Final Fantasy Tactics is still one of the best RPGs ever made.
I was a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series, I had not missed a single one during this period (ok, there was only 1,2,3,Mystic Quest and 7 at this point), so when Final Fantasy Tactics came out, I was hyped beyond belief despite little info on the game. Either way, I picked up Final Fantasy Tactics the day it came out. It wasn't a jaw dropping experience at first like Final Fantasy 7 was, but Final Fantasy Tactics grew on me faster than any game ever. There was a few disappointments, like the world map, I was never a fan of the dot-to-dot world map, outside of maybe Mario games, but it seemed like they're trying for the simplistically of Mystic Quest, but slightly more improved.
Final Fantasy Tactics wasn't my first Strategy RPG, I will always give that to Blazing Heroes for the Saturn, but I guess I could consider Ultima: Exodus or even Tryasia for the Genesis Strategy RPGs too. Whatever. Final Fantasy Tactics has one of the best, and also most complex stories ever told in an RPG. While alot of people complain about the "localization" today, I never once had a problem with it, or notice anything to out of wack.
Nerd Alert: I was so obsessed with Final Fantasy Tactics, by my 3rd or 4th play through I actually recorded all the important scenes to my VCR, and then transcribed the script to a notepad, so I could read the story of Final Fantasy Tactics while I was in study hall. Damn that was nerdy.
This is probably the 6th or 7th time I've played through Final Fantasy Tacitcs in my life time, but it's probably the first time I played through it since 1999 too. I must say, it still holds up pretty strong. I've played a bunch of Strategy RPGs since FFT, but I can't say any of them hold a candle to the amazing storyline, strong characters, and overall simplistic / fun gameplay.
Final Fantasy Tactics is a turn-based Strategy RPG. Turns are determined by the character or enemy with the best speed. You gain experience and job points for each action you successfully take. This can be exploited however if you want to level grind or skill grind. You gain a level after each 100 experience points. The higher the level your character and the lower the level of your opposing enemy you'll gain less and less experience points. This is similar to Suikoden.
You can only battle with 5 characters, and Ramza has to be one of them everytime. Before a battle, you get to set up which characters you want to send into battle, but you can't see how your enemies are positioned until after you've set your battle formation and started the fight. This seems rather backwards in retrospect, but I didn't both me much when I originally played it. After the battle is over you'll get a bonus item and money.
On the world map menu you can then set up your party formation. In this menu you can change jobs, buy skills, change equipment, or change skills. Each character will have 2 main skills they can use. The first one is always attached to that character's current job, so for example if you're a Black Mage, then you'll be equipped with Black Magic. The next skill is optional to you, but you can only equip a skill of a job that you've already learned atleast ONE skill from. Besides these 2 skills, you can equip 3 special skills that you learn through other jobs. They're a counter, equip or movement skills.
Each job class has a rank, you can go up to level 8 for each job. Once you've learned enough job classes, your character can then unlock new ones. Some jobs require certain past jobs to be at a high rank, for example to unlock the Assassin job you might have to be a level 4 Thief and a level 3 Archor (just a guess). When you pick which job class you want, you can then start buying skills. You gain skill points just like you gain experience, through successful attacks and moves. After you've gained enough you can then start buying whatever you want as long as you have enough points. When you buy all the skills that are available, then the job class will be completely maxed out and you can move on to the next job if you want.
Job class also change your stats, so if you're a black mage then you'll have lower HP and higher Magic attack. If you're a Knight then you'll have higher HP and stronger physical attack. Not only that, but weapons also determine your stats as well. So there's alot of depth going on in Final Fantasy Tactics, but it's also very simplified so anyone can grasp it with ease.
----------Characters / Story----------
The world is Ivalice, and the world has been suffering through a war for 50 years. You play as Ramza, a young mercenary knight on a mission to protect Princess Ovelia. Princess Ovelia is the true key of power for both sides of the army. Ovelia eventually gets kidnapped during an ambush by Ramza's best friend Delita. Ramza decides to go on a quest to save Princess Ovelia and to put an end to the war.
And that's only the beginning. Holy crap this game has more plot twists than I have fingers and toes. This is probably one of the most cofusing RPGs ever too between all the random cutscenes of flashbacks or random people being assassinated for god knows what. I love the story, and I love the characters, but it almost warrants a second play through if you want to grasp most of it. It worth it too.
I'll be honest, when I bought Final Fantasy Tactics, the only screen shots I ever saw was the ones in the Final Fantasy 7 booklet. I just came off from a Final Fantasy 7 high, so I was expecting a big blockbuster of a game. When I purchased the game, and slammed in into the disc tray, I was treated with a really nice cutscene. I was happy, then I saw the first dialog scene, and it looked like a SNES game. While I was disappointed at first, I quickly grew to love the style. There's a TON of characters in the game, with a ton of attacks, there's so many animations it's crazy. I can definably appreciate what they did, but I can't say it was what I expected.
Even still, I did enjoy the graphics quite a bit in the long run, and they do hold up better than say Final Fantasy 7. There was only 2 CGI cutscenes in the entire game. Even by todays standards, they still hold up fairly well to newer games like Fire Emblem or Disgaea.
The music is down right amazing. Everything is very rememberable and catchy. The sound effects are good too. There aren't any voice clips of anything other than when characters die they make the same death scream.
The world map is a plain dot-to-dot map. Each dot on the map can be a dungeon, field or town. Each town will contain a shop (buy stuff), a bar (get rumors/quests), and a recruitment center. Some special towns will feature a Fur Shop, were you can trade in furs for items. Towns are represented as big blue dots, while dungeons or fields are small orange dots. When you cross a field you can be attacked by enemies, though it's completely random.
When you advance the storyline new dots will appear, most of the time your quests are to reach a town, but most towns are surrounded by 2 or 3 fields which require you to fight through.
----------Time to Complete Game----------
I just breezed through the main quest, I didn't bother maxing out any skills or levels or finding any secret dungeons or characters. If I did bother with that, then this would be easily a 60 hour game.