Sunday, March 14, 2004

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Genre: Tactics
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Credits: 2003 SquareEnix. Nintendo. Screenshots and images courtesy of Amazon.Com.

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Cover Description:
The Fate of Ivalice Is In Your Hands.

When Marche and his friends open an ancient magical tome, their small town is transformed into a fantasy-filled kingdom known as Ivalice. Now, Marche must take up the sword and master the arts of war if he has any hope of returning home. Guide Marche and his clan against countless foes in tactical combat and discover the wonders of Ivalice. How will you restore your town to normal...and do you even want to?

Could have been so much better >>> by Voldemort
As a fighting games fanatic, you really can’t expect me to play too many games outside of that genre, especially any from the Final Fantasy franchise. However, one game in that franchise stood out to me, and to this day, it is still arguably my favorite turn-based strategy game of all time: Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT). Released for the Playstation, this was the only Final Fantasy game I really played from beginning to end.

It was obviously no surprise, then, that when I heard the game was going to make its way onto the Gameboy Advance, I was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to play it on the go. The hype machine of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (FFT-A) was heralding this game to outdo its Playstation predecessor with an even deeper, more engaging gameplay system than before.

Ultimately, I was disappointed.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance does not begin to compare to the original Final Fantasy Tactics for the Playstation. Its so-called innovations are nothing more than ways to make the game more complicated, even more frustrating, than it needs to actually be. Let’s break down the entirety of this game so that I can illustrate this point more clearly…

Story: C- (4)

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has just a shred more of a story than most bishoujo games out there. The premise is that you, Marche, the hero, happen to be just a new kid in the town of St. Ivalice, who ends up making friends with the unpopular kids in town. Somehow, your new group of friends run into a book entitled “Final Fantasy”, and the next thing you know, you’re now in that imaginary word you just dreamt about. It can’t get any more simplistic than this.

Now, your quest is to get back to your world. Your friends don’t want to go back to the real world because they’re happier here, but while a part of you agrees with them, the rest of you take it upon yourself to bring the world back to how it was. You meet friends and foes, and the story pretty much progresses predictably in your quest to get back to the real world. Even the so-called twists in the plot aren’t really huge twists, nor do the characters really seem to develop much, as the most “development” you can get from the characters is a change of heart for them to see your side of wanting to get the real world back.

This story is not only so overdone, it’s even poorly done this time out. I can only give it credit for its attempt to give some meaning to the entirety of the quest, but overall, the story, which was something I loved to bits in the original FFT, is glaringly mediocre at best.

Gameplay: B- (6)

I wouldn’t go outright and say that the gameplay of FFT-A was horrible. In fact, it’s quite engaging for the first few hours of play. However, I cannot possibly say that the gameplay was spectacular, either. I was more underwhelmed than anything. Being a combat-heavy game, I’d focus mostly on the combat aspects of the gameplay to give you a general feel of FFT-A.

You learn new abilities by using weapons that contain the ability you want to learn until you master the ability itself through the Ability Point (AP) system, which gives you ability points for each battle you complete. These Ability Points enable you to eventually master the ability instead of requiring you to equip the weapon containing the ability before you can use that ability. For instance, if you wanted to learn “Steal Weapon” as a Thief, then you can equip the Dagger named “Sword Breaker”, battle until you earn 300 AP, then you can use “Steal Weapon” as an ability even if you didn’t equip the Sword Breaker. This system is very tedious compared to the Job Point system of FFT, as it requires you to use sub-optimal weapons just so you can get the abilities embedded in them.

There are five races of characters: Humans, Nu Mous, Banggas, Vieras, and Moogles. While this seems to open up a whole lot of possibilities for characters, there really isn’t much to write home about. There are many classes available, some available only to certain races. At the same time, both characters and races are heavily unbalanced: Humans and Moogles are the top two races, while some classes such as the Illusionist for the Humans and Nu Mous are hardly a threat to anyone.

At the same time, their so-called innovation, the Law System, is a joke. The Law System prevents participants in the combat from doing certain things for the duration of the battle, and rewards those who follow what the Law in place recommends. A judge that is ever-present in the battle will be the one to determine that, though he’s really more of a figurehead and a moving obstacle occupying one square than anything else, since his only other interaction with you in the game is to move all the unconscious units at random. For instance, if “Fire” is illegal, and “Ice” is recommended, any black mage who casts a Fire-based spell will be penalized with a yellow card which has a corresponding fine and/or drawback on your character, or, in case of repeated violations within a single battle, or violating a law with a high level, or rendering a unit unconscious by breaking a law, a red card which sends you to jail.

In this system, Marche cannot be sent to jail, or else it’s game over. Still, being slapped with a yellow card penalty that will not go away unless you work for a pardon (And Marche can’t do that because he can’t go to jail.) does hamper gameplay instead of make it interesting.

On the other hand, any black mage who casts an Ice-based spell will be rewarded a Judge Point (JP), which they can use for combos or Totemas, which are powerful attacks you acquire throughout the game, handed out by race. You can get JP’s through following what the law recommends, or rendering another unit unconscious without breaking any laws.

I’m sure some people have fun playing around with the Law System to send the opponent to jail instead of outright knocking them out, but even they would have to admit how boring it can get most of the time. It doesn’t add any depth to the strategy for the most part.

Another thing I noticed about the gameplay: good luck levelling up. Unlike in FFT, the levels of the enemies you encounter are fixed. They do not approximate your level, so expect to have a really boring time trying to level up.

All in all, the gameplay for FFT-A is clearly a step back. There were so many things that could’ve been done to make gameplay better, and yet their attempt to make some new “innovations” simply made for a more frustrating playing experience instead.

Graphics: A (9)

FFT-A really maximizes the capabilities of the GBA in terms of graphics. Sure, they’re not 3D masterpieces or anything of the sort, but I have to hand it to SquareEnix for this one: they really did a good job with the graphics. Spell effects are beautifully rendered, and the characters, while not richly detailed, are still very nice to look at. There’re some characters who look too alike, though, such as Snipers and Assassins, but these small misses don’t really take much away from FFT-A’s eye candy.

Music And Sound: B (7)

The music for this game is good, but extremely limited. You don’t need more than an hour of continuous playing to have heard nearly all of the game’s tracks, and then it begins to get annoying. The sound effects for the game are FF standby’s, though, which means they’re good for the most part. Despite that, I have to say that FFT-A’s music and sounds are far from its strongest suits.

Replayability: D- (3)

While there are some nice characters you can acquire only upon finishing the game, the replayability value for this game is very low. It’s such a chore to finish the game on your first run because of the tediousness it takes to level up and master abilities. A second run is plain torture. I don’t really think new characters at the end of the game counts for replayability, either, as it just means that when you get the ending, you still have something to do, but not start the game over.

Overall: C (5)

Sadly, this game reeks of mediocrity. I won’t say people shouldn’t play it, but I have to say that any fan of the original FFT shouldn’t really get their hopes up. The entirety of FFT-A was a step back from what made the original great, and its only spade over the original is that it’s portable. Other than that, you’re mostly better off playing a better turn-based fantasy-strategy game for the GBA, such as Tactics Ogre: Knight Of Lodis, which had a better storyline, less complex and more fun gameplay, and even a respectable amount of replayability.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance could’ve been so much better. In the end, its own overhype really led to a lot of disappointment from people who expected more than just some haphazardly put-together name with the name “Final Fantasy” tacked onto it just so it can make some money.

RATINGS: Gameplay 6; Battle 6; Story 4; Visuals 7; Characters 4; Sounds 7; Replay Value 3

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