USgamer Club: Final Fantasy Tactics, Chapter 3

USgamer Club: Final Fantasy Tactics, Chapter 3

Our intrepid tacticians venture even further into the world of Ivalice as we take on the third part of this legendary RPG.

Welcome back to our weekly Final Fantasy Tactics grind session! This week, the team delves into Chapter Three… well, except Bob and Jaz, who are running different degrees of “behind" at the moment.

In case you've missed our progress to date, we've slugged our way gamely through Chapter One and Chapter Two over the past few weeks. There have been ups and downs, smiles and tears, and the occasional bewildered cries of our confused Editor-at-Large whose experience with role-playing games mainly comes down to playing World of Warcraft PVP. Yet we soldier on as we seek to expose the foul plot that crooked politicians and clergymen have concocted in their bid to take over the land of Ivalice by any means possible….

Jeremy Parish

After doing Chapter Two so very, very wrong by rushing through as quickly as possible, I'm doing it so very right now that I've cleared the horrible wall of cruelty that was the Gallows. I don't even want to think about how many hours I spent grinding on a single map over the weekend just to get to a point where my team could best Gaffgarion's ridiculous army of Knights, Archers, and Time Mages. But we've crossed a very happy Rubicon.

As a result of my frustrations at the end of the last chapter, I've been playing much more vindictively than I used to; whenever I get annoyed at a battle, I draw out the fight so I can gather as many treasures and crystals as possible from felled foes. I'm startled by my own darkness — I'm deliberately attempting to consume the souls of those who offend me. Or at least loot their corpses.

Even though I'm slowing down my pace and grinding for Job Points before each new phase of the story now, I haven't unlocked nearly as many jobs at this point as I should have; instead, I've been mastering the roles I already have. My Monk spent all of Chapter Two as a Geomancer and now is a Monk with the full spread of Geomancer skills (as well as Equip Heavy Armor), which basically turns her into the single most versatile and powerful character in each and every battle. And some point I'm sure I'll lock the Ninja and Samurai classes, but I'm in no rush. I'll be luck to make it to Chapter Four before next week's session, but you know what? I'll be relishing every little step of the way.

Yes, Final Fantasy Tactics has turned a corner for me. What once was frustrating is now like riding a bike downhill.

At least until Riovanes, anyway.

Kat Bailey

We are gathered here to mourn Yedythe, who passed away on the field somewhere in Chapter 3. Yedythe was a Time Mage/White Mage, and will be missed for her mass curing and revival abilities. It is believed that she fainted during a random battle and became a crystal without anyone noticing. She was active in the Zaland Rotary Club and held season tickets to the Gariland Magick Roller Derby team, of which she was known to be a big fan. She is survived by her party leader Ramza and friends Flyer, Amuro, and Norman.

So yeah, that happened.

I didn't realize that Yedythe was dead until I discovered her missing in the party selection screen. Since then I've been without a dedicated healer. Thus far though, I've been doing fine. Ramza and Amuro can both use Revive, Norman is capable of tossing Phoenix Downs, and Flyer can heal with X-Potions, so I'm mostly fine. More to the point, Ramza and Amuro are now absolute killing machines, with the former having mastered Dual Wield and the latter being a Doublehand Dragoon. My main problem is figuring out who to fill the next slot with since I have no interest in building up a new character. Thus far I've been using Luso, who isn't that great but has found a niche in my party casting Tailwind, Steel, and Shout while Ramza is busy. I'm open to suggestions on what I should do with that last slot. Since I just hit Chapter 4, maybe it's time to go looking for Cloud?

Mike Williams

“Ludonarrative dissonance" is the word coined for when the gameplay and the story don't match up, right? I almost feel that way in my playthrough because those standing against me seem so scary and fearsome in cutscenes, but in the actual battles Ramza sticks his fist through their skulls and calls it a day. We might be mercenaries, but my team is absolutely going wild in this War of the Lions. Bet Dycedarg and Zalbaag wish they stuck with family now.

Kat Bailey

Ah yes, ludonarrative dissonance. That's the one. To be fair, I had to restart a couple times because I wasn't able to kill Chapter 3's final boss (are spoilers okay in this space?) before he and his followers nuked my party. But on my third try, I got two critical hits for well north of 500 damage, and then Amuro came in and stuck his spear in him for an additional 470 damage or so. So long, Cthulhu.

