Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PSP) Review

Firstly, let me apologize for being late with the last updates. I've been busy getting things settled in the real world, so thanks for your patience!

Now... For Thursday, I have a brand new review in store. It'll be for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time for the Nintendo DS and Wii (DS version reviewed). Better still, I'm going to be posting an old Final Fantasy review each day leading up to Thursday's new review. Today we're going to take a look back at the must-own Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for the PSP.

What is war good for? Apparently everything.

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While most of the RPG world was captivated by the enchanting spell of the phenomenal Final Fantasy VII, there was a second Final Fantasy title released for the original Playstation in 1997, the fantastic Final Fantasy Tactics. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VII eclipsed the tactical tale both in hype and in sales. Fast forward to a little over a decade later, and Final Fantasy Tactics has been given its chance to shine with this PSP port, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. Packed with new content, is this new take on FFT worth your time and most importantly, your gil?

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Some parts of the game are told in
beautiful cel-shaded cut-scenes.

Final Fantasy Tactics hosts a wealth of characters of different nobility and regard. The story sets the spotlight upon Ramza Beoulve and his actions in the War of the Lions. This war is between two separatist factions feuding over who will reign of the crown after the King's death. It is time of great political unrest. While peasants starved in the streets, the nobles seek only to increase their own power. Ramza was born in a noble family of knights and lords himself, but when his older brothers decide it's the perfect opportunity to make a race for the crown, his world turns flip-side upside down. However, buried underneath the sibling rivalry and double-crossing lies an evil veil full of demons and twelve powerful Zodiac Stones. Ramza leaves his title of nobility, desiring to clear his family's name, and enters the life of a mercenary.

The War of the Lions features an all-new translation removing the Engrish and plot inconsistencies that plagued the Playstation original. The dialogue has a much grander Shakespearian theme to it, so you may want to dust off your cliff-notes. Those more into that style of literature will certainly feel at home and enjoy the new dialogue. The revisions may seem small, but for those who played and completed the original may just come out with a completely fresh take on the story with this PSP rebirth. It just goes to show how some minor tweaks can make all the difference regarding a port.

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The maps are well-designed and fun to battle in.

Unlike most Final Fantasies, there's no free-roaming from area to area. Instead you lead Ramza and his collection of warriors (which can be up to 24 characters now) across an overworld map marked with waypoints guiding Ramza's party to various cities, battlegrounds, and other locales all the while taking on plot-specific skirmishes which are marked in red or random encounters marked in green. The original title featured 20 classes ranging from sword-wielding knights to long-range attacking archers. You open up new classes by raising your job level-- done by earning Job Points from attacking or supporting. For example, a Time Mage is earned by being a Level 3 Black Mage, and a Thief is obtained by being a Level 2 Archer. By acquiring and utilizing these Job Points, you can learn new skills which range from active like engaging the enemy, reactive such as counter tackling an enemy, support such as white magic, movement like being able to jump higher, or skills of the special variety. Including the 20 original classes, War of the Lions features two brand new jobs that are pretty time-consuming to earn: the finicky Onion Knight and the almighty Dark Knight. In addition to the two new classes, there's also new cameos. Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII was a popular one back in 1997, but joining him are the sky pirate Balthier of Final Fantasy XII and Luso from the upcoming DS entry Final Fantasy Tactics A2.

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Arrrrrghh! I be pillagin' yer skies and rapin' yer clouds!

If you've played a tactical RPG before, you know what you're in for. At the beginning of each battle you determine the units and their starting positions that you'll be using for the battle. Then it's on to the encounter at hand. Battles take place on a sprawling three-dimensional map. There's a bunch of variables to consider when attacking much less positioning your troops: terrain, the time it takes to charge an attack, and your speed are all things to consider. Even the side of the enemy you attack on is factored in. A direct attack to the front won't be as likely to hit as an atatck from the side-- or even better-- the back. Who cares if it's unethical? This is war, man! Magic and summon spells are very powerful, but the catch is they take time and turns in order to be unleashed upon your foes. If timed incorrectly, they can miss completely wasting time and magic points. Thankfully, you can check to see the order of turns to make sure you give yourself enough time to charge up. Having trouble viewing the battlefield? A simple flick of the analog nub puts things into perspective. You can even zoom in and out to try to get a strategic advantage. All these factors to contemplate may seem astonishing at first, but after a few battles everything will begin to fall into place in your mind.

And you'll need to have the essentials sink in soon enough as the game's AI is devilish, crafty, and one tough customer. Enemies know when to gang up on the weakest link, when to run away, and when to come at you foes blazing. You may have everything figured out, but then the game throws battle conditions at you such as protecting an important party member, eliminating a certain enemy, or being split up with one half of your party on one side of the map and the rest on the other.

A new addition to Final Fantasy Tactics is a local multiplayer mode where players can team up or battle one another. New twists include disarming traps and locking swords where both parties rapidly press on the X button to overpower the other. Multiplayer's a notable inclusion as it's the only way to earn some of the game's newest items.

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The port retains the same quality
of graphics of the source.

Being a port War of the Lions still retains the PS1 level graphics of the original. The environments are low polygon, but get the job done. The beautiful 2-D sprites show an impressive range of emotion and action. The greatest part of the presentation package is the inclusion of fully animated cel-shaded cutscenes taking the place of various text events in the game such as when Ramza and Delita play music on a blade of grass in Chapter One. These cutscenes feature well-performed voice acting which the Japanese release missed out on. Unfortunately, one aspect that was not delved into is the considerable amount of slowdown in battle. It ranges from passable to seriously vexing, and while not overly troublesome it is something that should have been worked on first and foremost. Furthermore, the soundtrack is just one of the best of all time, and the PSP speakers really don't do it justice. It's still of good quality, but it's not as full obviously being on a handheld.

The original Final Fantasy Tactics has been given a second life with The War of the Lions. If you missed it the first time, don't you dare miss it again. Even if you've played the PS1 original to death, there's enough new here to warrant a second look such as the excellent plot and dialogue revisions, new characters, battles, and side quests. This is definitely a title that will put the dedicated player into the hundreds of hours game time-wise. This is one of, if not, the best tactical RPG I have ever played. It has its shortcomings, but after mastering the Dark Knight class for yourself, it simply won't matter. It's just a whole lot of fun.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.5/10]

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