USgamer Club: Final Fantasy Tactics, Chapter 4

The end is nigh as we work to save Ivalice from evil (or just grind levels for the heck of it).

Our first-ever USgamer Club experience has begun winding down at last. We’ve all (or mostly) reached the fourth and final chapter of the game, a free-for-all combat extravaganza crammed with more secrets than story.

As we prepare for the end game and next week’s final entry, the USgamer crew is comparing notes and comparing stats. How fare your adventures? Have you mastered the Onion Knight class yet? Are you soloing the chapter with T.G. Cid? Or are you reliving the happy days of 1998 and getting super stoked about recruiting Cloud Strife? However you gird your loins for the final assault on the Lucavi, we want to hear about it! The girding, that is. Not the loins.

Jeremy Parish

Here we are at last in the final chapter of Final Fantasy Tactics… though when I say “in” I mean “just barely.” I spent the weekend trying to slog through Riovanes Castle at the end of Chapter Three, because I tried experimenting with building Ramza as a support character. Big mistake.

I don’t think I’m being too controversial when I say that the Riovanes gauntlet, in which you’re locked into three consecutive battles, is absolutely the worst part of Final Fantasy Tactics. In fact, it’s just straight up poor game design. Nothing before Riovanes suggests you’ll be facing such specific challenges, and unless you know it’s coming it’s very easy to lock yourself into a corner and either need to revert to an old save or, worse, start over altogether because you didn’t realize you should keep multiple save files.

The third Riovanes battle is easy enough if you figure out how to manipulate the enemy AI (use a “naked” or poorly equipped character to draw the assassins’ attention away from Rapha — they’ll almost always go for the character with the lowest HP total), but man, that middle battle is the worst. Bad enough that it’s a two-part gauntlet, but it also pits Ramza one-on-one against a character with a ranged attack that damages based on Faith, of which Ramza almost invariably has some of the highest in the game. The AI in that fight can be manipulated as well, but it’s much more difficult to do.

I will say that I took some satisfaction in destroying Wiegraf with Ramza set up as the most unloved Job in the game, Chemist. I boosted his speed to an unreasonable degree and, once he was getting four moves for every one of Wiegraf’s, had him gun down the enemy knight in cold blood from across the map. And when the second phase of the battle began, he blasted away a third of Belias’ HP before anyone else got to take a move, then scurried well out of range of the Gigas’ super-powerful opening attack. I don’t know who decided Chemists should be one of two classes in the game innately capable of wielding firearms, but it seemed like a fitting way to celebrate July 4th. My Second Amendment rights destroyed the knighthood.

Anyway, now that I’m in the next chapter, all progress has come to a halt while I grind Ramza into a Dark Knight. Although I am tempted to advance the story far enough to recruit the chapter’s two female characters so I can train them up alongside him. So many decisions in this final phase of the game!

Kat Bailey

You’re actually grinding Ramza to Dark Knight? That’s the kind of dedication that I don’t have. I’m already pretty much over grinding XP for my classes. I can’t even bring myself to get Balthier up to Dragoon for the extra stats. My main goal at this point is to get through the rest of the game and wrap it up. Which is not to say that I’m not enjoying myself! There’s just a finite amount of grinding that I can handle at any given time.

In any case, I didn’t have too much trouble blasting through Riovanes, but I definitely agree with it being a poorly designed section of the game. I luckily had the wherewithal to open up a second save before heading into the gauntlet just in case I got stuck. It would have stunk having to reset the whole game after all that time spent building up my characters. It reminds me of the cardinal rule of roleplaying: “Save early, safe often.” And the corollary: “Make sure you have multiple saves.” Things are a little easier now, but it used to be quite easy to work oneself into an unwinnable state in an RPG. Final Fantasy Tactics is a throwback to that period. What surprises me is that they didn’t make it a little more forgiving in the remake. Even a warning message would have helped!

