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Crisis Core was a prequel to one of the most beloved Final Fantasy games ever, but rather than focus on its main characters, it told the story of the mysterious Zack Fair from SOLDIER. A friend of Cloud’s, and Aerith’s first boyfriend, Zack only made a brief appearance in the original game. But Square Enix decided to revisit the past, and we're glad they did. Crisis Core fleshed out Zack's history, and created a poignant story that was very much worth telling.
A contrast to the moody leading men of the series, Zack was likeable, friendly and easy to connect with, which made the game's ending that much more heartbreaking. (This shouldn't be a spoiler by now.) The game was beautifully done on the PSP, with memorable cutscenes and great gameplay. A fast-paced action-RPG, it was designed to be played in short bursts, and was not only an excellent Final Fantasy game, but a fantastic RPG, period. It delivered what fans had been waiting for... well, not a remake of Final Fantasy VII per se, but a return to the original universe and more screen time for Cloud and Sephiroth.
Back in the '80s and '90s, RPGs were incredibly niche in the US, and tactics games were basically nonexistent. Japan got to enjoy titles like Ogre Battle, Fire Emblem and Front Mission, while English-speakers had to simply read about them in GameFan, dreaming of the day we’d finally get to play them. Then, thanks to the massive popularity of Final Fantasy VII, Square was ready to give the strategy genre a shot in the arm by publishing Final Fantasy Tactics internationally.
After grabbing Team Quest (the dev behind the Tactics Ogre titles) to create the game, Square took the isometric view, stat-based combat and other trappings common to strategy games, and melded those ideas perfectly with the Final Fantasy style. Not content with simply adding FF-themed monsters and items, Final Fantasy Tactics embraced the job system that had been so masterfully realized in Final Fantasy V and made it even better. There was a crazy amount of depth to the skills characters could earn through jobs, which made mastering a class add immense amounts of nuance to each character’s progression.
As an introduction to the genre, FFT worked great, finally cluing players in to why gamers on the other side of the world loved grid-based battles. With familiar concepts from Final Fantasy to guide them, fans of the series – particularly the new ones brought in by FFVII – came to love its tactical-RPG gameplay. Since then, strategy franchises like Disgaea and Advance Wars have been embraced outside Japan, and the formerly niche genre has grown considerably. Final Fantasy Tactics wasn’t just a great game on its own merits – it opened the door for western gamers to get their hands on dozens of other amazing games that they would otherwise have missed.