Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is a traditional role-playing game that differs from other Square Enix titles in a few important respects.
Originally released in 1997, The War of the Lions was only available in Japan before receiving a limited North America release a year later. Earning critical acclaim at the time, it was instrumental in helping set the benchmark by which this style of genre is judged. Ten years on, this updated version of the classic, which now forms the first in a series of Final Fantasy titles due on the PSP system, remains one of the best role-playing games available.
Exploring a period of dark civil war for the kingdom of Ivalice, The War of the Lions follows the struggle between Duke Goltanna and Duke Larg for control of the two-year-old Prince Regent and the throne. Against this backdrop of politics and infighting, the storyline explores the injustice between noble and commoner, privileged and poor.
In this updated version for PSP, the storyline is brought to life through anime-like animations that, in contrast to other Final Fantasy cinematics, boast a gorgeous hand drawn style. This, when combined with an audio score composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, makes The War of the Lions enrapturing.
Combat in The War of the Lions is very different from other Final Fantasy titles; instead of your party lining up opposite their foes, the combat plays out upon a grid system. This adds movement, range, facing and, for area effect spells and abilities, grouping and dispersal of your party to your tactical considerations.
Each combat takes place in a 3D environment based upon this grid system. The animation of characters and effects is kitsch but delightfully engaging. Instantly familiar, this iconic style has often been copied in the last ten years, but rarely outdone.
Careful planning in these engagements allows you to gain advantages from the terrain and buildings, from using elevation for ranged attacks to making use of choke points to protect your weaker spell casters from the enemies' onslaught. From desert sietch to cobbled town street, each arena presents a different challenge and choice of tactics.
Character progression in The War of the Lions is handled through Job levels. Attaining a certain level of proficiency in one profession will unlock access to another - to become a Monk for instance you need to have become a level 2 Knight, which requires you to have become a level 2 Squire. With 22 different Jobs and more than 400 abilities to learn, and the ability to switch easily between them, you're given a staggering range of options when creating your characters.
In addition to the wealth of character options available, there are cameo appearances from famous Final Fantasy characters, letting you recruit the likes of Balthier from Final Fantasy XII and Cloud from Final Fantasy VII.
Wireless multiplayer support is the coup de grace for this modern classic. Entering into any of the Taverns that can be found throughout Ivalice and chatting with the barkeep will now give you the option of entering a co-operative mission or competing in battle with friends.
For fans of the original 1997 game, The War of the Lions will be a beautiful trip down memory lane, while for existing Final Fantasy converts it is a new way to explore the iconic setting of Ivalice and for the complete newcomer it is an essential role-playing experience on PSP.