Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PSP)
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is a remake -- a port in a way, and not a port of a recent game on another platform. It?s a port of a game from 1998 (called simply: Final Fantasy Tactics). But given that the genre is strategy/RPG, you wouldn?t know it unless you were told (or had played the original release on the Sony PlayStation) because the graphics and effects are enhanced for the PSP. As it stands, despite the intervening years, The War of the Lions stands alongside Jeanne d?Arc in terms of quality, offering a deep, rich (and typically long-winded) Final Fantasy-quality tale, meaningful tactical and strategic options, endless customization and long-term replay value.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions isn?t a straight port; there are a few tweaks and additions that make it feel like a modern game. New playable characters and new classes are offered. The Dark Knight is a straightforward tough guy, while the Onion Knight tastes better on a burger -- um -- no, the Onion Knight is more subtle. He needs the care and feeding of experience points (and job points, described below) to grow into a powerhouse. Both new classes are only available to players who?ve mastered a bunch of the old classes, and the process is confusing enough to ensure that these new classes are only available to experienced tactical wizards.
Better still is the much-improved localization -- the poor dubbing and terrible translations from 1998 are replaced with much clearer, much more talented voice acting and much better writing/translation. This should be of interest to fans because the story has been celebrated -- I found it melodramatic, often eye-rollingly so, but I soon started caring about the winningly baroque tale, like seeing Renaissance Europe through the eyes of the East. New cinematic and cel-shaded cut scenes make the game feel more like a modern Final Fantasy title.
They?ve retained the squat and noseless look from the previous game -- this game takes place in a Shakespearian kingdom populated entirely by lily-white, blond-haired dwarfs (or children). The battlefields and maps are clear, and it?s easy to figure out elevation differences and other modifiers on combat. However the camera is problematic, despite the fact that you have almost total control of it: somehow, sometimes, it can?t be moved to a position to see the action clearly.
Tactical game developers like to use the term RPG to tout the way your characters evolve and grow over the course of the game. This game is an overachiever, offering countless ways to customize your characters. Throw in tons of weapons, weapon upgrades, spells, items and skills and you not only get a deep and rich tactical game, you get a game where figuring out how and with what to upgrade your characters is half the challenge. Characters also have jobs and can change their job on a whim -- well, kind of on a whim. How it actually works is that each character accrues ?job points? in all jobs. Meaning, if a knight starts firing arrows, he?ll accrue archer points. In this way mages may become knights or knights can become archers and more. After gaining enough levels, new jobs emerge, like the aforementioned Onion Knight, or the cool-sounding Time Mage, or even Ninja. In this way you can customize your party for any encounter.
It?s a shame they didn?t bother explaining much in the manual. This game throws players new to Final Fantasy -- or worse, new to RPG/tactical gaming -- to the lions. Gamers were much tougher back in 1998. At least there?s a tutorial, right? Well, there is, but it?s poorly made and extremely tedious. It barely gets the job done.
Tactical games can be as pretty or charming as they like, but the whole enterprise hinges on the quality of the artificial intelligence and the combat. Battling in The War of the Lions is tactical war-gaming at its very best. Forget side-quests -- this game offers challenging brain-teasing battle after challenging brain-teasing battle. This is the type of game where party composition and how characters are moved and positioned matters above all else. Side attacks, back attacks, making sure to maximize the power of a certain spell -- all these matter a great deal, and these battles and your progress in the epic story hinge on completing them. Some encounters are made far more challenging if your characters aren?t yet powerful enough, making it possible to replay a battle a million times and fail miserably, only to find it easy after one key character gains a new level or ability. All of these options make the game more replayable, and reward fun things like careful play, scrutinizing your every option, and paying attention.
If you get bored of the single-player epic, simply visit a tavern in the game to access both cooperative and competitive multiplayer. I arranged some co-op and some 1-on-1 with a friend and found both experiences work well, smoothly and without lag for the most part. The only problem is that you need a friend with characters at around the same level as your own or the co-op game is hopelessly challenging for both players, and the competitive game?isn?t. Even when playing together the wealth of combat options ensures that turns will take a long time to complete.
It?s always fun to see a classic game (is 10 years old classic?) rereleased and revamped for today. With tactical RPGs it?s also easy to do. Hopefully we?ll see a few more.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game purchased by the writer.