The most underrated game of the series, and my hands-down favourite. It's everything you want from a game - an interesting, complex story, a huge host of colourful characters, incredibly customizable party, and a battle system that is easy to learn but challenging to perfect.
The main character, Ramza, is immensely likeable, and the other NPCs in the game are equally intriguing - because of the political undertones of the game, you start to see some of the 'bad guys' as just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that everyone is fighting for what they believe in.
Probably the best thing about this game is the job system - a step up from the previous FF games, each race is allowed a whole multitude of classes which allows you to mix and match abilities to create a perfect fighting machine. Besides the standard fighter and mage classes, there are the more complex Calculators, Bards, Dancers and Mediators (to get monsters on your side). The range of characters you get to play as is endless, and your party can comprise humans, chocobos, monsters, Cloud from FF7 and you can charm enemy units to your side.
Immensely enjoyable and worth playing over and over again with different parties and exploring sidequests to discover new characters and the dungeon.
Squaresoft has been renown for their prowess inside the console RPG realm, but most of their works outside the genre could be considered lackluster and mostly forgettable. In 1997, fresh after the huge success of the juggernaut known as Final Fantasy VII, Squaresoft released another critically acclaimed title, as well as their first foray into a fantasy strategy realm-- Final Fantasy Tactics.
The Story and Concept
Wow...Just..wow. Even after playing just through Chapter One, I was awe-inspired by the creativity that the script writer/director Yasumi Matsuno poured into this game. It delves heavily into the morals, conflicts, issues that can be paralleled to the somewhat ignoble history of churches and empires found in the past.
The story begins with Ramza Beoulve, a youth coming from a most prestigious family, defending Princess Ovelia from kidnappers. Ramza and crew fend off the kidnappers and think all is well, yet that's when the situation turns sour, and a most epic tale begins. Something dark and twisted is brewing in the land of Ivalice, and Ramza seems to be one of the few capable of doing anything about it. This is where an epic unfurls, rivaling others in the series with strong stories such as Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X.
The player can expect many twists and turns to the lengthy story, which I guarantee will last most players for over forty hours. The story never seems to falter; Ramza and crew constantly seem to make enemies for reasons sometimes even they don't seem to understand. I'm going to put it bluntly - the tale this game weaves makes for mostly a somber experience. Don't expect much light hearted fare in this title.
My only real problems with this particular category was that due to the game's length, the plot and characters can seem very hard to absorb at times. Thankfully, Squaresoft included the option to review cutscenes and display a detailed synopsis for the player that needs to get up to speed on things. Another gripe I have is with the translation; the bulk of the game is fine, yet the appearance of mistranslated text and Engrish cannot be labelled as "infrequent."
Presentation and Audio
Final Fantasy Tactics uses fantastic sprites for character models, and 3d environment which shows what the PSone hardware was capable at the time. The characters were superbly designed and their individual sprites animated near flawlessly. Back in 1997, it was not often where you could see sprites move, fight, walk, jump, etc smoothly without any 'jerks' in motion. The world map, despite being colorful, could have used icons detailing what particular landscape or town was which (Such as in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance), but it is forgivable. I love the official art, even if the characters don't have noses (How do they breathe?!).
The music, despite not being composed by the famous Nobuo Uematsu, is beautiful to hear, and could be considered a tribute to the maestro himself. The music really does an exceptional job at contributing to the overall atmosphere of the level. Pivotal fights can feel more harrowed and epic with good music, and plenty of the "outdoors" level sound simply marvelous. I honestly would be hard pressed to think of other games with music on par with this title.
The gameplay for this title consists of a LOT of menu's, some of which can be confusing to the beginner. Basically, in a battle, characters move using a large square-grid system, and use a physical attack or technique based on whatever job they are. Certain skills can also improve a character's abilities even if they change classes, such as Double Sword, Item Toss, etc. Summons return as well, (As sprites, although their effects are 3d) and are as helpful or destructive as ever.
To start, Ramza and crew begins as a Squire, and must collect Job Points (JP) through fighting and casting spells to move up in the Job classes. The Brave and Faith statistics found in every character affect their performance. Such as, a character with a high Faith believes in the teachings of God very strongly, so cure spells will heal that particular unit for more. However, this also makes him/her a better target for black magic, and vice versa for having a low Faith. Brave determines whether a character is willing to take your orders, or run cowardly away like a rabbit. Another aspect found in the gameplay is Zodiac signs, something a lot of players don't pay much attention to. Through the use of Zodiac Signs, fights can be made much easier, or much harder due to a particular Zodiac's resistance or weakness.
The camera goes through several different set-angled views, and can change angle slightly up and down through the use of the L&R buttons. This is where one of my biggest complaints comes in. The 3d graphics in the landscape are great, but they can constantly get in your way, especially in towns and forests Characters move on a grid, and when the move is confirmed there are no 'do-overs'. This can be extremely annoying when you're 'playing blind'.
Another small problem is that the 'Gained JP Up' skill is learned extremely early in the game. Heck, it's a Squire ability. This can make the game a heck of a lot easier, as Jobs that would take a lot of devotion to master are reduced to just playing for a few hours of training.
This title runs slower than your basic Final Fantasy, so fans of the series may be turned off at having to fight for an hour straight just to continue in the storyline.
One thing I love, however, is the use of the Job system. There is practically a Job set that can handle just about any situation, but seeing as most fights involve only 5 characters, choosing is based on how to play. Want to be a strong aggressive player? Jobs like Lancer's and Knights are for you. Love magic and attacking from a distance so nobody can touch you? There is a wealth of Jobs found here as well.
Even if you don't want to play manually, there are several Automated settings that the player can use, pertaining to how they want the character to fight.
Difficulty and Secrets
A very important category, the difficulty stresses the player to have brains, aggression, and can operate in extreme conditions (Namely the One on One fights). To be blunt, this is not a game that can be breezed through by any means. The AI is sharp and makes few mistakes, unlike the relative easiness of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (My biggest flaw to that title). I, unfortunately, had played FFTA before this particular title, and the difference in difficulty astounded me as Game Over's appeared more often than I liked. This title offers a good challenge, but nothing too difficult. One point to note, however, is that with the wealth of job classes to be found, some can be exploited by smart players that can easily bring the curve of difficulty down.
Final Fantasy Tactics wouldn't be an FF title without a wealth of secrets, now, would it? There are plenty of goodies to be found in this game, including secret equipment, optional characters, routes/battles, bosses, and even cameo appearances from certain famous Final Fantasy characters. FFT does a fantastic job at increasing the play value outside of the main plot, for mastering classes and uncovering every secret will take hours upon hours of playtime.
All in all, Final Fantasy Tactics is one of those games that is simply phenomenal. The extreme detail and high replayability that went into this title make it a true gem, and despite it's flaws, I find hardly any titles this generation to even compete with Final Fantasy Tactics splendor. I advise all PSone or ps2 owners to delve into this title, as it's Greatest Hits status makes it easy to obtain.
Final score: 9/10 (rounded to fit dooyoo scale)
(also on gamefaqs)