Tactical role-playing games have always been some of my favorites. Disgaea was a lovely bout of humor as I stacked twenty characters on top of each other, Fire Emblem worked as a brutal reminder that people actually do die when they are killed, and Ogre Tactics had me crazed to get a beastmaster as a kid so I could make all the monsters my friends. I’ve always had good times with these, despite those levels that just made me want to rip my controller apart and shove it in the wall, after losing twenty times to the same mage who just refused to stop blasting me with fire. They’ve always been a great way of forcing me to think, react, and analyze when I otherwise fail in at least two of these three.
Overall, no tactical roleplaying game offered more rage and confusion to me as a child than Final Fantasy Tactics, by far my favorite grid-based RPG of all time and my only beloved Final Fantasy game. The hours I spent as a child trying to understand the complex plot, steaming in anger at the Execution site level, and leveling my characters to finally unlock the mediator for the sake of a happy family of chocobos were priceless. I’ll never forget saving Boco the chocobo in the woods from all those goblins. I will always despise Algus and revel in his slaughter. The soundtrack will always be my favorite of any video game. All of this makes it all the more depressing to know that the only “sequels” the game ever got are so horribly disappointing.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for GBA never lived up to my expectations of what could have been. The soul of the game just wasn’t there. FFTA is a mediocre black hole when placed next to any other tactical RPG I have ever played, and the mediocrity only started with the characters.
Wikipedia is open as I write this, reminding me of the names for the various characters of FFTA. It’s sad to see how little they mean to me, not even remembering so much as the first letter of Marche’s name. He will never be anybody I can care for. His friend Ritz and brother Doned both suffered from the same poor fate, seeming like pictures meant to just plaster their desires across my GBA screen. All Ritz reminds me of is her obsession with staying in the world in hopes of adventure, and Doned is a pity case and only a pity case after being cured from his permanent paralyzation in reality. As evil as I feel saying it, their lives really mean nothing to me. I feel no attachment.
Final Fantasy Tactics for PSX is a game filled to the brim with developed, likeable and relateable characters. It had those characters you could openly despise not because of their dull personalities and uninteresting backstories, but because they were truly people worth despising. The hero, Ramza, is an incredible example of proper character development and is an easily relateable protagonist without making me want to gouge my ears out from dialogue overly saturated in sappiness. Delita is always mysterious and, even though I’m positive that I still can’t pronounce his name right, he is always the man I rooted for throughout every playthrough.
When Delita’s sister died, I felt true sorrow for him. I wanted her to live, and when Algus shot her with that blue crossbow, I was just waiting for my chance to have all of my characters gang up and stab him repeatedly. The emotion of loathing for him was immense, and despite Teta being nearly a nonentity in comparison to her brother I still felt a true love for her as a human being.
FFTA fell into a second flaw; a system based on randomly rewarding the character for actions unrelated to the end goal of each battle. The Judge system was an unwanted addition. It pushed the combat of the game in a negative direction, forcing me to spend less time concentrating on how to properly execute my movement and direct my attacks and more time worrying whether or not my attack would get me a red card. That chocobo-riding suit of armor was never a vision of challenge; it was a vision of loathing. He taunted me with my inability to banish him from my realm of enjoyment.
The original Final Fantasy Tactics kept the game simple. My objective was always one of the following; kill this target, defend this target, or kill every single last one of them. I never have to deal with penalties for using something that should always be available as an attack, such as using fire magic on one enemy. What I have to deal with are the penalties of bad planning and team management. If I moved a character, I couldn’t take it back. I would always hate myself upon moving that archer just one space short of the one arrow I needed in that annoying mage’s rear.
Story is integral to any tactical game for me. Any good grid-based RPG should have an engaging world, characters, and plot to drive me forward. I should love the world. I should find interest in the conflict. FFTA fell short of all of this by shoving a book in my face and teleporting to a dream world. I know I’ve seen that one before. I know I’ve heard that one before. I don’t want a dream world. I want to deal with a conflict in a place where it effects my protagonist’s whole life.
The world I entered at the start of FFTA was a modern setting. A playground was my first battle, and snowballs were my first weapons. This world seemed like a truly new place to slaughter my enemies. After all, I had never played a tactical game based in the modern day. They’ve always been in a medieval fantasy world, or the netherworld, or even with mechs in the future. I would have loved to see what could have possibly happened with a bunch of kids in the street, progressing into their older years. Instead, Marche finds a book. I don’t need to look far to find another twenty books that change the protagonist’s life, and in FFTA this book carries Marche and all his friends off to Ivalice.
This in itself was an upsetting thing for me. The original Final Fantasy Tactics took place in an Ivalice that looked nothing like this one! They took my precious world, my childhood, and covered it in everything generic Final Fantasy. I didn’t want any moogles, Bangaa, or Viera in my FFT experience unless they came out as a spirit for my summoner to heal my squad with. They ripped apart what I knew and sewed it together with recycled scrap from the rest of the universe. If I wanted that universe, I would play the main series of Final Fantasy games.
The story of the original Final Fantasy Tactics was confusing for me as a child, but that was not because it was a bad story. It is complex. It is open-ended, with different sides to the story and hungry powers fighting for rule over a land that actually seems to suffer and react to their presence. Ramza is a noble-born Beoulve who feels betrayed when his brothers seek out the power of the throne and forget the health of the common people. Delita is a common-born soldier who is neglected and stepped on by the same nobles he served, even resulting in family loss. Mustadio is an Engineer who was forced to take action when the war caused his father to be kidnapped. They all have depth to the world and make me love them for who they are.
FFTA held up a mild level of enjoyment and, as a younger kid, I still spent quite a good time with it. As far as I am concerned, however, FFTA will always be a downgrade in comparison to the master; the original.