Final Fantasy is perhaps the most visible example of the role-playing game genre, but for many it was an interesting offshoot that became their favorite representation of this multifarious universe. Released in the late 90s, Final Fantasy Tactics swaggered to the forefront of the strategy role-playing game genre and stayed there. Not one to sit idly by while its golden child collected dust, Square Enix would release it on the Gameboy Advance and now, most definitively, on the PlayStation Portable. Long-time fans, get rid of that PlayStation copy, and new fans, behold! This is one adventure you must take; a serious, labyrinthine journey only surpassed--in this reviewer's humble opinion--by niche publisher NIS's flagship series Disgaea.
What is so memorable about Tactics? The story for one. It tells of the fictitious kingdom Ivalice, reawakening after the Fifty Years' War where two factions vie for the throne in the wake of the king's death. There's also a good bit of religious manipulation tossed in for good measure. Taking the helm as Ramza Beoulve, don't expect to be laughing heartily as you watch the fate of the kingdom unfold.
The great thing about Tactics is how easy it is to play.
If you've ever experienced an SRPG, then this fits the formula to a T, complete with drawbacks from the camera. Despite being able to rotate, zoom, and flatten the field, there's still the major issue of seeing behind higher obstacles when things get congested. Another enhancement I would have loved is a faster battle speed. Though the graphics look really good re-tooled for the PSP's widescreen display, the action has some slowdown and is overall more sluggish than it needs to be. One way to speed up non-story battles and mindlessly level up, is to set allies to AI settings, such as healer, which ensures that your characters, if properly stocked and configured, will most likely not die. If they die in battle, you will lose them for good. This approach supports the tension of the storyline and will cause each and every battle to be handled as strategically as possible. Goof off, and you may very well lose an irreplaceable ally.
To make sure your team is properly equipped to handle the various beasts and baddies, it's important to take advantage of the job system. In the beginning, you'll need to level up as squire, chemist, and other basic jobs to open others. The great thing is that you can learn what you want from a job and then move on to create the ultimate warrior. For instance, take regeneration and some high-level healing from the White Mage job and move to a more powerful one. Switching is easy and certain jobs will work better for certain battles. With the proper combination of equipment from Outfitters along the way, you'll be unstoppable. The great thing about Tactics is how easy it is to play. Moving from job to job, outfitting, and other processes are simple and intuitive.
To actually learn new abilities, you'll need to fight and earn job points along with experience points. Additionally, when a unit earns job points, other allies in the battle will earn points towards that original unit's job. Early on, the squire's JP Boost ability will provide a much-needed increase in earned points.
Besides standard battles, you'll be able to go on errands hosted by taverns in towns. The PSP version also supports Ad Hoc co-op and challenge modes. Newly added cut-scenes and more items and jobs will provide some nice surprises for veteran players. If you're a SRPG fan, or one wanting to get more into the genre, then I suggest picking up the definitive releases for both this and Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness. A couple of years ago it was easy to recommend the must-own titles on the PSP, but with so many stellar games these days, I'll simply say that if Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions disappoints you, then maybe this genre isn't what your looking for.