Title :Final Fantasy Tactics
Platforms :Sony PlayStation
Publisher :SCEA
Game Rating :7.0
Review by :Ken Gagne

Each year, several games are released in Japan that never make it to America. Sony has taken two overseas hits and amalgamated them into Squaresoft's Final Fantasy Tactics, for the Sony PlayStation. 

This title is based on Ogre Tactics, the sequel to the American game Ogre Battle, and Final Fantasy V. Neither has made it to our shores, so not many of either's elements will seem familiar. 

Gamers are thrust into a world at war: The Fifty-Year War, the War of the Lions, the Hotuken knights and the Death Corps, and other names are quickly thrown about. It starts as a flashback, but doesn't go back far enough for us to understand the history of the major characters. The text during story scenes crawls at a painful rate. 

The gameplay is close to Konami's strategy title, Vandal Hearts. The game's focus is on battles, which occur on a square grid. Characters move about like chess pieces to perform attacks, cast spells, and other tactics. If a character is dead at the end of battle, he or she is gone forever, and a new soldier must be hired to fill the shoes. Consequently, these characters play no role in the story and have no personality, often reduced to mere cannon fodder. 

Usually, even the most complex role-playing game can be learned by diving in head first, but not so with Tactics. Though the manual is sparse, an in-game tutorial provides an overview of all its functions. It may take as long as an hour to review everything, which may discourage less patient players. It's generous to offer this opportunity, but it foreshadows a game that is much too complex. 

One of the more confusing, yet intriguing, game aspects is the "job system," by which characters learn abilities and increase strength. There are nearly two dozen jobs, and each has a few dozen powers exclusive to the job. A character may become a chemist to learn about curative spells, then switch completely to become a knight. Or those chemist skills may allow her to take on the higher jobs of priest or wizard. Growth through these areas is slow and can be troublesome, but rewarding. 

Tactics opens with a wonderful full-motion video sequence, similar to Final Fantasy VII. The rest of the game is a bit more than average. The various people look very plain in closeups. Proper battle angles are hard to come by, but the various effects added during these skirmishes, such as falling rain and other weathers, are good. 

The sound is perfectly on par with other Final Fantasy titles (a high standard indeed). The use of drums and pipes set the wartime atmosphere with a "Braveheart" feel. The rounds of attacks often last a long time, so music tracks will be played repeatedly, but they do not become bothersome as other games' tunes would. 

Control can be problematic. With all the skills, jobs, spells, and item menus to scroll through, it's easy to get lost. Each button has a unique function and remembering which is which is a chore. At least the turn-based battle is not being waged while this confusion occurs, so it is an annoyance which can be overcome. 

Ultimately, this game suffers from its own complexity. There is often too much to consider in each battle, including even the astrological signs of friend and foe. The job system is a powerful method for customizing one's party, but difficult to use effectively. The early battles are best fought with the computer allowed control of all characters, as the player watches and learn. Otherwise, you may play an hour or two into the game and discover the miserable results so far warrant a fresh start from the beginning. 

Final Fantasy Tactics is a game for players with patience. Those who think hard and plan well will be rewarded accordingly. Most gamers will want to spend their time looking for greener pastures.

This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 02-Feb-98