Final Fantasy Tactics has become arguably fans' most-beloved FF spin-off game. Because of that (and staying true to the modern Final Fantasy tradition), it is also one of the many, many Final Fantasy games with multiple versions. Figuring out which version of FFT to play requires almost as much strategy as the in-game battles. Almost.
Ambitious fans have even gone to great lengths to mash major releases of Final Fantasy Tactics together, creating a “Version 1.3” featuring the best elements into one “new” game. And if the fans and modding community can't rally around a “best version”, you'd better believe that's a hard decision.
The Advent of Ivalice
Final Fantasy was absolutely on a roll in the SNES era, putting out one classic JRPG after another, back-to-back-to-back. And while their Playstation offerings went a little more experimental with their tone, Final Fantasy Tactics kept carrying that torch. it's established the Ivalice setting, which would go on to boast a main-series entry (FFXII) nearly a decade later. Ivalice even made it into the MMO FFXIV as a series of quests and raids during the Stormblood expansion.
If you're eager to jump into Ivalice's first appearance but have no idea where to start, no worries. We've tried to map things out properly here so that hopefully you can decide which version of Final Fantasy Tactics works best for you.
The Contenders for Best Version of Final Fantasy Tactics
The two major versions of Final Fantasy Tactics to consider are:
Every release of Final Fantasy Tactics is either based on the original or on War of the Lions. In fact, except for the original, all other official versions have been based on War of the Lions, from the iOS version to PS Vita. (And hopefully a Nintendo Switch release soon).
So, as a first step, let's compare how these two versions differ. You may want to keep a tally to decide which version of Final Fantasy Tactics you should play.
The most notable difference for many is that War of the Lions bears an entirely new English translation of Final Fantasy Tactics' substantial script. Where the original release contained a substantial amount of Ye Olde English, War of the Lions tells the same story in a more modern vernacular. All the meaning is the same; it's almost purely of a stylistic change, and so up to personal preference.
Some folks will be fond of the pseudo-medieval English dialogue for adding a unique flavor to the script. Some people (like our own Beej) find it endlessly distracting. So if you're mostly interested in Final Fantasy Tactics as a good Final Fantasy story, how it's told may be a serious factor for you.
Go with The Original Final Fantasy Tactics if you don't mind “thee” and “thou” in your dialogue.
Go with War of the Lions if that'd drive you up a wall.
Ease-of-Play & Difficulty
User Experience is still king for many, and on this, Final Fantasy Tactics splits yet again.
The original English release on the PlayStation, to be blunt, is easier. Maybe this is a carry-over from the GameBoy era, when Japanese developers assumed Western players were less adept at numbers-forward games. Maybe they were just feeling generous. But the fact stands that all manner of things are tipped in the player's favor in the North American PS1 release, from lower experience-point costs and easier bosses, all the way to the main character having improved stats.
But while more difficult mechanically, War of the Lions is still easier to play in some ways. More information is displayed in more readable typefaces, classes have been re-named to more closely match other Final Fantasy staples, and even the menu inputs have been changed to the international standard where the X button is used to Confirm your choices.
They even squashed a round of bugs in WotL. Though the PSP version of War of the Lions struggles a bit when processing flashy spell effects.
Unfortunately, the mobile ports of Final Fantasy Tactics don't natively support game controllers, so you have to use touchscreen controls. Luckily, they're very sensible and intuitive, especially for a game that's navigated by menus. Still, that's a hard sell for players who want more precise input or struggle with issues like repetitive-stress injury.
And, of course, you can't neglect the ability to quick-save your game. Whether to add convenience or an easy “checkpoint” in case of bad outcomes, it's a very welcome addition to the mobile ports of War of the Lions.
Play The Original Final Fantasy Tactics if you want a strictly “easier” game.
Play War of the Lions if you want a slightly nicer experience. But do it on a console if you dislike touch controls.
Here, at least, it's less of a contest.
War of the Lions added a few cut-in videos to the game, and… they look fantastic. They maintain – and even accentuate – the utter charm of Akihiki Yoshida's wonderful character designs. On top of that, they're shown through lightly textured and sepia-toned filters. These sell the look of an illustration on a page.
You know, like in a fantasy book.
The mobile ports of the game in particular make additional changes to the game's art. But rather than the “scale up and smooth over” look used in, for example, the Steam version of Final Fantasy VI, the mobile port of Final Fantasy Tactics still clearly uses pixel art.
It's at a higher level of detail, to be sure – but it could still reasonably look at home on the original PlayStation. Or it might have, had Square kept pursuing the 2D-art route. Perhaps a remake will one day go back to it with HD-2D graphics.
At worst, the newer versions of the sprites are a lateral move that sacrifices the authentic just for a minor upgrade. At best, they freshen everything up, but in a way that still feels faithful to the original's art and aesthetics. For all the divisive artistic choices that Squaresoft makes in their other Final Fantasy ports for PC and mobile, this easily feels like one of the least intrustive and controversial. The updated sprites don't distract from the gameplay here.
Play The Original if you want the entire presentation to feel as authentically pixel-accurate as possible.
Play War of the Lions – the mobile versions in particular – if you're down for an overhaul that maintains the same spirit.
The Final Verdict
In the end, both the original Final Fantasy Tactics and War of the Lions are excellent editions of a deeply-cherished JRPG spinoff. There's a lot to love about both titles, and they stand to benefit different types of player.
If you're a bit put off by difficult tactical games, but want the original experience behind Final Fantasy Tactics, then the original PlayStation version will hold a lot of value for it.
But if all you have is a smartphone or you want the cleaned-up version of an old standby without sacrificing an authentic feel, then War of the Lions is for you.
Now go forth, and ride unto Ivalice!
You can buy the original PlayStation version of Final Fantasy Tactics on the PS3 and Vita stores on the consoles. It's harder to buy them now, but not impossible.
You can buy War of the Lions on for Android and iOS on their respective storefronts, or you can opt for the physical versions if they're not priced out of your budget. And you can get WotL on PS3 and Vita, still, using the method linked above.
If you're a PlayStation Plus member, you might also have access to stream or download either version, depending on your membership tier.