Maybe it’s my endless optimism or my nostalgic attachment to the series, but Final Fantasy has never once let me down. Even during the tumultuous release period of Final Fantasy XIII, even as hate mobs usurped the internet to inform us of Square’s failures, I was steadfast in my support for the franchise which had defined so much of my childhood.
When it comes to Final Fantasy Tactics, I’m often surprised by how many fans haven’t experienced it. Maybe it was simply overshadowed by the main titles, or maybe more recent fans simply haven’t had a chance. (We’re crossing our fingers for a Switch port to remedy this, don’t worry.) These people are, rightfully, often surprised when I rank it in my top five, or when I mention that it ranks as one of the greatest games of all time.
Tactics is a curious entry into the world of Final Fantasy, both in gameplay and composition. Over the years, it has aged like a fine wine, with modern reviews even more generous than they were back when the game was fresh. Again, and I can’t stress this enough: Nintendo, a Switch port is very overdue. It’s the perfect title for you. What are you waiting for?!
The Original PS1 Title Really Shook Things Up
Shockingly, Final Fantasy Tactics was released in Japan less than six months after Final Fantasy VII. With that being said, it’s no wonder that so many people seemed to miss out upon the original release: we were all still in Midgar. The game made its North American debut in early 1998, and Game Informer immediately called it ‘the most impressive strategy RPG yet.’ That’s some high praise, though not unexpected, right?
Final Fantasy Tactics simply follows two main characters, Ramza Beoulve and Delita Heiral. (It wouldn’t be Final Fantasy without some ridiculous names.) Ramza is from a noble family, while Delita is a simple commoner, though both characters share a sense of honor and are childhood friends. They hope to save their world, Ivalice, from the grip of war.
Throughout the title, players can recruit a large number of characters to fight in their party, and can also utilize the job system popular in other Final Fantasy titles. You can even recruit Cloud Strife, and really, why wouldn’t you?
One curiosity is the music: Tactics wasn’t graced with Nobuo Uematsu’s compositional prowess, but that doesn’t mean the music wasn’t godlike. In fact, the soundtrack received highly positive reviews, with many saying that it was one of the ‘classics of video game music.’ Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, who went on to score Final Fantasy XII, created the soundtrack. Fitting, as the world of Tactics and the world of XII are intertwined.
Currently, Tactics is available on the PS3, PS Vita, and PSP via the Playstation store. The price is as cheap as you’d expect, and it’s time very well spent. Win-win.
Audiences were finally treated to a Final Fantasy Tactics prerelease ten years later. We laughed, we cried, we thanked the Gods for finally blessing us with an updated version of one of the classics. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions was released in May 2007… on the PSP, of all systems. Yes, I had one. Yes, I largely regret it. But in that moment, life was good.
The War of the Lions did a few things better than the original. It gave us actual cut scenes, some new characters, and the ability to play with friends. Though, multiplayer capability would require your friends to also have a PSP, and that seems like a huge stretch for most people. No offense, Sony, I love you. That was just a hiccup in our relationship.
In 2017, Final Fantasy XIV also gave us a chance to meet Ramza again in the Return to Ivalice raid. This portrayed the story of Tactics as a fairy tale, but believe me, it brought back plenty of very real feelings for players.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift Took Things Handheld
Square and Nintendo became best friends for a little while, and thanks to that, we got not one but two Final Fantasy Tactics games for Nintendo consoles. Similar in style to the first game, the GBA titles are turn-based tactical games, asking players to carefully map out their moves and level their characters to mastery of their respective jobs.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance follows Marche, Meet, Doned and Ritz, young children from a small town called St. Ivalice. After discovering an ancient book, they are sent to an ancient realm and must fight to return home. This title was released in North America in September 2003, and was well-received for its gameplay, music, graphics and story. Later in 2007, IGN named it the 14th best Game Boy Advance title of all time.
The sequel, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift was released in June 2008, but not for the Game Boy Advance, as you’d imagine by the date. It was originally planned for the GBA, but when the Nintendo DS hit the scene and started breaking records, it was an easy switch to make. The gameplay stayed the same, because honestly, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
A2: Grimoire of the Rift follows Luso Clemens, who is brought to the world of Ivalice through a magical book; sounds familiar? Plenty of other familiar characters make appearances, as Luso is rescued early in the game by Cid, and players even meet the protagonists of the future Final Fantasy XII, Vaan and Penelo.
The second game was less difficult than the first according to many fans, and while it didn’t score as highly as Advance, it was still well rated by critics, and was praised for its translation, characters, and art style.
Final Fantasy Tactics S: Because, Surprise, Japan Loves Mobile Games
If you haven’t heard of this iOS and Android game, it’s because it simply didn’t last. Final Fantasy Tactics S was released in May 2013 in Japan, and was yet another tactical RPG, with added social features and multiplayer battles and quests. Players could choose from over 30 playable jobs, including some new additions such as Musician and Air Samurai. I have to admit that the latter is tempting.
The game officially ended service just over a year later, in July 2014. Why it didn’t last, I’m not sure, but it could simply be because the Japanese mobile game market is constantly flooded with new titles. Only the strongest survive, and maybe this just wasn’t the way Final Fantasy fans wanted to interact with their beloved characters.