Thoughts on Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions: The First 20 Hours

Triangle Strategy (a questionable name for a video game, but what do I know), has a release date set for March, and I’m pretty excited about it. The conflict between the characters and the story as a whole looks really compelling so far, and I’m of course excited to build up my team and try out the various jobs.

I’ve enjoyed strategy RPGs for a long time now. Outside of the Fire Emblem series, I played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and its sequel, Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift many years ago. I may not have appreciated the whole “strategy” thing right away, but the game’s accessibility and fun combat system opened the door for me to enjoy the strategy RPG genre.

Frimelda, the best character/unit in Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift, BY FAR

Over the years, I had heard about Tactics, the far more difficult and bleak Playstation 1 classic that preceded its Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS counterparts. A more intense version of games I already liked quite a bit? I was sold! So I added it to my ever-growing list of games that I needed to play, where it sat collecting metaphorical dust while other games vied for my attention for many years.

Well, with Triangle Strategy right around the corner it’s kind of hard to ignore this genre-defining game that has been adored and talked about for so many years since its original release. After a rather difficult process to even acquire the game, I’ve started playing the remake of the game that started it all: Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions.

Warning! There will be some spoilers regarding the early game story and character moments. I recommend experiencing this game spoiler-free and as blind as possible, so if you’re interested, stop here!

In the first 20 hours with the game, I’ve experienced chapter one and roughly half of chapter two. It’s not a ton of time, but it’s enough that I can say War of the Lions is the definitive way to experience Tactics. Released in 2007 with the added subtitle, this remake includes beautifully animated cutscenes, voice acting, improved translations, new recruitable characters, and additional jobs. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing the game on the go with the various quality of life upgrades.

The Story is Actually an Ivalice History Lesson?

Can I just say that I absolutely love the way the story is presented in this game? It’s so unique, and it’s unlike anything else I’ve seen in a video game before. When you start the game, a historian narrates how he’s trying to uncover the truth of the War of the Lions. Whereas Delita’s story is well-known and recorded (presenting him as the king that brought peace to Ivalice), Ramza’s is not.

For one reason or another, Ramza was branded a “heretic” for his actions, so his role in the War of the Lions was covered up and scrubbed from history. The historian tasks you, the player, with uncovering the truth. From there, you experience the story through Ramza’s lens. It’s such a great hook to build a story off of, and its unique premise sucked me in right away.

Although Ramza’s story is presented out of order at times, it ultimately starts in the past where an inciting event launches him to abandon his family name and become a mercenary. It jumps back to the present day, where he works together with Agrias to escort Princess Ovelia to safety. There’s a power struggle for the throne that Ovelia is caught in the center of, resulting in political intrigue, tentative alliances, massacres, and backstabbing reminiscent of the brutality in Game of Thrones (but without the gratuitous sex).

More than once, my jaw has dropped or I’ve cursed out loud in response to the absolute chaos happening on my tiny PSP screen. The pixel graphics may look cute, but when the story takes a shocking turn, the emotions and betrayal are incredibly powerful and conveyed effectively. Without getting into too many spoilers on the twists and turns, this game does not mess around.

It’s never been confirmed outright, but the story in War of the Lions has a TON of parallels to the real-world War of the Roses in medieval times. Food for thought.

The Characters are Grounded, Realistic, and Morally Gray

In addition to the story, the game explores the theme of classism through its main characters, Ramza and Delita, in great depth. I always thought the classism conflict in Trails of Cold Steel was executed rather poorly. Listening to Machias and Jusis prattle on was not the most effective way to explore how dangerous and damaging classism can be in a society. It was a little better in Cold Steel 2 where there were some meaningful consequences, but it could have been much better.

War of the Lions, on the other hand, explores themes of classism, prejudice, and legacy with great care not just through the storytelling, but through the character writing of Ramza and Delita. They are perfect foils of each other, and I’ve loved the progression of their stories and how their arcs are juxtaposed so far. A big part of why the character writing works so well is because the characters are incredibly flawed and realistic, sometimes frustratingly so. The game does an excellent job of exploring conflict through both dialogue and action.

