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Got drawn in by a friend sharing its music, stayed for Sybil. She is honest to god transition goals. I am very normal about this character. Oh, and the satisfying platforming is cool too, I guess. Pseudoregalia’s main draw is definitely its take on a 3D metroidvania, as well as having N64/PS1-esque graphics. As someone who grew up in that era and still prefers to play those kinds of games, I felt right at home. The atmosphere is on-point the whole way through, what with the relatively low render distance, sound design, and classic chiptune music. It oozes with passion. I could gush over the sound design alone for quite a long time.
There is a plethora of movement abilities to find and make use of, and the game gives you just enough time to experiment with one before you come across another. The wall kick is an especially great expression of skill, being the most widely applicable move in your kit. I had a ton of fun messing around with that alone. Most of the time, you aren’t required to have specific techniques in order to pass obstacles, resulting in many moments where it seems like you’re sequence-breaking if you’re determined enough. The game never says you are or aren’t, which is just genius design. I haven’t said the word “schmovement” yet, which is par for the course. Game’s got schmovement, alright. Lots of it. And it’s incredibly fun.
I was disappointed by the combat. If you thought you’d have to make clever use of your movement options to defeat enemies and the (two) bosses, think again. It almost solely consists of circling around them, pressing the same button. Even the final boss wasn’t that spectacular of an experience; one really has to wonder why it wasn’t a platforming gauntlet or something. As fun as they were to find, health upgrades - most upgrades, really - felt ultimately pointless. There’s a system in place where if you keep your magic maxed and don’t heal, your range and/or damage is increased, but I wasn’t ever challenged in the first place to bother giving that mechanic any deep thought. I will say, losing your weapon for the first time is quite a shocker. The lackluster combat didn’t detract much from my enjoyment as much as it usually would, though.
As for the plot, there essentially is none. It’s mostly an implied one, with most of it coming from the beginning and end. Due to that, the ending felt like a wet fart. I’m used to games that don’t tell me much at all, but there wasn’t much payoff for the questions I was asking myself. There is such a great foundation here with the dream setting. So many neat areas and little cryptic goat dudes to wonder about. I wish more woulda been done with it. Bummer.
Many others rue the lack of a map, but I didn’t find it much of a bother. I’m the kind of sociopath that enjoys getting lost and forming my own mental maps. I can understand the grievances, however I think it’s more due to each room’s doorway being blocked by a black haze until you approach it, making it that much more difficult to get your bearings when you inevitably get lost. As of writing, a map hasn’t been implemented yet, and to be honest, I assume it’d be a giant pain in the ass, so I can’t exactly blame the developer for not including one. I believe if the game had more landmarks or vantage points ala Dark Souls which, for the record, doesn’t have a map and also features an interconnected world, the problem would be remedied. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anticipating a “I can see Firelink Shrine from X location” moment or two.
As things stand, Pseudoregalia was very much worth the $6 (!!!) and two short evenings it took to finish. I spent most of this picking apart its faults, so the fact that I give it a recommendation should speak of its successes at combining both a 3D metroidvania and a 3D platformer, which is an exceeding rarity.
As a video game, Final Fantasy XVI disappointed me. I believe I got around 60% the way through the story - a metric I didn’t wish to know (thanks Sony) - before dropping it completely. A cool story and setting can only carry my motivation so far before an utter lack of engaging gameplay mechanics begin to weigh it down.
The notion of comparing Final Fantasy games being unfair due to the series’ willingness to innovate with each game has been thrown out a lot as of late due to the divisiveness of XVI. I suppose that sort of makes sense; how can you compare things that purposefully try to be different? Well, I think it’s worth adding that there are fans, myself included, that play Final Fantasy games because they are titled Final Fantasy. There are no other RPG series that I can apply such a liberal criteria to justify owning and playing the game. Hell, I got an entire console for this one. So I think that notion is what inherently invites the comparison between numbered titles, since the fact that it is a numbered Final Fantasy game is the reason some play it due to their prior experiences with the franchise. It really is as simple as that. That’s not to say that over-comparison isn’t a bad thing but I just wanted to point something out that rarely gets considered in this point before I do start comparing.
