Niche Game: Final Fantasy Tactics

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing mecause they’re something different, something special.

I trust in Squaresoft to provide RPG games with intricate plots, interesting characters, varied special abilities, lots of room to explore, and heavy but surmountable challenges. The Final Fantasy series is a particularly shining example of this, especially Final Fantasy III (titled VI in Japan), VII, and X. Each of those games deserves an article in their own right, so I’m not going to dig into them here. Final Fantasy Tactics is an offshoot, not included in the main numbering of the series titles, but the numbering doesn’t matter much anyway. Despite their numbering, none of the games really have anything to do with each other plot-wise. They do tend to share much in the way of game mechanics, NPC races, monster types, some character naming, and other aspects, but otherwise the games have nothing to do with each other in terms of continuity.

Most of the games in the Final Fantasy series have a very artificial battle system. I’m not saying they aren’t great games in their own right, but the battles generally consist of the enemies lining up along one side of the screen and the players lining up along the other. When each character’s or monster’s battle timer fills up they have the opportunity to perform some action. If they choose to attack, they run over to the other side, slash the enemy with sword (or whatever weapon) and then run back to their own lines, as though they could charge unimpeded into the midst of an enemy group like that.

Final Fantasy Tactics uses a completely different battle system entirely. It is still turn-based, but the real interesting part is the use of terrain. The layout of the level has as much effect on the outcome of the battle as the strengths of the enemies or the skill of the player. In particular, holding the high ground is very important if either side has ranged fighters. Archers and mages are incredibly effective if they gain a little height, as their attacks gain a great deal of range when shooting at a lower location. Also, they’re harder to hit–if they’re high enough off the ground, an archer’s arrow won’t even be able to reach them.

Using the terrain takes some getting used to. In one of the first levels, your enemy is standing on top of a house throwing rocks down at you. To really face off against him, you have to go around the back and climb some crates on the back of the house to get up there. Until then he’s a constant annoyance, pelting you as you try to fight other enemies.

As each player’s turn comes around, they can move once (the range dependent on their class and the terrain, among other things), and perform an action (such as attacking, casting a spell, or using an item). Use these moves wisely, as that character will be a sitting duck, stuck in one place, until the next turn.

Another strange thing about the game is your ability to hire fighters to join your ranks. Your main character is always involved in every battle, and is the center of the plot, but you can bring along 4 other units to any fight. Any human unit can change character classes between fights, allowing you to customize your little army to a large degree. And as you play the game you can unlock new and unique character classes, each with their own special abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. You unlock these by creating obscure combinations of levelling up other character classes–to get the more interesting classes I needed to look up hints online. I would recommend doing so, because some of the classes are fun enough to make the game totally worth it on their own.

The game is based around a really good skill system. You build up ability points as you fight, which can be applied to different skills for each class. You can get them all in the gradual cheapest first order, or save up for a whopper of a skill. Either way, I like purchased skill based systems like this, they make the experience building into an interesting resource management challenge in themselves.

By far the best class in the game is the Mediator class. He doesn’t have much in the way of offense or defense, but what he does have is the unique ability to talk enemy characters over to your side. This works on both humans and monsters (but not bosses). It’s a great double threat, because not only do you reduce your enemies’ number by one, you also add one to your own group. This is the only way your group can ever number more than 5, so that’s another huge perk. Also, this is the only way you can get monsters on your side. And once you have a couple monsters, they randomly breed and lay eggs, creating new monsters. And for the human initiates, once the fight is over, you can strip them of their valuable equipment and get rid of them. The mediator’s talk skill has a fairly low rate of success, so you’ll want to have a well-rounded party to be able to fight and heal and all that good stuff even if he accomplishes nothing.

Besides the hired hands you get along the way, there are also plot-important characters that join your party. These guys tend to have their own special skills, not held by anyone else, though you never know if the plot is going to kill one of them off or make them leave your party. These guys are the real powerhouses of your group, and you should make good use of them.

When I first started playing this game, I had an idea for experience building that turned out to be a terrible idea. I hired several extra people for my party, and tried to rotate them all in and out of the current party to make them level at equal rates. In other games this would’ve worked fine, but the trouble is that the game-makers decided to increase the challenge level with the overall experience gathered by your party. The monsters are set to keep it challenging if your small party are the only fighters, so I soon learned that the more I tried to increase experience in a well-rounded way, the enemies got tougher at a much higher rate than I was. So my advice is to keep your active party small, and just keep those people around as long as you can.

One thing that really annoyed me in this game is the low success rate for white magic. Imagine you’re in the middle of a tough fight. Your archer is dead. Your knight is severely wounded. It’s your white mage’s turn, and he can either try to cast a cure spell on the knight or cast a life spell on the archer. He starts casting the spell, which takes a while–he stands in place and mumbles for a while. After this interminable wait, he finally casts it, and “Miss”. Well, your archer’s still dead and you’re knight’s soon to follow and your white mage has just wasted a turn. Arg! So I ended up relying mostly on items. Most of the character classes are only able to use items from one square away, which really limits their usefulness, but the alchemist class can throw items for several squares. Items always succeed, as long as they’re successfully administered (that is you don’t try to throw them through a wall or something). And the action occurs instantaneously. But an alchemist isn’t useful for much else, so I like to make one of my special plot-characters into an alchemist. He still keeps his inherent skills, but also has the ability to throw items, so he can be both a killer and a healer, as the situation demands.

Finding this game shouldn’t be difficult. A quick eBay search comes up with many hits, though if you want this particular game you will want to be careful not to get the PSP or Game Boy Advance or DS sequels. By using the following search string I was able to get a list mostly of just this version of the game:
“final fantasy tactics” -advance -rift -“war of lions” -“war of the lions”
I saw it on there for a Buy It Now price as low as $15 with plenty of open bidding going on for other identical items. And there’s always the possibility of getting a ROM for it, though I’ve never dabbled in Playstation emulators so I can’t give any advice on that route.

This game is definitely worth playing if you want an RPG that incorporates more battleground strategies instead of artificial “I stand over here and you stand over there and we’ll take turns” fighting style. Try it out. You won’t regret it. Enjoy!

Published by

David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

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