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Final Fantasy Tactics: First look

The much anticipated Final Fantasy Tactics has finally hit the App Store. Retailing at a somewhat steep US$15.99, Square Enix brings The War of the Lions to the iPhone. An iPad version is due for release this Fall. I haven't had as much time to spend playing this as I might like, so this write-up represents only first impressions.

Compared to App Store norms, Tactics may seem pricey. But when you look at some of the prices Final Fantasy cartridges go for on Amazon and eBay, $16 isn't entirely out of the ballpark. We've been buying FF on Gameboy Advance, and the demand remains high for these games.

The game is a huge download -- nearly half a gigabyte -- and like other members of the Final Fantasy family, Tactics is primarily a port rather than a re-envisioning. There's no Retina Display support, although visuals have been "adapted for optimal performance on iPhone/iPod touch screens."

For the most part, you're buying into nostalgia. It's a way to return to one of your favorite games, bringing it to a more convenient platform. If you're already familiar with the gameplay, well, you're already familiar with the app. If you're not, expect extensive how-to tutorials and hours and hours of playtime once you've mastered the basics. And, as my daughter points out, it totally beats the graphics on the GBA.

The menu system was a bit disappointing. I found that once you leave the tutorial session, it lost track of which items were complete. That's a pain since you can't tell at a glance which tutorials were finished and which were not.

I also found glitches in menu interaction, where my daughter occasionally could not select items at all. I found some of the menu interaction confusing, as if menus were designed for button-based systems rather than touch. This was despite the supposedly "intuitive" touch screen controls, but I'm probably being overly fussy here.

Early reviews on the App Store complain about a few other flaws, although the overall response to the new app is far more favorable than negative. Expect some updates soon from Square Enix to iron out the rough edges. But all in all, it seems to be a hit.

Unlike the other Final Fantasy titles on App Store, Tactics is a more strategy-based game than a simple RPG. Compared to those, I found the overall GUI easier to use than the FF I and II offerings. The overwhelming number of tutorials (23 by my daughter's count) can be a bit daunting for new players, but they won't be an issue for those familiar with game play.

Although it's just been released and I haven't finished playing through it yet, I feel comfortable giving it a modest thumbs up. If you loved the old game, this will be like coming home. If you haven't played before, it's a very well-loved tactical battle game.

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