previews\ Sep 6, 2007 at 8:00 pm

FINAL FANTASY TACTICS: The War of the Lions - PSP - Preview

Tactical combat is not easily expressed. But when done so with vigor and vigilance – and darn good controls – it can lead the way for an astounding strategy/RPG. In early 1998, shortly after Final Fantasy VII had begun to create the RPG movement in America, Square released a game that captivated the hearts of thousands: Final Fantasy Tactics. Its cutthroat gameplay was the focal point of the project but was only a part of what made the game a classic.

Nine years later FFT is being rebuilt and reborn for a handheld that's more powerful than the console the game was originally played on. Titled Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, the game is a sharp and sophisticated, medieval strategy/RPG with hardcore battles that can make grown gamers weep. FFT's story, told in between the turn-based skirmishes, is a dark and rigorous tale with some of the best dialogue seen in a video game –nine years ago and still today. The translation has been updated and is without any significant flaws.  


Strategy/RPG fans who missed the game before are in for a real surprise when the game hits stores in October. The rest of you, however, already know why the journey is worth taking a second time.

A Work of Art

Separately, Square and Enix were fierce competitors in the area of graphical development, especially the movie sequences that drive their games' stories. Together they've produced equally breathtaking work. The War of the Lions' gameplay visuals are not anything out of the ordinary. The game looks fantastic and runs pretty smoothly but is not lightyears ahead of the PSone original.

However, when the story isn't being told through text-based sequences, the game comes to life with several new animated movies. These movies were likely created using modern technology but have the look of a hand-made painting with several dimensions. It's a two-dimensional, semi-3D effect that has to be seen to be believed. The designs and fluidity of each scenario and the detail overwhelming each frame is on par with every other great achievement met by the studio. English voice-overs have been applied to these sequences, further advancing the game to today's level of storytelling.


A Strategy to Die For

Final Fantasy Tactics comes to the PSP with the same tough-as-nails gameplay found in the PSone edition. The game was praised for using a job class system, allowing players to customize – and individualize – their parties with jobs like Knight, Chemist, Archer, and Black Mage. Bearing the Final Fantasy name helped it become the first strategy/RPG to ship more than one million copies in North America.

But once inside players discovered a game that wasn't merely taking advantage of a big franchise. In fact, the game defied many of the franchise's known traits. For starters, party members gain EXP only by participating in a battle. They will not level up simply by being in your party. As the war rages on and the levels get tougher, this creates a divide between your powerful warriors and the weaklings who can't keep up.

Items cannot be used freely at any time or by any party member. Only Chemists have that luxury. That too is another differentiating feature, and really, one that can't be found in many other strategy/RPGs.

These additional challenges could have been a major turn-off. But in the tradition of other unconventional Square games, FFT is an addictive package. It isn't solely loved for its story, its music, or its gameplay. The characters are great, but they aren't the sole reason either. It's everything about the game that makes it hard to put down.

Load times are super-quick compared to last year's crop of handheld RPGs but might seem a little slow when compared with PS2 games. But you won't wait too long to get to the action. 


A Musical Masterpiece

This might be the one time external speakers are a requirement for PSP. Once you've loaded FFT and have heard the magnificent music – which is just as spellbinding as ever (and potentially the best score to come from a strategy/RPG) – you won't want to listen through the system's built-in sound holes. Headphones aren't enough either.

The music is a slight update to the original game and was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, whose work was recently heard in Odin Sphere, the astonishing non-RPG. Both worked on Final Fantasy XII, the first major FF release with connections to the world of Ivalice, as well as GrimGrimoire, an amazing RTS developed exclusively for PS2.

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions ships on October 9. Given that you have an entire month before that day arrives, die-hard FFT fans might want to grab a pillow and nap until then. Because once the day comes, sleep will be the last thing on your mind.

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