I love this game and I would love to see SquareEnix do more like this.
And despite loving it as I do, it is not without flaws and some is the game’s fault, but admittedly some falls on my shoulders as well.
The story is uninspired… in that it’s been told a million times over and by better. You know the sayings, “every war novel is an anti-war novel,” that’s it. War is bad, the people who want to go to war are bad and they don’t do the physical fighting, but make the lower class fight for them; as State Radio puts it, “the poor man fights and dies for what a rich man only believes.”
The character you play as is known as “the heretic” but (the game protests) his story is much more. So like most people who get to name their own character, I tried to use something comical but fitting (see image below):
Sometimes it worked well.
Sometimes it worked very well.
But “story” is not why I played the game, I downloaded it for the gameplay.
Character Customization, Jobs, and the Zodiac
The gameplay is so complex AND that’s due largely to the amount of freedom they give you with character customization and job assignments.
There are specific characters with specific models that join your party along the way but none of them are mandatory. As a result, you can also hire a team of stock characters. Either way, you choose to what jobs and skills they learn.
You don’t simply earn experience (which provides a general boost to stats) but job experience. Job experience earns new abilities or levels up your job which opens up new job opportunities.
The jobs are so varied that there really isn’t one better than the other (I’d argue). If you want a team of monks (my personal favorite) and geomancers, go for it.
But that’s not all… No, far from it. There are also 5 customizable slots: 2 combat skills, 1 reactive skill, 1 constant skill, and 1 movement skill. Rather than explain all that, basically you can cast white and black magic, have the reactive skill of a ninja, the constant ability of a monk, and the movement ability of a dragoon.
Given that there’s… 21 different jobs, you do the math (and if you’re really good at math, I recommend the arithmetician).
If that wasn’t enough, there’s a whole zodiac system (that I never figured out) where characters who were born in an adjacent zodiac month increase your damage and opposite ones weaken you by default. Plus, the effects are magnified or diminished depending on what time of the year it is (in game).
What this boils down to is, even if you can’t win a fight, it may simply be because it’s your opponent’s time of the month.
So then there’s the gameplay which pretty much goes hand-in-hand with your characters because you have 5 in your party and battle across diversified maps (yes, terrain plays a part) and you can try out different combinations. Do you want brute force, or status-inducing characters in your party?
And, as I mentioned in my Growing Up With Video Games post, what I love about the gameplay/combat is that it is a chess board, only you customize your pieces. It’s why I play it.
There are two types of battles: random and canon. The canon progress you through the story while the random are used to level up or revisit old towns.
The problem is that canon battles feature enemies at a fixed level (usually a good indicator of letting you know where you should be), but the random battles are averaged based on your highest level character, EVEN if they’re not in the battlefield.
What this means is, let’s say you hire 3 new characters midway through the game. Well, every character you hire starts at level 1 automatically. And, if you plug those three into a random battle, it doesn’t matter that they’re all 1, if your highest-leveled character (on the bench), is 72, then your enemies will be level 70-72.
This becomes a problem when you want to teach new characters and send them on missions to find rare items and money, but cannot level them up traditionally. Instead, you need to plug 2 newbies in with 3 hard-hitters so you can kill all the opponents except one and then force that one to fall asleep, or cast ‘stop,’ or turn that one into a toad (also my favorite punishment). Once that happens, you commit to friendly fire to level up the newbies.
This is tedious and limits how many new characters you can level up at a time. Not to mention that, once self-resurrecting ghosts are involved, this becomes more risky.
It seems like an easy remedy would be to average your characters’ levels on the battlefield and not your entire roster on the bench (which can hold at least 15).
Not that the side quests are particularly exciting mind you, but you can’t send monsters or story-based characters out there so it becomes a challenge.
My first problem was only enlisting story-based characters. While Divine Knights and Machinists are nifty at first, I’d much rather have my own characters because they grow. I could be wrong on this, but it seemed the story characters had fixed “bravery” and “faith” — which determines strength and magic talent — but the hired hands grow into their “bravery” and “faith” depending on the jobs assigned.
Basically, you can teach the story-characters new jobs, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be any good at it.
My second problem was letting my curiosity get the better of me. The game does not tell you how to unlock new jobs, in fact, they flat out tell you to explore on your own and test the waters. But after the second chapter, and no new jobs opening up, I got curious and looked up, not only how to unlock the jobs but, how to unlock the secret characters.
That became my focus. Getting the completed cast of characters and unlocking the Dark Knight job which can only be unlocked once you’ve maxed out six other jobs.
I assumed this would be the ultimate form… but I was wrong. The Dark Knight didn’t do much, not even when it was maxed out… on the plus side, I did enjoy the other six jobs so it gave me some insight, but if you’re going to have a job that requires mastery of multiple jobs, you’d assume it’d be an epic one.
After attaining all this, I had no desire to continue. Like I said, the story isn’t all that interesting and it’s ending is as bleak as the themes, so I’d rather gallivant and quest with my roster than change the world… and that’s another problem I suppose on my behalf.
In the Playstation era, I’d given this game a go and adored it but couldn’t beat the first level (you have to click arrows to access your full party, something they assumed I’d be smart enough to figure out — I was not, so continued trying to beat the first level with only 2. I’d like to say I learned since then, but I ran into the same problem when I was playing it on the iOS for the first time as well). However, they released this game on the GameBoy Advance in later years, but it was an abridged version where, I don’t recall a story, just quests and that’s what I would’ve liked in War of the Lions.
As it is, in WotL, side quests happen without your involvement, but I would’ve liked to actually partake in the side quests and fight different types of foes under varied conditions. Whether or not they yielded special items or money doesn’t really matter to me since I was perfectly satisfied with doing the “quests” and getting the title of “Level 2 Treasure Hunter.” I don’t believe this meant anything, but damned if I wasn’t pleased.
There’s no other game like it. And knowing what I know now, I’d certainly ditch the story characters for personal hires to improve the experience. Even other tile-based, RPG games don’t really compare to its awesomeness. The closest iOS equivalent that comes to mind is The Banner Saga — which I’ll review upon completion — but it’s not nearly as complex as Final Fantasy Tactics.
In addition, because the combat is so fun and the story so bland, it’s truly a great game for the casual iOS gamer. What I mean by that is, you don’t need headphones or to pay attention to plot, you can simply play. Plus, if you shut off your iPad, it’ll save mid-battle, so you can pick right back up where you left off. Play for 15 minutes, play for an hour, it’s well worth the experience.
PS. Also, while I don’t much care for the animated cut scenes, the in-game cut scenes feature surprisingly dexterous sprites.
For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive