An (Ivalice) Alliance, Commemorated (via rambling megapost)

For whatever reason I’ve gotten sucked back into the “Ivalice Alliance” games on my Nintendo DS. I remember feeling jaded back in the day about the direction that sub-series went after Yasumi Matsuno’s split with SquEnix (I think direction of the Ivalice concept was basically handed off to Akitoshi Kawazu?) but in the absence of any new games hitting similar notes in the past decade I’ve come to appreciate how even the lesser games in the Ivalice canon without Matsuno’s visionary direction were still exceptionally engrossing and pleasant experiences, with their consistently lovely art direction, Hitoshi Sakimoto soundtracks, crunchy streamlined tabletop atrategy concepts, and unfairly good Alexander Smith localizations.

It started with playing _Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings_ on and off: it is not a masterpiece of game design or anything, and probably the overall weakest Ivalice title (though about as good as a casual-friendly RTS on the DS could reasonably be), but is far more of a charming little diversion than it has any right to be. The combat is _just_ challenging enough to require some concentration, battle prep and short-term planning without being strenuous enough to draw attention to the obvious limitations on the controls and mechanical systems imposed by its simplified presentation and hardware (e.g. the impracticality of dividing your units into multiple groups and/or sending them to different parts of the map). The graphical style and soundtrack cutely evoke the notion of _Final Fantasy XII_ “demade” into a PlayStation game from 1996, complete with short, wordless prerendered CG cutscenes triggering at key story moments. The story is also surprisingly okay, taking the setting and characters of _FF12_’s ambitious incomplete epic and squashing them down to a more intimate, character-driven shonen adventure story offering some much-needed development for Vaan and his street urchin friends, who got swept up and kind of forgotten amongst the 50 different compromised things the original game was trying to do. Using Ryoma Ito character designs and sprite models reminiscent of _Tactics Advance_ (along with, weirdly, recycling some story ideas from the _Ogre Battle_ universe) really drives home a sense of connectivity between all the games even though this one is obviously targeting a younger audience than _XII_.

I also picked up _FF Tactics A2_ amd ended up getting sucked right back into my 220+ hour save file from high school after I discovered there were still **super secret missions** I never beat. Despite all the time I sunk into it, I always kind of resented _FFTA2_ for being the game to sort of completely ditch the soul of the Ivalice series. Under Matsuno it was always pretty obvious that _FF Tactics_, _Tactics Advance_ and _XII_ were never really intended to share more than loose thematic similarities, like the _Zelda_ series before that headache-inducing official timeline, but _A2_ epitomized the Kawazu philosophy of trying to forcibly connect these games with contradictory tones and styles under the banner of some _Star Wars_-like Expanded Universe branding, and the game’s identity suffered badly for it. See, _Tactics Advance_ followed a bunch of modern-day kids who disvover an ancient magical artifact (ambiguously connected, via instruction manual description, to one of the sorcerous cults in the Ivalice-verse) that transports them to an illusory fantasy world called “Ivalice” shaped by their desire for heroism and adventure, and the main thrust of the central narrative was the protagonist trying to convince his friends to escape from this video-game Neverland back to reality. That game’s Ivalice was therefore appropriately bright and fairytale-like compared to _FFT_ and _Vagrant Story_’s George RR Martin-grim medieval setting, feeling appropriately like a land sprung from the imagination of a daydreaming preteen, with in-game mechanics all cutely tied to the rules of that elaborate game of pretend as an imperious, RPG-loving child might imagine them.

_A2_, as Kawazu explained repeatedly in interviews, is about a modern-day kid who gets transported to the _real_ Ivalice, where _Tactics_ and _XII_ took place: see, there’s Vaan and Penelo! Here’s a city named after one of the key locations in _Tactics_! It’s all connected, you see! Yet _A2_ still mimics the exact gameplay systems and colorful, kid-friendly style of _Tactics Advance_ anyway. And whereas the multiple child protagonists in _Advance_ grappled with a surprisingly compelling inner conflict between their limitless wish fulfillment in Ivalice and the real-world problems they and their families faced back home (bullying, disabilities, divorce, grief, alcoholism), _A2_ is graced with one of the single most irritating and one-dimensional non-silent protagonists in the history of RPGs, a brat who faces absolutely no internal conflict or character development whatsoever, just an endless barrage of “Gee whiz, that’s _so cool_!!” reactions to every game tutorial and situation of mortal danger that crosses his path. The “plot” is really just an episodic series of arcs following similarly uninteresting and shallow side characters, under the presumption that every boring, irrelevant diatribe is effectively “expanding the world of Ivalice” (despite, again, standing out from even _XII_’s tone and style like a sore thumb).

