USgamer Club: Final Fantasy Tactics, Chapter 2

USgamer Club: Final Fantasy Tactics, Chapter 2

Chocobos, random number generators, and opaque mechanics beset the USgamer crew as they delve into the meat of this tactical classic.

And... we're back. Not just in terms of this collective playthrough, but also in terms of the game's story. Chapter 2 sees Final Fantasy Tactics' narrative thread returning to the aftermath of that prologue battle, now enriched with the knowledge of a thing called “backstory."

Not explained in the backstory: Why Gaffgarion is such a butthead.

So now we not only know that the events that transpired a year ago inspired Delita to become a princess-abducting rogue knight, we also know why. Likewise, we properly understand why noble-born Ramza would forsake his heritage not only by becoming a lowly mercenary but also by abandoning his surname to take his mother's maiden name.

Mechanically speaking, this chapter involves an awful lot of guest characters. And there are many more opportunities to grind for experience and Job points than before, since all the map points that opened up during the first chapter remain available to explore throughout most of the journey. Oh, and Ramza gains a new unique skill for his Squire class here — a subtle feature that will transpire with each new chapter of the game. Anyway, let's go save the princess.

Jeremy Parish

As of this writing, I'm not as far into Chapter Two as I'd like to be. I seem to be much worse at this game than I was last time around! And my job-point-grinding really feels like it's crawling, despite my decking out my entire team with the passive skill that boosts the amount you earn from each battle. Last time I played, it seemed like someone on my team was learning a new skill after each skirmish, but here it's more like I'm playing some kind of long con.

I also dabbled with making Ramza into a mage after the last update, but that seems to have been a mistake. Sure, it's handy to have him tossing around curative magic with his high Faith rating, but he takes a real beating without any armor on. On the other hand, once I reverted him to a combat class, he still makes a remarkably effective backup healer. So that's good.

Delita definitely got a better wardrobe upgrade than Ramza.

I think my biggest frustration has been just how badly the random number generator has been stacked against me. In Chapter One, I had a tough time with several battles because male Thieves would use Charm on my female warriors with unerring accuracy. But when I switched my future lady Ninja to become a Thief and tried charming enemy men, I'd inevitably whiff it… despite having the same odds as the AI. Poor form, video game.

The battle at the castled city was particularly infuriating, because Mustadio is a total idiot in combat. On my first attempt, he had the sense to move away from the enemy mages and disable the archers… but my failed attempts to Charm the mages started a cascade of disastrous bad luck, so I had to reset. In every other attempt that followed, Mustadio would run over to stand in the bad guys' overlapping cone of fire, where he would promptly die horribly. Even with Ramza dedicated to resuscitating him the entire battle!

Ah well. I'm making progress, slowly but surely.

Kat Bailey

Things I've learned since our last update:

  1. Chocobos are everywhere
  2. Chocobos like to use Choco Heal and run away.
  3. Their constant healing makes them ideal fodder for grinding.
  4. I'm so sick of chasing Chocobos.
  5. Screw Chocobos.

I'd also forgotten how many Chocobos pop up in the party as Chapter 2 progresses. Are they breeding without me realizing it? I seem to recall that Chocobo breeding is something that can be done in Final Fantasy Tactics. Or maybe everyone just has their own Chocobo mount, and I'm responsible for their care and feeding? Regardless, I've had to kick a couple out to make room for Mustadio. Go little Chocobos! Wark for freedom!

Mike Williams

If you're grinding Chocobos, you don't need to chase them. You stand in your pack, focusing over and over. The Chocobo comes over, attacks, you hope your counter doesn't kill them outright, and they leave eventually. The counter-kill is my big problem, because I sometimes forget to take Counter off my equipped abilities list since it's so possible. As long as they don't have Choco Meteor, Chocobos are your grinding friend. Otherwise, I have to use Chakra or White Magic to heal enemies up.

Boco's not just a Final Fantasy V reference, he's also the same chocobo that appeared at the end of Chapter One. Wiegraf straight-up abdandoned him to die. That's cold.

I've worked out the core of my crew: Ramza as a Monk, a male Geomancer/Knight, a female Ninja/Dragoon, and my Black Mage/White Mage. Everybody else, including Mustadio, is subbed in as needed. I find around now having a core of four is the best idea, because there are so many guest battles and forced party members. I got sidetracked with leveling up a two new party members to sub in for the Geomancer and Ninja when the opposite gender is needed (see Jeremy's problem above). Leveling up new characters is painfully hard, especially after the ease of doing so in most of the Disgaea games.

Bob Mackey

I'm a bit behind the rest of the crew—I moved to a new place right after E3 and haven't had much time to dig out my Vita and go to work on a 17-year-old game. But, to be honest, relocating is only part of the reason why my progress has slowed: You can thank a good portion of this delay to the early battle at Dorter, which I remember being a sticking point for a lot of players during Final Fantasy Tactics' original release (I distinctly remember people consulting me as the "Final Fantasy guy" of my high school).

Here, the game throws archers and mages at you for the first time, and saddles your party with two brain-dead AI characters, leaving you with some important decisions to make about spreading skills and abilities effectively over four different units. And given that your job options are so limited this early in the game, you don't really have a lot to work with. So I did the dishonorable thing and grinded for higher levels/the best equipment, gave all of my party members Move +1, and just barely scraped by. Funny how the next few battles following that one feel so effortless in comparison.

Since I first played through Tactics in 1998, I've played dozens of games it's inspired without ever returning to the source material. And this is my first real experience with War of the Lions, which feels like a real monkey's paw of a remake—as lucky as we felt to get this back in 2007. With very addition, there's a drawback. New cinema scenes? That's good! But the graphics are lazily squished to the PSP's aspect ratio? That's bad. There's a brand new localization that actually makes sense of the original's rush job? That's good! But it takes the Early Modern English thing way too far and everyone essentially talks in the same stuffy "voice?" That's bad.

And don't even get me started on how this port chugs like it's rendering a simulation of the universe whenever it's asked to reproduce some simple spell effects. After the amazing Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together that we miraculously received back in 2010, I am so, so, spoiled.

Mustadio is the best. Too bad he basically has zero weapons to choose from throughout the game.

But even with these technical drawbacks, the fantastic mechanics of FInal Fantasy Tactics haven't changed, and I've been doing a lot of experimenting, even if I haven't opened up too many of the jobs yet. I've had my physical fighters make the most of the Squire class, and moved them on to being Knights and Archers. My Chemists are now White and Black mages, though I'm not really sure what I'll be doing with Ramza. I have fuzzy memories of him in my old game as a Ninja/Dragoon hybrid, but this time around I'm definitely trying out all the classes I've yet to dabble in. I'm not expecting this to be the play through where I even approach the prospect of a Mathematician, though.

Also, I have to agree with Kat: This game really makes you hate Chocobos. When I showed my girlfriend I was fighting them, she asked, “Why would you do that?" My response: “They're HOSTILE!"

Kat Bailey

Forget Argath. Chocobos are the real villains in the War of the Lions. After so many years of being docile mounts, they've developed a taste for human flesh.

Mike Williams

Chocobos aren't that bad. Unless the red one comes a'callin'. Seriously, Choco Meteor is so unfair. I can survive the yellows or the flying black ones, but the reds? Run for the hills.

Jeremy Parish

Since some of the participants in this playthrough are playing War of the Lions for the first time, I'll try not to spoil too much about what's new. But I will say that you should keep Lavian and Alicia around, even if they don't take active part in your squad. Ladd, however, you can sack right away.

It's been five years since I've put any real time into Tactics, and Bob is right — the superlative quality of Tactics Ogre's remake definitely makes TOSE's slipshod efforts here a little hard to swallow. But I'm still having a good time, in part because I'm playing half-blind; I don't remember exactly where certain events take place, or how the chains of Job system progression always play out. I think my next battle will be the big showdown with Gaffgarion (spoilers, the repugnant jerk is actually a bad guy), but maybe that's not for a while?

The real value of Chapter Two is in the way it bridges the plot between the historical conflict stuff and the inevitable turn towards classic Final Fantasy supernatural fantasy. I'd forgotten how early it starts to make the change, but basically once Mustadio shows up the warring states things really takes a backseat to the larger plot… though that takes a while to get rolling in earnest. Meanwhile, I'm checking in on the taverns throughout the kingdom at every opportunity to find side jobs that'll earn my benchwarmers some extra Job juice. This is the way!!

Bob Mackey

It's been a good 16 years since I picked up FFT, and the biggest change this time around is I actually know what's happening in the story. I'm not sure if you guys are like me, but I tend to roll through RPGs with only a tenuous grasp of the plot, mostly because it's fed to me in small bites between huge helpings of game play. Of course, it also doesn't help that most RPGs make up about a half-dozen words and sprinkle at least two of them in any given sentence.

There's overkill, and then there's OVERKILL.

Tactics is still a little confusing, mind you; in Matsuno tradition, the politically powerful characters are usually engaging in important matters while your band of rogues is off fighting murderous flocks of chocobos in the swamp. With this playthrough, I'm progressing with the intent of fully understanding the events as they play out, but at times I wish FFT was a little more intuitive in supplying information. Lots of important character facts are squirreled away within their in-game biographies, and Tactics has the gall to relay its backstory via an optional 12+ page conversation with a bartender. Sometimes it really feels like there's too much story to tell for one little game, and Matsuno is desperately squeezing it in wherever it'll fit.

Mike Williams

It's surprising in returning to the game how little Final Fantasy Tactics explains to the player. The game as a whole is rather unintuitive. There's a lot to learn and digest, from a gameplay and story perspective, but so much of it in hidden. Unlocking jobs, equipping abilities, the effects of height in combat, the Zodiac symbols, Brave and Faith effects; on the latter I remember my very first playthrough I had a low Faith character as my Mage, and a high Faith as my tank Knight. Such a bad idea.

Final Fantasy Tactics, even in the War of the Lions version is a game that requires you to dig deep and study to fully understand. While the Advance games never got back to the highs of FFT, they were better at easing player into the entire game. Tactics is simply a game where you learn by doing, and it's probably the kind of game that wouldn't get released today without an extensive set of tutorial levels and a helpful Moogle character.

Kat Bailey

I think I have a reasonable grasp on what's going on. I know that Ramza is a renegade right now! I think that's honestly all I need to know at this point in time. For me, Chapter 2 has been an opportunity to get my affairs in order and start thinking about what I actually want to do with my team. I probably should have been doing that in Chapter 1, I know, since it's easy to set yourself back by making poor choices with your JP. But I've been mostly on track, turning Ramza and Amuro into Monks while building up a Black Mage and a White Mage on the side. That little core, plus a Knight, have helped me get through the story with relative ease.

Spoiler: Seriously, Gaffgarion is a butthead.

I'm onto next steps though, and I'm thinking that I'll go the traditional route and make Ramza a dual-wielding Monk. It's a little dull, I know,, but I'm not quite comfortable enough with the mechanics to run off and try something insane. With Ramza as my Monk, I think I'll have some fun and make Amuro a Ninja/Dragoon, with the rest of my team members being Black Mage/Chemist and Time Mage/White Mage respectively. The only thing I'm stuck on is what to do with my Knight. At the moment, I'm building her up into an Orator so that she can wield guns and inflict long-distance power breaks, but I don't know what her primary class should. I'm open to suggestions!

Anyway, don't let me indecision fool you. This is my favorite part of a strategy RPG. I can spend hours just poring over stats, moving the interlocking parts together, and watching my team develop. It's why I still play Pokemon and Madden NFL after all these years. I got off to a bit of a rough start, but now that I've put about 15 hours into the game, it's all starting to fall together. After USA-Portugal wrapped on Sunday, I turned on my Vita and pretty much didn't stop until I had finished watching Aliens, a large chunk of Up, and Finding Nemo. I've yet to progress of Chapter 2, but all that grinding has made a difference.

