Final Fantasy Tactics (PSP)
I often say that I cannot suffer JRPGs, mostly because they usually blend a shallow, repetitive and full of grinding gameplay with a childish, stereotyped if not even outright idiotic storyline.
Final Fantasy Tactics tries very hard to be something different, and it partially succeeds – though it often takes a wrong, wrong path.
Despite what the name seems to imply, the game is a combat-heavy RPG through and through, with little to no tactics involved and playing just like your average Final fantasy, only in square grid maps: as the young Ramza Beowulve, you will lead a small band of fighters trying to find a solution to the brutal state of civil war their country, Ivalice, has been facing for a while.
Each member of the unit can switch to several different classes (many of which will be surely well known to fans, such as the Evoker or the Dragoon), each one with its own peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses, half based on magic and half on direct combat; each time characters make an action, they are rewarded with both Exp (for their “natural” level) and with JP, needed to advance in the mastery of the class they are using and to purchase new class-specific skills, usable in combination with those of the others.
In theory, this wide variety in both “jobs” and abilities could be a great element to add depth to the title; in practice, it has been so badly implemented to make me want to scream.
Much to my time's damage, the classes are not freely usable since the beginning, and neither there are unlocked at certain point in the story; to use them, you have to fulfill the insane requirements presented in this skill three
, process that requires HOURS AND HOURS of pointless grinding. Why in the Nine Hells should I need to level up six classes to half of their potential just to be able to unlock the samurai? I don't think that the legendary Japanese warriors needed to train as squires, archers, thieves, knights, monks and dragoons to be able to serve their lord.
To further worsen things, know that the classes will grow painfully slow, forcing you to repeat again and again the already annoying and way too frequent random encounters in the same maps, until you will hate them so much that you will want to just reset the game and hope the chances allow you to avoid the fight rather than go trough the same identical battle once again.
By the way, this is juts an illusory solution: the port is so unbelievably badly implemented that resetting it would require more than two minutes of wait, making the fight actually faster than the other solution. I'm dead serious about this. Also, each time a spell is cast, the framerate drops below 10. If I were to guess a number, I would say that it reached 3 (I actually tried to count them) when conjuring monsters.
The game is also full of awful and illogical choices. For example, each time you encounter enemies, you are allowed to position your men on the grid before the fight starts; too bad that you will only see grey squares, having no idea of where you will appear and what the height of the ground is. I often accidentally positioned my mages right in front of enemy knights, and my archers right behind a wall. After all, blindness is the most useful trait in a general, isn't it?
Also, the magic system is dreadful, being tied almost completely on luck: the effectiveness of a spell depends on the time of the day, the month, the zodiac sign of both the caster and the target, their faith and their bravery... and the chances of a spell working are already extremely low by default. If you want the numbers, know that I had the same mage having a 30% chance of success on a knight and the 89% on his companion (also a knight) right behind for no apparent reason (their equipment was the same). This makes no sense, especially considering that in a tactic game you have to... you know... be able to deploy a tactic, something that a person can do only if the outcomes of an action are predictable -something that never happens here.
Also, you can pre-emptively see the effectiveness of your magic only when you point a target; if you are using an area of effect spell, you are blind – AGAIN!
As if this was still not enough, some of the most important battles are so unbalanced to force you to abuse the system. For example, in the middle of the game you are thrown in a one-on-one duel, with a knight much faster, stronger and resilient than you. If you are lucky enough to beat him, you will be surrounded by lots of angry, high-level monsters that will destroy your entire party (came to help in the meantime) in a single turn. You only chance to win is to keep on using ability boosts and healing yourself until you reach the maximum speed and strength before defeating the knight, so that you can have three or more turns in a row to kill half the spawn enemies in one hit.
Another time, an enemy twice as fast as you has an ability to instantly break your armour and weapon with 100% possibility of success... without any warning and right before the final battle, when you cannot go back to a shop to replace the lost items.
I don't know if I have ever seen a worst design.
The port fixed none of the problems, deciding instead to add useless cameos (like Cloud form FF7 or Blathier from FF12) and to further increase the requirement to unlock classes.
At least, the story is good: I wasn't expecting a narrative based on social struggle, violence, betrayal, intrigue, foul magic, heresy, anti-clericalism, suffering and murder.
It finally goes beyond the usual “Good vs Evil” and “Chosen Prepubescent Whiny Heroes Save the World” tropes, with several well thought characters, and an overall good writing, and be sure that it is very welcome for that.
The developers commendably -and also quite bravely, considering that this is a game that openly attacks a poorly disguised Catholic Church (Catholic in everything but the name). You need to have guts for that- tried to bring some mature themes into the genre, setting their game apart from the standards, and Beliar knows how much Japanese games need it.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is so flawed to ruin the overall experience, submerging in the mud what could have been a real wave of light in the dark. It pains me to say it, since I recognize that the game ha been crafted with much love and effort with the precise intent to be different, but I really cannot recommend it unless you are a masochist with way too much free time to waste on grinding, infinite loading times and tens of retries due to unfair design.