February 15th, 2013
Over the past 3 months, I’ve invested about 50 hours into Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I usually don’t play portable games out in the wild, but my PSP has proven to be a great companion on the subway, particularly as I can charge it via USB when I get to work. The game itself has rekindled my love of SRPGs and prompted me to write a small pile of notes on the genre. I’m not quite ready to share those ideas, but I would like to talk about Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which has a strong lineage with Tactics Ogre and its designers. Playing Tactics Ogre:LUCT reminded me of why I dislike Final Fantasy Tactics Advance so much. Because I haven’t played this game in years and don’t currently have the cart on me, I’m going to have to rely on memory, so don’t think of this post as being “proper” analysis. At times, I may be a bit loose with the facts, so if I’m feeling unsure, I’ll indicate so by ending the sentence with “I think” in parenthesis.
The core difference between the original Final Fantasy Tactics and the later games is laws. Each battle is governed by a set of arbitrary rules (I’m not sure if they’re preset or selected randomly, probably depends on battle type). These regulations prevent the player from using various abilities or weapons. If the player breaks a rule, they’re given a yellow or red card, depending on how serious the violation. Acquire too many of these and the party member in question is hauled off to jail and must sit out a few battles (I think you can pay money to reduce their sentence).
I guess that the intent behind law cards is to challenge the player to play in particular ways. They certainly do that. However, the specifics of the law system, quickly put the process on the nose. The rules can be viewed any time during a battle (and are shown at the start, I think). Yet, although they’re clear and unambiguous, it’s easy to forget that your archer is wielding a bow and not a crossbow, or your knight is equipped with a sword and not an axe (these are theoretical examples). And so mid-battle, I’d unknowingly break a law or two and have several party members instantly leave the battlefield, prompting me to reset my GBA and try the battle again. If I held on and eventually won the match, then I wouldn’t be able to use half of my party in the proceeding fight. If the prohibited abilities were marked in the selection screen, then there’d be much more clarity and the player wouldn’t find themselves losing units in the midst of an epic duel. More warning pre-battle, when the player’s selecting which units to send out, would help them avoid putting party members with banned abilities into play in the first place. A list of how the laws affect the individual units would be nice.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance also does a poor job of contextually justifying laws. It’s ridiculous that a law master (a knight on a Chocobo), a formal member of some government or association, would oversee every random, spontaneous battle that occurred between two groups of mercenaries.
Sending Units Off on Missions
Missions are the units of progression. Each tavern on the world map has a list of missions which the player can choose to take on. The idea is that the player’s party is a group of mercenaries for hire (I think). There are two types of missions: regular missions, which the player does directly, and adhoc missions, where the player sends out a unit or small team of units to go and fight independently. After a few days, the unit(s) returns and the player’s told the results of the battle. I found the adhoc battles to be intrusive and unnecessary. To accept these missions, the unit(s) needs to meet the level requirement. Initially, I had a designated gimp which I sent out to do all the side missions. Despite some initial success, it was quickly under-leveled, even though I’d included it in some of the regular battles too. Near the end of the game, the adhoc missions were draining my party of key units, but I had to do them in order to unlock the story missions. Because some of the adhoc battles require the player to complete X number real battles before the units return, I’d often be forced to go into battles with an incomplete team.
The other problem with the adhoc missions is that the player has no involvement in them, so it’s really hard to care about them.
Trail of Missions
The player needs to complete certain missions in order to unlock more missions and keep the game going. Although they’re told which missions they need to beat, figuring out how to access them can be tricky, as each tavern offers their own set of missions and if the player fails a mission, it might not come back around for some time. Factor in that some of these missions may themselves need to be unlocked (or the player needs to beat certain adhoc missions or have a certain item, I think) and the progression system quickly divulges into a tangle of loose ends. The last 20 hours of my time with this game was dedicated to untangling leads and heavy reading of GameFAQs.
Few Story Missions
The best missions are the story missions, where the map, enemy composition and layout, and laws are tuned to create deep and rewarding play. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of story missions in the entire game. Most missions are random battles in a preset location, where the enemies are randomly selected and positioned based on a few parameters.
In Final Fantasy Tactics, any unit can change to any job, so long as they meet the conditions to do so. In Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, each character belongs to a race, with each race being a container that houses a particular set of jobs. So, if you want a unit to have a certain job, they need to belong to the right race. This adds a layer of complexity to the job system.
I don’t like the races for two reasons. The first is that I don’t personally find the appearance and dialects of the races to be particularly interesting. The second is that the race system restricts party customisation and cross-pollination between jobs, the core asset of the RPG side of the game.
Although the game’s premise of the characters being stuck in their friend’s dream is neat, the narrative is sparse to the point of near absence. I much prefer the dense political intrigue of the original Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre: LUCT. You don’t get a lot of medieval politics in video games.
So, as you can see, basically everything I don’t like about this game is everything they changed from the original Final Fantasy Tactics.