Come take a look at why Richard (Sric360) takes every chance he can get to gush about Final Fantasy Tactics! This article is a part of a multiple-writer collaboration called Final Fantasy: A Crystal Compendium. The main hub can be found over at our pal The Well-Red Mage's page here!
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Final Fantasy Tactics. I cannot begin to tell you how much time I spent playing this game as a kid, and again subsequently when they reworked it and released it on PSP as Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. War of the Lions took an already great turn-based strategy RPG and made it even better with an updated translation, beautiful cutscenes, new classes, and the addition of two special guest characters: Luso and Balthier, from Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and Final Fantasy XII, respectively. But what is it exactly that made it such a great game? For me, it was a number of different factors that combined to make a game greater than just the mere sum of its parts. Be warned: there will be a section near the end where I will be discussing the story. If for some crazy reason you haven’t played it yet (I’m looking pointedly in your direction, Narcissist!), I will leave an ample spoiler warning for you should you desire to flee the battle (with no Gil penalty).
Let me start by breaking the ice with some of the lesser cool stuff before I move on to the main subject that has kept me reminiscing about FFT for almost two decades after its initial release. Final Fantasy Tactics marks the first time I have ever played a turn-based strategy RPG. Thanks to all the excellent RPGs on Super Nintendo and PlayStation 1 at the time, I was turned into a full-blown RPG addict. So when this ‘spinoff’ game of a series that I worshipped came out, my curiosity was piqued. It also helped that I was still riding high off of the mighty Final Fantasy VII hype (which had just released a few months beforehand). What really caught my eye was the style of graphics and camera angle being used: 3D modeled terrain with an isometric camera angle. This immediately brought to mind Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, which employs the same combo of 3D terrain and isometric angle despite being two very different styles of RPG. I was 11 years old when Super Mario RPG was released, and I spent plenty of my evenings and weekends plumbing the depths of the game (heehee) to uncover every secret I could because I was so enthralled by the game that I wanted to master it. So Final Fantasy Tactic’s aesthetic captured my interest right from the start: the fact that it was an FF game was just icing on the Mog-cake.
Next up, gameplay! Now, it goes without saying that gameplay is an integral part of videogames. I mean, come on. It even has the word game right there in it, plain as day. It’s not as if they are called video-watch...thingies...err, moving on. As I mentioned before, Tactics was my first SRPG. For years afterwards, every time a new SRPG came out my friends and I would say “oh, it’s like Tactics”. It had become the standard in which all other SRPGs were measured against. It was more than a simple RPG in which you had to maneuver your characters on an open field, jockeying for advantageous positions to get the drop on your enemies. It featured an incredibly deep level of customization that I had never encountered before. Dubbed the ‘Job’ system, it allows you to change the class of your character in order to learn the skills of another, which in turn allows you to customize your unit with skillsets from multiple classes. Want a White Mage that can cast Black Magic? Sure thing. Want a Knight that can heal people with white magic? Go for it. Want a sneaky Ninja that can also use summon magic? Whatever floats your boat. The job system allows for a huge amount of freedom in customizing and fine-tuning each unit to your liking, which goes a long way towards making it a more personal experience. My friends and I used to compare teams and loadouts all the time. It was always fun to see the different job/character/abilitiy combinations that the others would come up with! It added a whole new dynamic to the otherwise static class systems often used in other traditional rpgs.
In this paragraph I will go into a more detailed explanation on the mechanics of the job system. I don’t want this post to feel like an FAQ, so I figured I would put it in this separate paragraph, in case you wanted to skip over it easily. At the beginning of the game, you have access to a few basic classes. Taking action in battle (such as using abilities, items, or attacks) earns you XP and JP. JP (Job Points) has two functions. First of all, you need to earn JP in order to level up your currently chosen class. This is needed to unlock other classes. For example: unlocking the Dragoon class requires you to have the Thief class level 4. Better classes often have multiple class level requirements. The Samurai class unlocks when you reach level 4 with a Knight, 5 with a Monk, and 2 with a Dragoon. Also, there are a few special classes in the game that can only be used by story-centric characters that join up with you, such as the Holy Knight class used by Agrias. The second function of JP is spending it to unlock equippable abilities. Job points can only be spent on the class that it was earned with: each class has their own JP pool. In addition to the set of action abilities granted to a character by the class they have chosen, you can also equip another set of action abilities from a class that you have learned. You then have three more slots to equip the following: a reaction ability; a support ability; and a movement ability. Action abilities are the usable abilities that a class uses in battle, like the elemental spells of a Black Mage. Reaction abilities come into effect when a character is attacked. These usually involve some kind of counter attacks. Support and movement abilities are pretty much self-explanatory: they offer a range of benefits, like increased movement range, extra JP earned, or the ability to equip certain armor and weapons that the class normally wouldn’t be able to equip. As you can see, this system offers a lot of freedom to customize your units as you see fit.
I’ll be talking about elements of the story now, including the ending, so you should expect some Behemoth-sized spoilers. This is the final savepoint before the point of no return. You have been warned. The game’s protagonist is Ramza Beoulve, a young noble from the highly-respected House Beoulve. His father, Barbaneth Beoulve, is the holder of the title of Knight Gallant, which is the highest ranking of knighthood on the kingdom. His two older half-brothers are Zalbaag, the newly appointed general of The Order of the Northern Sky and Dycedarg, the strategist of Duke Larg. It’s safe to say that power and respect go hand in hand in regards to the Beoulves. Ramza also has a full-sister, Alma, with whom he is very close. Despite belonging to such a highly respected aristocratic house, Ramza is best friends with Delita Heiral, a commoner of low birth. His father Barbaneth has taken Delita and his sister Tietra in under his wing, even going so far as to pull strings to get them into prestigious academies that they wouldn’t have been able to get into otherwise. According to Ivalice’s history books, Delita is a true hero: a commoner who rose up to become the king of Ivalice and united the entire kingdom under his banner, putting an end to the War of the Lion. However, all is not as it seems.
The events of Final Fantasy Tactics take place in the embattled world of Ivalice. The plot itself features elements of Game of Thrones-style political intrigue, but later on moves more into the realm of the ephemeral once it is discovered that a group of demons that go by the name of the Lucavi are the ones pulling the strings. Just months before the opening of the game, Ivalice was on the losing end of a war with the neighboring kingdom of Ordallia. Known as The 50 Years’ War, it was devastating to the economy of Ivalice, with many knights and soldiers returning home to having no work, no money, and none of the rewards originally promised to them for fighting for their kingdom. This led to a lot of them turning to banditry to make ends meet, many of them gathering together to form a group calling themselves the Corpse Brigade. Harboring an unsurprising hatred for nobility, the Corpse Brigade often resorts to more politically-inclined crime, such as the kidnapping of rich and high-ranking nobles. This divide between the haves and the have-nots, the peasants and the nobility, the rich and the poor, is a common theme throughout history, and the main catalyst during the first chapters of the narrative.
The War of the Lions
The War of the Lions is name given to the war that serves as the backdrop of Ramza’s story. The bulk of the conflict takes place between two of Ivalice's independent armies: The Order of the Northern Sky, run by the Queen’s brother, Duke Larg, and the Order of the Southern Sky, which is headed by the parliament-backed Duke Goltanna. Shortly after the 50 Years’ War, the king passed away due to a terminal illness. His successor, the young prince Orinus, was only 2 years old, so Prince Larg was assigned as the guardian until the prince was able to succeed the throne. The prince was well-loved by the common folk and lower nobility, and this worried the more rich and powerful who wanted to keep the status quo, causing the parliament to oust Larg and vote in Goltanna to be the prince's guardian. This leads to clashes between the two Orders, each one vying for control of the throne through Orinus. To complicate matters, Prince Orinus has a teenage half-sister, Princess Ovelia. The Order of the Southern Sky believes that she has a stronger claim to the throne, so they try and use her to further their agenda, thus escalating the conflict. On top of all this, the Church of Glabados wields a large amount of power in Ivalice. They worship Saint Ajora Glabados, a figure central to their religion, much like Jesus is to Christianity. They have their own military force called the Temple Knights and are a force to be reckoned with. It turns out that they are the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes, seeking to use all the turmoil to resurrect Saint Ajora: more on that later.