So _A2_, uniquely among all the Ivalice titles, is a completely soulless husk in the narrative department. It’s also conspicuously missing even rudimentary multiplayer, which is a crying shame considering the game encourages you to take a _Pokemon_-like joy in meticulously min-maxing your army of warrior units. But it turns out, as a sim-lite tactics game devoted solely to the compulsive joy of micro- and macro-strategizing, of min-maxing those characters in a game with utterly gorgeous graphics and music (seriously, without exaggeration, the best on the Nintendo DS) it’s still an absolute blast and stays fresh and engaging for a long-term vintage most single-player RPG systems can only dream of. I may seriously try and 100% it, all these years later, simply because every aspect of decking out your crew and finding ever greater gameplay mountains to scale (the ultimate challenge is a back-to-back gauntlet of Level 99 arena team battles) is just such endlessly delicious brain candy. Every individual component of this game’s interface and battle system is _so polished_ and _so smooth_; almost 15 years since its release, it hardly feels like it’s aged a day. Even the same development team’s _Tactics Ogre_ remake from a couple years later doesn’t feel like quite as cohesive and beautifully organic a collection of overlapping game systems and silk-delicate interface. If it’s a soulless husk, it is the _most ravishing husk in the world_. Why, oh why has SquEnix dropped the axe on the _Tactics_ series and the ex-Quest team? (Maybe I shouldn’t ask, or we’ll get another freemium “spinoff” with bikini costume DLC.)

On the other “Ivalice Alliance” games: I played _Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age_ day 1, a few years back, when it first released on PS4. In retrospect I almost wish I’d held out another couple years for the Nintendo Switch version, which really seems like the perfect platform on which to experience that (flawed, but marvelous) game and its many, grindy-in-a-good-way sidequests. (Contrast _Xenoblade_, four years after _FF12_, which perfected that game’s ambition of having wide open 3D environments and fast-paced combat but is vastly worse in terms of actual combat mechanics and sidequest design.) I never gelled with the original PS2 release of _XII_, so it’s no small thing to say that after playing _Zodiac Age_ well into my 20s it shot right to my personal upper echelon of _FF_ titles despite its obvious shortcomings (namely a _Phantom Pain_-caliber compromised/unfinished narrative, some clear filler dungeons, and the limitations of the PS2 hardware on the sheer scope and complexity it was obviously envisioning).

Finally, the would-be crown jewel of the Ivalice Alliance: _Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions_. Put simply, this is the only Ivalice game I simply haven’t played to any substantial degree, despite once owning it on PSP. I was always pretty iffy on the retranslated script, which was _not_ handled by Alexander Smith but by the vastly inferior Tom Slattery, which desperately overcompensated for the PS1 localization’s goofy, barely-fluent informality with the most exhaustingly overwrought, gravitas-forcing mock-Elizabethan purple prose in the world: it’s like a thesaurus-clutching dungeon master’s sweaty imitation of _A Song of Ice and Fire_’s goofy Ye Olde Prose, except George RR Martin for all his geeky Renaissance Fair eccentricities has a strong ear for dialogue and knows when to make his soliloquizing pseudo-medieval characters say “piss” and “fuck”. This wouldn’t necessarily be a game-breaking issue in itself, but the _real_ issue was Square’s asinine porting job onto the PSP, which hard-coded _massive_ slowdown into the game that never existed in the PS1 version and, I would imagine, extends each and every battle by at least a minute or two - and you fight a _lot_ of battles. Word on the street says the iOS port of _WotL_ fixes the slowdown issue... but you have to play this game, which wants extended play sessions and precise menu inputs, on your iPhone. Square isn’t shy about retroactively porting every other game in their mobile catalogue to Steam and modern consoles, so I’ve been waiting **for years** for _WotL_ to get that treatment and let me finally check out the full game with its expanded content in uncompromised form - but to no avail!

Get on it, Square Enix!! And remaster _Vagrant Story_ while you’re at it, too!!

Holy cow this was a sleep-deprived ramblepost and you can tell


@2501#30873 Holy cow this was a sleep-deprived ramblepost and you can tell

because of how it owns

For one I‘m glad I have finally figured out why it is I stopped playing FFTA2 even though the gameplay was rock solid. That’s a real stupid story especially in comparison to the depth of the first game

It‘s interesting to see a different point of view on FFTA2! I’ve been toying with the idea of writing an article on the game lately just because I love it so much, and I sincerely wish more RPGs (and games in general) would embrace Luso's spirit of adventure.

To contradict myself and also respond to you @Kimimi, perhaps I would lean more toward your conclusion there if I had finished it? I did drop off of it real hard, nor do I remember it all that well, and maybe it was because the plot didn't keep me invested, but does it provide any kind of thematic payoff by the end of the story?