Every Final Fantasy has major flaws, but usually those flaws come from attempting something new or just issues that are much harder to notice without hindsight. Constant innovation is a risky game, but the series has never shied away from it. Never let it be said that it doesn’t try to reinvent itself with every mainline entry. However, like I alluded to earlier, this is still a mainline Final Fantasy game. As such, there are certain expectations. Simply put, XVI upsets me because it feels like CBU3 didn’t care at all that it’s an RPG. My issues with it stem almost entirely due from the seemingly conscious decision to not focus on RPG elements. All the systems for loot, equipment, ability progression, etc. exist in the game, but they are all ultimately pointless. It's like no one spent more than an hour trying to balance them or incorporate them in an interesting way. There wasn't a single battle in the game where I felt I'd won because I'd optimized my character well or anything like that. It was always "I won because I pushed R1 at the right time," or “I dumped enough cooldowns into a stagger window.” Think of classics like the job system, or more appropriately, the materia system… aaand I’m already wishing I could be playing with any of those. For some wholly unneeded context, I paused my recently begun XII playthrough to write this, which happens to be the polar opposite of how in-depth a Final Fantasy game can be content and gameplay-wise, and further puts into perspective XVI’s shallowness.
The itemization is a complete joke. To elaborate: there's a crafting system, a loot system, a weapon stats/bonus system… and zero content to populate it. A linear progression of gear (the game always hands over a key upgrade material after a major plot point), and a modest selection of accessories. You level up, but the whole game scales alongside you, with no perceivable variation in stat increases. Gil is accumulated, but there isn’t a single pliable use for it, outside of buying music for the Hideaway. Really. Swords have damage and stagger stats... but every one has even values of both. There's no decision involved in how you want to play. Armor has defense and health... but it's a linear progression of both. No items that sacrifice stats for buffs or abilities. All that loot you pick up? Those bloody hides you spend dozens of minutes exploring corners of the world to find? Legitimately useless. Not even a bizarre, ala Final Fantasy XII, that offers unique gear if you sell said loot. I’m fairly certain the shops in the game stop selling new stuff after a certain point, too. Consumables are extremely bland and uninspired, half of which serving no point if you don’t decide to facetank everything that’s thrown at you. Absolutely nonsensical all around. They straight up threw their hands up and dropped the ball on the gear after setting up decent enough systems for it. It comes off as an obligation to try and include them because Final Fantasy is in the title, which is more insulting than anything.
That’s just the progression, or lack thereof. Now onto the combat. This is most important to me, so I’ll mention it first. Party members and Torgal are basically background noise while you do your thing. You can’t pick who's coming with, change their actions/skills, swap gear, buff them, and they can’t die or be downed, taking away any sense of their involvement when fighting. The party “system” really is just Clive and Torgal + whoever happens to be tagging along this time whenever the plot deems them necessary, and that’s a shame considering what this game’s take on the party system could’ve been. Also, why does Torgal have a stat page at all? I laughed when I first found it. What’s the fucking “pedigree” stat? He apparently has five different moves he uses, too..? Sure. I’mma just keep ordering him to heal me for 15 health since I like Clive’s voice line, thanks.
XVI lacks an overarching system like jobs, materia, GFs, etc. that would alter how you approach combat encounters. Yes, I know Eikonic Abilities exist, and yes, I am saying they don’t mean as much as they could’ve. Upgrading them is the game’s only form of progression, but even then, by the halfway point I had enough AP to upgrade as many abilities that are allowed to be used at once, so progression stops there if you’re smart with respeccing. You’re able to combo these abilities together as complex as you’d like them to be, which had me excited when I first unlocked the second Eikon, but if enemies themselves offer no reasons to engage you in further thinking, then why waste unnecessary effort? Add in the gigantic health pools on some mobs/bosses and you’ll always feel a level of tedium due to how dull and formulaic battles tend to play out. Compound this with a lack of things like elemental affinities and status effects, and battles wear their welcome quickly. Being hit by Bad Breath in the first real boss fight… only does flat damage. That is THE debuff move. Clive just gets up and shakes his head a little. Why isn’t he now made of stone, or at the very least poisoned? Come on. This isn’t to mention how jarring it is to use Ifrit abilities on enemies made of literal fire. How hard would it have been to give said Ifrit a burning damage-over-time effect, or something a little unique for the other Eikons akin to Garuda’s capability of dragging foes to the ground with Deadly Embrace? It’s a problem when it becomes glaringly noticeable, which it is.
