In 1997, Square released a masterpiece for Sony’s original PlayStation console. Well, two masterpieces. Less than six months after the release of Square’s beloved Final Fantasy VII, another legendary Final Fantasy game hit store shelves: Final Fantasy Tactics.
Final Fantasy Tactics kept the same mature, role-playing plot and story-heavy focus that other contemporary Final Fantasy titles had adopted, but infused the series’ traditional turn-based combat system with elements of chess-like, strategic character placement. Replete with a deep and complex job-class system that allowed you to tailor an army of customized characters to your own playstyle, Tactics marked Square’s (and the industry’s) most successful entry into the SRPG genre, which square had first dabbled with (but not pioneered) in earlier titles like 1995’s Front Mission and 1996’s Bahamut Lagoon.
Front Mission, a much less-known Square-published title, released in 1995 for the Super Famicom. It wouldn’t make its way to North American shores until over a decades later with a 2007 Nintendo DS port of the original title. Likewise, the Square-developed Bahamut Lagoon also had its western release cancelled due to the Super Famicom reaching the end of its lifecycle. Regardless, Front Mission and Bahamut Lagoon laid the groundwork for Final Fantasy Tactics, featuring similarly tactical combat, customizable units, and mature narrative themes about war and sacrifice.
Front Mission even features artwork by legendary Final Fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano, who did not reprise his artistic role for Final Fantasy Tactics. Instead, artistic veteran Hiroshi Minagawa picked up the mantle for FFT (known for his work on both Enix and Square series like Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, and later Final Fantasy titles [e.g. IX, XII, Tactics, Tactics A2, XIII, XIV, Dragon Quest Builders]).
Final Fantasy Tactics, or FFT for brevity, fell short of the commercial success its mainline-Final Fantasy brethren achieved, but it nonetheless trumped its direct competition in the genre for decades to come. It commands a fervor equal to other Final Fantasy titles from its ardent fans, if not more so (given the series has received minimal subsequent attention since its inception).
Tactics sold well over a million copies in its first year in Japan alone, and following its 2007 enhanced port–Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions–on the PlayStation Plus handheld, the game sold more than 2.4 million copies world wide by 2011. These figures alone made Final Fantasy Tactics the top-selling SRPG game for nearly two decades, until it was dethroned by Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem Fates in 2015.
However, War of the Lions was ported to iOS mobile devices in 2012, and later to Android based mobile devices in 2015, for which sales figures have not been released. While the actual total sales for Final Fantasy Tactics and subsequent ports remains unknown, it is nonetheless among the best selling titles in the genre.
Perhaps more important that the games raw sales figures, however, is the world it created; the world of Ivalice. Manifested with an intricate history and laced with detailed in-game politics and a wide variety of races, territories, and political actors, Ivalice would go on to be featured in both of Final Fantasy Tactics’ spin-off sequels, as well as being featured as the setting for Final Fantasy XII (which itself has sold well over six-million copies, not including its HD remaster FFXII: The Zodiac Age).
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance released six years after the original title in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance, followed shortly by a third entry, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift for the Nintendo DS. The games still feature the world of Ivalice and maintain much of the original title’s tactical gameplay, albeit scaled down and focused on novel strategy mechanics which limit certain abilities or strategies per each battle.
These games functioned as spin-off titles rather than direct sequels, and failed to find a similarly wide audience, due in large part to their taking on a light-hearted, family-friendly narrative. While Square has given nods to the story of Final Fantasy Tactics and expanded on it in some of their other games (such as events in Final Fantasy XIV or mobile titles such as Final Fantasy Brave Exvius), they haven’t alluded to reviving the world of Ivalice in its former glory.
We, however, believe this would be the perfect time to return to Ivalice.
Final Fantasy Tactics was released in a time before RPGs, much less SRPGs, were mainstream; right at the cusp of a new golden-age that would bring attention to the genre from vast new audiences; an age brought on by to the mainstream success of titles like Final Fantasy VII and other blockbuster RPGs from the mid-to-late 90’s and early 2000’s, such as the Tales series, Pokémon, Persona, and Dragon Quest).
