"This game is amazing in many ways, so after a price drop and a patch or two, it will likely be worth buying... but it's not yet."
I reviewed Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions on PSP, and I said "What can one say about Final Fantasy Tactics that hasn't already been said?" Now, I find myself reviewing it on iOS, learning that there are still a few things left to be said. Except for the controls and the removal of multiplayer, this game is a port of the PSP version, so if you're unfamiliar with FFT, I'll direct you to my review of that version
for the bulk of the details, and focus here on what's new to this version.
As a quick reminder of the story in FFT, the game focuses on Ramza Beoulve, a young nobleman, and his friend since childhood, Delita Heiral, a commoner. They live in the land of Ivalice, and before the game is over, their involvement in The War of the Lions completely changes the country's power structure. The story is both outstanding and amazingly well told, thanks to the new translation introduced in the PSP version, and seeing the opening cutscene for the third time made me just as excited to revisit the tale.
Likewise, FFT's gameplay is awesome. The large number of useful character classes and incredible amount of customization available mean that anyone sucked in by this game gets to have an experience that's not quite like anyone else's. The tactical, turn-based battles require strategy to win, and there are many paths to victory, so whatever your preferred playstyle, you can probably find a way to succeed.
Sadly, the transition to the iOS platform has made all of this amazing gameplay notably less accessible. It's not that options have gone away – it's that they're difficult to stumble across. After all, you can't hit the triangle button just to see what it does. Fortunately, the game offers an extremely detailed tutorial section that can be taken in pieces. It's completely optional, but if you're picking up this game for the first time, I highly recommend that you read through as much of the tutorial as you can manage.
As I mentioned above, the multiplayer from the PSP version of FFT has been removed. Rumor has it that the decision was made so that they could keep the voice acting in the cutscenes, and I can't argue against that decision. The PSP version's multiplayer featured matchmaking issues that stopped me from enjoying it, and I enjoy the voice acting.
Speaking of sound, I didn't notice any difference between the iOS and PSP versions of FFT. That's not a bad thing, mind you. I love the music, and as I just said, the voice acting's great. On the other hand, the quality level of the sound effects in battle may be a matter of opinion. Having fallen in love with this game in the past, the familiar sounds are a happy reminder of the good times FFT and I have had together, but if you're playing for the first time, you may be disappointed by their PSOne-era fidelity.
Graphically, most of FFT is identical to its PSP predecessor. The cutscenes still look gorgeous, even on my non-retina-display 3rd generation iPod Touch. In battle, the character sprites are still detailed and (for lack of a better word) cute, and they still have great animation. Sadly, this version also shares the PSP version's generally slower framerate, although Square Enix claims to have fixed the slowdown issues when casting spells. Admittedly, the 3rd generation Touch/iPhone 3GS is the oldest device that can play this game, so it could be that you won't see any slowness if you're playing on a newer device than mine.
The graphics aren't completely unchanged, though. Battles have a new, letterbox style presentation, with bars at the top and bottom of the screen. The bottom bar has a few buttons like "OK," "Cancel," "Help," and "Menu," although it's worth noting that you can turn on an option that allows you to tap just about anywhere to mean "OK." The top bar is far more interesting. It shows the current time and a battery indicator, as well as a percentage showing the degree to which you're zoomed in or out. I was surprised to see that Square Enix implemented standard iOS pinch zooming, but found that it comes in handy when trying to pick a specific square in a crowded area to attack.
In addition to zooming, you can swipe to rotate the camera to any degree you choose. This is even more helpful than zooming, since you can take the standard 45 degree angles out of the equation and look at a character dead on if needed. You can also angle the camera up or down, but only to a certain extent – you can't change the game into a completely top-down experience. The character sprites are still constrained to their traditional angles, so even when you're looking straight at someone, they're still looking up and to the right. I can't fault Square Enix for this, though. The only way to avoid it would have been to change the sprites to 3D models, and it would have been a shame to lose these sprites. I count full rotation as a good thing, even if it does occasionally make the sprites look in the "wrong" direction.
Despite the similarities between the PSP and iOS versions, the controls differ completely, as they must. And yet, FFT is a game driven almost entirely by menus. So how well does the touch screen work? The results are... mixed. As I mentioned, the screen features several buttons, and when you're not sure what to do, you'll probably start pushing them at random, which may or may not get you the desired result. When you have a menu with multiple options, you can tap on the option you want, or if the level of precision isn't up to the task, you can hold your finger on the screen and move it in the appropriate direction to scroll the menu. The concept behind the system is about as well designed as it could be, but the execution doesn't quite match up. There are really only two problems, but they affect nearly every moment of gameplay.
The first issue is that the aforementioned explanations came from my own trial and error rather than in-game tutorials. There is a control tutorial, but unlike the rest of the tutorial info, it's woefully inadequate. The second issue is general precision, which affects ease of play in multiple ways. Unless you obsessively zoom in, your finger isn't small enough to always point at the exact spot on the map you want, which means a lot of selecting, canceling, and reselecting. The implementation of tapping vs. holding is inconsistent as well, and there were a number of times I meant to hold my finger on something, but it registered as a tap. It certainly doesn't destroy the gameplay experience, but it does make it more frustrating than it needs to be.
Hopefully, despite the complaints I have about this version, I've been clear here that I love Final Fantasy Tactics. This is the third version of the game that I've purchased. The PSOne version didn't thrill me because of its poor translation and (to me) unfamiliar Japanese-style controls. The PSP version won me over entirely. And as I mentioned in our iOS feature back in March, I've been looking for FFT on iOS (or a game like it) since the day I bought my iPod Touch.
When this port was announced, I was overjoyed. And then it got delayed. Then, it got delayed some more. With each delay, my enthusiasm waned, but did not disappear. Finally the announcement of an actual release date arrived, as well as the news that the game would cost $16. I can't speak for my fellow fans, but that price point nearly destroyed my excitement about this game. It highlights a clear misunderstanding of the market on Square Enix's part. You just can't charge this kind of money for an iOS port of a PSOne game, especially one that's not graphically optimized for the iPad. What's worse, if I didn't already own this game on the PSP, I could buy it new right now for $10 at Amazon.com and have a better overall experience. I'm sad to say that despite my love for Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions and the positive score I am giving this port, I cannot recommend it for purchase at this price point and with these control issues. This game is amazing in many ways, so after a price drop and a patch or two, it will likely be worth buying... but it's not yet.