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Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Many fans of the original Final Fantasy Tactics for the Sony PlayStation, distraught that the follow up title in the series (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the Game Boy Advance) was more of a lighthearted affair, have long clamored for a sequel that echoed the mature tone of the original. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, released by Square Enix in October 2007, is not that game. It is, however, the next best thing -- a retranslated, enhanced port of that first game. Certainly, this will make a lot of hardcore FFT fans immensely happy, but what about the rest of us? Is this a game worth reliving for the casual strategy RPG fan?
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Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions spins a story that is broad in scope and epic in depth. It begins as the tale of two young squires training to become knights at the Royal Military Akademy of Gariland. The main protagonist is Ramza Beoulve, the illegitimate son of a famed knight and a member of a proud household of nobles. Because of the circumstances surrounding his birth, he is desperate to prove himself worthy to share the name of his father and his older, more accomplished half-brothers. The featured other character is Delita Heiral, a commoner who happens to be Ramza's closest friend. Thanks to the pull of the Beoulve family, Delita is able to attend the Akademy alongside Ramza, but often feels out of place as a peasant among nobles. As things start out, the duo are tasked with stopping a band of brigands, but as fate would have it (and as so often happens in roleplaying games), they wind up ultimately getting involved with much more than they originally bargained for. What follows is an excellent tale of love, loss, betrayal, tragedy and political intrigue. It can be a little hard to follow at times, but the writing quality is definitely improved from the PSX original, thanks to the retranslated script, the more formal tone, and the added and fully voiced movie sequences.
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Seeing as how The War of the Lions is a strategy RPG, players can expect it to feature many of the same core gameplay mechanics of other titles of the same genre. In between bits of storytelling, players will have to manage their troops, purchase new items and equipment, hire new soldiers if necessary, learn new abilities and possibly switch jobs. Yes, Final Fantasy Tactics features a system that allows you to change your characters job, allow them to learn new abilities and become more powerful. There are a wealth of jobs to choose from, ranging from knight to white mage to archer to dancer and beyond. Furthermore, the PSP version of the game features two additional new jobs, including the Onion Knight from Final Fantasy III. This adds more depth to an already immensely deep strategy game, and will undoubtedly elicit cheers of "Huzzah!" from fans of tactics games.
Once all of the micromanaging is done, it is then time to take to the battlefield. It is at this point in the game where all the time spent in preparation will pay off, as these battles can be quite challenging. After selecting characters to participate in the upcoming conflict, you will be given a mission objective to complete. Usually you will have to defeat all of your opponents or protect a certain character. Accomplish the mission and you can move on; fall in battle and its game over. Any troop that goes down in battle can be revived using magic or a specific item, but you must hurry, because you only have a limited amount of time (indicated by a number above his or her fallen body) to bring them back before they're gone for good.
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On the whole, this is an enjoyable game for anyone who likes these kinds of slow-paced, turn-based conflicts, though as mentioned above, this can be a rather difficult game. I do wonder why the developers didn't bother to include different selectable difficulty levels here, similar to those featured in the Fire Emblem series. In this day and age, every game should have that option. I'm glad that there is a way to quickly outfit your characters with the optimal equipment, both in shops and from the World Map screen. Those kinds of time savers are most welcome. On the other hand, the lack of a way to quickly continue when you lose a battle is a small but serious annoyance. Lose a battle and you go to the game over screen, then the game reboots, forcing you to skip the intro sequence and reload the game in order to try again. Bothersome, but thankfully the game is good enough that you will keep coming back and giving it another go in spite of it.
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I won't kid you. This isn't the most visually appealing game available on the PSP. The animated cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous, and the cel-shaded, pencil drawn look extremely artistic and elegant. However, the in-game graphics still look like an early PlayStation title and pales in comparison to other Square Enix titles like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. The decision to add some voice acting to the title was a good one, and the quality is quite solid. Furthermore, the original soundtrack, used in the PSP version as well, is impressive, although the in-battle sound effects do leave a little to be desired.
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Final Fantasy Tactics is a strategy RPG that has gathered a lot of acclaim over the years, and The War of the Lions is the definitive version of this game, even if it is not perfect. The game's high difficulty level will turn a lot of folks off, and the lack of a way to make the game easier or harder to suit your individual taste is shameful. Also, as good as the animated story sequences are, it's a shame that the in-game graphics weren't improved more. That said, with a fantastic and engrossing story, tons of different jobs to master, several hidden characters to find (including some cameos from other Final Fantasy games) and plenty of sidequests to complete, there is a lot here for the tactical gamer who can live with the shortcomings and has the patience to try and retry the battles, attempting to find that winning formula. Considering that the game now retails in the $15-20 range for a new copy, you certainly could do far worse than Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, fellow armchair generals.