I was somewhat ecstatic that XVI was going to be more linear. Before playing it, watching the gameplay previews and seeing how open the areas were, I had assumed that there’d be a breadth of side content to have fun doing despite the story itself being linear. I have no problem with linear games, mind you. There is essentially no reason to ever explore. It is genuinely baffling to have a game that goes out of its way to put chests in weird areas like abandoned villages in the middle of a desert and NOT have anything worth picking up. I really don't get it at all from a game design perspective. What's the point of it? Same issue I have when I want to explore a tucked away corner of a map or trek through a path to reach a clearing with nothing but two chunks of wyrrite there. It's so bizarre.
I get that it's a linear game, but with these beautiful environments and wide open spaces you'd think there would be… a little more to it? You aren’t allowed to wander into new areas, nor evoke your own sense of self discovery. Nothing is new or unexpected. Then again, if there were, it wouldn’t be worth exploring, what with the progression systems that are in place. So I guess it’s a mercy that the game’s areas aren’t any bigger and emptier. That’s the saddest sentence I’ve ever had to write.
All in all, it’s clear they tried to appeal to both old and new fans, which tends to disappoint both sides, especially in well-established franchises, despite how necessary it is for its continued success. The systems exist, but they are bare-boned. I would’ve honestly been more contempt if they didn't try to distract from the fact that XVI is just a movie game. Scrap all gameplay elements. Don't have any level ups, gil, upgrading, or "exploration." Just a straight line. It makes pretty sad attempts at masquerading as an RPG as-is, so if you're gonna half-bake it, don't bake it at all. Make it a different kind of food instead. To make the analogy clearer, it should’ve been marketed as and designed as a total arcade hack n’ slash. Labeling it anything different only served to destroy expectations for people such as myself. Otherwise you end up dumping $570. The console’s pretty cool at least… when I’m playing other Final Fantasy games.
If I pick XVI up again, it’ll be to see how the story pans out. As a massive fan of the Ivalice games, the mature and deeply political plot intrigued me, and all the characters were neat. I even grew to care about the side characters. Active Time Lore and State of the Realm are fantastic ideas for games with crazy deep world-building like this. It makes me wish Tactics and XII had it, since they are similarly convoluted and complex. As it stands though, the gameplay and the systems in place make it an absolute bore to play, at least for an RPG boomer like myself who had their expectations dragged through the dirt and their standards spat on.
Ivalice, oh Ivalice. Tactics marked my first foray into this wonderful world when I was a toddler watching my father play. I would sit by his side, strategy guide in hand, tattling whatever information he needed. I’ve still got it, even if it’s hardly held together all these years due to how many times I pored over its contents. It’s safe to say Tactics means a ton to me emotionally, and has shaped, for my entire life, what kind of games I enjoy. I have since revisited it a good number of times as I’ve grown up, be it on the PS1, PSP, or other dubious means, all the while my love for it never waning. I suppose now is as good a time as any to explain exactly why.
Nothing has topped Tactics as my favorite Final Fantasy game, and this is due to nearly every facet of it being phenomenal and top-of-the-line, not only in the FF series, but this entertainment medium as a whole. Every person on the development team is extremely talented, and their work in the rest of the franchise henceforth has made waves. Tactics has flaws of course, some of which are egregious and make it obscenely hard to play for those unfamiliar with the genre, however I feel everything else more than makes up for it. "The grandfather of tactical RPGs," some consider it. While I tend not to relish such terminology… I can see where they come from.
Little other games come close to Tactics’ satisfying gameplay and team-building. It truly has it all. Since it operates on a per-unit turn basis as opposed player/enemy/npc phases (ala Fire Emblem) battles are dynamic, fast-paced, and frantic at times. Having low overall unit count adds to the quickness of battles, too, though you’re often outnumbered. The maps are diverse and gorgeous, and provide unique strategic play that will completely depend on your party composition. Unit facing dictates damage and hit rates, environments have elevation differences and hazards, and line of sight is a consideration for projectile-based abilities, so positioning matters more than ever. Maps being fully rotational is very intentional, as there are nooks and crannies that could be hiding foes. There are even items hidden on select tiles that can only be discovered when someone with a very specific ability stands on them… the result of which depends on a certain stat. Point is, there’s a plethora of gameplay mechanics that are fulfilling to learn and take advantage of; it’s so dense I could not possibly cover it all here. For instance, I had no idea about the Zodiac compatibility system until at least a couple playthroughs. Of course, whenever I replay it now, I spend a good half an hour ditching the starting party and tailoring one with optimal Zodiac synergy. There is a solid in-game tutorial at least; something surprisingly uncommon for games back then.
