IGN Review of Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
Almost ten years ago, Square Enix introduced Final Fantasy Tactics, one of the best and most critically acclaimed turn based strategy titles ever seen on the PlayStation or any other console. The adventure, set in the now familiar game world of Ivalice, surrounded a huge war that splintered the land in two. Now, Square Enix is re-releasing this title with a number of technical enhancements for the PSP. Is The War of the Lions the definitive edition of the classic RPG? Yes, but you will have to allow for a number of classic and new issues that inconvenience many of the new features in the title.
For those of you not familiar with the storyline of Final Fantasy Tactics, I'll provide a brief explanation of the general themes and basic scenario of the title without spoiling anything. The game covers political intrigue, betrayal, class warfare, divided allegiances, murder, manipulation and numerous other topics. You know -- light, cheery fare. War of the Lions is set up thanks to the problems between two dukes in the kingdom of Ivalice. With the king having suddenly died and his two year old son becoming the ruler of the land, the queen's brother, Duke Larg, is widely considered to be the front runner for the throne's regency. Hoping to counter any influence from the queen, the council of the land appointed the king's younger cousin, Duke Goltanna as regent. Of course, this sets up a large amount of conflict within both the royal court as well as the populace, particularly since both men were valorous generals in a previous war.
Along with this backdrop of complex issues, players take over the story of two childhood friends, Ramza Beoulve and Delita Heiral. Born to privilege, Ramza is the youngest son of a prestigious house of nobles, while Delita is a commoner taken under wing by Ramza's family. As young knight apprentices, the two friends find themselves tasked with tracking down a bandit group that kidnaps Princess Ovelia. What they find drags them into key roles in the conflict between Duke Larg and Goltanna, and the impending titularly named War of the Lions. If you find yourself confused, don't worry; the original title was particularly convoluted with what happened throughout the plot. Part of this was due to a substandard translation: players were continually hit with phrases on par with "You spoony bard," or names that were spelled multiple ways. Even if you completed the title multiple times over, you weren't necessarily guaranteed to understand everything that went on in the game.
While the plot is still relatively complicated with plots and subplots, War of the Lions addresses the murky nature of the title in a few ways. First of all, the game plays in a brand new 16:9 widescreen presentation to take advantage of the PSP's screen. The sharpness of the portable's screen aside, War of the Lions highlights a number of new animated cutscenes. The brand new cel-shaded sequences show off the character designs of Akihiko Yoshida beautifully, and a number of new elements that haven't been shown before are depicted with these new cutscenes. As a result, players receive new insight into the characters and their motives within the story. What's more, these cutscenes have great voice acting to compliment the sequences, making them much more than eye candy. Combined with new visuals for special attacks and magical spells, the presentation is visually striking. There are even cameos from other Final Fantasy titles that play a role in the revamped storyline.
Players will also find themselves taking on completely new battle sequences within War of the Lions. For instance, players may remember taking on Gafgarion at the falls with Ramza, but players will also take on a band of marauders as Delita as he escorts the princess out of harm's way. Elements like this extend and improve the story dramatically, and with the help of the constantly accessible chronicle feature, which highlights everything from plot events and people to feats, wonders and artifacts your characters collect, players will gain a better sense of the events that rocked Ivalice. To go along with the new story details is a brand new English translation that finally cleans up the confusion between character names, locations and even skill titles. Sure, classic insults like "spoony bard" remain in the game, but for the most part, just about everything has been revamped. The lone gripe (and it's a minor issue) about this is that if you've played the game before, you'll have to get re-accustomed to many of these abilities having completely different titles. For instance, Move-Find Item has evolved into Treasure Hunter, and Arrow Guard has turned into Archer's Bane.
The primary concept behind the game hasn't particularly changed since the title debuted almost ten years ago. Players move around the world of Ivalice with their roster of up to 24 playable characters, taking on plot specific battles (highlighted in red) or random battles (highlighted in green). The original title had 20 separate jobs that could be selected for your characters, ranging from the lowly squire and archer to the more powerful samurai, arithmetician and dancer class. Each one of these jobs had their own separate list of active, reactive, support, movement, or special skills that could be acquired. War of the Lions includes two brand new jobs for players to choose from: the Onion Knight and the Dark Knight.
Both designed around the long haul of level grinding and item acquisition, the strengths of the Onion Knight and Dark Knights are apparent after only after you've sunk in a large amount of time with these classes. Onion Knights (who hail from Final Fantasy III) initially appear to be a weak choice for a profession. Their advantage is in the ability to equip and use every piece of equipment that they come across in their journey; As you learn and master new skills, you'll find that your Onion Knights become more and more dangerous, shrugging off attacks while dropping huge amounts of damage on enemies. Dark Knights, on the other hand, are extremely dangerous thanks to their ability to surrender some of their health to power many of their strikes. Once you've built them up to later levels, very few enemies can withstand their attacks or even scratch them in battle without paying the price.
Of course, you can battle your way across Ivalice, trying to gain the gear for your warriors, but you won't necessarily receive the special items you want for your Onion Knights, Dark Knights or other warriors. The best way to acquire this gear is with the brand new multiplayer implementation, which allows two friends to play with or against each other in the title to earn new job points, levels and equipment. Multiplayer battles are a bit different than standard story or random fights because you won't have to worry about losing any party members if they're defeated and removed from the battle field. Instead, these characters, along with their pre-multiplayer equipment levels are restored at the end of a fight. By reaching a tavern, players can engage in a rendezvous battle, which lets players join up and take on a number of computerized opponents in missions offered by the Tavern master. On the other hand, if you'd like to face off against each other, you can jump into a melee battle and bash your way through each other's parties, trying to determine who the winner of each fight will be. You can even tweak the rules of engagement, adding a number of traps, providing special knockback conditions or locking weapons with attacking characters. Depending on your performance in the middle of the multiplayer battle, you'll have the chance to open treasure chests and acquire new gear.
While it's extremely cool to play with a friend via ad hoc, multiplayer would've been even stronger if it also allowed infrastructure mode so any War of the Lions owners anywhere could team up with each other or challenge their parties in battle. What's more, there were a few issues that complicated the multiplayer experience. First of all, we constantly noticed the "Communicating" message that kept cropping up during our multiplayer match. We were aware that the PSPs were communicating to keep the signal, but it's somewhat infuriating to continually see this message crop up on the screen in the middle of a fight or while action was taking place. Also, multiplayer can suffer from some extremely unbalanced play, particularly if you or your friend happens to have a much more advanced party than the other player. For instance, a discrepancy of three to five levels can be enough of a difference to let the stronger party crush the weaker. Even worse, the game won't scale down to account for your two parties in co-op, so the game will spawn a number of monsters at the level of the most experienced character. As a result, the weaker party members will be continually preyed upon while the stronger ones will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the lack of help. This can make some fights even harder to successfully complete.
Although the multiplayer has its issues, the single player experience retains a number of the classic problems that plagued the original game. For instance, the game still experiences a lot of slowdown, ranging from special attacks to basic strikes, which really should've been fixed in its transition to the PSP. However, for some reason, it remains to draw out each battle. Similarly, the same sound delay issues from the PlayStation title returns in War of the Lions. The sound effects are good in War of the Lions, but unfortunately, the sound hasn't been fully synched up with the game action. Landing a blow on an enemy, such as using a special strike like Pummel, magic like Thundaga or summoning Shiva, for instance, will cause the animation to play a second or more before the sound effect recognizes what's going on and triggers the sound. It sucks that these issues weren't re-mastered along with the rest of the title, but looks like there's only so much that could've been tweaked.
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