Final Fantasy Tactics – Past, Present, and Future
For many, Final Fantasy Tactics was the first real taste of the tactical RPG subgenre. Led by Yasumi Matsuno, mastermind behind the Ogre Battle series, Tactics would release in 1997 to universal acclaim, quickly becoming a favorite among the RPG community and easily attaining the “Greatest Hits” label on the original Playstation. Not only that, it would do well enough to spiral out into its own full-fledged subseries thereafter. For the better part of two decades, Square Enix would go on to release three additional titles under the Tactics umbrella, though each subsequent game would prove to perform worse than the one before it, and none would ever come close to achieving the success or adoration brought about by the grandfather of the franchise.
And then, nothing. While the world of Ivalice has remained alive thanks to its influence and presence in other titles – most recently, Final Fantasy XIV – the actual Tactics branch of games has been silent for over five years now. So, what happened to it? Who can really say, for certain, though I can speculate on where things went wrong and what may become of the franchise – if anything – in the future.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was released roughly five years after the Western release of Final Fantasy Tactics, sharing many characteristics with its predecessor while introducing some new systems, such as the game-changing “Laws” mechanic that would force players to adapt to strict rulesets on each battlefield. The game was well received and would be a financial success, though not on the same level as the original game.
To my surprise, Tactics Advance would blaze its own path in the Ivalice universe rather than working off the rich lore established in Final Fantasy Tactics, instead centering around… a group of kids with a magical book. Look, I have nothing against NeverEnding Story but the jump from the realistic, politically charged campaign of Tactics to one with kids throwing snowballs at each other (in the prologue) was a bit too much.
I’m sure that the jump from Playstation to Nintendo had something to do with this tonal shift, but was it really necessary? New isn’t inherently bad – Final Fantasy, for better or worse, has opted for “new” with almost every new mainline entry – but there is just so much potential for expansion on the original Tactic’s narrative that it feels bad knowing it has been confined to a dusty closet for over two decades now. I don’t fault Square Enix for diversifying their product on multiple platforms, but I don’t feel it was worth sacrificing the far superior atmosphere found in the original Final Fantasy Tactics in the process – if that was the reason for its abandonment. I’ve already outlined why I think a true Final Fantasy Tactics sequel/prequel makes sense, so I’ll keep it short here: Square shouldn’t have abandoned the lore of the original so soon. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Matsuno would shift from his previous director position (with Tactics) to producer for Tactics Advance.
Down The Rabbit Hole They Go
Square Enix would once again ignore the original game in favor of a direct sequel to Tactics Advance, dubbed Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, released in North America in 2008. For me, this decision would further solidify the new direction in which the series would take, further acting as a wedge between the new path and the original vision conceptualized by Matsuno a decade prior. Coming off pivotal roles in the development of both Tactics Advance (released 2003) and Final Fantasy XII (released 2006), Matsuno would seemingly have no influence on the development of this sequel. Grimoire would be more or less postively received, but would once again mark another decline in sales in comparison to its legacy. At this point – for me any way – it was clear that change was necessary, though the impending change would not be what most fans would clamor for.
Don’t You Guys Have Phones?
With the rising popularity of smartphones and mobile gaming in the late 2000s, it was only a matter of time before our favorite series would make the jump to the overwhelmingly lucrative platform. Tactics would prove to be no exception, with Final Fantasy Tactics S releasing in the Japanese mobile market in 2013. This would not be the first foray into the mobile platform for the series – the original Final Fantasy Tactics earned that honor back in 2011 – but would mark the first new mobile game and first new entry in the series in five years. Tactics and turn-based games in general lend themselves to fitting well on any device due to the slower pace of gameplay, but not even that nor the legacy of the series would be enough to save this mobile title from shutting down a mere 13 months after launch. Details surrounding its demise are slim, but things had to have been bad for a mobile title (donning the Final Fantasy prefix) to fold so soon after release. The situation had never looked so grim for the series, so where could things possibly go from here?
The Unsung Story
At this point, in 2014, series creator Yasumi Matsuno had more or less been “hands off” with the franchise for over a decade, but his creative vision would soon be summoned once more. Unsung Story would be announced on Kickstarter that same year and would be touted as the “spiritual successor” to Final Fantasy Tactics thanks to Matsuno’s contributions. While his company, Algebra Factory, would not lead the project, he would apparently be involved with the creative process in some form. Today, Unsung Story still hasn’t released after six years thanks to a rather tumultuous development history – by no fault of Matsuno’s – but is rumored to finally be releasing by the end of 2020. Only time will tell whether the project will actually live up to its inspiration, or simply join the ever-growing sea of Tactics-like titles that just can’t seem to find the same “magic” that exudes from the 1997 original.
Time Flows Like A River…And History Repeats
“Never” is a strong word and shouldn’t be thrown around liberally, but I’m fairly certain that we’ll never see another Final Fantasy Tactics game. Its legacy will live on, of course, but it is clear to me that the heyday of the series is long gone. Historically, the franchise has released one title every five years or so before abruptly ending that trend after the seemingly disastrous Final Fantasy Tactics S. Even though the evidence at this point is rather damning, I would still love a return to the original Ivalice brought about by Final Fantasy Tactics, whether that be through a sequel or a prequel. The key with either theoretical iteration would be Matsuno, as I believe he would be the only one capable of making it a success. Although he hasn’t been a direct employee of Square Enix for some time now, he has contributed to Ivalice-related scenarios in Final Fantasy XIV recently…so perhaps there is some hope for something completely new from the franchise in the future.
I think a more reasonable goal – for both Square Enix and our own wishful thinking – would be to bring the original Final Fantasy Tactics or its re-release, War of the Lions, to the Nintendo Switch. One of our highest viewed articles year-over-year is, in fact, on this very subject, so there is an obvious demand for the classic tactical RPG to come to Nintendo’s newest platform. The mature theme and darker tone of Tactics that Nintendo may have once detested would certainly be embraced by their modern standards, as the Switch eShop is full of far more potentially heinous content than could ever be found in this title.
The Rose-tinted Lens
Bringing Tactics as-is to a modern platform has some potential downsides, however. While I would instantly buy it, I’m not blind to the improvements that have been made in the genre over 20 years that might shed a more negative light upon revisiting the experience in 2020. I recently completed Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark on Switch, and while it is nowhere near the same level as Tactics from a narrative perspective, it features some amazing quality-of-life improvements that Tactics would be stupid not to adopt.
Remember spamming “Focus” and damaging your own party members for hours on end in order to efficiently farm job points? That sucked. A far better solution would be an emphasis on swift victories and per battle MVPs like those found in Fell Seal. I could go on, but you get the idea. Hindsight is 20/20, and the same line of thinking could be applied to virtually any game from decades ago, but that is all the more reason why I’d love to see something brand new in the Final Fantasy Tactics universe. Not only does it deserve a second chance, it would be amazing to see the Tactics framework injected with modern conveniences. If not, I’d still settle for a port of the original Final Fantasy Tactics (or WoTL) on Switch.
Who knows, maybe 2020 is the year?