I’d let a Wookie tear my arms off for a shot at playing the Star Wars game I’ve dreamed of for years, and I’m willing to bet you’d risk it too.
Since the first time I saw Star Wars, I’ve stalked the parallel world of its video games in search of ones that speak to me like the movies. Over the years I’ve pounced on some great entries, from Super Star Wars and its lightsaber somersaults to Knights of the Old Republic’s memorable-and-murderous droid companion HK-47. The best games have made me think of my favorite scenes, like Luke’s ill-fated duel with Darth Vader in the shadowy underbelly of Cloud City, the raw tension of the trench run on the Death Star, or the spectacle of the climactic Rebel battle on Scarif.
But one moment my brain seems stuck on is Chewie threatening poor R2D2 over holochess (or Dejarik, if you spend your spare time on Wookiepedia like me). Something about playing with digital characters on a chessboard has always reminded me of another childhood love: Final Fantasy Tactics.
A tactical fantasy
Star Wars and Final Fantasy aren’t as disconnected as they first appear, with references to the sci-fi movies appearing in the games for years. If you’ve ever chatted to Biggs and Wedge in a Final Fantasy game, you’ve been talking to characters named after two of Luke’s Red Squadron wingmates. Multiple game directors and writers at Square Enix have talked about how the gritty world of George Lucas’ movies has been an inspiration for their own stories.
While the tone and impact of different Final Fantasy entries varies, a few have struck a chord with me – largely in the hands of Hironobu Sakaguchi (of Final Fantasy 6 and 7) and especially Yasumi Matsuno (of Ogre Battle, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy Tactics). Their games were grounded, darker, and with dialogue and storytelling that’s nothing like more recent Final Fantasy entries.
My dream game would go further than references and influences, and pair up the world of Star Wars with the character customization and turn-based battle systems of Final Fantasy tactics. And, of course, render it all in those lovely 2D SNES-era sprite graphics.
Strategy games and RPGs aren’t foreign concepts for Star Wars, with both Knights of the Old Republic and Empire at War being standouts for fans. But, in recent years, publishers and developers have leaned into more action-oriented games, such as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It baffles me there aren’t more RPGs, let alone tactical RPGs, set in the Star Wars universe – especially given how popular the genre is.
A game that is impressive… most impressive
I want to see the breadth of the Star Wars universe on the menu. Give me countless bizarre aliens and droids to pick between. Let my characters be smugglers, blind monks who can just barely sense the force, scrappy engineers, or even a dark and powerful Nightsister. Let them master all kinds of abilities, from trick blaster shots to tech powers that are basically magic, and even weird force powers.
The characters in Star Wars stories have lived a life. They’re soldiers-turned farmers, jedis-turned hermits, queens-turned generals – multi-classing is built into the fiction of these worlds and that lines up perfectly with the character customization in Final Fantasy Tactics.
I had a Thief in one run of Tactics that I developed into a Samurai, turning him from a useful support character into a deadly warrior. But this career change did more than provide new abilities, it creates a history for them. My Thief wasn’t just getting cool new sword skills, he was also tired of getting bullied by people with more defense and HP than him. His honor-among-thieves became just, well, honor. With Star Wars, my smuggler-turned-general could follow their own parallel journey.
As in Final Fantasy Tactics, you’d find your jobs at the local bar, though the bar would be a dimly lit space cantina, full of bug-eyed aliens drinking in an uneasy peace. I want to rub elbows with the scum and villainy of the galaxy as I am slowly drawn into the web of a larger story.
The kind of environments that the galaxy offers could play just as large a part as the characters. I envision the kinds of scenes the best of the movies had to offer. Fighting over the rocks on a smoking lava world, engaging in a desperate battle on the outside hull of a capital ship while a large war rages all around, or taking cover in a seedy bar while numerous patrons shoot at anyone and everything.
Final Fantasy Tactics has no shortage of the same approach: from fighting on a rickety bridge over Zirekile Falls to protect a princess, climbing over broken hulls in the airship graveyard to battle a demon, or fighting assassins on the roof of Riovanes Castle. Each and every one of these scenes conjure memories for those who have played the game, just as Star Wars has for me. It doesn’t matter that the combat is turn-based and stat-filled, tactical RPGs can create as fraught an action scene as any boss fight in Jedi: Fallen Order.
At the core of my dream may just be a small child who desperately wants to smash his two favorite toys together, but that’s okay. I just want to fight Stormtroopers with a team of trash can droids that know Teräs Käsi, is that so much to ask of the team at Square Enix?