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The War of the Lions December 22, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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When Squaresoft (now Square Enix) released Final Fantasy VII in 1997, it may be said that an entire generation of video game enthusiasts lost their minds. I was one of them: FFVII was unlike anything I’d ever played, and I was so captivated by the experience that I decided to buy into two subsequent releases of Square that promised — if only tangentially — to expand upon that universe. The first of these was Ehrgeiz, whose appeal for me was its arena battle mode and the chance to use some of FFVII’s characters in head-to-head battle (there was a quest mode, too, but to me the fighting game was where it was at). The second was Final Fantasy Tactics, which was uncharted territory for me, being a strategy role-playing game (SRPG).

I played a fair bit of the first until it bored me; for the most part, it’s been forgotten. As for the second, I played as far as the fourth mission (plus a few random encounters) before giving it up. At the time, I found it just too difficult, and the English localization just terrible. So I lent it out to friends, a journey from which it would never return.

Years later, my brother asked me whatever happened to the as yet unconquered FF Tactics. Because he wanted to have a go at it (and I was equally curious), I bought a “Greatest Hits” reissue on eBay and turned it over to him. He gave up pretty quickly, too, mostly because we had other newer games worth playing. But in the short time he did give it a try, it was exactly as I remembered it, especially the bit about the terrible localization.

When I picked up a Playstation Portable (PSP) some time after that, I became curious about FF Tactics again. It had been re-released for the PSP as FF Tactics: The War of the Lions, altogether the same game but retouched and updated. Figuring I didn’t have much to lose, I picked up a used copy just to check it out.

Over the next few months, I logged in upwards of ninety hours playing time, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t end too soon.

It’s without a doubt a delightfully complex game with plenty of depth, both in terms of gameplay and story. With respect to the former, FF Tactics ranks among the pre-eminent SRPGs, and the game’s battle system is perhaps the one most often associated with the genre. Meanwhile, where the latter is concerned, War of the Lions manages to pull off the “epic fantasy adventure” despite (or maybe because of) an unapologetically convoluted plot, with enough twists and turns, political intrigue and personal tragedy to actually become engrossing. Add to this updated graphics that give it a pseudo-retro appeal (to the Playstation era) and magnificently rendered animated cutscenes, and the result is a game that ranks as a must-have for any PSP-owner looking for a protracted playing experience.

And yes, most of the localization issues have been resolved, with the use of a medieval-esque affectation in the story language giving the game its own kind of charm.

That said, the one drawback (literally) to FF Tactics: The War of the Lions as a PSP release is its battery consumption. In its initial release, the original FF Tactics had noticeably lengthy loading times. While these have been addressed in the PSP version, the game still manages to draw down the PSP’s battery relatively quickly, presumably because it runs on UMD. Last I checked, there is a downloadable version of War of the Lions on the Playstation Network that should alleviate this problem. Still, for a game of its length, one should be prepared for a fair amount of charging and recharging during the course of a campaign.

It’s amazing how a little nip here and tuck there can breathe new life to an already great game. Or maybe that’s just a testament to how good FF Tactics was to begin with, warts and all.

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