Anyway, I’m well into Chapter 4 now, and my party has been turning over more than I expected. Flyer the Gunner/Knight has received her retirement pension and a gold rolex, with Balthier stepping up to take her place. Norman has been fluctuating between Time Mage and Summoner. And Luso is now gone, having been replaced by Reis the Holy Dragon. I suppose I should turn her back at some point, but I’ll admit that I’ve been kind of hesitant. I mean, it is pretty cool to have a dragon in my party.

As before, I’m slowly moving through the story chapters, periodically stopping to grind a new skill here or buy a new item there. But my feeling is that I’m rapidly coming to the end of my time with Final Fantasy Tactics. That is until I start a new game anyway.

Mike Williams

I’m just past the vicious battle that stymied most players: The mighty Riovanes Castle. I agree that the chain battle is just a giant slap in the face to new players. I’m reasonably sure that’s where most people put down the game entirely, because it’s not difficulty in the sense that you can go in unprepared. The Wiegraf one-on-one requires a lot of pre-planning to surpass.

After that battle, the real fight begins in the area Kat just highlighted. You’re handed a number of new named characters, but as I said in week 2 I believe, it’s painfully hard to level any new characters and bring them into parity with the rest of your party. I’d love to make Luso a Samurai and Balthier a Calculator (the latter just feels right to me), but I don’t even have the wherewithal to get Ramza to Dark Knight. So they just sit there alone, rife with possibilities while I continue to use my main crew. Why must it take forever to level up other characters? Why?

Jaz Rignall

Hooray for the World Cup is all I can say. Because if it wasn’t for that, I’m not sure whether I would have been able to make any headway at all. But thanks to almost all of the quarter-final games running into extra time, I was able to sit with FFT for many hours on consecutive days, grinding my gang o’ dudes into a super-fit fighting force of doom.

One of the big breakthroughs for me was to think about the game as a World of Warcraft heroic dungeon. I know that might sound dumb, but I’ve run about a billion 5-man dungeons in WoW, and for that you need a tight team capable of taking on anything. So I thought about my ideal WoW tactical team, and suddenly my brain was in totally the right place. I know this probably sounds dumbass 101, and I should have been thinking like that from the beginning, but it just didn’t occur to me. I was just looking at the game on its own terms and trying to deal with what was in front of me. Once I’d stepped back and really thought about it in a way that I can relate to the game, it all came together. And don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

So my A-team needed a proper tank. The Knight seems to be top class for this kind of thing. I wanted a ranged dude, so I made sure my Archer had what he needed. I also wanted a Wizard, so I could swap him in when needed, since there are some situations where my Archer is ideal, and sometimes he’d not. Hybrid class was my Monk, with his smack ‘n’ heal antics. And then my full-on healer was a Priest, and that made me really happy, because I play a Priest in WoW and she’s really hard to kill - as is my FFT counterpart.

With that lot, the game went from seemingly unbeatable, to just difficult. Things started making sense, and I finally began to make proper progress.

Kat Bailey

It’s such a great feeling when you finally get moving in earnest in one of these games, isn’t it? You feel like you’re beating your head against a locked door for hours; and then suddenly, the door opens and there’s a feast waiting for you behind it. Just goes to show that even the roughest games can be broken down with a bit of perseverance; and that certain fundamental RPG concepts are eminently transferable. Now you just need to figure out how to unlock the Ninja, Dragoon, and Samurai classes, and you’ll really be in business, Jaz.

Jeremy Parish

Kat, buffing Ramza to Dark Knight status isn’t that odious a task. The worst of it is mastering Black Mage, but with enough speed buffs even that isn’t entirely time-consuming. Anyway, I feel like I’m allowed to do some mindless grinding now, since I completely rushed through the early portions of the game and caused so much trouble for myself. Now that nothing in the story poses a truly serious threat, why not just steamroll the rest of the game? I want T.G. Cid to slink away in shame for being so puny and weak compared to my mains once he joins up.

Honestly, I think the versatility and options afforded players in Final Fantasy Tactics almost becomes a hindrance. Because there’s almost no end to how you can train and customize your characters, there’s never a point at which you adopt an optimum build — or rather, there’s never a point at which you feel good about it. If you settle on a skill set, you feel like you’re wasting all the Job Points you earn when those Jobs are mastered. I find myself landing on a perfect party build for a battle or two, then reluctantly switching over to lesser classes to further develop my team. Of course, that’s not strictly necessary… but why wouldn’t I do that?