Mind you, some SRPG series had been around since the days of the NES, like Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle. While the genre has existed since the 80’s, SRPGs were, by-and-large, a niche genre when FFT hit store shelves. Square took inspiration from these games with Front Mission, but it was the fusion of the Final Fantasy universe to the equation that produced the veritable philosopher’s stone that is Final Fantasy Tactics.
Time’s have changed, however, and the runaway success of modern SRPG series like Fire Emblem and Disgaea, as well as indie tactical titles like Wargroove and Into the Breach, show that the market is ready for a return to Ivalice. Not only has the genre itself found a more mainstream market of late, but given the resurgence of the Final Fantasy brand with the success of Final Fantasy XV and the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake, a new entry into the Final Fantasy Tactics line is primed for success.
It’s easy to say that a fair portion of Final Fantasy Tactics‘ success is tied to the name-value and popularity of Final Fantasy as a brand. This is a strength more relevant than ever with all the hype surrounding the upcoming release of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Marrying the Final Fantasy universe with the grid-based game play of SRPGs was a perfect union, and the action-focused combat of Final Fantasy‘s latest titles is sure to leave long-time fans of the series feeling nostalgic. With such rich traditions to pull from, and the classic warring-nations backdrop the series is known for, the world of Ivalice is more than fit to satiate that nostalgia.
The world of Ivalice was a fully fleshed out one, with history, religion, legends, and a realism that is sought after in the industry, but rarely achieved. In fact, Final Fantasy XV used “a fantasy based on reality” as a part of its ad campaign, but Final Fantasy Tactics hit that mark more accurately, and much earlier.
This realism stems primarily from the interaction between the characters. Each character, from side characters who die in the first chapter to the protagonists who drive the story forward, are written such that you can picture their entire lives playing out in your head. The dialogue is, above all, believable; each character with their own motivations and goals, set into motion by who they are, their environment, their place in society, the bonds they have made, and the ideals they believe in.
Final Fantasy Tactics takes the usual trope of warring nations and brings it to a level of storytelling. The Lion War, a battle between members of the royal family vying for control of Ivalice is followed by many years of bittersweet peace under the rule of King Delita Heiral, a commoner-turned-king. Everyone in Ivalice knew the legend, yet FFT introduces you to the masterful story behind the legend; one which highlights that truth is usually stranger than fiction and leaves the player feeling more than a little ambivalent about the price of peace.
Ivalice has stories and legends abound, an established lore ripe for the taking. Square saw the world’s potential once before, as Final Fantasy XII also takes place in Ivalice, albeit hundreds of years before the events in Tactics. Between the story of both of these entries, Square Enix has numerous places to draw inspiration from and bring the next entry to the Ivalice Alliance games to fruition.
A direct prequel to Final Fantasy Tactics, focusing on the 50 Year War with Ramza’s father, Balbanes Beoulve, as the protagonist–with Thunder God Cid at his side–is a recipe for success. Square could even go further back, long before the events of Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. A story focused on Saint Ajora, who was the figurehead of the predominant faith of Ivalice, the church of Glabados, with lore pointing to the true Ajora as being a spy for a rival nation (or even the one who had summoned the demon Lucavi into the world)? Yes, please.
Any story in Invalice could take numerous interesting turns. With so much established lore and history, it’s a wonder why they haven’t taken the world of Ivalice and made another entry.
Masterful storytelling isn’t Final Fantasy Tactics only strength. The battle mechanics, to this day, are still some of the (if not the) deepest and most customizable in the genre. Tactics boasts more than twenty unique classes with their own wildly different play styles and abilities, each bringing a different strategy to your team.
If that wasn’t enough, you can take numerous abilities and aspects from these classes and mix and match them to make each character even more unique and flexible. Spear wielding, flying ninjas that throw lightning bombs, control time magic, and can walk on water? Knights dual-wielding greatswords, commanding the elements, jumping over castle walls in a single bound, and turning invisible upon being hit? Chemists who wield guns that shoot lightning bolts and can train dragons and behemoths to join your team and fight for you like the best there ever was? All of these are not only viable builds, but could all be on the same team.
