Retro-Review: Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions Is a Return to Greatness

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Portable.

In the golden days of console based Role Playing Games such as Xenogears and Final Fantasy VII, there were those of us who sought a greater challenge than the button mashing strategies that were provided to us in the popular turn-based combat of the time.  Final Fantasy Tactics gave us more control over the battlefield by adding another element to combat: strategic placement.  For comparison, if you were to liken turn-based combat to the role play of yore consisting of you, your friends, and a Dungeon Master who threw the dice to determine if your predetermined set of actions fell in your favor, then a strategic RPG like Final Fantasy Tactics would be like Battletech where your wits and forethought are bolstered by your chess skills; carefully placing your pieces in position on a map to incite, lure, and decimate your enemies in a second dimension.

Wrap those latter qualities up in the deep, moving stories from the fable weavers of Square Enix’s golden age, the exciting and melodramatic music that they were known for, classic 2D sprites and 3D environments and you reach the pinnacle of JRPG perfection.  However, the wizards at Square Enix couldn’t bring this classic back to us on the PSP without first adding in superior cut-scenes using cel-shaded CGI, top notch voice acting, and the addition of two more character classes to choose from.  Include a multiplayer feature that allows you to play either co-operatively or competitively using a wireless Ad-Hoc connection and you have greatness refined.

In Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, the land of Ivalice is still recovering from a 50 years’ war with Ordalia.  King Ondoria has passed away, and while many parties vie for the position of Regent to serve until the infant prince Orinius is of age to take the crown, two friends find themselves on opposite sides of conflict and conspiracy.  Ramza Beoulve, son of House Beoulve, and Delita Heirai, son of a farmer who befriended the Beoulve family and studied to become a knight at the behest of his friend’s house.

As you take on various missions and quests to further the story, new points open up on a world map for you to move along to.  For the most part, the game keeps you on the rails, moving from point to point, with major waypoints or cities where you can stop, purchase new equipment and items, and meet up with your friends at taverns.  In between the cities are minor waypoints that usually bring you into additional battles that either serve the purpose of furthering the story and introducing new characters, or just to give you an area to refine your battle skills and level up.

Combat is fairly simple.  Battles take place on a three-dimensional playing field.  When a character’s charge time equals 100, it becomes their turn for combat.  You can either Move, which allows you to select a new location on the map within a certain area, or Act, where you can attack an enemy, use an item or a fundamental skill such as rushing or hurling stones at your attackers.  You can also select Wait if you wish for your character to do nothing, or AI if you would prefer to sit back and let the computer take care of those nasty bandits for you.

Movement is key in the battlefield.  Allow characters to wander off too far from the group and they may find themselves being ambush by a number of enemies.  Spread your soldiers too thin and they’ll be stripped down one by one on the field, and you’ll find yourself quickly back on the load screen to try again.  However, by keeping your group relatively close together, and drawing foes in with a lure such as your weaker squires, you can pounce quickly and decisively on the enemy, assuring your victory and spoils.

Selecting the appropriate group is another key factor in War of the Lions.  Ensuring that you have a good balance of offensive and defensive party members is a large factor in engaging the enemy.  If you rely purely on offense with no one to recover your health or revitalize fallen comrades, you’ll quickly find yourself on the losing end of the conflict. Be sure to bring plenty of Phoenix Downs for your healers, else you’ll find yourself often visiting the Warrior’s Guild for replacements which will quickly drain your War Funds.

The addition of multiplayer functionality allows you and your Final Fantasy loving friends to take part in the adventures co-operatively, or combat against each other if you so desire.  This is done by visiting the Taverns in the various cities across the land.  Among the selections, you’ll be able to choose Melee, which allows you to pit a team of your finest warriors against your friend’s team to see who  the best strategist is, or you can choose Rendezvous which allows you and your friend to partake in various missions such as rescuing wild Chocobos from pesky poachers.  The only downside of this is, of course, finding a friend that has a PSP and then convincing them to pick up WOTL in order to play the multiplayer.  It would be nice if you had the ability to find players across the PlayStation network as well which would increase your chances of partaking in this awesome feature at any time, instead of having to coordinate a play date to get together for this multiplayer RPG madness.

While the graphics and music haven’t been changed significantly from the original, they have updated the game with a 16:9 aspect ratio to fit the PSP’s display.  However, one area that they could have improved upon would be the camera controls.  The camera only shifts in 90-degree increments which can be problematic when you’re trying to get a clear eye on an enemy that may be hiding behind boulders, trees or other obstructions.  A more dynamic camera system would be welcome in order to find an angle that would put your view in between these obstructions instead of centering on a new one with every 90-degree change.

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions is a reminder of the greatness that was the RPG in the 90’s.  These simple yet challenging battle systems pushed us to think ahead, but allowed us to take our time in doing so.  They allowed us to strategize without feeling rushed.  For just $9.99, War of the Lions is a wonderful game to either revisit or play for the first time if you’re of the newer generation.  A rich, involving story, beautiful graphics and solid game-play make this one of the all-time classic RPGs that should be in every enthusiast’s collection.

This game receives a 4.5/5.0.

Our Rating
out of 5.0

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