I guess that’s why I’m going for the Dark Knight class. If I’m going to suffer Job-swapping compulsion, I might as well have an end goal in mind for it.

Mike Williams

I only level up another Job in what I guess could be called the off-season. When I’m not on point to finish story campaign missions, that’s when I play around with other ideas for job combinations. I’m not nearly as freeform as you are Jeremy; I’ve been playing long enough that I have definite preferred combinations, so most of the playing around happens in my final two round-robin slot, which change depending on what I’m currently facing.

And certain Jobs just never get my love. After a certain point, Knight just falls off for me completely. I get the use of the class with all the armor and weapon breaking, but in the end, I find that slot can be better used by a Monk, Geomancer, or Dragoon. Knight is merely a stop-gap towards better Jobs. And the fact that Ramza was still a Chemist when you went up against Wiegraf shakes me to my core. I couldn’t even fathom that.

Jeremy Parish

Well, not “still” a Chemist. He had plenty of Jobs open to him at that point — I switched back to Chemist for its combination of high-accuracy ranged attacks and innate healing specifically for Riovanes. Still, I’m not a meticulous, spreadsheet gamer. Even for something like FF Tactics, I like to play by ear, so to speak. I generally have a goal in mind for my characters’ development but don’t map out the route in between too carefully.

I suppose that may seem a little surprising given what a tyrant I can be with our editorial planning calendar, but that’s work! Video games are fun. I like the unpredictability of a reckless build… well, except when I go one-on-one against Wiegraf. That was a skin-of-the-teeth affair, too; Ramza barely had enough points to unlock the ability to use X-Potions after the battle at Riovanes’ gate.

I should stop blathering about my ill-considered tactics. I’m probably causing your skin to crawl.

Kat Bailey

I’m actually with Jeremy on this one. I feel like I might have a reputation for min-maxing my characters, but I tend to play it pretty fast and loose with my job selection and character development. I’ve long played favorites in RPGs—if I don’t like a character or a class (or a Pokémon), I simply won’t use it, no matter how powerful it might be. In that regard, however, Final Fantasy Tactics is pretty forgiving. So long as you have some degree of familiarity with the mechanics and you’re willing to grind a bit, it’s possible to succeed with quite a wide variety of classes. I suspect that’s the secret to its success after all these years—the possibilities are so numerous that people just can’t help exploring them.

Anyway, speaking of overpowered characters, I just got T.G. Cid on my team. I’ll admit, I’m tempted to use him, particularly with Reis the Holy Dragon having underperformed for me over the past few missions. But after working so hard to build up my team over the past few missions, it almost feels like cheating to bring on all these overpowered story characters. Poor Flyer is now working as a barista somewhere in Dorter wondering why I abandoned her after all the effort I spent making her a Gunner/Knight. I’m sorry, Flyer. In the end, Balthier was cooler.

Mike Williams

Reis is a good ringer for a little while, but eventually your own party will end up being stronger and more versatile. Luso I use because he has Ramza’s Squire skills, Balthier is the goddamn Balthier, Mustadio gets a pass because you get him so early, and T.G. Cid is an all-mighty monster. Everyone else, Rapha, Marach, Cloud, etc… I just don’t have the time for bringing those characters into the fold or finding a solid spot for them in my team. Perhaps if I could bring in more than five members max, but that’s not Final Fantasy Tactics then.

Bob Mackey

Since I got a late start, I’m still behind—even after giving Final Fantasy Tactics half a dozen hours of my holiday weekend. That said, I’ve been using these articles and comments to keep me informed of the unexpected dangers coming my way, like the infamous Riovanes Castle duel (which is the next red node on my map).

