SummaryThis is an experiment done well. Really, really well.
The GoodThis is what happens when a brilliant game designer gets the idea of taking all of the skills and job classes that's been developed throughout the Final Fantasy series and dumps them into a turn-based strategy game. With seven games of experience to draw from, Tactics achieves a rich ability system -- and that's just what they started with! Each job class is further fleshed out with as many applicable skills as you can think of, and if that's not enough, there are some twenty-plus special job classes used by important characters you could recruit throughout the game.
But while the sheer variability of the totally customizable abilities play a very large part in what you do, it never overtakes the game so much that story becomes secondary. In fact, the storyline drives the game, fuels the battles, and gives your character a very good reason to fight. This isn't your random-battle-for-the-sake-battling sort of strategy game. There's always a reason: you're trying to save someone, or someone's out to get you, and so on and so forth, so every battle is not just another level up but also an accomplishment, as if you've done something useful. And outside of the battle, the storyline presents a sordid tale of deceit and malice between all levels of people, so that there is no line between "good guy" and "bad guy," which can be a common plot fallacy. There are plenty of good people with misguided morals that get them in trouble, there are plenty of bad people who just look good and end up tricking you, and there are plenty of bad people who change their minds later on. Shoot, there's even a good guy who must appear bad to do good but in reality is bad -- it's complex, and that last statement only makes sense if I told you who that character was and what he was doing, which I don't really want to give away in this review. But that's precisely the point of the storyline, which thankfully stops short of really preaching anything: don't trust everything you see!
On top of all that, factor in some really beautiful graphics -- a very nice mix of 2D and 3D -- and a great soundtrack, and you're on your way to something magical.
The BadThe story, while wonderful, is generally too convoluted for anyone playing through the first time to understand. While you could just play the game and ignore the story, that's just missing one of the best things about why you would play a game such as this one. The programmers do make an effort to help you out by logging major game events and allowing you to review cutscenes, but the game won't record every scene, which you will discover when you're trying to hunt for that crucial plotline only to find that it's been lost forever. And the shaky translation doesn't help matters too much, either.
The Bottom LineIt's challenging, fun, and different. Squaresoft put very little marketing behind this game, as opposed to many of their other Final Fantasy titles, but they failed to realize what a gem this is. Many gamers are now picking it up years later to get a taste. You should, too -- you won't be disappointed.