Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions iPhone Review
Shortly after the Final Fantasy franchise made its 3D debut with Final Fantasy VII, a not-so-little gem came along and captured gamer’s hearts. That game was Final Fantasy Tactics. First released on PlayStation in 1997, Tactics has become a cult classic in the years since, attracting franchise fans both new and old with its deep gameplay, rich story, and complex characters. Since its original launch, the game has seen numerous ports and remakes, including 2007′s Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for the PSP. War of the Lions is often considered to be the game’s definitive version, so it’s only fitting that this version was chosen to debut Tactics on the iPhone. After a long wait and multiple delays, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions has finally arrived on the iTunes App Store for the hefty price of $15.99. Is this a worthwhile port of an RPG classic, or is the game’s release on Apple devices a tactical blunder? Actually, both.
Final Fantasy Tactics is a tactical RPG set in the kingdom of Ivalice. The game’s narrative is primarily a historical account of The War of the Lions, and follows the story of Ramza Beoulve, youngest son in the noble house of his surname. At game’s beginning, Ramza and childhood friend Delita are training under the Order of the Northern Sky, working to eradicate a band of brigands known as the Corpse Brigade. As moral calamity strikes and key events begin to make matters personal for the two friends, it quickly becomes clear that their journey of peacekeeping is not as it seems. With unraveling of conspiracies comes the breaking of friendships, and as The War of the Lions begins, the sinister motives of those with power come to the forefront. The story of Tactics is incredibly rich with meaningful events, character drama, and unexpected plot twists. However, those with short attention spans or limited time to invest in the game should note that Ivalice is a detailed and complex world, and the story can become very difficult to keep track of. With so many iOS games designed to be pick-up-and-play experiences, War of the Lions breaks the mold and offers a riveting narrative for those willing to invest the time needed to follow it.
Thankfully, for those who don’t need a compelling reason to keep moving forward, the core gameplay here is phenomenal. Throughout the game, you will move Ramza and the rest of your party from point to point across a world map of Ivalice, encountering random battles, story events, and settlements for respite along the way. While a fair bit of time is spent shopping for new equipment and listening to the latest rumors in castles and towns, the real meat of the game is combat. War of the Lions boasts a deep combat system that offers incredible fun and an immensely rewarding experience. Battles generally begin with two opposing parties (you and your foes) facing off on a grid that contains a variety of terrain. Each member of your chosen party is a unit you control, and in turn-based fashion you move your units and have them perform a wide range of actions. Everything from normal attacks to classic Final Fantasy spells to special abilities and items are fair game. Winning requires you to masterfully navigate the terrain while positioning your units in advantageous spots that allow them to carry out your plan for victory.
Taking a cue from early Final Fantasy titles, War of the Lions allows you to assign a specific job to each of your units. Jobs encompass everything from the melee-driven Knight to the ranged debuffing Machinist. These “Jobs” represent the roles you want a unit to perform in battle. As your characters perform actions in battle they will gain both experience and Job Points (JP). JP will go toward leveling up whatever job that character has assigned, but will also accumulate as a currency for purchasing new abilities within the job. Whenever you purchase an ability, like the Black Mage’s Thundaga, you can equip and use that ability no matter what job is assigned. This simple feature takes character advancement to a whole new dimension and immediately opens up a world of possibilities to the player. For gamers that like to micromanage, War of the Lions is a dream come true. The combat system is a very well-executed affair, brimming with options and almost never repetitious as a result.
Though the combat is great there is an immense learning curve and uneven difficulty. One minute you’ll breeze through a random battle and be confident in the party you’ve assembled, only to be swiftly crushed by the next story event. Because certain jobs and abilities can only be unlocked after progressing within another job, success in War of the Lions is based heavily upon the decisions you make long before you encounter your enemy. It’s almost impossible to predict what consequences your early decisions will have later on, and as a result boss fights easily handled by some can be exercises in utter frustration for others. While experienced Tactics vets won’t have a problem here, newcomers should be warned; This is the hardest Final Fantasy game you will ever play, and your skills and planning will be ruthlessly tested every step of the way.
Those who can handle the difficulty may thoroughly enjoy the combat in War of the Lions, but the game does almost everything in its power to prevent that enjoyment. Porting the game to the iOS platform has not come without its setbacks, and while the touchscreen controls work well enough, the experience is weighed down by lag and obnoxiously small text. The former slows battles down considerably, and the latter goes from annoying during cutscenes to downright frustrating in battles. Being forced to slowly and carefully target options with your finger is a drag as the game struggles to keep up with your decision-making, and as many as 13 or 14 of these carefully measured button presses may be required to complete just one unit’s turn. I can’t understand why Square Enix didn’t streamline the experience more, because the average battle will take 10-20 minutes to complete, with boss fights often approaching or passing the 30-minute mark. Not only is this unacceptable from a pick-up-and-play standpoint, it’s very tiring and will definitely deter some newcomers from playing past the first few hours of the game.
Any fan of the genre will tell you that the experience of a role-playing game is the sum of its parts. In terms of graphics and sound, War of the Lions is a mixed bag. The game retains the gorgeous anime cutscenes of its PSP release, and while infrequent, these CG wonders go a long way toward adding some excitement to the largely text-based narrative. However, War of the Lions is sorely missing the kind of crisp polish we’ve come to expect from iOS games. This makes the frequent framerate drops and graphical slowdown all the more upsetting. Everything from spell effects to menu transitions will cause brief hitches in the action. Meanwhile, the largely orchestral soundtrack does a great job of conveying the grand nature of the events transpiring and pulling you into Ramza’s shoes. Many of the battle tunes are quite catchy, though the prolonged length of these segments can cause the music to feel repetitive.
While the $15.99 sticker price may be quite a shock on a market saturated with 99-cent apps, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth in terms of pure content. There’s a staggering amount to accomplish throughout the game. Side quests and optional episodes abound, offering rewards and helping to flesh out the mysteries surrounding Ramza’s role in the war. The main game is no slouch either. After playing for close to twenty hours, I found myself merely at the game’s midway point. In fact, the only thing missing from this massive game is multiplayer functionality, which failed to be brought over from the PSP version.
With a rich and engaging story, a great cast of characters, excellent replayability, and an incredible combat system, it’s easy to see what has made Final Fantasy Tactics the cult classic it is today. Unfortunately, this iOS port is crippled by myriad flaws that dampen the experience. If you already own the PSP version, there’s no reason to pick up this inferior port. But if the iPod or iPod Touch is your gaming platform of choice, be prepared for this game to test your patience in more ways than one. In the end, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is nothing more than a nice attempt. It’s a shame, because underneath the rough exterior is an excellent game that deserves better.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
|Platform: iPhone (Reviewed on iPhone 4), iPod Touch, iPad|
Release Date: 8/4/11
Developer: Square Enix
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)