Let’s be real here: the highlight is the job system. Everyone knows it, or at least, I hope they do. Final Fantasy V might pull the job system off better as far as balancing goes, but the foundation of Tactics’ battle system and how said jobs are able to be utilized in a strategy RPG setting is what pulls it ahead of all other incarnations for me. I actually think the lack of balancing is a strength in a way, due to the game being so easy to break with certain class and ability combinations. I won’t get into the most grotesquely-powerful ones for spoilers’ sake, but it’s genuinely a ton of fun finding new ways to bend the game’s balance in your favor. “Muh replay value” except it’s actually legit here. The job sprites and portraits themselves are adorable as well. Chock full of passion and character. That extends to the artstyle as a whole, actually. It should be mentioned that the act of grinding is a bit funny, with the gaining of JP being tied to the actions you take, as opposed to the battles you win, so you end up whaling on your own party members while the sole remaining enemy is tortured, rendered completely unable to fight back, or both.
I am likely taking for granted a lot of Tactics’ ingenuity, having been around it almost my entire life, so if there’s one thing to take away, it's that it's damn fun. I can pick apart the intricacies all day, but that fact remains. One thing it isn’t though, is perfect.
A poorly utilized function of the job system are the human enemies fought, both in random encounters and story missions. While their primary jobs are fixed, I’m fairly certain that every single other ability of theirs is randomized. I’m an advocate for the unpredictable, however this causes them to either never take advantage of their full kit or be incredibly weak with their secondary abilities. An enemy summoner receiving the Aim command is either never going to be able to use it, or use it so poorly they open themselves up for a OHKO because they’re a squishy mage who decided to approach your dual-wielding brawler ninja. This is much more apparent in the mid to end-game, where your party is reaching its penultimatum, while enemies retain their relatively primitive ability setups. At the very least they’ve got good equipment to steal/catch.
I also don’t like the Gained JP UP passive ability. Yes, this incredibly specific one in particular that’s worth an entire paragraph in this review. It’s available to everyone the moment they’re recruited with minimal investment, and is basically opportunity cost if you don’t use it, since all it does is make the game slower if you wish to learn more abilities and make unique builds utilizing other passives. Romha- er, “mods,” that remove this ability and/or simply make its effects innate to every character receive my highest praise.
The balancing as far as difficulty goes is a different beast. Everything else is a nitpick compared to this. There exist such incredibly steep difficulty spikes that one has to wonder what the developers were thinking. Dorter Slums and the Execution Site are a couple of these spikes, but they feel fair and are knowledge checks to see if you’re learning the game and experimenting with jobs. Wiegraf 1v1 and the whole Riovanes Castle sequence though? Yeesh. Every playthrough I spend preparing for them, and I can only imagine how jarring it must be for someone playing for the first time, since I’ve really never gotten to play it blind. This isn’t even getting into how it’s possible to softlock oneself in these battles due to how the in-between battle saving works. It’s become common rhetoric to keep multiple save files when playing Tactics, and this is why. I do it in other games too, whenever it’s possible… just in case. Legit PTWD (Post Traumatic Wiegraf Disorder). I don’t care about this as much as the difficulty spikes, but near the end of the game - depending on how you built your team - everything becomes about overpowering and brute forcing enemies rather than strategic play. Orlandeau is a common stickler for this point, however him being busted beyond belief is for narrative's sake. Anyone else can become juggernauts on the battlefield with the right abilities. It isn’t difficult to achieve this, either, so whenever I replay, I tend to limit myself, steal gear, and/or find hidden items to add more layers of strategy. The difficulty curve, or lack thereof, is the main deterrent I find when recommending more people to play it.
