Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions PSP Review - 16/01/2008

When Final Fantasy fans think back to 1997, one game comes to mind. FF7 may have become one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, and one that gamers across the world have experienced. But in the same year, Squaresoft began the Tactics series of spin offs that mixed the standard RPG gameplay with a strategy based combat system.

The game that was made, Final Fantasy Tactics, became a cult hit, even though limited numbers of people could be distracted from 7 for long enough to try it. It spawned a GBA sequel and a DS title to come in 2008. But now Square is finally giving players the opportunity to play through the original once more, with War of the Lions on the PSP. Is it the classic that it used to be?

As the first title in the Ivalice Alliance set of games, WOTL ‘surprisingly' takes place in the world of Ivalice. Last seen in the brilliant Final Fantasy XII, Ivalice is a huge world that seems to be in a constant state of war. The titular war in question forms the basis for the story, one that sees so much double and triple crossing that you're bound to get confused at some point. This isn't to say that the story is bad; on the contrary, it's one of the most interesting and original stories that Square has ever come up with. The game does away with repetitive stereotypes, with characters that are genuinely interesting, even if they speak in a surprisingly brilliant olde worlde tone.

The lead, a soldier named Ramza, is more than just a tag along, something that FF12 suffered from, being involved in the story from start to finish. As a PSP title, this has the best plot on the system; there is nothing that can beat it in this field. For storytelling on a handheld system, Square-Enix has to be congratulated, even if the plot is the same as it was 10 years ago.

A brilliant story, though a little hard to follow at times.

Your journey takes place over a massive world map, even if you can't travel from one place to another, you move across the actual map. When you stop at a location, you will either be granted immediate passage, or thrust into battle. Towns can also be visited, with shops for you to buy wares, and recruitment offices available if you're low on numbers. The Pub can also be used to request missions, although it isn't as important here as it was in FF Tactics Advance. This is the main difference between this and its spiritual sequel. You have a specific story to go through, and so you don't need to do the side missions at all. You will though, as the game is maddeningly hard, but more on that later.

The battle system in Tactics is both uncomplicated, and rewarding at the same time. You move your troops of up to 6 characters across an isometric board, as their turn comes around, telling them what abilities to perform before or after this. The battle menus are easy to navigate, giving you access to the various abilities quickly and efficiently. And there are a lot of abilities to learn. Taking elements of the job system found in FF3 and 5, Tactics allows units to learn hundreds of abilities, each corresponding to a specific job. These are learnt by obtaining JP, acquired through the use of a certain jobs skills. Spending these points on new abilities is vital for increasing your characters' repertoire of skills, and this becomes second nature when you get into the depths of the game's world. The job system on offer here is so extensive, that even hardcore FF players will find it hard to master all of the available techniques.

One thing that stops WOTL from being a perfect handheld game is the difficulty. This is one of the hardest games on PSP. To complete certain story missions, which are vital to your progress, it takes expert skill, something that most gamers of today do not have. There was a point where I was stuck on a battle for 4 weeks, and that was with me playing through the battle at least 3 times a day, it is that difficult. This isn't helped by how hard it is to level up, as at certain points only one area will be open to you for you to venture into.

Sickeningly difficult, but wonderfully addictive gameplay

Gaining lots of abilities early on is hugely important, and could mean the difference between you enjoying the game, and you not. This isn't helped by the fact that after a certain amount of time, your characters will die permanently. This can mean that 30 hours worth of training can be lost within a few seconds, something that can make a grown man physically cry, an achievement many games don't hold. If Ramza dies, it's an automatic Game Over, and with some battles placing Ramza in a position where he can't be healed, this becomes terribly annoying. Even so, you can't call a game bad for just being hard, FF Tactics is a very hardcore game from a very hardcore genre, so what did you expect?

The game looks exactly the same as it did on the PS1, which isn't as bad as it sounds. The environments may look very blocky, but the sprite designs come to life on the PSP's screen. The sound suffers a similar fate, with the sound effects a tad dated, even though the music sounds as good as it always did. Epic themes entice you to fight on with the slog of a battle ahead of you. But by far the best addition to the game is full motion cutscenes with voice acting. Using an original brushstroke look, the game is worth playing if only to enjoy these gorgeous sequences. For fans of the PS1 game, seeing and hearing your beloved characters like this is amazing. Squenix should seriously consider making a film that has the same style as this, as both the visuals and the voice acting are top notch.

Beautiful art direction throughout

The PSP version of a classic Final Fantasy that people missed out on. Replace PSP with DS, and you have the same situation that we had with FFIII earlier in 2007. The same problems occur here, as the difficulty will put a lot of people off. The steepness of the learning curve is even greater here, and so the game is not as much a must have as the title we had our hands on earlier in the year. But even so, fans of tactical RPG's should try this, even if it is just for the story. Everything is in place for an epic FF adventure, and if you have a PSP, then you can't get much better than War of the Lions.

- Sam Atkins