1997 was a good year for Final Fantasy. It was the tenth anniversary of the release of the first game in the series in Japan, and it also saw the release of Final Fantasy VII, which is arguably still the most popular Final Fantasy game even 20 years on. That year also saw the release of Final Fantasy Tactics, a strategy RPG spin-off from the main series of games and the first entry in the Ivalice Alliance sub-series.
Following on the heels of Square’s 1996 strategy game Bahamut Lagoon, Tactics used many more elements typical to a main Final Fantasy game and was classified as a direct spin-off. Elements from the main games include the appearance of chocobos, job classes, the theme of zodiac signs, the appearance of a character named Cid, as well as Biggs and Wedge, and the use of a Moogle as a summon. Characters from Tactics have also gone on to make appearances in other Final Fantasy games including Dissidia, Theatrhythm, Record Keeper, and Brave Exvius. Tying in to the release of Final Fantasy VII that year, Cloud Strife is also a playable character in the game and able to become a permanent party member.
Tactics, in fact, was so popular it inspired three “spin-offs,” a mobile game, and a remake ten years later. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was a not quite remake and not quite sequel released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003, with similar gameplay and the same setting as the original game but a different continuity. This, in turn, spawned a sequel, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, released in 2007 in Japan. Square also developed Vagrant Story, a game set in Ivalice despite not being an official Final Fantasy title, which took place in the same continuity as Tactics. Final Fantasy Tactics S was a mobile game in the series released in 2013; it ended service in 2014. Final Fantasy XII is also set in Ivalice, and it and its sequels and remakes are part of the Ivalice Alliance as well.
In 2007 for the tenth anniversary of Tactics’ release, Square Enix released Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions, a remake of the original game for PSP. The game featured many updates and a mercifully better English translation than the widely derided original. Most notable among the updates are the changing of the aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9, new CGI cutscenes, and the addition of two new job classes, Onion Knight and Dark Knight. The new characters introduced from other entries in the Ivalice Alliance are Balthier, a sky pirate from Final Fantasy XII, and Luso Clemens, the protagonist of Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. War of the Lions also took advantage of the PSP platform to include co-op multiplayer mode in which two players can use Ad Hoc mode and obtain exclusive equipment. This feature is only available on the PSP version as it was omitted from the mobile port that was released for iOS in 2011.
Tactics at its heart is a story of those caught on the wrong side of the history books and was inspired by the bloody, confusing and frenetic English Civil War known better as the War of the Roses. The War of the Roses was fought between the houses of Lancaster and York, represented by a red and a white rose respectively, as each tried to claim the throne when King Henry VI turned senile. The story of the War of the Lions deals with two different factions of nobility, led by Duke Goltana and Prince Larg, who each have a legitimate claim to the throne and are determined to leave the other powerless when a succession crisis arises. Different than most Final Fantasy games, Tactics actually takes place as something of a flashback. The story is read by Arazlam, a descendant of one of the characters, after he finds the account written down in the Durai Papers. It tells the tale of Ramza Beoulve, youngest son of the Beoulve noble family, one of those fighting for power, and how he was branded a heretic and his role in defeating the vicious Lucavi was lost to history.
Other main characters include Delita Heiral, Ramza’s childhood friend with a Machiavellian outlook who is determined to take the throne at any cost, despite his status and upbringing as a commoner, and Princess Ovelia who is half-sibling to King Ondoria Atkascha III and also his adopted daughter, who finds herself being used as a pawn by different factions in an effort to gain the Ivalician throne. Ramza’s party members include Ovelia’s bodyguard named Agrias Oaks, Mustadio Bunansa a young Machinist who was rescued by Ramza, Rapha and Marach Galthena, a Skyseer and Netherseer respectively and both assassins for Khamja, Count Cidolfus known as Thundergod Cid a well-known swordsman and Meliadoul Tengille a Knight Templar in the service of the Church of Glabados who initially has a vendetta against Ramza. Optional characters include Cloud Strife, Beowulf Cadmus who is on a quest to find his wife, Holy Dragon Reis Duelar, robotic Construct 8 and Byblos, a guest during the battle with Elidibus.
Tactics uses an intense job system throughout the game, with 20 base jobs available (22 in War of the Lions), including the usual Final Fantasy standbys such as White and Black mages, Ninja, Dragoon/Lancer, Knight and Thief. The game also uses several special jobs for controllable characters once they are acquired, among them Divine Knight, Skyseer and Netherseer, Sword Saint, Dragonkin and exclusive to War of the Lions, Sky Pirate and Game Hunter.
Tactics was directed by Yatsumi Matsuno, who later went on to be involved in Ivalice Alliance projects Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII before leaving Square Enix due to health issues; he appeared in XII as an optional boss named Yazmat. Hironobu Sakaguchi was the producer for the game, and Hiroyuki Ito was credited as game designer; both had previously worked on every main Final Fantasy game up until that point and both went on to be involved in developing Final Fantasy XII. Other team members who went on to work on future installments in the Ivalice Alliance include Art & Event Director Hiroshi Minagawa, Character Designer Akihito Yoshida, and Event Planner Jun Akiyama.
With a different and fun battle system, interesting characters, and a fascinating basis in historical inspiration, it’s not hard to see why Final Fantasy Tactics was popular enough to spawn the Ivalice Alliance and why it remains such a cherished favorite to many gamers even 20 years on. Unlike most games that battle time, it has stood up to the challenge and found itself a venerated classic.
What do you think of Final Fantasy Tactics?