Anyway you decided to build your team for combat was viable for the most part, as long as you were careful and paid attention to the battle mechanics. While not specifically known for unforgiving difficulty like some earlier Fire Emblem titles, Final Fantasy Tactics had its share of challenges that have left scars that still burn when certain names are mentioned.
A whisper of the name Wiegraf in the ear of a grizzled veteran will either illicit crushing pain or memories of an exhilarating battle. Certain difficult-to-obtain equipment or abilities such as teaching Ramza the Ultima spell, or stealing the legendary Masamune from the Marquis Elmdor, along with the end game optional dungeon, added even more challenge for those that sought it out.
The variety available to you for team composition made for wildly different strategies and shot replay value through the roof. With up to nineteen different weapon types, over twenty classes, five schools of magic, and capturable monsters, anything can happen on the battlefield.
However amazing Final Fantasy Tactics was, there is always room for improvement, especially after 23 years. The class and abilities systems of Tactics, as deep as they were, could always be expanded upon. Square could look to the prominent SRPG franchises of today for inspiration.
Systems such as Fire Emblem‘s support system, giving you the ability to make personal bonds with your party members and other NPCs, giving you more abilities and options with them in combat as well as expanding the story and building on characters, is one such source for inspiration. Disgaea‘s “Item World” mechanic, consisting of diving into procedurally generated dungeons in order to increase the stats on items and equipment, is another.
FFT had a perma-death mechanic, albeit not as unforgiving as Fire Emblem‘s. If the weight of Tactics particular brand of perma-death wasn’t enough, Square could add in a selectable difficulty like modern Fire Emblem titles. The addition of Disgaea 5‘s genius “Cheat Shop” system, which gives you the ability to drop or increase enemy levels, lower your cash obtained for more experience, or add crazy effects or stipulations to combat, would be welcome in almost any RPG game.
Something we all appreciate here at The Game Manual is post game content, and our theoretical Final Fantasy Tactics follow-up could benefit from more super bosses and challenging, end-game dungeons. Taking your skill and know-how to their limit, overcoming nearly insurmountable challenges in the last hoorah of a title, are moments that reward you and stay with a gamer long into the future.
Strategy RPGs in general could also take some pages out of table top war games books, to look how to innovate combat. Too often the conditions for winning a battle is “defeat all enemies” or “defeat the boss”. While there are exceptions, they are few and far between. We would like to see victory conditions and the focus of battle change more frequently, adding more variety to combat and requiring you to rethink and approach every battle differently.
This would put more use to the multitude of abilities Final Fantasy Tactics already had and make room for new ones. Conditions could be anything from escort missions across a map, holding a position for a certain number of turns, infiltration and extraction, search and rescue, or even differently scaled battles (switching back and forth between your basic party and a larger scale army where the battles play out differently; using groups of soldiers instead of individual units).
War is rarely limited to simply the battles between soldiers, and a great deal of war is embedded in politics, which was clearly evident in the story of Final Fantasy Tactics. We’d like to see that expanded upon in the combat mechanics. A marriage between the combat system and a social links aspect ala Fire Emblem or the Persona series could have a multitude of effects in combat (and not just with your own units). What area you may be fighting in, what other factions are stationed around that area, and your relationships with them could change the way battles pan out. Receiving reinforcements or other aid from friendly factions, or enemy armies teaming up against you, could change the outcomes of every battle dramatically and in the same breath increase replay value even more.
Square has a literal smorgasbord of influences they could draw from and inject new life into the series.
SRPGs are creeping their way out the the niche market with their recent success. Games such as XCOM 2, which was nominated for awards such as Game of the Year, PC Game of the Year, and Best Strategy Game in 2016, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses which won the Player’s Voice Award in 2019, highlight how the market for SRPGs has grown exponentially.
The reception of SRPGs is steadily on the rise and a new Final Fantasy Tactics title would jump start the market like a defibrillator attached to a fusion reactor. It took nearly twenty years for the rest of the SRPG genre’s sales to touch the success of Final Fantasy Tactics. The power the Final Fantasy franchise may be returning to its former splendor and we see no better time than now to return to Ivalice.