Ramza is characterized as a virtuous young man who does everything he can to honor his noble family’s name and legacy. Very early on, his perception of himself, his family legacy, and the world are challenged and shattered. He has to reconcile what it means to be a Beoulve in the face of the greed and cruelty of everyone else around him. Ultimately, his code of honor leads him down a path in opposition to the church, which brands him a “heretic” as a result (this is why religion is evil. This is what every Final Fantasy game has taught me).

Delita was born a commoner, but has a close friendship with Ramza and is treated as an equal. He has goals to reform the system and eliminate classism in their society. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and leads him down a path of revenge and manipulation. Delita thrives on mind games and he has no qualms with getting his hands dirty to achieve his goals, in direct contrast to Ramza, who’s a bit more stubborn.

Tensions run high between them in every encounter as they argue over their ideals. But it’s not just two characters bickering back and forth: their actions also help cement their different outlooks and prevent them from being able to see eye to eye. And the best part? They both have valid points! It creates a fascinating dichotomy and results in an incredibly compelling story with characters that act in morally gray areas in the name of justice or otherwise.

I particularly loved this line of dialogue from Ramza relatively early on in the game: “My birth was not of my choosing.” It perfectly illustrates the flaws of classism; not just the obvious ones on how the poor struggle to survive and are not seen as people, but the burden of family names and legacy. People should be judged based on the sum of their character and actions, not just their birthright. I have a feeling that I’ll be seeing more of Ramza coming to terms with that as the game progresses.

Ramza and Delita are at the center of the story, but other characters like Princess Ovelia and Agrias are great. I have lots of sympathy for Ovelia being caught in the center of this conflict, and the pain she feels as a result. I particularly enjoyed the quiet scene with her and Ramza as he teaches her to whistle on a blade of grass. Small scenes like that add a lot to the characters and their relationships. Agrias is a strong and dedicated knight sworn to protect Ovelia, and I’m hoping to see more of her personality shine as the game goes on.

Argath is such an asshole! He perfectly encapsulates the privileged and entitled mentality of the nobility, and he angered me so much.

Gameplay: It Turns Out, War is Hard

War of the Lions is hard. Like, really hard. It’s no exaggeration to say that the difficulty curve can be pretty high at times, and there were plenty of instances where I would get stuck on a story quest for a couple of hours trying to beat it with all of my units intact. It’s challenging, but it also makes it that much more rewarding. The game forces you to strategize and develop tactics to win each battle. You can’t just throw your units into the middle of the battlefield and hope for the best.

I have no shame in admitting that I will drop games if they are too difficult. Part of the fun of a video game is the feeling of meaningful progression and escalation. If a game is too hard, that can’t really happen and it gets frustrating. So how have I stuck with War of the Lions for so long?

What keeps me going is the incredibly customizable Job system. You can pick a job for every single unit you acquire. To unlock more advanced jobs, you have to have prerequisite levels, sometimes across two or three at a time, and it requires a fair amount of planning ahead to build your units to their maximum potential. I spent countless hours working my way up to the Ninja job so I could make Ramza a dual-wielding nightmare, and it’s been well worth the extra grind.

A Stylized and Beautiful Artistic Direction

I love the way this game looks. The incredibly detailed pixel character models, the gorgeous diorama-esque set pieces, and the stylized cutscenes give War of the Lions its own unique identity in the Final Fantasy lineup.

The cutscenes very much evoke the game’s art style, and each one begins on the pages of old parchment before coming to life in color and movement. The detailed line work and crosshatching support the story’s presentation as a deep dive into the past to uncover lost truths. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Thoughts & Takeaways So Far

Despite the challenges, I’ve been enjoying Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions a ton. In many ways, it’s everything modern games like Fire Emblem Three Houses and Trails of Cold Steel tried to be. Where I felt those games didn’t go all the way with exploring themes like political intrigue, classism, betrayal and manipulation, and religion and faith, War of the Lions is brutally honest in its storytelling and characterization. I wish more games would be bold and brave with their writing, honestly. I’m looking forward to seeing more of what this game will throw at me, and I know I’ll be along for the ride.

Have you played Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions? What were your thoughts on the game? Let us know in the comments, and thank you for reading!

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