The original Final Fantasy Tactics, originally released for the PlayStation back in January of 1998, was the type of game that fans of the franchise seemed to either love or hate. FFT boasted an excellent soundtrack, a plot full of twists and political backstabbing, and many hours of gameplay. On the other hand, the translation was full of flaws, the tutorial was a joke, the battles could be absolutely infuriating, and the main character looked like a girl. Now we have a sequel to the classic Square title, but just how good is it? Well, I’ll warn you right now - the hero still looks like a girl (and has rosy cheeks to boot), but aside from that, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is the type of game that no FF fan should be without.
First off, what was carried over from FFT to its sequel? The basic concept of each battle remains the same as in the original, although many smaller details have changed. The player is allowed to choose several members of his or her “clan” to participate in a battle, and then proceeds to move them across the grid-like terrain. The battles are turn-based and highly strategic. For example, it is best to get behind or beside a foe than to simply attack from the front. Even magic and summon spells work better or worse depending on where your character is positioned in relation to the target.
Several rather annoying aspects of Tactics’ battle system have thankfully been removed. In FFT, when a character was defeated in battle, a countdown would appear over his or her head. The player would then have to rush another character to the fallen ally to use a Phoenix Down or Life spell. If, however, they didn’t make it in time, the dead character would disappear from existence. In FFTA, this frustrating feature has been eliminated. When a character’s HP reaches zero, he or she is merely “KO’d”, and, in most cases, is in no danger of dying permanently. Another minor yet important change to battle is the ability to cancel a move or an attack before it is executed and try a different approach.
The major difference between the two games is the introduction of laws. In Tactics Advance, a special character called a Judge sits somewhere in the field of battle and observes the fight. At the beginning of the game, one law will exist per day. For example, if the law for one particular day is “Swords”, neither the player’s characters nor the enemies may use swords. If someone decides to defy the law, they will face a penalty, whether it is a loss of several stat points or a trip to the local prison. As the game progresses, more laws will exist per day. Although this may sound like a negative feature, laws can also be used to the player’s benefit. Throughout the game, players will receive Law Cards after battles. These can allow the player to add an extra law or even remove a law for that particular fight. Suppose you enter a battle with several mages. Simply use a Color Magic card and they’re helpless unless they decide to defy the judge, which is a very rare occurrence.
FFTA isn’t only about battles, of course. There’s plenty of plot to keep any RPG fan satisfied. The basic storyline involves a group of children - Marche, Ritz, and Mewt - in the modern-day world who happen to stumble upon an enchanted book. The ancient tome suddenly changes their normal world into one of fantasy and magic. Marche finds himself alone in the altered realm until he is befriended by a kind moogle known as Montblanc. After joining a clan of several strange-looking people and creatures, our rosy-cheeked hero sets out to find his friends and change the world back to the way it was.
The job class system has changed considerably. Five different races exist in the Tactics Advance world - humans, moogles, Nu Mou, Bangaa, and Viera. Each of these races can learn different job classes and abilities, with little overlap. For example, both a human and a Viera can be archers, but only humans can be hunters and only Viera can be assassins. It is best to keep diversity among the clan in order to get the best of each character class.
New abilities are now learned by collecting Ability Points rather than Job Points. Most types of weapons and some types of armor possess abilities. When a character is equipped with one of these items, they are fully capable of using that ability. If, however, the item is removed, the character loses the ability. In order to prevent this loss, the character must keep the item equipped until he or she gains enough AP to permanently “learn” the skill. Afterwards, the item can be unequipped and the character can begin to learn something else.
For the majority of the game, the player’s clan must sign up for missions in order to become stronger and more famous. There are two types of missions - regular and dispatch. Regular missions require the clan to go to a specific location and win a battle. Dispatch missions are similar to the minor missions found in FFT, requiring the player to simply send out a character for a certain amount of days or battles. Both types of missions result in worthwhile rewards, including money, both common and rare items, and more specific points for the clan.
Generally speaking, the soundtrack is decent. It isn’t awe-inspiring and doesn’t come close to the music from FFT, but it isn’t terrible. More often than not, though, I found myself turning the volume off completely because the more irritating tunes kept repeating themselves in my head long after shutting off my Game Boy Advance. In contrast, the sound effects are quite nice for such a small system. All of the sound effects, from swords clanging against each other to the woeful cry of a dying enemy, are very well done. One warning, though - you will grow to despise the sound that occurs when your enemy dodges an attack. Not only does is signify that something bad has happened, but it’s also a very strange and unfitting noise.
My only real complaint with FFTA is the probability system. Before you choose to attack an enemy, a percentage is shown that supposedly predicts what chances your attack has of succeeding. It seems that there is a flaw in the system, making it either very biased or even backwards. I find that I hit more often with a probability of 35% and I miss more often when the given percentage is 85%. This is a rather annoying flaw that the player should learn to ignore early on.
All in all, is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance worth your time? If you’re a strategy RPG fan, the answer is most definitely yes. It’s a solid title with great graphics, addictive gameplay, and a good storyline bundled nicely into a portable cartridge. The developers even threw in a very nifty bonus that allows you and a friend to link up via the GBA link cable and battle to find out whose clan is the best in Ivalice. The pseudo-sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics ended up being much more than just a sequel, as it stands surprisingly well on its own.
· · · Ren