Since we talked about Chapter 3 last week, I don’t have much to add that we already discussed, but I can at least talk about how I’ve been dealing with the Job system this time around. Based on my vague memories of my initial playthrough back in ‘98, I initially came to terms with the Job system by cheesing the ever-loving hell out of the game, mostly through a combination of overpowered summons and T.G. Cid. This time around, I’ve found support magic to be far more useful than offensive magic, and I’ve only invested enough time in the Black Mage and Summoner role to unlock the tasty Jobs above them. I haven’t sunk too much time into White Mages, either, since Chemists are much faster, and I usually have a few party members with the Chakra (which heals HP and MP) ability equipped so our medic duties don’t fall on the shoulders of one person. Knights also didn’t factor very heavily into my party, as I’ve found it’s usually a much better idea to inflict damage than to break armor so more damage can be inflicted on a later turn.

Dragoons have definitely been one of the strongest classes for me—I initially trained some party members in this Job so I could reach the Samurai class, but eventually returned them to their initial roles when the Samurai lifestyle didn’t click with me. I’ve kept Ramza in the role just to explore my options, but my Samurai do way less damage than my Dragoons and Ninja, with way less mobility. I guess it’s cool that they can equip heavy armor, but I have the Equip Heavy Armor skill on all of my front line characters, so the Samurai’s defensive skills are irrelevant to me. Their special attacks can be pretty powerful though, but they also have the potential to break an expensive katana—and I don’t know if anyone else noticed this, but sometimes you have to scour the map for a place that sells these things. Again, I’m going to keep Ramza in this class for a bit, if only to see if the Doublehand ability is as useful as the Two Swords abilities I’ve taught all of my Ninja.

I know I complained about this port’s quality in our initial post, but of all the things Tose added to The War of the Lions, I wish they would have brought the in-game menus up to 2007-era competence. One of my biggest gripes about using attacks with some sort of charge is that you can’t just target an enemy and then check the turn list to see when your attack will hit—you have to see what that enemy’s name is first in order to tell where his or her turn falls on that list. So you first have to select the enemy, remember their name, then do your targeting while referencing that list: In the end, it feels like I’m doing a lot of work Final Fantasy Tactics could be doing for me. In a perfect world where the Tactics name wasn’t relegated to some cruddy mobile game, I’m sure we’d see all of these changes and more in a proper remake.

I have to say, though, playing through Tactics again after nearly two decades of SRPGs inspired by it has given me a greater appreciation for the game—and I already held it in pretty high esteem. When I played through Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, I didn’t really understand why people were so disappointed, but going through the original really highlights the sequel’s flaws. Tactics lets you experiment from the minute after the tutorial battle, while Advance really limits your party’s potential by making its Jobs race-exclusive. Still, playing Tactics again fills me with morbid curiosity about A2—I sunk about 12 hours into it back in 2008 and have absolutely no memory of it at all! Even if it’s substandard Tactics, I’m going to need a second helping once I’m done with this game.

Jaz Rignall

Now I’ve finally made some sense out of this game, I’m wondering where the genre is. I don’t know anything about this kind of game. Is there some kind of new version coming up? Is this genre out of favor now? What’s the most modern, fairly accessible game of this type? I wouldn’t mind having a crack at something a little easier, and then perhaps go back to this game once I’m really au fait with the genre on a broader level.

Jeremy Parish

Actually, Ken Levine mentioned just today that BioShock for Vita was almost a Final Fantasy Tactics clone… but that never panned out. I’d say the closest thing you’ll find currently is the recent XCOM reboot — it’s not identical, but it definitely scratches a similar itch. Likewise Fire Emblem: Awakening. It’s never been a booming genre, but a few solid games come along every couple of years.

Mike Williams

Hurm. That’s… that’s a good question. I’d say Disgaea is up there if you want something easier, though that game has its own deep rabbit holes. Fire Emblem: Awakening is a solid entry, but you’ll have to mess around with all the relationship stuff, which is not for everyone. Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars for 3DS is fairly straightforward. XCOM: Enemy Unknown for PC is decent, but the RNG can definitely screw you at times. I’d probably settle on either of the Advance Wars games for DS, which bring tactics gameplay to a wider audience.


Next week: We put the wraps on Final Fantasy Tactics with our final thoughts on the game before moving along to the next. There's still time to join the fight and the discussion!

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