Final Fantasy Tactics: A Cult Classic Comes to iOS

Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the most popular turn-based strategy games of all time. It originally debuted on the PlayStation, achieving cult status and lasting through the years as one of the strategy games that needed to be played.

2007 saw a re-release of the original game on the PlayStation Portable, with enhanced graphics and new additions to keep the game fresh for new audiences. Now the iconic game has landed on the iPhone, and we have a full review.

Story

This section will be brief, as I don’t want to give too many of the story points —which are excellent — away. The story is mainly presented with cutscenes from the in-game engine, but there are several that look like an old, coffee-stained animated film. The main character is Ramza, a squire that is thrust into battle from the Akademy.

A squire has lost his lord; the beginning of a story arc.

A squire has lost his lord; the beginning of a story arc.

FFT features a storyline that helped to earn its status as a cult classic, deviating from the typical cookie-cutter “get the crystals!” formula of other games from the same period. Instead of a simple journey to find the crystals or save the princess, FFT features a deep, arcing storyline that focuses more on betrayal and political intrigue than it does on traditional RPG tropes.

Gameplay

Porting something from its original birthplace is never easy. There have been numerous ports from consoles to iOS devices, with some successes and more than a few misfires. Final Fantasy Tactics is a bit of a mixed bag, offering its fair share of smiles and headaches.

Moppet? Oh, now it's on.

Moppet? Oh, now it's on.

Square Enix didn’t rest on their laurels with some aspects of the game; as FFT is largely menu-driven, they devised a way to scroll through the various items by sliding your finger along the screen. I found this motion to be natural, but I was definitely confused when I tapped the screen and it didn’t register as a selection. In most cases, you need to tap the OK button for something to happen (note: this can be changed in the settings pane).

Menu, menu, menu.

Menu, menu, menu.

Scrolling through menus aside, the game does its best to offer you full control of your current view and access to the various sub-menus. It’s clear that Square Enix took their time thinking out the overall experience, and even some of the more annoying bits (battle prompts after you’ve already played through the game) can be turned off.

In short, whether or not you’ll like FFT has less to do with this port, as the mechanics are handled very well. Instead, you need to ask yourself if this is the game — and, indeed, version of the game — for you.

Presentation

Unfortunately, the attention given to how the game plays was clearly taken away from how the game looks. A recent update brought the game into the wonderful world of Retina Display-optimized graphics, but things still look oddly dated. This may be a product of the iPhone’s limitations or it might be Square’s attempt to stay faithful to the original game’s graphics; whatever the case, things look slightly blurrier than I would like.

Where the art style really shines is with the cutscenes. As I said above, the cutscenes look like they’re classically animated films, with strong sepia tones and the feeling of age. For every bit that I can’t stand the wasted opportunities offered by the Retina Display, I find myself enjoying the cutscenes and their vintage style.

The cutscenes look fantastic in this game, with a great style.

The cutscenes look fantastic in this game, with a great style.

The music in this game is good; by no means is it my favorite soundtrack, but it’s passable. Most of the time I play the game while I’m on the go, so I don’t actually hear the music. I imagine that this is the case for most people, but if you do decide to put those earbuds in, you’ll find yourself properly engaged with the game’s soundtrack.

Any Port in a Storm

FFT finds itself in this weird state where Square Enix keeps trying to do its best to milk the game for all that it’s worth without making it seem as though they’re being unfair to customers. There have been numerous re-releases of the game, including the one on the PSP and a copy available for PlayStation 3 users. Does the iPhone version stand up to those other games? That depends.

See, FFT was developed specifically for a console that was attached to a television at all times. There was the expectation that the time to play the game thoroughly and at length was available. This goes against the practical use-case for the iPhone as a mobile device, where gaming is often restricted to the time that you can find during your lunch break or in the car. While Square Enix has done their best to try and meld these two worlds, the result is less than the sum of its parts.

Which tile are you going to move to? Better decide soon, your bus is coming.

Which tile are you going to move to? Better decide soon, your bus is coming.

Sure, there are iOS conventions like auto-save and the ability to continue from where you left off. Technically, the game can be played for short periods of time instead of marathon sessions; it’s the player that gets in the way of this.

Tactics. It’s right in the title, and yet it’s hard to hold onto why exactly you put one character on this tile instead of that tile, or whether or not you actually had enough HP to perform that manuever. Really it comes down to memory; if you can remember exactly why you were doing what you were doing when you left off, you’ll be just fine. If you’re busy, say, working or trying to hit the right bus stop, you aren’t going to remember what was happening, and that’s a shortcoming that can cost you battles.

Conclusion

Is this cult classic a must-have for the iPhone? That depends on how you’re going to play it. If you’re expecting a game that you can launch and play for a few minutes while you’re busy doing other things you will be sorely disappointed. If you want a handheld version of a classic game that you plan on devoting some well-deserved couch time to, then I’d say that it’s a buy.

Let’s be honest, though: you had already decided whether you would buy this game as soon as you saw the title or the price. Either you’re a fan that is willing to buy every version of the game, you’ve been following the lore and want to finally play this classic, or you scoffed at the relatively-high price tag.

At $15.99, Final Fantasy Tactics is a fairly steep investment. The return on investment really depends on your own personal preference and whether you’re willing to work with a game that was developed at a time that  something like the iPhone seemed like a pipe dream.


Summary

Final Fantasy Tactics for iOS is a port of a port, a game that has been ripped through time and shoved into the iPhone. While it's a classic, this port has many problems.

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  • http://twitter.com/jakerocheleau Jake Rocheleau

    This game is sweet for sure. I loved it on PSP and just bought the iOS version last week.

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