How Final Fantasy Tactics found a second life on Twitch

FFT Battleground
(Image credit: Square Enix)

The internet is a strange place, with hot dog deliveries by drone, and spaces where 22-year-old games can find a second life as fantasy casinos. 

Final Fantasy Tactics Battleground emerged as a resurrection of one of our favorite games still unavailable on PC. Behind all of the betting and battling is a single mastermind, TheKillerNacho. Working as a web developer in Pennsylvania, Nacho has been playing video games since he was a kid, and has always been interested in editing and changing them. As a hobby alongside his day job, wife, and two kids, he’s had a keen interest in the ROM hacking community for some time, and with the launch of the FFTBattleground channel on Twitch brought his own take on Final Fantasy Tactics to the masses.

With over 11,000 followers and 190,000 views since launching at the end of December, the gray area between niche and nostalgia is fertile. I spoke with the Nacho himself over Discord about how such an addictive idea takes root, where he wants to go from here, and why robots always bring in the big bets.

PC Gamer: Where did the idea for Final Fantasy Tactics Battleground come from?

Nacho: Obviously we drew quite a bit of inspiration from Salty Bet. But actually, I was reminded of the idea when TwitchPlaysPokemon did the Battle Revolution thing, but always in the back of my mind watching Salty Bet I was thinking—as I was playing through Final Fantasy Tactics at the time—"Man, this would be really cool if someone could throw something like that together."

There's actually a YouTube channel called Wizdaddy, who posts vanilla AI [FFT] battle tournaments. But mostly, I kind of started it as an idea to amuse myself. I actually had a little bit of time off around December this year. So I'm like “Okay, let's sit down and see what I would need to do to even set a stream like this with what I already have.”

And has there been anybody else that's worked on it with you? Or is it just you on the portion of it that we see?

No one's actually worked on the stream aside from me. But I don't want to take away the contributions. Obviously, I've used Wizdaddy's patch as kind of a base for the patch. And of course, he uses bits and pieces of code from Final Fantasy Arena, which is a balance mod specifically for a tournament I decided not to use, but it's pretty darn excellent as well. But I've borrowed a bunch of stuff from a bunch of different members of the fantastic Final Fantasy Tactics hacking community. So, I don't want to say I did this all by myself, especially since you know, a lot of it I really don't have the expertise to do. But yeah, as far as the random generation of units and setting up the stream to fight battles of eight and the betting, yeah, that's all me.

It's always funny when a Meteor drops.

What do you think people enjoy about Final Fantasy Tactics?

I got the game when I was a kid. I actually got it for like, a Valentine's Day present from my mom of all things. But it was immediately appealing to me because of how engaging it was. And it was difficult. It's actually really hard for like a Final Fantasy game—except for act four—but there's some really hard moments of it, and it just has a lot of different, you know, bits and mechanics that end up you know, resoluting together and it was a great system. There’s just so many different options, at least for the units. You know, there's a lot of replayability there because there is just so many ways you can play it. It was a really balanced, drawn out system and it had a lot of charm.

What's it been like putting FFT Battleground on Twitch and watching people respond to it?

It's both an amazing ride and a horrifying ride because most of everything on the stream right now is something I considered “Okay, we're gonna throw it up on Twitch for a little bit. I'll throw it up for you know, 24 hours just as a test. And I'll tweak some stuff and and make improvements slowly.” I had no idea was gonna blow up like this. So yeah, it's a little overwhelming. 

Is there anything specific in the current like code for Battleground that you're unhappy with?

Yeah, quite a few things. I mean, the UI being the biggest, and the UI is just like a placeholder I threw together just to, display units. It's actually just a Java swing window. So I definitely wanted to redo the UI quite a bit. So that's probably, if I had to say, that's probably the thing I'm the least happy with right now. I also want to really add content. So it's hard. And I was hoping, you know, maybe my original development cycle idea would be to, you know, add a bunch of content, stick with the placeholders for now. And then go back and pretty it up a little bit. But I don't know, the scope the project has definitely changed a little bit because of the interest. I mean, I actually for the first few days after the stream blew up I had to obviously redo a lot of the back end code to support this many people as you probably noticed the bot was getting way overworked because he was designed for like, 30 people. 

What have been some big, memorable moments in the stream?

The "John Wick" champion was probably one of the most memorable ones because I was actually watching the stream instead of working on it during that run with the double Stone Gun Mediator. He was just mowing down people. 

I remember the first time I changed the order of how units generate. Originally, it generated all Team Red first, then all of Team Blue, all of Team Green, then Yellow, you know, etc. And, you know, during the early days when it was really easy to get in [using the !fight command to join], because there's only like 30 people, and then Steel Giant dropped as a skill drop. [Viewers were] like: “Oh, let's all just make a team of steel giants on Black.” And they're able to do it. Four Steel Giants ended up winning the championship, but then it lost the very next time. Those are probably like two of the bigger moments. Of course, it's always funny when a Meteor drops.

Nothing quite like a team of robots just stomping their way to a brief victory.

It was rather amusing and horrifying. I'm surprised that they got defeated so easily. But um, I guess the lack of AoE in that team caused their downfall.

Status effects can be cruel.

When I put this thing together, I kind of thought the champions would last a lot longer. Because Final Fantasy Tactics is such a broken game, in its mechanics, and this is this is mostly vanilla. So there's a lot of broken combinations that are still in there. So I was kind of surprised. I mean, I'm pretty surprised about the turnover rate as far as champions go. 