@Gaagaagiins#30902 None whatsoever, that I can recall.

_A2_ is a terrific game, but unlike the other two _FFT_ s the narrative is a complete afterthought and there’s no getting around that. You either take it for what it is (a marvelous tapestry of flexible systems with perfect aesthetics) or leave it for its lack of a soul.

@Gaagaagiins#30902 I enjoyed the story immensely, both the main plot thread and all the sundry tales you encounter just through playing the game. It‘s probably worth mentioning at this point though that “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe but in Ivalice” is basically my inner child’s idea of bedtime story heaven, however.

Now that we have an Ivalice thread, I don’t know why but FFXII has never been able to grab me. Maybe it’s one of those things that in a few years I’ll have a yearning for, but right now it (unfairly to the game) bores me compared to the rest of the series. FFIX is kind of in the same boat, too.

I know I’m interested in the setting because I love FFTA and put a lot of time into that game. Maybe part of it is that I like the whimsical perspective that game takes versus the more self-serious take FFXII has on that world.

Being introduced to the series at a young age, maybe I disliked that the setting for FFXII wasn’t original to FFXII? I didn’t know tying all “Ivalice” games together wasn’t the original intention so that is interesting for me to learn. Maybe it seemed backwards to me that there were spin-offs before the main Final Fantasy title released.

I guess I’m saying all this hoping for somebody to say something that will make me intrigued to play it! I know this was the last FF title Sakaguchi had a hand in before leaving Square. So I’ll observe the thread ‘cause maybe someone says something that will change my perspective! Even if someone said “play FF Tactics before XII and it’s better” I probably would, but I haven’t gotten that vibe yet.

I‘ve given a ton of time to the Ivalice games over the years! I’ve played all of them except for Revenant Wings, but hands down, my favourite is FFTA2, because there‘s just something its systems, its aesthetic, and pretty much everything about it. I’ll confess though, that I had never given a whole lot of thought to how all the Ivalice games fit together, so A2's failings storywise had never occurred to me.

I have what I think is a pretty funny story about A2: A few years ago I was clearing out a bunch of older games that I hadn't played in years. I had put something like 150 hours into A2, but it had been around a decade since I had played it, so I traded it to a friend who was moving away. That weekend, I hung out with some other friends and got into this long and winding conversation with one of them about how great A2's system are, and she made me realize how much I had loved it. SO, I looked around for a copy online, and managed to find a nice, well cared-for copy like mine had been. Since my last move though, I've put another 100 hours or so into the new copy! I also gave the GBA game a try recently, and it unfortunately feels a lot clunkier (to me) that A2.

@Karasu#30936 Advance is a bit less polished in certain ways than A2, although (apart from having far superior narrative elements) it also has a few features I kind of like better for giving the battlefield a greater sense of physical presence: Judges are actual characters on the field with their own movement and turns, KO’d characters stay on the field instead of vanishing, Laws shift on a rolling but semi-predictable basis and apply to both sides, Antilaw Cards give you greater control over when and how to abide by them, Jagds impart a sense of freedom and danger as there are no Laws but permadeath becomes possible. My biggest complaint about that game is that it doesn’t have a Hard Mode option.

@arauz#30925 Did you try to play the PS2 release of _XII_, or the remaster (_Zodiac Age_)? I also bounced off of _XII_ when it first came out despite loving both _Tactics_ games, but _Zodiac Age_ introduces some pretty massive overhauls and quality of life improvements: the License Board system is completely redesigned to become less of an obtuse Sphere Grid variant and something more like the Job system from _Tactics_ that lets you clearly delineate strategic roles for each character, and the whole game is rearranged accordingly in terms of treasure layouts, etc.; an anytime fast-forward button makes traversal and battle much, much brisker and more painless; and the entire musical score is changed from synths to glorious live symphonic arrangements. This may not seem like much on paper, but in practice it makes the game feel like a completely different experience - a vastly more intuitive, approachable and engrossing one imo. The story is still a compromised mess (though you can see the good intentions and good ideas left over from Matsuno’s tenure), but as I mentioned in the megapost, the remaster totally changed my experience with the game from something that just never clicked with me to something I sunk over a hundred hours into. Playing it on the Switch where you can do the grindy dungeon-crawling parts on the go is also a good idea!

Also, I mean, you _should_ play the original _Tactics_ and it _is_ better. It has a harsher difficulty curve than _Tactics Advance_ (although it’s even more exploitable once you unlock the best story characters and/or learn how to bork the system) but it’s well worth it. The story and OST are the best in the Ivalice series by leaps and bounds, and frankly among the best of any game Square’s ever touched. Brandon and Tim dislike it but this is one of the things about which they are unequivocally Wrong and the internet is Right.

