Before I start writing this, I just want to thank everybody for stopping by the Incredible Podcast recording the other day — we had over 100 people show up to listen, which is more than I ever expected for the first show. Just fantastic — thanks so much for your support. We’re now over in iTunes, and we’re blazing up the charts, so if you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. Even if you don’t plan to listen, it helps us out getting noticed and building up an audience (and we need all the help we can get, considering that this is as DIY an operation as it gets so far). Thanks!
On to today’s post:
Five Lessons Learned from Final Fantasy Tactics
Yes, one of the things I meant to talk about on the Incredible Podcast last weekend was the fact that I recently bought Final Fantasy Tactics to play on my Playstation 3. I’ve been jonesing, at various times, for a good old-school Final Fantasy game, a complicated strategy game, and a solid RPG, and FFT is supposed to be all three of those at once, so I figured I’d go back and give it a playthrough. There was only one problem: I am really, really bad at strategy games.
I don’t know what it is (and I don’t think it’s that I’m dumb, though you may disagree), but whenever video game choices get really hard and/or complicated, I stop paying attention. I do love me some Civ, and the factor with that seems to be that even though there’s a lot of things happening in that game, you’re really only making one choice at a time — you’re just moving a unit, adjusting a city, or setting a production queue. And there’s no time limit, obviously, so you can make choices as slow or as quick as you want. Real-time strategy games, however, have nothing but time limits — I just got into the Starcraft II beta tonight, and sure enough, I’m bad at it. Pressured to fight against an opponent, I can’t keep track of units and queues and tiers and all of the other things you need to keep an eye on when you’re playing that game.
But FFT (as well as the tactics genre in general) has elements of both — it’s basically turn-based, like Civ, but you are managing multiple units and queues at any given time. You need to control up to five characters on a tiled board, and you need to move them around in turns to variously attack enemies, heal themselves, or line up buff spells or other items or abilities. In short, I figured it was hard, but it was manageable. I would buy Final Fantasy Tactics, and learn how to strategize, even if it killed me.
And it turns out that I survived — after a weekend of playing the game, I think I have a pretty good grasp on how things work. It took me a lot of lost battles, and a lot of resetting the game, but at this point, I can survive almost anything. I’m still not great at the game — I can’t walk into a new battle and rock it unless I get really lucky — but even if things go wrong during one of the battles, I can make the right moves, use the right items and abilities, and make it out alive.
So I figured, since I spent last weekend learning as much about myself as I did about this game, that I would share some of the wisdom I gained with you. Here’s five things I learned from Final Fantasy Tactics.
1. Attacking is not always the right thing to do. Most of the winning conditions in this game are to “kill all the enemies,” so you’d think that diving in and taking them all out would be the way to go. But not at all — there are lots and lots of times in the game when it’s much wiser to make a move that doesn’t hurt the enemy. That was one of the things I learned right away — while I would see a wounded enemy and think that all I had to do to win was walk up and attack, that attack would miss, the enemy would return fire, and all of a sudden I’d be the one in danger. Once I wrapped my head around the idea that it was always better to consider my options before jumping into the fray, I got a lot better right away. Sure, it sounds obvious now, but lots of my early losses were because I went on the offensive way before I should have.
2. Let them come to you. This is a corollary to the first lesson. On some of the levels, you can see that there are actually waves of enemies — there are multiple groups of powerful, slow enemies that you’re meant to take on one group at a time, because as you’re fighting the first group, the other group will slowly be making its way toward you. If you attacked both at the same time, you’d be overwhelmed, but being patient and using the extra movement time can get you the win. Even on levels where there’s just one group, it’s almost always better to wait and buff up as the enemy comes to you rather than rush out there yourself. Allowing the enemy to try and move in first tends to put you in a much better position to react and return fire.
3. Heal up when you can. This was the other big thing I learned right away — healing makes the difference in a tactics game, because very often, your enemies don’t heal at all. So any time you can take a breather and heal up, you should probably take it. In all of the battles I’ve fought so far, there is no time limit, so taking an extra turn to finish the fight isn’t a problem (I’m sure there will be limits in the future, but first things first). Even if a character is only down a few points, those points could make the difference the next time they get attacked, so use the heal spell first, and then go in for the kill.
4. Strengths on strengths. This is actually something I learned before FFT (in other games, actually), but it’s especially applicable to a game like this: stacking strengths is often better than spreading yourself around. Especially in the case of a game where you have multiple characters with various roles, it’s better to buff up a knight’s strength with his armor and give him the sword that does extra damage (and maybe even throw a strength buff in there, too). Weaknesses are something to keep an eye on, but you can usually take care of weaknesses with other character’s strengths, so stacking in one direction as much as possible is usually more helpful.
5. Read the manual. For most of my life, I wasn’t a guy that reads manuals — whenever I got a new device or a new game, I just flipped it on and poked around until I found what I wanted. But for really complicated systems and games, I’ve learned that it pays to start at the beginning and read to the end. It takes much less time and effort to read the manual than to figure it out yourself or fix a mistake you’d otherwise make. Again, that sounds obvious to you, dear reader, because you’re smart. But it wasn’t until more recently that I figured out that’s the right thing to do, and going through the whole FFT manual and tutorial helped out a lot.
I’ve probably lost most of you by now — “Seriously Mike, you had that much trouble just playing a game?” And it’s not that I had trouble — until this weekend, I’d pick up a tactics game, play it for a few minutes, realize it was way more complicated than I wanted to deal with, and move on. But last weekend I sat down to conquer this complicated genre, and I really feel like I did. I’m about halfway done with the game now, and I already have my eye on Disgaea 3. I’m starting to see patterns in the gameplay, and as you’ve probably already figured out from this post, parallels in my life. By conquering this game, I feel like I’ve built up some new pathways in thinking, some new talents that weren’t developed before. By figuring out FFT, I’ve figured out another part of my life, and I feel like I’ve already been rewarded for it.
All that for $10 on PSN. Good deal.