It's funny, I'm cruising through Final Fantasy Tactics now, but that's in part because I've had the benefit of tips from the community here and plenty of grinding. Without all that, I'm sure that I would have struggled. I remember picking up Tactics for the first time back in 2003 or so and just being completely overwhelmed. But most of the hardest spots seem to be in Chapter 1 and 2. Now that I've got a complete team though, I'm destroying everything in my path. I wouldn't even say that I've overleveled and it feels like Ramza can solo the rest of the game.

Mike Williams

Yeah, my primary crew is Ramza as a Dual Wielding Monk with his Mettle abilities acting as a secondary, a Geomancer, a Dragoon, a Black Mage/White Mage, and a final spot occupied by a Ninja, Archer, or Mustadio depending on the situation. I'd like to be more freeform, but I had forgotten how painfully hard it is to level up new members when they join your crew. I've been spoiled by Disgaea, which is actually built leveling up your party members over and over, so when I went to bring Lavian, Ladd, and Alicia up to speed, I was in for a rude awakening.

It feels like escorting kids to school. Lavian, Alicia, and Ladd don't even have Focus or JP Boost when you get them, so you have to grind to to that point while the other two members of your party protect them from the worst the game can throw at you. I'm usually grinding on Mandalia Plains, because it usually throws Goblins, Panthers, and Chocobos at me. It's all just so slow. Part of me wants to check Advance and A2 to see if they fixed the problem; they may have, but my memory isn't the best.

Jeremy Parish

Man, the sequels didn't fix nothin'. You still have to grind, but you have to do it while avoiding Red and Yellow Cards. A2 is the worst, though. It broke up your character equipment and skills by race, then locked class skills behind random equipment drops. So instead of grinding to build up awesome overpowering skills, you grind to gain access to the basics. Terrible.

Jaz Rignall

After some very helpful hints from the team and the community last week, I finally have a group that seems to be able to trundle along relatively effectively - at least, through the first few battles that were just smashing my face beforehand. I turned my main dude into a Monk, which seems to be a common choice. I also selected a Chemist, and after grinding Goblins and Panthers for quite a while, I trained Potions and Phoenix Down - which are extremely useful. I also have a Wizard and Thief.

My group kept getting hung up in the Sweegy Woods battle. But then I looked online to see what I was missing, and it seems there's some kind of elemental alignment in the game, and what I needed to do was learn Ice - because them Goblins don't like Ice. So that, combined with my healy Chemist helped my Final Fantasy Tactics Clown Show finally get through that battle without losing anyone. Talk about slow going - I've barely done anything in this game so far.

Now I'm trying to beat the Slums battle - which seems decidedly tricky because of the archers, and the ass-kicking wizard. Apparently, if I level up my Thief more, she'll be able to steal their weapons. Though I'm not quite sure how that works. I think that's one of my problems - I just don't quite know how much grinding is enough to get my team to be effective for the next battle. I mean, I get that it's trial and error, but what I still have an issue with is knowing just where the tipping point is. I can't quite tell just how badly I've lost - or how much I need to improve my characters to win.

Jeremy Parish

I wouldn't count on stealing or breaking equipment to save the day for you, Jaz. I find that the AI-controlled enemies are able to pull off those shenanigans almost every time regardless of how unlikely the percentages, but the player is most likely to fail. I will recommend that if you go for equipment tampering specializations, though, you go after Shields first. Shields don't give your characters more HP or stronger defense; instead, they increase evasion. So before you can start stripping a bad guy naked, you'll need to do away with their Shield. And on unique enemies (the ones with specific character portraits), you shouldn't even bother; most enemies with special or covetable equipment (or who depend on a specific piece of equipment, such as sword spells) tend to come with the Maintenance skill equipped to prevent the theft or destruction of their gear.

Beyond game mechanics, I'd forgotten — or hadn't appreciated — how interesting Chapter 3's story is. This is the point at which the game transforms from Tactics Ogre into a Final Fantasy; the political turmoil and War of the Roses stuff remains the big-picture framework of the plot, but you start to see the lurid magical/religious fantasy elements bubbling beneath the surface here. The civil war never completely disappears, but after that closing battle of Chapter Two the Larg vs. Goltanna thing never really feels particularly important again. It's like, oh, sure, the country is tearing itself apart. But here's the elder gods trying to consume the souls of all mankind under the guise of the national religion… maybe we should do something about that.

