Game Reviews

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

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Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

This summer, Pocket Gamer found itself exploring an ancient church while on holiday. Its resolute stony pillars stretched high upwards towards an intricate ceiling, an architectural ploy to draw worshippers' eyes upwards towards the heavens, before blanketing their faces in a spectrum of warm multi-coloured sunlight splayed through stained-glass windows.

However, our eyes trailed not upwards but down onto the huge slabs of grey slate that divided the church floor into a neat grid system. In a flash, we were back in Ivalice, where for many, many hours we'd moved soldiers across similar criss-crossed floors, caught in a heavy political drama outplayed in buildings just a beautiful and settled as this one.

Few video games manage to take up residence in your life, invading the world around you long after you've played them, but Final Fantasy Tactics is one such game.

Originally released for the PlayStation in 1997 in Japan and the US, this is the first time it has reached European shores. For the title's tenth anniversary, Square-Enix has lovingly restored and expanded the original game for the PSP, working hard to transport its world into widescreen, adding new scenes, battles and characters to create what is the definitive version of one of video gaming's greats.

Despite what some might think, this isn't the kind of sprawling RPG that the Final Fantasy name has come to represent. Rather, this is a strategy RPG requiring you to manoeuvre a team of soldiers around a small map, turn by turn, trying to overwhelm and defeat an opponent's squad who are doing the same.

Some of your units can move further than others depending on what their job class is. And some, such as archers or black mages, can attack from long distances, while others – knights and thieves – specialise in close-range combat. Think of it like a complex and evolved version of chess, albeit set in a lavish historical world in the midst of a sprawling storyline.

For every move and action one of your units takes, they earn both experience points and job points, which can be used to develop and augment their abilities. As you can change your unit's job class at any time, it's easy to mix and match their abilities to create a unique and personal team you become uncommonly attached to over the course of the game. There are even wild animals and monsters in some matches who, with a bit of skill, can be calmed and invited into your team.

Add in a near-limitless supply of different weapons, armour and spells to acquire, and it doesn't take long to become helplessly entrenched in this world and its gameplay. Trust us, the War of the Lions will effortlessly absorb you.

The exquisite play mechanics are driven by one of gaming's great stories – an epic drama of love, loyalty and consequence that follows the exploits of young knight, Ramza Beoulve, as he gets caught up in royal and political intrigue that acts as a shrewd commentary on the systems that govern and direct our own world.

Furthermore, the story's twists and turns are billowed by an exceptional orchestral soundtrack stuffed with memorable melodies that instill the game with a remarkable sense of occasion. One that is undoubtedly further achieved through the slew of new, exquisite hand-drawn cut-scenes from the game's original artist, Akihiko Yoshida, Square Enix has created for this update.

But there are other notable inclusions, most obviously the brand new head-to-head and co-operative multiplayer modes. Here, then, it's possible to take your team into battle with or against another human player, the prize being new rare items that can subsequently be used in the astonishing single-player story.

With an excellent new translation, visuals and job classes, as well as cameos from the likes of Balthier and Cloud from the mainline Final Fantasy series, The War of the Lions is a game whose decorations ably match its underlying mechanics in scope and ambition.

What emerges is not only what is arguably the PSP's finest title yet, but one of the most impressive, important and bewitching video games ever created.

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

A masterpiece of art and design. Its technicalities might take a little time to get to grips with but, once understood, this distinguished and exemplary video game demands to be savoured and adored