Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions Review
The first time Final Fantasy Tactics rolled around, I didn’t get into it. I was a much more impatient gamer at the time – I wanted things to move fast and I didn’t want to have to try really hard to get into a game. Final Fantasy Tactics was definitely deep and required a lot of attention. I just liked action stuff. So, while I bought Tactics, I didn’t play too much. When I eventually felt like playing it, my little brother had ‘borrowed’ my copy without asking, and I couldn’t play. Thankfully, the game was recently re-released on the PSP with some additional touches, and I was in the mood to play a strategy game.
For those that haven’t heard of the game before, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions is an updated version of the highly regarded PS1 classic, Final Fantasy Tactics. The main game’s graphics aren’t really improved or anything, but there have been some incredible new cutscenes added, some more story elements have been put in and the translation has been redone. However, as I never truly played the first one, this experience is pretty unique to me.
If you've played any tactical RPG in recent memory, you'll know the basics of how War of the Lions works. You have a band of characters (24 maximum) as a party, of which you can use anywhere from one to five in a battle. These characters have typical Final Fantasy style abilities – they can attack, use potions, cast spells and such. They have different speeds based on job (which I will get to in a moment), different powers of attack and the like. Each of the different jobs definitely have a different feel to them, which is nice. You can overpower the game and run around with one party, or you can play with a really weak party and try to make things work.
Anyways, more details about the job system in the game. If you played the game at all before, you'd be familiar with it. You'd also be familiar with a similar system if you played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on the GBA awhile ago. Basically, all of your characters start off as a Squire or Chemist. As you take part in battles, you'll gain job points for your main job, which allow you to buy abilities. Squires, for example, can gain the ability called “Move +1” which, obviously, lets you move an extra square. As you level these jobs, you also unlock other jobs in a bit of a complicated tree pattern.
However, you didn't waste all that work leveling up your Squire or Chemist. Lets say that your Chemist hit the level to unlock Black Mage and you switched over to the job. Well, if you notice, you have two spots for command sets. The first is always taken up by the one for your current job, while the second is open. This second one allows you to have a secondary job of sorts – you could take the Item command from the Chemist and voila! You have a Black Mage/Chemist hybrid. Any skills you use will go towards job points for the Black Mage, but you'll be able to use items, too.
The fun of the job system doesn't end there, either. You'll also have three other ability slots: one reaction ability, one constant ability and a movement ability. The first is normally something that will kick in when a certain condition is met, be that an incoming physical attack, a magic attack or something like that. This has a chance to trigger an ability like Parry, which gives you a chance to deflect the incoming attack. There are also ones that let you take the hit and counter, or even get a swing in before the hit connects. The next abilities, continuous ones, allow you to do things like equip the armor of another class, dual wield or other class-specific effects. Finally, you have movement abilities. Some heal you as you walk around while others let you move faster or jump higher. In all, using this system, you could combine the abilities of six classes. Some of the different ways you can build characters in this game are what have some people still playing the original PS1 version so many years after its original release.
You're going to need to mess with classes a lot to have success in this game, too. The battles are, well, not at all easy. Sure, you have random battles which can be somewhat easy, but story battles will, more often than not, chew you up and spit you right out. You have to be smart in these battles – your enemies will often gun for mages, for example. So, instead of hanging your mage back, you can use them as a distraction if the fight is almost over. Even then, though, you have to be careful – after three turns of sitting there dead, enemies and party members will 'crystallize'. Resurrecting them will reset the timer if they die again, which means you'll need to have at least a couple of characters with the item ability so that they can drop a phoenix down on a nearby dead ally. This is vital – if they crystallize, they're gone forever. No going to a church or anything to get them back.
As I said, though, enemies can crystallize too, and this leads to some fun little strategies in fights. See, when you pick up a crystal, you have a chance to get all the abilities that the enemy had. So, if you were to kill, say, a Black Mage and then went to pick up his crystal, there could be some nice spells in it. I managed to get all of the second level magic spells from one crystal on my Black Mage, which saved me a ton of job points and let me make a beeline for the third level spells. You'll find yourself trying to pin a single enemy away from the fight at times while his buddies crystallize, too. Be careful, though, as the enemies seem to have an infinite amount of phoenix downs. One fight saw an enemy dragoon resurrected like 10 times (while my thief kept stabbing him when he got up).
Movement between areas to get to these fights is done via a simple overworld map. Pick an area and you'll run right to it. If you go over a non-town, there will be a chance of a random battle, though these don't seem to happen too terribly often. You can do a lot on this overhead map – you can shift around equipment, change your job, learn new abilities, read up on in-game lore and save, among other things. The menu system for all of this stuff works pretty well, with it taking no more than a few button presses to get almost anywhere.
Sadly, I didn't know anyone to play multiplayer with, so I couldn't test that. However, I've spoken to a few people who have played it, and heard it is pretty fun. You can either fight against a party of your buddy's, or you can do a multiplayer mission where you'll team up (or sabotage the mission, whatever, floats your boat). It sounds pretty fun and I'm hoping to find some other people that not only own a PSP, but also own War of the Lions as well.
Overall, War of the Lions is definitely a fun play through for anyone that has yet to try the game. It is, quite possibly, the most popular strategy RPG of all time and with very good reason. The battles are difficult but beatable, the job system is open to any type of gamer, be you a powergamer that wants to max levels or just go through the game and the story is quite fun to follow. For those that have played before, the two grind-centric classes (Onion Knight and Dark Knight, which I've still yet to unlock) are said to be really fun to toy around with, and the cutscenes/new translation are also really well done.
For anyone that is either waiting for a certain remake of another popular Strategy RPG, I can't recommend War of the Lions enough, especially if you missed Final Fantasy Tactics the first go round. Even if you didn't, you should still pick this up.