Mike Williams

Chapter 3 is where things started to go off the rails for me when I was younger. I preferred the political war plot more than the Final Fantasy bits, because back in the day there was no Game of Thrones on HBO or bookstore best-seller shelves. For me, Final Fantasy Tactics was the place to get some royal infighting and heavy tragedy (I didn't know Tactics Ogre existed yet), so when it became the normal “bad guy summon ancient god/power from beyond" plot you'd expect from a Final Fantasy, I was disappointed. Not disappointed enough to stop playing - I enjoy the Catholic Church going Cthulhu as much as the next person - but I wanted a bit more.

Now though, I know Tactics Ogre and other games exist, so I'm more likely to like Final Fantasy Tactics slide. They were trying to bring the “Final Fantasy" and “Tactics" side together like peanut butter and chocolate. All in all, I'd say it worked out.

Kat Bailey

The story is enjoyable in a classical JRPG sort of way. I've always been partial to the Evil Catholic Church pulling the strings behind the scenes trope, which arguably saw its peak in the battle with Final Fantasy XIII's Nega-Pope. And it certainly feels like there's quite a bit going on, with Ramza and his party stuck in the middle. I suppose my only objection to the story is that it doesn't always do a good job of showing that a bloody war is raging. We hear about battles; and there's an encounter where some deserters show up; but by and large, the war itself is relegated to the background (at least it is in Chapter 3). I would have liked for the scenario designers to start weaving the war into the random encounters rather than featuring beasts all the time. Beyond that, it does a fine job of offering context, even if I spend the majority of my time clicking through the dialogue so that I can get back to grinding.

Jeremy Parish

Well, the war does spill over into the game. For instance, there's the battle against the deserters from the Army of the Southern Sky in the runup to Riovanes Castle — a battle which in turn is followed by a conversation that makes it clear Ramza and crew are operating outside the bounds of the War of the Lions. I think Yasumi Matsuno and his folks were smart to limit the story encounters that involve the periphery, actually. Anything more might have felt like padding.

Case in point, the worst part of Chapter Three in the War of the Lions remake: That stupid encounter with Luso. It's just a dopey, transparent attempt to say, “Hey, check it out, Tactics fans! This dude from the sequel is super cool and mysterious! And look how great he is in battle!" He's basically Ramza, except his basic class skill set is even better than Ramza's already amazing Squire class. But who wants to use him? He feels like such a cynical, tacked-on addition to the game.

Everything else about Chapter Three has been great, though. I'm beefed up enough that I can win battles consistently, but not so powerful that I steamroll everything. Which isn't to criticize you guys for crushing all who stand before you, not by any means. The great thing about Tactics is that it really lets you make your own fun — if you want to grind and destroy, you can. If you want to invent your own crazy challenges to make things harder for yourself, you can.

Bob Mackey

I'm still on Chapter 2–despite my attempts to make progress–and I have to say Final Fantasy Tactics is definitely a game that gets much easier after the beginning. Unless you grind like crazy, your team won't have a healthy (or overpowered) amount of versatility until the midpoint, so these early chapters involve making the most of your limited spread of talents. I typically fight 2-3 random battles in between story-specific encounters, and this approach has mostly served me well. I'm not really fixating on one class at a time, though; I'm grabbing the most useful abilities from any given job, then switching to a new one and repeating the process. I'm sure I'll return to older jobs to flesh out their skill sets, but my current strategy is giving me the chance to try out roles that I never bothered looking into before, like the Geomancer and Mystic. I assumed the latter was mostly worthless, until I remembered how powerful status effects are in Tactics–disabling a summoner right before she could target my entire party was really all it took to convince me.

One thing that annoyed me in the last chapter continues throughout Chapter 2: The game's insistence of saddling you with guest characters. Parties in Tactics are already small enough, so it's always painful when you're asked to pick only 2-3 character outside of Ramza to send into battle. This restriction wouldn't be all that bad if these guests pulled their weight in battle, but unfortunately, they're not very smart. Agrias definitely helped out with her healing and revival skills, but Mustadio seems to have a copy of Delita's brain-dead battle tactics implanted in his brain. It's like, dude: You have a gun. In fact, you're the character that introduces the player to the presence of guns in Final Fantasy Tactics! So maybe try hanging back in battle instead of rushing directly into a pack of enemy soldiers? I've rarely had the guy stay alive for more than a few turns.