I think what I’ll do is mentally categorize FFXII as another part of the Ivalice Alliance and just enjoy Tactics as the headliner for that rather than the other way around. I guess I say this because my experience with FF is recognizing VII, X, XIII, and XV as their own series’ while XII was already part of another series if that makes sense.

Would anyone suggest a play-order for the Ivalice games? I know that almost all of them are pretty self-enclosed but if anyone suggests an order to build appreciation for the world, lore-wise and or mechanically, I’m game. Like I said earlier, I’m intrigued by this world but FFXII itself hasn’t grabbed me yet! I’ll definitely get into Tactics first when I do start playing through the Ivalice Alliance soon.

@arauz#30993 This is actually a smart idea! XII definitely feels more like a part of the Ivalice series than the mainline FF series, although this conflicted identity is actually the source of some of its problems (e.g. the game, as a numbered FF, had to include High Adventure, a sentimental vocal theme and the classic series overture despite being envisioned pretty heavily as its own thing intended to kick off a distinct sub-series).

The Ivalice “canon” is very loose and inconsistent and the post-_XII_ (i.e. post-Matsuno) titles are pretty obviously scrambling to retcon connections where none previously existed. Of course _Revenant Wings_ is a direct sequel to _XII_, and _A2_ makes passing references to both _XII_ and _FFTA_, but beyond that there are really no hard storyline connections at all.

_XII_ was originally conceived as a distant prequel to _Tactics_ (the Pax Romana to its Dark Ages), but the final product is so far off in terms of story and tone (think _Star Wars_ vs. _Game of Thrones_) that you would never guess they were meant to have any connection if they weren’t both set in a place called Ivalice. There’s also _Vagrant Story_, the “other” Ivalice game: it’s much more clearly set in the same politically-charged dark fantasy universe as the original _Tactics_, yet the actual canon connection was added (by Matsuno’s own admission!) as an afterthought.

Basically what I’m saying is, starting with _Tactics_ is a fine idea as it’s the best game in the series and the one that introduced Ivalice and all its mechanical and aesthetic motifs to the world, but don’t expect it to reveal some grand connective tapestry that fills in all the gaps between the eclectic hodgepodge of games in the Ivalice series. If anything it’s closer in spirit to its immediate predecessor _Tactics Ogre_ than to what the Ivalice series would eventually become as the concept gravitated from Matsuno’s authorial signature to a more collective Square sub-brand loosely inspired by him.

XII is odd in that it‘s both not a Final Fantasy game, really, and the most artistically successful mainline non-MMO game since the PS1 games, at least to my mind. This ties in somewhat with what I was saying about Xenoblade but I think it’s the best one at capturing the sense of scale of the earlier entries, while being at least somewhat aesthetically grounded and actually playable, which can't really be said of XV. I think the Tactics connection is notable more in terms of gameplay systems than in world-building, though.

@christoffing#31015 I think X is very successful but otherwise agree that XII, despite its conflicted creative direction and the fact that it only barely feels like a mainline Final Fantasy game at all, is still the last singleplayer numbered entry that comes across as a holistic work of a piece with the classics. idk if that’s specifically praise for the game though or just a redundant observation that XIII and XV were disappointing clusterfucks that just totally lost the balance of elements which made the classic FF games appealing.

It is worth noting that despite starting production while Sakaguchi was still at Square, by the time _XII_ actually came out (it was the first case of what would become the Square norm of major, repeated delays for AAA projects) he was long gone. To this day he refuses to play it out of protest against the way SquEnix management treated Matsuno and compromised his vision for the project! (Matsuno also refuses to play it for the same reason, despite still being credited for “Story & Concept” in the final release.)

Set reading this aside for a day

Now I just read it to make sure FFXII and FFTA get their deserved recognition and praise.

We've had great discussions about all kinds of matsuno stuff across the forum.

hopefully FFXVI is matsuno-worthy.

@treefroggy#31038 The trailer looked… Matsuno-inspired, but didn’t really suggest to me the kind of thematic depth that makes the real Matsuno stand out. He clearly has a sincere interest in history and political science (which he studied in college) beyond just using them as aesthetics for fiction and it shows.


@2501#31042 forget the trailer. everyone is so focused on the trailer, and how bad the graphics were.

……. it‘s in development…. and it’s been a long time since that trailer.

look at the staff that's working on it… FF6/9 director… FF6 was what inspired matsuno to make tactics ogre, then FF9 took direct inspiration from FFT.

@2501#31042 I think it‘s probably too early to make those kinds of judgements about it! The people making it are Matsuno diehards, which you know might introduce a little too much influence/imitation, who have also actually worked with him on FFXIV. It seems like it’s in good hands and I'm excited to play it.

But we also know next to nothing about that game yet so who knows!