always want to be higher, but faith is more of a risk since super high-faith causes you to TAKE more damage from magic (and receive more healing from cure spells too). the whole thing where if a character's faith is too high they abandon you to join the Church.

    "Only five" (when it isn't four!) is probably the biggest flaw in this game.

    You're no wee moppet!

    Oh, Ramza isn't adopted. The divide he has with his brothers is because he was born to a different mother (who I believe was a commoner). There's also the age gap too. So you've got Dycedarg and Zalbag born to the noble mother, then years pass and he has two more children (Ramza and Alma) with the commoner. That's about all we really know about her. Ramza and Alma being close to the same age and having the same parents is also part of why Ramza is closer to her than his much older brothers.

    That's my favorite random battle theme too!

  2. Does this game's intro have the knights running through the puddles in the rain? That was iconic.

    You weren't kidding about sharing all the game's music. Great to hear these again. Thanks for the bonus track at the end!

    You've got me interested in reviewing the plot. I remember the key points but not the details. The excellent localization really shines here, and you've done a fine job explaining the, er, elementary tactics.

  3. Yep, the running through the puddles was great.

    When I bought the game, it was raining out, and I was -literally running through puddles- to get back home and play it. This was when the bus stop was like 2000 feet from where I lived.

    Before I ever saw the intro, I was doing the same thing.

    I was hoping to feel some of the same magic playing it again now, but...sadly, I'm not feeling very much at all. Some of the music still gets me excited, at least.