Jeremy Parish

Me, I've decided my favorite part of a strategy RPG is revenge. I had the worst frigging time at Goug yesterday — failure after failure due to crappy luck with the random number generator — and when I finally managed to make the stars align for me, I absolutely destroyed the enemy party that had caused me such trouble. I wiped out all but one of the opposing party, broke the survivor's attack party until she was throwing spitballs, and waited around for the fallen to turn into crystals so I could consume their delicious essences. Normally I just stomp the bad guys and move along, but not this time.

Tasty, tasty enemy essence.

I'm still really enjoying this session with the game, despite my lousy RNG incidents. There was one round in which I went two turns without landing a single attack, buff, or debuff no matter how high the stated likelihood of success, only for an enemy Thief to walk up to my Archer and steal her armor off her body. He had a 21% chance. That is some serious garbage right there, is what that is. My wife heard me muttering obscenities under my breath and said, “I'm sorry. You must really hate that game." No, actually, you married a glutton for punishment, is all.

Mike Williams

The Random Number God is a capricious deity. One battle may be feast, while another is famine. I get around this by resetting a lot. It's pretty easy to do on the Vita, so if a battle is going horribly I'll call it a wash. In one battle I lost Ramza to the combined might of two Chocobos and a Bomb, and my other heavy was early in the Geomancer tree (and early enough in the game that Axes weren't a thing yet), so he didn't have much in the way of attack. My White Mage hadn't learned Raise yet and I didn't have a Chemist. Needless to say, without their fearless leader, the rest of the party was cleaned up in short order. It was just a perfect storm of team build and opposing force.

So yeah, I understand the revenge idea pretty well. There's nothing better than the last enemy retreating to the far side of the map at low HP, with my party all Focus-ing on the other side. It's just a matter of time until you come back and throw yourself headfirst onto these majestic crags of awesome!

Ramza's all like, "Is this a rave? Are we raving? Should I have brought my pacifier?"
Jaz Rignall Editor-at-Large

I'm a little late to the Chapter 2 party, and that's largely because I took some time out. I've been playing FFT while watching World Cup games, but made the mistake of trying to work through it in a linear fashion, thinking that I'd fight a group, maybe lose a few times, but in the process earn enough jps and whatnot to build up my characters so that I could eventually beat the enemy.

However, since that didn't work, I began to reload the game every time I lost, so I could try different tactics, not realizing that actually, the thing I needed to do to win was level up my guys by grinding a weaker fight. It's such a dumb mistake to make, but I just didn't think about it that way - I thought it was all about working out the right tactics - not making your team stronger before fighting.

DOH DOH and effin' DOH!

And to make things worse, I was missing some... well... actually, a TON of important info.

I still didn't know how items worked. I didn't know about all the different things that are taken into consideration when you fight, and I wasn't really sure about jobs, and how different advantages can be gained with them. I should have read up on it a little more, but after reading a couple of guides, I thought I'd gotten the gist of the game. Clearly, I should have read them more thoroughly.

I pretty much understand the way positioning and movement works, and thanks to some help from other USG team members, I've got my head around the group composition. But man is the game a pain in the ass to navigate and use. As a novice, it feels like hard work trying to figure out where things are and how to select jobs and items - let alone which ones I should actually be using. Even after playing for many hours, I feel like I'm still standing on the tip of the iceberg.

The other thing that goes way over my head are FFT's characters and storyline. Since I don't know anything about any of them, all the different people and places is quite bewildering. That said, I can see exactly why people love this game so much. It's so freakin' deep and rich. It really is impressive.

Anyway, I'll be restarting my attempt tomorrow, using two saves just in case I do something stupid (pretty likely). So far I don't think I'm anywhere near close to finishing Chapter 1, and it's been a long, long time since I've put this much time into a game and really felt I've gotten nowhere. It's sort of disheartening, but I'm determined to at least finish the first part of the game!

We'll return next week with more (undoubtedly woeful) tales from Chapter Three. In the meantime, share your own progress! Or lack thereof! We'll join in the conversation as we each struggle through the remainder of Chapter Two as well...

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