Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has been highly anticipated since word got out about it, and words flew. Constantly. As much as I myself loved FFT - and quite a few friends - we had apprehensions about FFTA. Were they unfounded, or did Square Enix pull through for us?
Open Your Eyes // Prologue
FFT was a game I spent years kicking myself for not getting - long enough that the news of its Greatest Hits release overjoyed me, as I had heard enough to drive me to want the game. I was not going to pay the exorbitant price it was going for before that news - if you could find a copy anywhere. I fell in love with and completed FFT fully, and also fell in love with the strategy RPG style. I was sad the story had ended, and there was no foreseeable continuations whatsoever - not even a "sequel" that had nothing to do with the original, until news came out of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance – FFTA.
FFTA intrigued me, though I resisted the hype and glamour. I’ve never been one to get overly hyped on games - not even ones I knew I wanted - unless I saw things with my own eyes. So, I remained a little jaded until I could get my hands onto it and see. It does not hide anything, aside maybe some strategic amusement. On the surface, it's not FFT; it is an amalgamation of several things used before by Square, combined into a small little package that is definitely a "little brother" of FFT. If you come into FFTA without any expectations than some fun and a strategy RPG with a few twists, you’re set. But if you expect this to be some highly grand storyline, or pick up anywhere after FFT, you’re going to fall from the heights fast and hard.
Read like a Book // Story
The story is definitely not as mature or dark as the tale spun in FFT - nor even really related aside some names and a couple of references, and some other things which I won’t name - a much lighter, fluffier tale with younger characters as your heroes and friends and even villains. The bright colors help display that feeling as well. From an innocent snowball fight to inviting friends over and meeting the main character’s younger brother, it's definitely a story younger people can enjoy - and relate to on levels - and adults can enjoy too as long as they don’t focus on looking for incredible depth and drama within. It’s simple, fairly straightforward, and enjoyable, coming little by little as you complete missions.
Teach Me // Grasping the System
FFTA’s learning curve is fairly smooth, even if you’ve never touched a game like it before in your life. From the first pseudo-combat - a snowball fight of all things - you learn how things work, from basic turns, to combat basics. FFTA slowly teaches you everything you need to know - and when you hit the core of the game, you’re still immersed into learning the lingo and ways things work slowly enough to comprehend - no information dumps here. If you’re worried about playing any strategy RPG, FFTA is quite friendly about teaching you how it works, though if you can’t stomach it, trying to make it through will be a long, hard road.
Mission A-Go-Go // Combat & Gameplay
Gameplay is key to any Strategy RPG game, almost as much as a compelling story. Gone are the job levels, and now to advance and evolve, you must spend time mastering abilities of classes - ability points drawn from Final Fantasy IX, rather then job points like FFTA’s big brother. This is both good and bad. AP can take awhile to gain for stronger skills; reasonable but can make things feel a bit slow in the job progression. However, if you’re walking into a region you know will have a weakness, you can equip an item that will give you the edge if you’ve not mastered the skill. Another new aspect that I find both useful (due to the law system), but also simplifying is that as you go to set up your attack team, you can change their classes and equipment before you place them on the battlefield.
Gone seem to be the days of building specific people for specific jobs - maybe job-types such as mage or fighter, but not just jobs. The fact that most of your battles you pick-and-choose is both blessing and detraction - the thrill of the truly unexpected is removed to a degree, and some of the missions are pretty dull work - almost akin to fetch quests, however are quite optional. All the important story battles will be one of the first missions picked up at pubs with no cancellations - or will happen automatically. At least the maxim of "it takes money to make money" is true here - for a couple hundred gil, you’ll rake in at least a few thousand at times. My only complaint is the limited size of six - or less - teammates on the field of battle. It’s a step up from the five maximum of FFT, but still lower then Tactics Ogre: Knight of Lodis (Gameboy Advance) maximum of eight. Numbers are not always better, but sometimes it would be nice to have a larger team.
FFTA uses many menus and windows - both in and out of combat. This is both good and bad, as it keeps things grouped well together, but can be painful to wade through when looking for something or setting up a character. Expect to hit select (help) and R (info, skill display of items, etc.) a lot though - unless you have a guide handy to tell you things. Also annoying is the fact that when you class-change, all items become unequipped, leading to the annoyance of re-equipping all the items of a black mage-turned-white mage, instead of their weapon and maybe another item. It can get frustrating if you let it get to you. Overall, things seem simplified in many areas - not uncommon in GBA games, in my opinion - yet complicated in others. It’s a marriage of different ways of doing things, with the results being fairly decent, but not totally outstanding. The lack of camera rotation is a real detractor though, but something that can be managed without.