Currently, I'm stuck on the Clockwork City of Goug battle, which would be going much better if I didn't save immediately before it–now I'm sort of trapped, with no way to grind for a few more levels. It's not that this battle is insanely difficult, but getting key party members charmed by thieves can do an excellent job of making everything go to crap just as victory's in sight. Next time, I'm targeting those bastards first–during my last attempt, I had to give up because they had charmed the only person in my crew capable of reviving right before one of my fallen party members was about to turn into a crystal. I've only been using Ramza and the six people you're given at the start of the game, so there's no way any of these guys or gals are expendable.

Since we're sharing our party builds, I might as well end my addition to this piece with my setup. Ramza is the biggest ass-kicker: He's a monk with geomancy skills and counter, which is absolutely devastating to any enemy willing to risk a melee attack. I have two monks that were previously archers and thieves, and I'll soon be switching them over to geomancers to I can eventually make them ninjas. I also have two thieves that were formerly knights and monks, and I'm training them so they can eventually become dragoons, then samurai. And the back lines of my formation include a mystic with item-throwing skills, and a summoner with time magic–so far, white magic has been way too slow for my healing needs. I'm really comfortable with my party, now I just need to get past this battle and its abundance of pre-fight dialogue. Note to self: STAGGER MULTIPLE SAVES IN THE FUTURE.

Mike Williams

I tend to stagger three saves in games that allow me to and cycle through them in order. For Tactics, I keep the three saves, but I only use one of them while grinding, as there's never been something I've done while grinding that requires me to go back in time.

Good to see you trying out some of the other classes, Bob! Geomancer, once you fully unlock all the Geomancy abilities, is a killer secondary for another class and Mystic is vicious on its own or in tandem with an Arithmetician. Playing around with the weirder classes pay off, as you'll find certain combinations (like the Monk/Geomancer favorite) that can absolutely turn the tide in some battles. I admit Samurai and I have never been friends, but I'm going to spend more time in this playthrough on the class. In fact, Ladd has been earmarked as my Samurai already, even though I ignore him most of the time.

Kat Bailey

That's one thing I really like about Final Fantasy Tactics. I mean, yeah, you can bulldoze it with Monks, Ninjas, Black Mages, and the rest of the power classes. I've been doing that in large part because I want to get through the game and see how it ends for a change. But once you get a good feeling for the game, there's a lot of room for experimentation. Most classes have at least one or two useful abilities that pair well with those of another class, which makes the possibilities seem almost endless (provided that you're willing to do some grinding). Now that I'm into Chapter 4, I can definitely see how a lot of people have continued to go back to Final Fantasy Tactics over the years. The learning curve is harsh at times; but once you really get the hang of the mechanics, it's a remarkably expansive game. So keep on experimenting, Mike and Bob. There are a lot of ways to play Final Fantasy Tactics, all of them great.

Jaz Rignall

What’s funny about this game is that when I started, I looked at it and thought it was some kind of simple, cute, turn-based thing with a lot of fluff. Obviously, it’s anything but that. The depth and detail of this game continues to astound me. To be honest, I wish there was a more modern version with intuitive menus and an easier to use and more effective tutorial - that might make the game more accessible to players who are new to this thing.

I mean, I’ve poured a considerable amount of time into FFT, and while I am slowly making progress, it’s still a lot of effort learning the game's myriad subtleties. I listen to what the community and USG team members are saying, and it's clear this is one seriously brilliant game. I’m just a little frustrated that I’m not at the point where I can enjoy it quite yet. I keep doing things wrong and having to backtrack. Hopefully next week I can finally hit the critical mass and really get going!

Next time: We move into the expansive Chapter Four, though we doubt too many people will finish the game. That's fine! Chapter Four is meant for free-form play. Have your way with the game. Explore side quests. Experiment. Grind. Master classes. Whatever you want!

Also, in the next few days, be on the lookout for USgamer's first-ever staff podcast, in which we'll be talking about — yes — our USgamer Club sessions!

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