I recently finished Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, and the game gave me a lot to think about.
Be aware that the following article will contain spoilers pertaining to the entire plot of Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions.
I finished Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions recently. I had heard excellent things about the game before I started it, and having played two not-so-great RPGs on my Vita recently (one of which was also brutal in difficulty), I decided to give myself a break and play something I’d been told I would love.
I at first struggled with the game, as it was so similar to my beloved Fire Emblem series, yet had a number of differences that didn’t quite allow me to feel comfortable with it. Despite being intrigued with the plot and the way it and the characters were developing, I nearly quit after I failed to defeat the final map of chapter three; the game would not let me go back and change or grind my party, and I lacked a back up save. I sighed, started a new game, got some advice from a friend regarding breaking my party, and got back into it.
I’m glad I did. This game now ranks amongst my favourites.
Good friends will know I’m one to keep up to date with politics, both my own country’s affairs and the major ones from overseas. I love George Martin’s famous Song of Ice and Fire series because of the intricacy of the characters and the world, and the interplay between them all. This is something that also had a strong presence in Final Fantasy Tactics; everyone and all of the houses danced around each other in the game’s cutscenes with their honeyed words, avoiding any open signs of aggression while simultaneously plotting one another’s downfall.
The characters in Final Fantasy Tactics were another factor in my love for it. Each one had their own set of ideas and beliefs, for which they each had their own set of complex reasons for following. There was no one in this game who simply existed for the sake of being there. Some particularly strong-willed characters who I thought would have been killed and then forgotten came back later for a second beating. In particular, I think of Wiegraf and Argath.
I initially thought both of these characters would be left behind after their first defeat by Ramza, yet the game managed to reinvent them; it brought them as back as more maniacal, more extreme versions of their original selves, driven mad by the power of the Zodiac Stones. Through their revival, we learned more about them. Wiegraf and his desire to change the world and then to avenge his sister’s death manifested in a desperate grab for power so that he would have the power to reshape the world as he saw fit. Argath was looked down upon his whole life for the misdeeds of his grandfather, which did not suit his huge ego; he believed himself better than some groups of others to the point that he had no qualms seeing them shot through the heart in his desperate need to elevate his status and be looked upon favourably by the Beoulves. He then returned as one of the undead, eager to slay Ramza for apparently putting a stopper in his ascent to fame while he was still alive.
What I found the most intriguing, however, and what I felt the game had illustrated best, was the way history books are influenced by the very powerful.
The opening cutscene tells us the story of our protagonist, Ramza Beoulve, had been lost to time. Upon its rediscovery, we, the player, get to experience it for the very first time.
But it hadn’t actually been “lost”, had it? It had been intentionally mislaid and buried by the Church, not wanting to admit how deep corruption had run in their faith, or that some of their highest offices were now riddled with demons. It did not want anyone knowing how Ramza, in his time declared a heretic, had earned this title by choosing to cut out the church’s rotten core. It did not want anyone to know that rather than aid Ramza in cleansing its evils (which one would think would be in its own best interests, and indeed, consistent with the faith), the institution had tried to silence him.
And so it was that the story of Ramza Beoulve was largely forgotten in Ivalice. His friend, Orran Durai, was similarly ostracised and then burned at the stake by the Church when they found he had been compiling Ramza’s story.
And so it was that Delita Heiral was hailed a hero for uniting the land of Ivalice. He married Princess Ovelia, and the people loved him and his story as a commoner who rose through the ranks to become King. The public was not even the slightest bit aware of the Lucavi and the near-revival of Saint Ajora, who would have killed them all. It wasn’t until much, much later that Orran’s descendant, Arazlam, discovered his ancestor’s true account of the War of the Lions that the truth was made known, and Ramza’s story taught in classrooms.
Stories like this make me wonder how many stories throughout our own human history have been told from the perspective of the victor, and the victor alone, with the cries of the losers stomped out. The game makes an excellent critique of the way history is told and remembered, and of the way religion in this example (we can include other large organisations and powerful figures as well), can have such a huge influence on the way stories are presented to the public and by educators, even if their version isn’t necessarily the whole truth.
All of this, I think, is what makes Final Fantasy Tactics so well beloved by so many people, and considered a classic by many. It gives a realistic depiction of the way war would have played out and been remembered in medieval times, with all of its wonderfully flawed characters making their equally flawed decisions to fulfil desires which the game gives sufficient reason for. It does all this while managing to retain its top notch gameplay; it was one of the most fun games I have ever played, especially with that job system. This game will remain a personal favourite of mine for a long time to come, as I’m sure it has been for all those who played it before me.