Laws Were Meant to Be Broken // The Law System
Not in FFTA - you can be seriously hurt and hampered if you let yourself fall prey to them. Laws cause certain restrictions to the field of battle - such as No Fight [basic combat] to no missile weapons, no confuse, or many other restrictions on type of weapon, magic, or combat - even no items or certain restrictions on recovery. This can be frustrating if you don’t pay attention - and sometimes look and plan ahead. However, using the opposite of the law - in the red panel - you can gain bonus JP (judge points, typically given for felling an enemy) to use in combo attacks, which makes the law system less of an evil, providing you can even use that item/ability/requirement. Later in the game you can change or alter laws in effect - or ban them out altogether, but you need to learn to play by the rules or be thrown in jail. If your main character goes to jail - it’s game over. Judges can be annoying, especially in their re-arranging of the dead, and mere presence on the field at times having their own turns, but it’s easy enough to ignore them. Opponents don’t usually break the law - by avoiding actions - but I have seen it happen.
Beauty is not Skin Deep // Class & Tribes
FFTA’s world is filled with a mix of races (tribes) that all have different classes they can learn, and their own particular specialties. The mix of races creates dynamics, but also forces you to have to find multiple people of those races in order to have different classes of that race on the field - such as a Viera Red Mage and a Viera Sniper together. This can be a problem, as people seek you out, not the other way around. As it is, trying to acquire whom you want can be a long wait - though sometimes a blessing when an advanced classed person offers to join.
The job tree only goes out at three branches max with little effort typically to open new ones - aside AP costs spanning multiple battles/dispatches usually. This simplifies things from FFT’s class building (need I mention dancers, bards, and mimes among other "high-level" classes?), a plus for gaining classes and becoming more versatile. Are they all worth it? It depends on your tastes. Those who love lots of heavy hitting will love Bangaa, while the pure magician types will adore the Nu Mou. Red Mage adorers and archer-fanatics will flock to the rabbit-like female Vieras, while the magic/fighter and gun types will love Moogles - though these moogles are not quite the same as the ones you’ve come to know. Humans are versatile, though some of the "cooler" classes (such as Assassins) all belong to the non-human races. The designs are all pretty good and this time, they have noses. The evolution of style of Akihiko Yoshida from FFT to Vagrant Story to FFTA is wonderful - his style doesn’t fail to amaze me.
Brotherhood // The Clans
Clans are not just your party of people that fight alongside you in missions - your clan has a level that determines abilities in proposition missions - sending a lone member out to perform a task for rewards. Some are related to combat - which is always good for any mission - down to crafting and tracking, and levels for certain skills bring various prizes of items for making that achievement. You get to name your clan, and can build it up to combat other clans, vying for areas. Control over an area - or at least its freedom - is essential in saving money, as home turf is cheaper to buy mission information and items from then enemy clan areas. Clans also comprise part of the "random" encounter factor that is missing.
Wordly Goods // The World & Map
The world of FFTA is built much like Legend of Mana’s was with the artifact system - but much easier and a lot less complicated. Acquire a land, and drop it in a slot. If you’re lucky, lands will shake happily and you can then treasure hunt, which turns up items you can use, some of which are only found this way or must be stolen from enemies (if you prefer to do that). It’s like a fun game of chance while building your world - though it can also be aggravating not to get those good items if you’re not combining right.
Listen Up! // Music and Sounds
For a GBA game, FFTA’s music is good - a mix of feelings and emotions written by Nobuo Uematsu [Final Fantasy series] and Hitoshi Sakimoto [FFT, Vagrant Story]. Uplifting in parts, yet compelling you to battle, or setting a mood, the music never fails to set something up alongside the words and visuals, though the simplistic methods of the GBA’s output dim it down. If you’re a music enthusiast, the OST for FFTA contains two discs - the GBA Sound Version, exactly as in the game - and also a Full Sound Version on Disc 2 that makes the music really shine. The sound effects for it are sometimes a bit bothersome, but tolerable enough. The bleating sheep for Sheep Count is amusing and decent.
Come Together // Overall
Overall FFTA is a game that’s meant to be enjoyed and take up time rather then tell an all-powerful world-shattering tale. It has its moments both shiny and dull, including items and other things that you’ll recognize form elsewhere. It has enough for the obsessive completist to do - 300 missions to accomplish plus various other things - and also for the casual gamer to pass some time waiting or just otherwise bored. Combat is fun, though as with any game it can get boring when overdone – don’t try to play this through constantly unless you’re into it because you’ll burn out. With Link Capabilities, you and a friend can fight together and trade items and people. This was a good idea to promote working with a friend and capitalizing on the GBA’s abilities.
As with many GBA games out there, this is definitely friendly to the younger crowds - especially those between Pokémon and the next level. Not the epic that FFT was, but certainly not dull to the point of death for anyone, FFTA fills in a nice niche of strategy RPG with fun and flavor, trying new things and reusing some old, despite a few minor drawbacks - but no one’s perfect. FFT proved that six years ago - if you’ve played, you know what I mean.
Title: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix, Nintendo
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance