It seems like only a few hours ago I was guiding the young Ramza Beoulve through his first military campaign to defeat and scatter the Death Corps (in reality it was last week). Now, the renegade high born, less naïve but no less idealistic, has just encountered his first extra-dimensional demigod, Cuchulainn, the Impure.
It’s worth noting just how well Final Fantasy Tactics tackles the obligation of “boss fights” despite being a turn-based tactical RPG. Unlike other battles that build up more slowly with stat buffing and strategic positioning, boss fights against the Lucavi are usually closer to bar fight brawls. Fast paced and extremely messy, my usual plan is to throw everything I’ve got at Cuchulainn as quickly as possible. Whoever isn’t instantly knocked out by his Bio spell is shoved into the fray: my lancer jumps and my wizard targets flare while Ramza launches a blistering frontal assault. It’s intense, and requires some luck, but the result is satisfying, even in the handful of times the battle doesn’t go my way.
Of course, difficult encounters like these always brings back the issue of choosing guest characters over generic ones. I have the same fondness for the random warriors I’ve been cultivating across countless battlefields that I do for the Pokemon I caught and raised myself (as opposed to the Legendary ones which were prepared for me by the game’s developers). Agrias, named after a type of butterfly, is one of the game’s most compelling characters (not least of all because she’s a woman knight who is more capable than the main protagonist), but also arguably its second most overpowered. Developing her “Holy Sword” abilities makes her into a deadly failsafe in any encounter, but it also takes the edge of what might otherwise be tense and challenging affairs.
This is less the case with Mustadio, whose sniping is a support ability, and thus pairs with other weapons and skill sets (like the Knight’s “Break”) in interesting ways. I’ve never been one to enjoy playing a game while actively going out of my way to hold one hand behind my back, which is why using Agrias but just not letting her utilize her most deadly attacks simply doesn’t feel like a solution to me. Nevertheless, with the additional content in the War of the Lions remake, I’m looking forward to being able to unleash guest characters like her on more difficult foes in later side quests.
As for my three main generics, Gwayne, Isabella, and Rosalind, I’m currently at a bit of a loss with what to do with them. Rosalind is going to be my face-to-face combat expert, but there are any number of ways for that to manifest itself. The Monk’s “Hamedo” counter is high up on my list. Though people complain about its reaction rate, it’s always come through for me in big ways in the past. Few things in the game are as satisfying as teleporting a Knight or Ninja into a swath of enemies and see each one pummeled as they try to land physical attacks in vain.
I’m less sure of what to do with Gwayne. He just got Flare and Magic Attack Up, and while I could have him waste time getting every black magic spell, elemental attacks in Tactics are mostly beside the point, making only one spell (fire/ice/thunder) of each level necessary. So what’s next for him? In the past I’ve always been in the habit of segregating physical attacks from magic. If one character was going to have black magic, they were also going to be in charge of summons and time magic as well (though never white magic because Final Fantasy has long since conditioned be to think of those two things as anathema to one another).
But now I’m realizing how inefficient that is. Clearly it’s better to spread the magical wealth, even if that means having to manage unwieldy equipment loadouts (Knights wearing robes and magic gauntlets, Summoners toting around swords, etc.). Hopefully things begin to take a more precise shape as I progress through Chapter 3. For now I’m left to ponder Final Fantasy Tactics various escoteric trade-offs: “Blade Grasp” or “Full Restore,” “Cyclops” or “Meteor,” Mustadio or Agrias?
One last thing though before heading back into the breach. I don’t like many of the “improvements” Square attempted to make to Matsuno’s masterpiece with the War of the Lion’s edition. As others have noted, the animated cutscenes are cheap and over-performed. Tactics’ melodrama succeeds when delivered by understated sprites rather than five cent impressions of Shakespeare.
In addition, the limitations of the technology and the localization budget of the original game, while certainly hindrances in certain areas, also helped the game in others. Less flowery and more direct dialogue gave the game a certain kind of earnestness, while the hazy subtext helped to add complexity to the drama, rather than shine a light on its more shallow parts. Whatever additions might have helped the original game, none of them included in-between scenes that redundantly overstate character motivations and transformations. I did not need to see Wiegraf actually joining the Knights Templar, or Ovelia realizing that she has nowhere else to turn when a number of Large’s men try to jump her and Delita as he escorts Ovelia to Lord Goltana. Less isn’t always more, but in these cases it was.