Final Fantasy has countless spinoffs ranging a variety of genres, from Chocobo Racing to My Life as a King. One spinoff stands head and shoulder above the rest, however, with the strategy-RPG Final Fantasy Tactics. Releasing on the PS1 in 1997, Final Fantasy Tactics weaves together a complex plot of political drama, religious fanaticism, and heroic deeds. Alongside this was an in-depth battle system similar to that of Square Enix’s other tactical RPG series, Ogre Battle. Yasumi Matsuno served as the director and writer on the game, and his influence would remain huge on future games, including Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and Final Fantasy XII. For XII, in particular, he served as the main creative vision working to write the scenario, plot, original concept, and serving as director for much of the development.
Matsuno has a unique vision as a director, putting a big emphasis on the game’s world rather than a cast of characters, something that Tactics did exceptionally well. Years later we’d see a re-release of Tactics with War of the Lions on PSP, and new games within that world such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on Game Boy Advance, and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift on the Nintendo DS. We’ve yet to see anything out of the subseries since, however, and A2 released a whopping 11 years ago in 2007. It’s baffling that we haven’t seen the series return after all these years as Final Fantasy spinoffs continue to do well, and tactical games are still popular.
Final Fantasy Tactics was a commercial and critical success, with the original PS1 version selling almost 2.5 million copies in its lifetime, and War of the Lions adding over 1 million more to that number. The entire series, including Tactics Advance and A2, reviewed quite well and went on to see success as well. Square Enix continues to return to the world of Ivalice, established in Tactics, and Final Fantasy XII found newfound success with last year’s release of Zodiac Age. On top of that, we’ve seen a furthering of the Final Fantasy job system with Bravely Default, lessons that could be directly adapted into a new Tactics game.
All of the pieces are perfectly in place for a new Tactics game, especially by looking at the competition. Tactical strategy games have seen a huge resurge in popularity over the last few years. The Disgaea series continues to do increasingly well, indie games pay tribute to classics with titles like Tiny Metal, The Banner Saga has been a huge Kickstarter success, and Fire Emblem continues to grow in popularity. There’s clearly an interest in tactical games, and Square Enix is missing a huge opportunity by not taking advantage of it. With updated hardware they could really do something special with with a new Tactics game, supplementing classic gameplay with either a gorgeously realized world to explore, or a retro aesthetic.
The Nintendo Switch opens up an immense opportunity for this too, and Square Enix clearly has shown interest in the system. Lost Sphear released earlier this year and Octopath Traveler is on the way. JRPGs have been doing well on the Switch, with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 selling over 1 million copies, Disgaea 5 selling over 200,000 copies on the system, and a number of smaller JRPGs continue to receive ports. The portability of the Switch makes it perfect for a tactical experience that you can play on the go, and the system’s surging popularity creates an opportunity.
Adding more fuel to the fire, it seems like Square Enix keeps flirting with the idea of bringing Tactics back, or at least elements of it. Final Fantasy XIV has recently received a brand new raid scenario called “Return to Ivalice,” that revisits the plot, and even characters (sort-of), from both Final Fantasy Tactics and XII in the MMO in its own way. Matsuno even came back for Return to Ivalice as the scenario writer.
We’ve also seen Ramza included as a combatant in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, with the Orbonne Monastery Stage getting added on as a free update. On top of that, Square Enix had an April Fool’s joke last year where they released a trailer for a fake game called “Tactics Alexander.” The trailer was surprisingly detailed, featuring mocked up gameplay and a retro sprite aesthetic that looked incredible. Needless to say, quite a few fans were disappointed that the game was a joke, with many pining over the fact that it’s been so long since we’ve seen a new Tactics title.
Square Enix clearly understands the popularity of the Tactics series, considering how they continuously bring back references and nods to it, but it’s frustrating that we just can’t get a new game. Tactics would likely be a smaller title that doesn’t require the resources that a mainstream Final Fantasy would, and they could even outsource it to another company like Silicon Studio, makers of Bravely Default, or Acquire, who’s helping with Octopath Traveler if that’s successful.
Part of the problem may be due to Matsuno’s split with Square Enix partway through the development of Final Fantasy XII. Although we don’t know specifics, Matsuno and SE apparently had differences of opinion on the project resulting in him leaving. After that, he joined Hironobu Sakaguchi at Mistwalker for a time, then moved on to Level-5 for a short time as well. Currently, he’s serving as the director on Lost Order, a mobile game in development from Platinum Games and Cygames, which doesn’t yet have a release date. He also contributed to Unsung Story, a gargantuan Kickstarter failure. Matsuno was involved with Tactics A2, which wasn’t received quite as well as other games in the series.
It’s not surprising that Square Enix hasn’t tried to return to Tactics again without Matsuno’s involvement, Matsuno’s efforts in Tactics was clearly important, and ideally, SE would find a way to bring him back, but there’s plenty of other talented directors that could take the helm on a new game, like Takeshi Uchikawa of Dragon Quest XI or Hajime Tabata of XV. Coming off the success of XV, SE will want to keep the momentum rolling, and it continues to look like the VII Remake won’t be able to do that in time.
Final Fantasy fans are going to need a few things to tide them over while they continue waiting for the remake of Final Fantasy VII, and Tactics would be perfect for that. The world of Ivalice is relevant again and strategy-RPGs are just as popular as ever. It’s your move Square Enix.