Are you surprised by which classes and skills seem to be consistent winners?

I wouldn't say as far as surprises for me, because like I said, I've been kind of watching this for my own amusement for months now. But there's still just enough chaos in Final Fantasy and you can't ever you know, you know, account for everything with like, the immunities on certain items and things. So there's always a chance for that upset. That's what I think works really well about it. Like unlike Salty Bet you know, there are certain characters that are just “Okay this guy's going to win 90% of the time” And there's always a better chance in my opinion, with this, for that key upset. And we've seen it several times where like the betting has been like 90% and then the other team just comes in and wins. It's great.

What do you make of the success of the auto battler genre, games like Teamfight Tactics? 

I actually didn't realize autobattlers had become a trend when I threw this together. But yeah, the idea of computers playing computers—Like, when I was a kid, I was that kid that in Warcraft 2, I made a map just so I could watch the fight. In Civilization 5, I used to watch them fight each other too with a few mods. So it's pretty interesting to me. The idea of a good AI is very interesting to me. And Final Fantasy Tactics, I know there are a lot of complaints from people in my chat about what it does to the players, but for what it is, it's a pretty damn impressive AI.

The rough edges probably make it better, frankly.

Yeah, especially at least for some funny moments, but considering, you know, a video game AI? It's clearly one of the best, especially from that period.

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Where do you feel like your chat’s love affair with monsters, especially the dragons and robots, really started?

Well, it's because they’re powerful. They have a lot of HP and they have really good attacks. I don't think monsters are a huge problem because I think human generics are always going to have a higher ceiling. But definitely, especially the elite monsters, have a much, much higher floor than the humans. So it's kind of interesting to see them, and I've had to restrict the rarity of certain monsters, which I think has helped a little bit because obviously, you don't want to see everybody entering a Tiamat or a Steel Giant, and it's gonna always be something I'm gonna have to tweak. Because I don't really want to nerf the monsters into the ground. But at the same time, I don't want every team to have a bunch of monsters.

ROM hacking is a fantastic community that I hope never dies.

Of course, I mean, or else we'll see what happened with the four robots again.

Well, yeah, but that one actually didn't last so long. So maybe I'm just wrong on that.

Have you had like a particular favorite, like team or class composition that you've seen or that you like to see?

I always have a soft spot in my heart for Stone Guns and I love Goblins. Always go all in on Goblins. I love goblins probably because of the Magic the Gathering days I ran Goblin decks. They're so cute! But I do have a soft spot in my heart for Stone Guns. It irked me when I was forced to make it an uncommon item. But it seemed a little too dominating. Aside from that I really do like Knights, especially with the sword skills. I always found that to be the coolest part of Final Fantasy Tactics. And I was kind of bummed out that you could never get Ramza with them. 

So because I can't have special classes—there's a limitation—I wanted to add a lot of the special skills to various classes that I'm sure you’ve noticed. Like Leg Aim and Arm Aim on the Thief. We put Galaxy Stop on Time Mages, Ultima and all of Ramza’s skills on the Squire, but my favorite ones are obviously the sword skills. They're the coolest things and the gosh darn game. So I definitely really like rolling Knights and specifically a strong Knight sword with with a really strong sword skill it can do a lot of damage! I've had to kind of play around with it but I think Knights are in a good place now. There was a time in the past that Knights were just dominating because I hadn't really refined the balance on the sword skills.

And they’re definitely really strong in the vanilla game. So is there anything in particular that you like to !fight as when you pop in yourself, on the occasion you do?

Usually I just roll a Goblin man. I don't know, I've been trying not to enter the !fight command since the stream blew up, mainly because there's only 32 [characters] and I don't really want to take a spot for myself. Before I would just kind of roll as Mimes or Goblins, just because they're fun. Mimes are another love of mine. I love Mimes. Mimes are the greatest thing for the AI. Every time there's a Mime on a team, it's usually fantastic. And especially when it goes off like with a Samurai or a Summoner or even like a Bard. It can just be really strong.

Do you feel like mods and ROM hacking sort of provide a space for these niche genres that isn't present elsewhere?

Yeah. ROM hacking is a fantastic community that I hope never dies. People being able to take your favorite game and morph it or just tweak it into something that's even better. The modding communities in most games are just incredible. Just amazing stuff there. And I think that's definitely a direction that the gaming community has been trending for for several years. It's unheard of now for a game to get a Steam release, at least an indie game, without modding support, and if it doesn't, then there's a huge push to get it added because the modding community just adds so much to the replayability and lifespan of the game. I'm delivering Tactics in a way that even people that have played it thousands of times haven't seen it displayed before. It's something new but something old and reminiscent so I think that's why it's been so popular.

Final Fantasy Tactics Battleground is running its first Tournament of Champions on February 22 at 12 noon EST. 

Philip Palmer

Phil is a contributor for PC Gamer, formerly of TechRadar Gaming. With four years of experience writing freelance for several publications, he's covered every genre imaginable. For 15 years he's done technical writing and IT documentation, and more recently traditional gaming content. He has a passion for the appeal of diversity, and the way different genres can be sandboxes for creativity and emergent storytelling. With thousands of hours in League of Legends, Overwatch, Minecraft, and countless survival, strategy, and RPG entries, he still finds time for offline hobbies in tabletop RPGs, wargaming, miniatures painting, and hockey.