Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced is one of my all-time favourite games. There is a certain magic to it that I have never experienced anywhere else. It’s predecessor Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions (as it was named in the PSP remaster), tells a far darker story and doesn’t include a lot of the key strategy and RPG elements that made me fall in love with Advanced. And then it’s sequel, Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced 2, turned up these strategy and RPG elements with more of what I loved but without a compelling narrative to help push me through the game. Over the years, there have plenty of games that have tried and failed to reach the lofty heights of Tactics Advanced and few have come close, until now. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is an indie game that channels the soul of the Tactics games in a way I’ve rarely seen before.
Let’s get some context out of the way early, and explain how a Final Fantasy Tactics style game works. They are turn-based tactics games that take place on a grid. Players control a small number of units across a battlefield where you need to complete objectives and battle opponents. There are spells, abilities and, importantly, a myriad of classes to sink your tactical teeth into. They are all about finding the right combinations and strategies that will see your merry band victorious time and again. And while I don’t feel that description does it justice, it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.
Final Fantasy Tactics games had their bonus and specific mechanics that it would be easy to copy, but Fell Seal takes puts its own spin on everything. There is the obvious such as the turn-based grid combat and the collection of cool classes that are gradually unlocked, but the types of classes are anything but standard. You have ordinary classes like the thief and warrior but then you have far more interesting choices like the plague doctor and gambler. Unlocking and trying them all is one of the main attractions to games like this and Fell Seal’s drip-feeding of classes is perfect.
You’ll spend the majority of the game in one battle or another, and they do not disappoint. Thanks to the array of classes, you have plenty of tactical options on how to deal with enemies. And since different classes have their strengths and weaknesses, making the most and mitigating these are all part of the puzzle. You can push enemies off cliffs, into one another, cast area effect spells (that damage you and the enemy, so watch out), place traps and manipulate your characters and environments in interesting ways. The enemies react naturally, targeting your weaker characters and backing off when they are in danger. While I initially struggled as the opening few classes are noticeably weaker than many of the others, after one or two battles under my belt I was dispatching foes with relative ease. Bu not so much ease that fights became boring.
If one of your characters falls in combat, then they don’t die. Instead, they receive an injury. This means that they need time to recover (one battle per injury) but you can still use them if you need to but they will suffer a 5% stat reduction and won’t recover. This allows the game to punish you for your losses without having you lose characters you’ve spent time and energy building up. It also means that you have to weigh whether it is worth benching one of your heavy hitters or bringing them with you despite the stat penalty. This system is great and provides enough tension to mean I don’t want characters to get knocked out but means I never felt I needed to reset the game because my favourite character was gone forever. There are harder difficulties that mean that the injury stat penalty doesn’t go away if that is something that interests you.
When it comes to the story of Fell Seal, it falls down a little. The overarching narrative is fine and engaging enough that it pulled me all the way through, but the writing is a bit sketchy in places and it never grabbed me in a meaningful way. While I played for the story, I more played for the combat and to unlock new classes. One of my favourite part of Fell Seal is how many classes are tied to the story. Whereas in FF Tactics games there were a small number of unique classes that either required a lot of commitment to unlock or were only available under specific circumstances, Fell Seal provides you with plenty of cool unique classes to play around with. On top of this, they are all meaningful to the story of the game and fit with the character they centre around. This addition added weight to important battles as it wasn’t just nameless character A or templar main character but Anadine, Demon Knight. This made the battles more fun and engaging and helped to flesh out the main cast of characters.
I’ve tried a lot of Tactics games over the years and this is the first one in years to garner so much of my attention. I’m seriously considering a New Game Plus once developer 6 Eyes Studio release the DLC they are working on. This is set to add more systems and classes to the game that I can’t wait to see. If like me, you fell in love with the Final Fantasy Tactics series and wish there were more games out there to carry that mantle, then you owe it to yourself to pick up Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark as it the closest to a successor I’ve played yet.
Thank you for reading. If you want more video games, then why not check out one of my retrospectives of the Uncharted series or for another turn-based strategy game why not take a look at my article on movement in Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.
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