24 - Final Fantasy Tactics (Playstation)

I owned Final Fantasy Tactics for years before playing it properly. I just never seemed in the mood for it, and the slow pace of the opening always turned me off at a time when I was down on anything requiring more than twenty minutes to finish.

One day a couple of years ago I decided to sit down and give it a shot, and a love affair with strategy RPGs began. This is stat-obsession taken to new levels. The story and actual battles are almost secondary to the compulsion to max out a particular job or gain a specific combination of abilities. Indeed, I spent so much time in mid-game playing the same map over and over to learn Ninja skills that by the time I was finished I pretty much cakewalked the rest of the game.

That's short-changing the game a little though, because the battles are excellent and the story - while mangled somewhat by a truly awful translation - is compelling and surprising. I had some tremendously satisfying moments taking strategic gambles against the enemy and having them pay off in do-or-die situations. Despite the fairly cute visual style the story is pretty dark and sombre, and certainly more involving than the usual Final Fantasy fare (though to be fair FF Tactics is really a Tactics Ogre game dressed up in FF clothes - Square saw a potential for success in the genre and gobbled up Quest, the team that developed the Ogre Battle series).

It also has superb replay value by nature of its character roster and profession options. Playing through with nothing but Chemists is a popular challenge.

Absorbing Quest and its regular contributors meant that FF Tactics benefited from a score by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata. Their heavy orchestral style added immeasurably to the game's atmosphere, especially in the stunning battle themes.

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