The North American release of Final Fantasy VII on the Sony PlayStation marked a new renaissance for the franchise outside Japan, with virtually all titles in the series thereon seeing English releases, although the first few done by Sony were with rushed localizations, including that of side game Final Fantasy Tactics. With the advent of the PlayStation Portable came an updated rerelease of the game entitled Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, which itself would see a port to mobile devices and tablets, among them being the iOS line, with this latest iteration perhaps being the strongest.
Acting as a hub for the tactical gameplay is the overworld consisting of dot-connected locations that include towns and fields, the former allowing players to purchase equipment for their party or take money-earning errands from taverns, and the latter, when traversed, sometimes triggering random encounters, one of this reviewer’s complaints with the PlayStation version, given its loading times preceding battle setup. Fortunately, in the case of a random fight, the player can return to the title screen, reload their last save, and hope they don’t trigger another battle when traversing the enemy-laden locale. In any case, the design choice is still a lazy one, with optional fights definitely being preferable.
Another lazy decision was the process of setting up a party of up to five characters for battle, in which case the game goes to a screen separate from the battlefield before the encounter to put characters in a formation, with no chance to see the enemy or area beforehand. Luckily, the setup of the player’s party is rarely critical in a fight, and when the player is satisfied with their attack squadron, they can proceed to the battle, where they face off against a certain number of enemies that may number more or less than the player’s characters, alternating turns depending upon their agility stats, enhanced or decreased by abilities such as the time mage’s haste and slow spells.
Lazy design plays part within battles themselves, where, unlike in most other tactical RPGs, the player can’t undo movement to a certain location once they decide upon a spot whither to send a character, although this reviewer actually didn’t have much of a problem with this flaw before like in the PlayStation version, and given things such as traps and hidden items on certain tiles, this design choice is mildly understandable. Even so, many players will lack the foresight necessary to determine whether a character will be in range to attack the enemy with certain abilities, or be stuck doing nothing due to the game’s ratchet movement.
Characters, when in range to the enemy, can attack with their equipped weapon, use one of their current class’s abilities, some consuming their MP, some being free to use, others requiring turns to charge before their execution (with the player in most instances being able to see when on the turn order gauge they’ll actually perform their move, and thus determine whether or not the skill will go to waste should the enemy move out of place), and others occurring right after input, or using a list of skills from another class whose abilities the player has purchased with Job Points that allies gain, alongside experience for occasional level-ups, upon successful execution of an ability, although missing yields no reward.
Battle objectives can vary from killing all enemies on the battlefield to killing a specific foe or protecting an AI-controlled friendly unit from death. Failure of the objective results in a Game Over and unceremonious return to the title screen, and while the player can Continue at the part of the battle right before their death, odds are most will wish to reload their last save file. Death in the game can definitely be a harsh mistress, considering that some fights can drag on for a while, and confounding this harshness is that during random encounters, the levels of enemies are scaled to those of the player’s party, which means that these skirmishes can actually be harder than storyline conflicts, given the latter’s tendency to have foes of fixed levels.
Fortunately, the player has a variety of options with which to assault the enemy, largely stemming from the game’s diverse class system, with players able to adjust occupations outside battle in the party interface, each class having its own equippable gear and requirements of mastering or leveling other jobs of lower level. In addition to a job’s inherent skill set, the player can equip a secondary skill set and three innate skills purchased from any class with Job Points that can dictate things such as how far a character can move during their turn, whether or not they gain a bonus in Job Points when executing abilities, and so forth.
The inconsistent difficulty is the biggest strike against the battle system, alongside the tendency at a few points during the plotline to have marathon battles where, while the player can save between them, doing so in alternate save slots is definitely recommended, since they can’t back out to grind character and job levels if they’re having difficulty, and risk getting into an unwinnable situation. In the final chapter, furthermore, the player acquires a character who can most of the time take on all enemies himself. Ultimately, the battle system is definitely passable, given its diverse job system and abilities, in spite of lazy design choices.
The port’s interface is perhaps its weakest point, with most shops in Ivalice having different inventories catering to specific jobs, often necessitating the need to go all across the world to upgrade equipment and thus risk random encounters and needing to reload save files should they wish to avoid them, no indication given as to when upgrade their selections or when taverns have new jobs available. The aforementioned points of no return also necessitate keeping multiple save files in case the player dies in one of the marathon battles and wishes to avoid making the game potentially unwinnable. Overall, interaction could have been far better.
However, the port weaves an intricate political story focused on hero Ramza Beoulve, his family, and their allies and enemies, with occasional twists and the much-improved translation, sporting English that borders on Shakespearean being boons, although there are occasional incongruities such as the use of “Lord” before family member names such as “brother” and “father.” There’s also a common tendency for the game to forget the existence of certain characters once they officially join the player’s party, with no variation in the narrative regardless of whether they stay with the player towards the end. Even so, the plot is very much engaging.
The soundtrack was one of Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata’s first joint ventures, and to date remains strong, given plenty of epic sweeping tracks that always fit the mood, with the most powerful character in the game, for instance, having his own awesome theme. The animated cutscenes new to the port and its PlayStation Portable predecessor also sport voice acting exclusive to their English versions, which is solid as well, with no bad apples, although some, for reasons unfathomable, have complained about Ramza’s voice (this reviewer notes that he’s voiced by the African-American Phil LaMarr). The only real shortcoming of the aurals is the whale-like sounds male and female characters produce upon death in battle.
The War of the Lions features pretty much the same core visuals as its PlayStation and PSP predecessors, with static art denoting perusing a shop or tavern, a map of the overworld containing incoherent characters, and most battle and cutscene visuals using decently-proportioned character and enemy sprites, although they asininely walk in place while waiting for their turns. The player’s mileage may also vary with regards to the noseless character designs, and the environments, while looking mostly decent, do bear slight pixilation. New to the remake are cel-shaded animated cutscenes in the aforementioned noseless character design style (although side views of the characters reveal that they do indeed have noses), which look simply stunning. Ultimately, the game is largely easy on the eyes.
Finally, a straightforward playthrough of the game, if the player forgoes random encounters and through luck manages to make it through all storyline battles without grinding, may take as little as thirty hours, although sidequests and things such as obtaining all trophies can boost playtime perhaps to sixty or more.
In the end, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for iOS devices is perhaps the strongest iteration of the original PlayStation tactical RPG, given its diverse job system and methods with which to slaughter enemies, its engaging narrative with a much-improved localization, an excellent soundtrack, a unique visual style with beautiful cutscenes, and achievements that enhance lasting appeal. It does inherit some flaws from its predecessors such as the inconsistent difficulty level, lazy design decisions such as random encounters on the overworld, not to mention the narrative’s forgetfulness of story characters once they officially join the player’s party, although the iOS version is definitely the ideal experience of the game.
This review is based on a playthrough on an iPad Air.
+Diverse classes and abilities.
+Engaging narrative with improved translation.
+Nice visual style with new animated cutscenes.
+Trophies add plentiful lasting appeal.
-Lazy design decisions abound.
-Most story characters forgotten after recruitment.
The Bottom Line:
Probably the best version of the game.
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 30-60 Hours