Should I Buy? – Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions is one of those strange Gaiden games that the eye-wateringly popular Final Fantasy franchise has spawned over the years. It’s the first of three Final Fantasy game to bear the ‘Tactics moniker, though it’s not directly related to the other two. They’re all part of the underrated genre of ‘Tactical Role-Playing Game’ that you don’t see a lot of outside of Japan.

Is that a Chocobo?

War of the Lions was set in the fictional world of Ivalice, and told the story of Ramza Beouvle as he fought in the War of the Lions and is available now as a PSP port. The plot goes the way these all do, it starts with some kind of war between two factions or nations and escalated until the player’s cut a bloody swathe through the command hierarchy, only for it to be revealed that there’s some kind of world destroying magic or demons involved and then things become a more typical JRPG plot.

Now I’ve always preferred the political intrigue section, with the various factions having their different histories and motivations, the interactions and backstabbings of the leaders. Good stuff, the sort you don’t normally see. As for the ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios, I’ve saved so many virtual worlds that my track record probably puts the Avengers to shame. This isn’t a specific criticism of War of the Lions, as this always happens. It’s a particular shame it happens here though, because the politics are such a dense interconnecting web of juicy plot that the simplification of all this that happens is made that much more noticeable.

In the game itself, you’ll have to control a group of fighters through the various maps while they level up and learn new abilities. These abilities are dictated by their Jobs. In order to unlock more of these, you’ll have to get ‘Job points’ to gain ‘Job levels’ in specific classes. Job points are also used to unlock a class’ different abilities, so you have to invest time in your Thief before he can swipe the enemy’s sword from their hands. All this adds up to a need to grind, as the story missions have a high difficulty. The grind itself isn’t too bad, but it is a long and laborious process.

Another thing is the way death is handled. Once a fighter goes down, they’ll lay there for three turns. If they’re not revived in this time, they die. Permanently. If this is one of your guys, it can mean that weeks of grinding and customising has gone to waste. Sure, you can restart the level if you miss the deadline but will you want to?

The story is enjoyable, the new script gives an arch-arcane dialogue style that’s quite amusing to read and the battles themselves are fun to play when they’re not teeth-gnashingly frustrating. The problem is that the game feels a bit poorly paced, as you don’t gain those Job points quick enough. Also, if you get bitch-slapped down by that boss for the umpteenth time you can really get put off. I’ve often put this game down for long periods of time because I couldn’t beat a damn level, only to got back and grind like hell only to get stuck at the next one.

These are all problems that would get addressed by the later Final Fantasy Tactics games. Its problems aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker though. Casual players need not apply, but real strategy enthusiasts and more ‘hardcore’ Final Fantasy fans love all that grinding and difficulty. In fact, it’s a prime candidate for self imposed challenges like only using the main character, or only using the Dancer class.

This is by no means a bad game, but do think hard about how committed you are to the challenge of a game, and trying to surmount it. Oh, and those of you who’re not that type, about halfway through you get a guy known as ‘Thunder God Cid’, and he’s as strong as his reputation implies. He’s a storyline character that utterly breaks the difficulty curve.

Price: £6 (CEX)


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