Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of The Lions – PSP review

4.5 out of 5
£35

For

Gripping tactical gameplay, stunning narrative, gorgeous looks

Against

Can be daunting to the newbie, wickedly complex

Spin-offs might be standard fare in the TV industry, but in the gaming realm they’re a little less common. Not that that is particularly a sorry state of affairs – who really wants the gaming equivalent of "Joey" after all?

The Final Fantasy Tactics series was birthed almost a decade ago, and proved to be a stunning companion to the major Final Fantasy titles released on the PS1 at the time. But while the big boys focused on huge areas to explore, and a deep and meaningful storyline to force you to press on, Tactics relied on its strategic based leanings to grab you by the short and curlies.

A re-imagination of the PS1 version set in the world of Ivalice, this strategic masterpiece packs more than enough in terms of story to tempt you to forget its aging roots. While the story – essentially the standard battle between good and evil, but told in a majestically convoluted manner – is complex, and its twists, turns, and subplots cause your mind to trip over itself as you try to figure out just what on earth is going on. The brand new cut scenes do a great job of holding your hand however.

These cell shaded trips are a joy to behold, not only in terms of sheer visual splendour with some incredible looking artwork displayed on that hefty PSP screen, but in pure storytelling genius too.

The Final Fantasy storylines have always been complex, and this brand new revision of Tactics is certainly no different. While its PS1 equivalent suffered from poor translation, and a plot that simply wasn’t told in a clear enough manner, this PSP update makes up for all that hardship we went through trying to figure it all out a decade ago.

Essentially, however, Tactics is a turned based strategy game, much like you’d expect to find on the good old PC. Skirmishes aplenty can be chosen from in order to continue, with green indicating random battles used purely for fun and to give your roster of up to 24 characters a boost in terms of stats, and red highlighted sections proving to be the real meat that progresses the story.

Out on the field of battle, viewed from an isometric viewpoint, you move your characters around the small area indicated for battle, trying to obliterate the on screen enemies as easily as possible. Unlike previous Final Fantasy titles, which have merely relied on menu options to choose powerful weapon swipes and spells, this simple addition of movement gives Tactics a whole new, well, tactical base.

Battles can be incredibly lengthy affairs, and differing strategies will have to be implemented for the brand of foe you’re up against. This is as deep as any of the much heralded PC Civilization titles, so don’t go expecting an easy ride.

Slightly daunting is the strange difficulty curve, which wobbles and swerves like Lewis Hamilton driving in the wet. One battle might seem astonishingly easy, and you’ll fly through with barely a scratch, while the next will prove so incredibly difficult that you’ll have to force yourself to take on some random battles, purely to up your stats.

What helps that small problem however is the sheer depth of customisation available to you. Not only can each of your characters be equipped with vast amount of different varieties of weaponry, armour, and accessories, but they can even be specified to take on different jobs. Thankfully, none of them are of the postal variety. Imagine your main character deciding to strike for 48 hours…

Jobs aren’t the dull kind you’ll find in our world. Nope, in Ivalice, jobs consist of different kinds of mages, knights, brawlers, and almost anything else you can think of. Different jobs conceal different abilities that once obtained via levelling up, can be used on the field of battle to give you that extra edge over your enemies. Jobs can be changed at will, so if you find yourself lacking a real tough cookie, you can change that murky situation in a flash.

Verdict

Final Fantasy veterans schooled on the main series might not miss the standard exploring of the bigger titles, but that doesn’t take the gloss of what is one of the PSP’s best gaming titles so far.

It has the looks, some incredibly addictive gameplay, and more depth than the Grand Canyon. Thoroughly recommend for every single PSP owner that enjoys a good old think.