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Final Fantasy Tactics is one of those mythic games that I hear all about how amazing it is and how I need to play, but because it's so beloved, it's hard to find in the wild, and it's never been high enough on my priority list to go out of my way to order it online. Well, I was in Lost Ark in Greensboro a few months ago, and I saw a copy of the PSP port CIB for like $10. I had just gotten a PSP, so I was like "Why not?" Then, as I do with most games, I proceeded to leave it on my shelf completely ignored until a few weeks ago when I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. Having now finished the game, I still have no idea what all the fuss is about.
I know that my opinion on the game is going to be pretty unpopular, so let me stop here and say that I tend to be pretty picky about SRPGs. To make an impression on me, a strategy RPG must do at least one of two things - give me a sense of an epic battle or make me connect with and care about the characters. Fire Emblem - the gold standard for SRPGs as far as I'm concerned - ALWAYS does the latter, and it usually does the former, as well. Valkyria Chronicles hit both masterfully. The newer XCOM games don't really have character to fall in love with for the most part, but it definitely makes the battles feel epic af. Final Fantasy Tactics? It didn't really do either for me, and that made the game a chore for me. It's a game with a lot of love from its fans, however, so I wanted to do right by it and see it through to end before making a final judgement of my own.
I don't think Final Fantasy Tactics is a bad SRPG. On the contrary, a lot of the game impressed me quite a bit. The game mechanics, in particular, are extraordinarily deep if you're the type who enjoys diving into such things. Unfortunately I'm neutral on how deep game mechanics go as long as I have fun playing it, so that wasn't really a plus for me, and the learning curve is about as steep as food prices at a football game in the North. Again, some folks like sadistic gameplay. That's what's made From Software boatloads of money. I'm not one of those folks. I like challenge with some genres (like SRPGs), but there are a couple of difficulty spikes in this game that were just...painful. Overall the game was manageable if you knew what you were doing, but those few story missions along with a few random encounters seemed rather unbalanced to me.
My biggest complaint with the game, however, are much more subjective. Simply put, the story bored me, and the character designs were unappealing to me. The story felt very cliché, and I know that's an unusual complaint to make about Final Fantasy since that series practically established most of our RPG clichés, but at no point did I feel at all invested in the game's story. The characters didn't interest me, the story didn't interest me, the attempts at tragedy didn't interest me. The entire narrative just felt very two dimensional and hollow. The character designs are a much bigger nit pick. While I applaud the very artistic hand-drawn looking style, there are two things that really bother me - no one has a nose, and even the cut scenes, their hair looks like overly greased plastic. Especially the nose, man. It's like if you tried to make a Shakespearean fantasy movie and cast Voldemort for every single role, just giving him a different wig - made out of plastic - to wear for each character. Yes, I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill; yes, the character designs really did bother me that much.
Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions really isn't a bad game. It's not. I certainly don't think it deserves the adoration it's gotten over the years, and I suspect that nostalgia leads a lot of gamers to remember it as being better than it really is (which is true for all of us with one game or another), but it's a competent albeit generic and rather monotonous SRPG. The difficulty could use some scaling (or setting options) to make it more approachable, and the characters are about as flat as Blanc's chest from Hyperdimension Neptunia, but if you're a hardcore Final Fantasy lover, then it's not a bad game. Just don't expect Fire Emblem levels of quality, storytelling, or character development.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.