Making a Classic Even More...uh....Classicer
Nostalgia is an odd thing. Sometimes it can deceive you, cloud your judgment and mistake trash for treasure. I used to love the TV show “Land of the Lost” as a kid. I saw it again recently, excited at first, but then I couldn’t believe I ever enjoyed it. At all. It happens that way. But sometimes, nostalgia is dead-on balls accurate. About 10 years ago I played the original Final Fantasy Tactics for the original Playstation. At the time, I thought it was one of the best games I had ever played. It had a great story (if you could get past the horrendous translation) and awesome, deep strategy RPG gameplay (if you could get past the difficulty level). So when I heard they were remaking it for the PSP, I was both excited and a little anxious. Would it be as good as I remembered – or was I fooled in some way by “new-ness” or the fact that I loved FFVII so much?
FFT (I’m just going to call it that, I don’t feel like constantly writing the long-ass PSP name) tells a story of succession, war and political intrigue. The plot is 33% of the fun, so I won’t give away much. On a basic level, it gets into the difficulties inherent in a class system (lords and peasants), involves more than one back-stabbing turn of events, and ends up causing a whole lot of fighting. These are all good things for a gamer. One of the issues with the original version is the aforementioned terrible, terrible translation. It wasn’t quite on the “All Your Base” level, but it was bad. They cleaned it up significantly for this remake, and the grand story is much easier to follow because of that. They also added in brand spanking new cinematic sequences in key points of the game. They have a nice hand-drawn look, and have some decent voice acting to boot. They help bring up the overall presentation.
Story stuff aside, FFT is a strategy RPG. If you’ve played anything like Tactics Ogre or Shining Force, you’ll know what your getting into. You have a party of up to five characters that engage on strategic battles on various maps. Each map has different terrain and obstacles to work with, and you can use things like elevation and such to your advantage.
FFT sheds many of the limitations of classic RPGs through its job system (which you may have seen in other FF games, like FFV). Basically, each character is not limited to a single “class.” You can switch around willy nilly and do what you feel like doing. All characters start out with at least the two base jobs, Squire (fighter) and Chemist (Healer/Magic). As you fight, you get the normal experience points to raise your level, but you also get job points. Job points (JP) are spent on new skills and abilities. A chemist, for instance, will use JP to purchase the ability to use better health potions, or special antidotes. As you level your various jobs, more jobs will become available to you. Hit a certain level as a Squire and the Archer job opens up. Hit a certain level with the Archer, and you can become a Thief. The unlocking jobs isn’t always linear, either. To become a Ninja, you’ll need to get to a certain level with 3 different jobs.
In addition to the different jobs, you can “equip” a sub-job as a secondary skill. Maybe you want the armor of a Knight but the special abilities of a Monk. You can do it. It really is far too much to explain fully within the context of a review, but you get the drift. There is a lot of depth there, and exploring the job system is very rewarding. It’s also the kind of thing that gives you that “just one more battle” or “just one more turn” mentality. FFT is hard to put down, especially as you close in on the really cool skills (like dual wield) and jobs (like Samurai.)
The difficulty of the game is a bit of an odd bird. There are times it feels like battles are only BARELY winnable, and other times where you push over the content like a cardboard cutout. I think part of this has to do with your dedication to the game. FFT allows you to grind a bit if you like to beef up your levels and work on jobs. You can basically take on random battles over and over to level grind. Me being a former MMO junkie started doing just that about midway through the game. Once I got up to respectable levels, everything became a little too easy.
Of course, that’s why I did it. I wanted to demolish the baddies, I wanted to embarrass them. And that I did. My guess is that if you played the game fairly straight up without seeking out grinding opportunities, it would get REALLY difficult in places. Still, whether I was getting beaten to a bloody pulp or flat out owning the later content, I had a blast every step of the way.
There are still some significant issues here, though. For starters, the game just kind of throws you into the fire and expects you to understand the various systems you have to deal with. Sure, it starts with an easy battle or two with some basic pointers, but before you know it you’re fighting for your life. It’s not a huge gripe, mind you – it just would have been nice to have a little more of a leg up on the complexities of the game.
The camera can also be a problem. The battlefields have a 3D isometric view, so it can be difficult to see all the nooks and crannies. And in a strategy RPG like this, you often WANT to see all the hidey holes. A top down option you could switch to would have alleviated this issue for me.
Lastly, it suffers from a problem that plagues many Square RPGs. Long damn magic/summon animations. I like the animations, they look great, but after awhile I just want to be able to skip by them and see how much damage I did quickly. Sadly, the game does not allow you to skip any of this, which turns out to be a real problem later when you start playing with the Arithmetician job.
In the end, there’s a reason that Final Fantasy Tactics holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. It has an involving story full of intrigue with excessively deep and rewarding strategy RPG gameplay. Square did what you should do with a remake, keep the heart but make everything better. Sure, they missed a few pieces here and there, but no game is perfect. It made an excellent translation to the PSP, as the fairly short individual battles make for a great portable gaming experience. It also proved to me that sometimes a nostalgic memory is dead-on, and perhaps I’ll have to try it again in another 10 years.