The original Playstation had a solid string of games that — for me, at least — were seminal. I’ve been trying to reflect on them as we hit their 20th anniversaries. I’ve already waxed on about Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and while this edition for Final Fantasy Tactics didn’t come in time for the 20th anneversary of its Japanese release, it will otherwise be more forgiving of your time. As an Amnesia Lane entry, this will a personal account than a history lesson.
Two days and 20 years ago, a game arrived on the shores of North America that would change my life forever.
Well, it would change it for more than a few years, at least, as I constantly kept replaying it. But the compulsion was understandable. I mean, how many PSOne games came with three on-disc trailers?
Final Fantasy Tactics was my first foray into Tactical RPGs. Fire Emblem had yet to leave Japan and what few existed here on the SNES and Genesis were super rare and super expensive; problems seemingly addressed by the Final Fantasy branding and rock-bottom marginal cost of making a boatload of CDs.
It lit a love affair with the genre that launched me (to various degrees) into Vandal Hearts, Vanguard Bandits, Kataria, Arc the Lad. It’s also why I, when I was able, circled back to Shining Force and Tactics Ogre. It’s also why I tolerated Jeanne D’Arc’s plot, but at this point I’m really veering off-topic.
I can’t emphasize enough how damn much hype there was for Final Fantasy VII the previous September. I was certainly on that train, too. But when I first was able to dive into Tactics all that hype I had for VII transferred to it and magnified.
The only Final Fantasy games I had been able to play up until that point was the original NES game and Final Fantasy VI on the SNES, the hill of which I shall gladly die on. I attempted to play Final Fantasy IV on an emulator, but the Performa 6214 CD was not anywhere near up to the task and I soon tired of playing it at ⅓ speed.
Like most Americans, missing the Finals Fantasy III and V meant that Tactics was the first refinement of the job system I had ever seen. And it blew my mind.
For some reason, the freewheeling style of Final Fantasy VII’s materia system was forgotten in the comparatively restrictive job system because those class-based restrictions and hard caps on your ability to mix and match those skills made your decisions more meaningful and the classes more memorable. Sometimes having to work for it does actually make it better.
…not to mention the materia system had NOTHING on the Calculator. Holy crap was that class crazy fun.
With oh so many different and specific ways to prepare for and execute in combat, Final Fantasy Tactics is to this day the only game I love to grind in. From my second playthrough on, I usually don’t progress the story for hours once the first opportunity for random encounters opens. That’s how I know that the human characters in story fights have fixed levels, but the monsters will match your party’s level.
Also, it’s just fun to have ninjas for the third story battle.
I loved Tactics for being a more obvious sequel to the Final Fantasy lineage with classic character designs for the White Mage, Black Mage, Thief, Knight and Monk.
I also loved how deeper the equipment ran. Instead of VII’s somewhat lazy one weapon type for each character and everybody can use all the non-gendered armor (which, sadly, has since become the standard for most of the games to follow), there was a wide variety of weapons, armor and accessories that took advantage of the fact that the battlefield was real; contending with weapon ranges, topography and all sorts of status ailments.
Tactics‘ greatness in one word really comes down to variety. It was a combat toybox just begging to be played with again and again and again. And under the surface were so many little details that, unlike in Pokemon, were actually fun to figure out. For example, the game does so, so many hidden things with the Brave and Faith stats, but the results are mostly plain to see.
The translation is often pointed to as one of the greatest examples of awful translations, but it was par for the course at the time. And it had far better unintentionally hilarious lines than those found in VII’s script. The proposition result reports were usually rife with them:
It just goes to show how different the gaming landscape was back then; with the Internet a shadow of what it is today and magazines ruling the Earth, games could often catch you unaware. I know very much about Final Fantasy VII’s release. It was the reason I decided to buy a Playstation (I even bought the game several months before I has the system). Final Fantasy Tactics came as a complete surprise. And while I certainly enjoyed the everloving heck out of VII, Tactics turned out to be an even bigger hit in my eye. I didn’t have to wait long before I felt safe in my decision to abandon Nintendo after sticking with them for two consoles and a handheld. Gaming is an expensive hobby for a teenager’s money, after all. If I also bought an N64, I’d have no money left to spend on games for either.