Throughout the story and optional side quests, unique guest characters are recruited, and overshadow generics due to their base classes being oftentimes very powerful. I still like making unique builds with them, even though they can carry themselves quite effectively by default. As mentioned previously, Orlandeau is infamous for breaking the game’s balance in two, so much so in fact that I feel like he’s an apology for the pain players endure in the first half of Chapter 4, however nerfing him in a hypothetical remake would downtrod on his immense strength that the narrative spends so long talking up. Not to mention he’s completely optional to use and deploy. Nowadays I tend to strip him of his gear and send him to the bench for the added challenge if nothing else; Excalibur makes anyone busted. I have a particular fondness for Mustadio, because guns are cool. Yeah, this game has guns. He makes for an amazing support unit that can dish out serious damage once elemental ones start to become available.
Tactics features permadeath, which results in all recruited characters eventually fading into narrative obscurity once they’re no longer relevant to the plot. Kind of a shame but it’s understandable. It’s very convoluted to account for every given scenario where certain characters might not even be recruited/alive. This aspect ultimately doesn’t take away from much, and that’s because everything else about the plot is stellar. It’s taught me more about class struggles and religious dogma than any history and government class I’ve been in. The twists hit incredibly hard, and the epic moments are genuinely so. Realizing there’s an entire demonic scheme involving the church that’s happening below the central political strife is such an incredible revelation. It sticks the landing too with the ending! For those who want to dig for the details, it’s possible to read up on the history of Ivalice via in-game entries and rumors to gain a further understanding of the game’s current and past events. After all this time, having experienced hundreds of other games and movies and shows, it remains the case that Tactics’ plot is intricate, gripping, mature, and legitimately one of the best in any form of media I’ve experienced.
It wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without the excellently-written Ramza and Delita, protagonist and deuteragonist, respectively. Despite playing and experiencing events through the former, Delita receives so much development and characterization that it feels wrong to relegate him as anything other than a protagonist. The two play off each other masterfully. It’s hard to get into detail without spoiling (so I won't) but these two have solidified themselves as one of my favorite duos in all of gaming. To this day, people discuss them, and the game is over two-and-a-half decades old. The villains are particularly well-written, too. A lot of moral gray area makes them interesting to have to deal with, to say the least. No one gets a happy ending in this tale.
I suppose this is when the translation should be brought up. It’s so bad it’s good, and has brought unto us a good handful of hilariously iconic lines. I think it does its job though; it’s mostly the spell call-outs that are oddly worded. With how deep the plot and characters are, I think Tactics definitely deserved a better translation. Think somewhere along the lines of Vagrant Story’s… and that’s where the War of the Lions remake came in. The entire script had been uprooted and given a shiny new Shakespearean coat of paint, which is better in a lot of aspects, but it softens the blows of some of the more famous quotes of the original due to how flowery the words are. “Animals have no God!!” is punchier than “The Gods have no eyes for chattel,” among others.
Not exactly sure where to slot this in, but Tactics’ music is… oh my god. Even after these last couple decades, I have never gotten tired of listening to it. Legitimately every track is bound to instill some sort of emotion, be that through its palpable battle tracks or the crushingly melancholic ones. It’s CRIMINAL that many of them play for only one or two battles at most, but I’d wager that makes them hit even harder. I had considered listing out my favorites, though I fear it’d turn out to be quite literally everything. Antipyretic, Under the Stars, and Ovelia's Worries are personally notable due to their sheer tonal shifts midway through. Damn it, I did it anyway. If “punctual” could have a new definition, it’d be Tactics’ soundtrack.
On second thought, there can be two definitions, and that would have to be the sound design. Very likely the punchiest and most unique in any game I’ve played. Scoring a critical hit as the screen does a sudden zoom-in absolutely sells the impact. Even stuff like doors closing, or drawbridges opening, sound real neat. I have the “grope” noise ingrained into my subconscious. I imitated it out loud while typing that. IYKYK. It’s an utter shame that the War of the Lions remake butchered the audio quality… it’s like MiDi vs orchestral, except applied to every sound in the game; all of the echo is gone. What’s left are weak and shrill sound effects that, at their worst, are genuinely painful to the ears. It makes it hard to recommend over the original. So I just don’t.
Tactics does so, so many things right; I do not kid when I claim it to be superior to most - dare I say, all - numbered Final Fantasy entries. The gameplay is too tight, the plot is too deep, and the characters are too compelling for me to think otherwise. So, I hope I can speak for a lot of people when I say we're praying for some sort of rerelease that will feature the original’s sound quality as well as WotL’s content, or something along those lines. Tactics deserves to be experienced by a wider audience.