July 24, 2007 - For many, the Final Fantasy series is a religion, with icons like Cloud Strife, Cid and Vaan acting as prophets who spread the good word of Square Enix. But while most will happily kneel at the altar of Final Fantasy, War of the Lions - the latest in the Tactics series - is a game that will test the faith of even the most devoted fan. It's an adventure so challenging - on the surface at least - that only the most committed player will have the dedication to discover everything this epic handheld RPG has to offer.
Enemies come in all shapes and sizes... but they're all dangerous.
Of course, many will have already experienced such a challenge when Final Fantasy Tactics was released on PlayStation in 1997. Back then Square introduced Ivalice, a kingdom torn apart by political unrest and a war that raged for 50 years. However, unlike previous Final Fantasy games, which focussed on the story of a single hero, Tactics plunged the player into a world riddled with plot twists, assassinations, kidnappings, political wrangling and, of course, multiple characters. In fact it was more like a Greek tragedy than a typical Final Fantasy script.
A decade later and the game is being converted to PSP. Needless to say, Square has fleshed out the original adventure with a selection of new modes, including a co-op game you can play with a pal, as well as versus battles, proper widescreen presentation and new story elements to keep the plot fresh, even if you've played it before.
Of all the new additions, it's the hugely stylish cutscenes and emotional orchestral score by Hitoshi Sakimoto that really stand out though. The pencil sketch-style movies carry the story and introduce the restless world of Ivalice superbly, even though the dialogue is swimming in olde English.
As for the game itself, it's familiar territory for anyone who's played the original. Controlling brave knight Ramza Beoulve and his army of warriors, you're tasked with venturing around in a bid to bring peace to the troubled land. Ivalice is presented as a sepia map marked with coloured dots, which represent the locations you can visit. These range from grand castles to water-logged bogs and players flit between them simply by clicking on locations - you don't waste minutes trudging across the map, which means there's more time to fight battles.
Ganging up on enemies isn't dishonourable, it's tactical.
Ah yes, the battles. Although most Final Fantasy games feature some kind of fighting, Tactics elevates scrapping into a strategic art form. Commanding a band of brave warriors, you and an AI opponent take it in turns to manoeuvre your troops around a grid-based map, using the squares to determine how far each solider can move, as well as direct ranged and magic attacks. Initially, battles are little more than small skirmishes between a handful of soldiers, but as the story progresses your ranks are bolstered with new characters. But as your army grows so does the enemy, increasing in strength and numbers to the point where you're fighting huge, epic wars that last a couple of hours, possibly longer.