The intro of the game starts off with an old scholar named Arazlam Durai explaining how he came across some papers while researching that were written by an ancestor of his centuries ago. Known as the Durai papers, they were written by Orran Durai (the adopted son of Thunder God Cid, a party member that joins later on in the game) with the intent to tell people what really happened during the War of the Lion, and the true hero behind the events: a hero whose existence was wiped from all historical records. The Durai Papers recount the exploits of Ramza, of house Beoulve. Now let me be frank. If I sat here and explained the story from beginning to end, we would be here all day. The plot of Tactics is known for being a complex one, so I’m just going to jump to the part that had the most impact on me, which would be the basic premise of the game: the fact that Ramza, the true hero and saviour of all of Ivalice had been wiped from the history books.
A Hero Forgotten?
Now how could something like that have happened to such a great hero, to be wiped out of the annals of history and forgotten? The explanation is rather simple. During the course of the story, Ramza runs afoul of the all-powerful Church of Glabados when he discovers that members of the upper echelon of the Temple Knights are part of a group of demons called the Lucavi, and they are in fact the true orchestrators behind all the chaos and strife currently happening in Ivalice. They are hell-bent on resurrecting Saint Ajora, who is not as saintly as he was made out to be. Ajora Glabados was the human host of Ultima, the leader of the Lucavi. Ajora was in the midst of gathering the proper zodiac stones needed to unleash Ultima when he was executed all those centuries ago, forever trapping Ultima in his body. So in order to silence Ramza before he can expose their plan to revive Ajora, the church brands Ramza a heretic. To add insult to injury the Lucavi’s second-in-command, Hashmal, grabs his sister Alma in order to use her as a vessel for Ajora’s return. In the final showdown of the game Ramza defeats Hashmal and frees Alma, but then Hashmal sacrifices himself in a last-ditch effort to provide the remainder of the missing energy needed to resurrect Ultima. The final battle ensues, with Ramza and his group eventually managing to stop Ultima. Unfortunately, Ultima goes out with a massive explosion (doesn’t it always?) that engulfs Ramza and his party, and the scenario ends. It is assumed that the group did not survive. Well damn, that was unexpected. Now the story wraps up, the final scene begins. The scene opens up in a cemetery, mourners gathered around a single coffin. They are lamenting about how Alma was too young to die; how sad it is that House of Beoulve’s glorious 300-year history is now at an end; how it’s a shame that Ramza won’t even receive a burial because he was a heretic. They also mention how his body was never found. After the mourners depart, Orran shows up to pay his respects. After a few words, he turns to leave and catches a glimpse of Alma and Ramza riding away on a pair of Chocobos.
Determined that there should be a record of the truth behind the War of the Lions, Orrin writes an account detailing Ramza’s heroic exploits. Once the Church of Glabados hears of this, they brand Orrin a heretic, burn him at the stake, and then lock his papers away so the public doesn’t discover the damaging truth about the church’s nefarious involvement in the war. Thus, the disgraced name of Ramza Beoulve fades into the mists of time, never to be seen or heard from again until centuries later when Orrin’s descendant discovers the hidden papers. The thought of this killed me. It just goes to show how easy it is for the truth to get distorted and tampered with over the course of time. Ramza fought as hard as he could and did what he thought was right, no matter the cost. He remained a paragon of knightly honor and justice to the very end and saved the world. And what did he get in return? Honor and glory? Riches and fame? No, instead the church branded him a heretic, dragged his name through the mud, and eradicated him from the history books. Not a single soul knew how close they came to oblivion and how he saved them all. He didn’t even get a burial. But it didn’t matter to him. He could have come out of hiding at any time. He could have tried to set the record straight, tried to expose the church for what they did. But he didn’t, not Ramza Beoulve. He set out to do what had to be done and then disappeared, content to live out the rest of his life in peace with his sister Alma. There is a scene early on in the game, taking place when Ramza is younger. His father is on his deathbed, surrounded by Ramza and his siblings. At one point he addresses Ramza and tells him “Become a knight worthy of your name. Tolerate no injustice. Stray not from the true path. You will know the path to walk. A Beoulve can walk no other.” He then tells Ramza to show his brothers what it means to be a knight, just before he passes away. I’d like to think Ramza took that advice to heart. That is why if anyone were to ask me who I think the most heroic Final Fantasy protagonist is, I would tell them Ramza Beoulve.
Thanks to its unique qualities and its fantastic story, Final Fantasy Tactics is much more than just a cash-grabbing spinoff. To me, it is one of the best Final Fantasy stories ever told.
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