"Luso Clemens has a problem. Several, actually. Thanks to his inability to sit still, heís earned the ire of every parent and teacher whoís ever had to deal with him. Heís been tardy and disruptive so many times that heís gotten himself a detention on the last day of class. Given his insatiable curiosity and short attention span, itís surprising that he can even make it to the library to serve his punishment. Itís not like he spends his detention sitting around in quiet remorse over his blunders,..."
Luso Clemens has a problem. Several, actually. Thanks to his inability to sit still, heís earned the ire of every parent and teacher whoís ever had to deal with him. Heís been tardy and disruptive so many times that heís gotten himself a detention on the last day of class. Given his insatiable curiosity and short attention span, itís surprising that he can even make it to the library to serve his punishment. Itís not like he spends his detention sitting around in quiet remorse over his blunders, either; he nabs the nearest book and frantically thumbs through it in a desperate search for entertainment. A horribly cliched plot twist and a bright flash of light later, Luso finds himself in the wilderness of Ivalice. About to be eaten by a gigantic chicken monster, he makes the first of many right choices: he joins a clan of warriors and begins his quest to return home.
It has the makings of a great (if not slightly generic) story: annoying brat learns the importance of responsibility by suffering through hundreds of battles and challenging evildoers. The theme of searching for oneís home and personal identity come into play as well. The problem is that such aspects are never developed to their full potential; aside from a few wise words of advice towards the end of the game, there isnít much that does the plot any justice. Stumbling into an alternate dimension full of monsters doesnít faze Luso at all; with little hope of figuring out how to get home, he uses the clanís adventures as a distraction from his problems. Itís easy to forget his situation, given how thereís a crime syndicate corrupting the country and a conspiracy that could lead to the downfall of Ivalice. Even the two supporting characters get better character development than our child warrior. By the time youíve plowed through the thirty-something story missions, youíll be left wanting more.
But given the sheer amount of battles youíll have to win, itís fairly easy to forget the plot anyway. Despite its rich trade economy and magical technology, Ivalice uses tactical combat as a popular pastime. With a handful of recruited warriors backing him up, Luso will have to face rival clans and random monsters in turn-based combat. The fights revolve around the usual grid-based movement system found in most SRPGs; you place your characters on the square panels on the battlefield, and then move them around based on the range of their attacks, mobility stats, limitations of the terrain, etc. While the fixed isometric camera can make crowded battlefields occasionally difficult to navigate, your charactersí movement and attack ranges are always highlighted. The straightforward presentation of the battlefield ensures that even the most inept of gamers will be able to see whatís going on.
Besides, itís the law system thatíll require most of your attention. As with its predecessor, Final Fantasy Tactics A2 uses a set of rules that restricts your strategies and forces you to improvise. It could be something simple, like being forbidden to use swords or restricting certain characters from performing more than basic attacks. Or it could be something utterly inane, like forcing you to move your characters to move exactly three panels per turn, or dishing out less than a predetermined amount of damage. Regardless of how stupid some of these laws are, they act as a test for your teamís versatility; if your strategy revolves heavily on whatever happens to be prohibited, youíre going to have to figure out a way around it. Of course, you donít have to uphold the law. Compared to the punishments in previous game, youíll only get a slap on the wrist for your criminal activities. Youíll just lose whatever pre-fight stat bonus you chose, some victory swag, and the ability to revive KOed characters in battle. If youíre confident in your teamís ability to win, thereís nothing stopping you from using your desired tactics.
That does not mean, however, that you can slack off when it comes to developing your clan. Success in this game isnít just based on how much youíve leveled your characters, but what abilities youíve had them learn. The majority of the weapons, armors, and accessories come with their own unique abilities that can be mastered if you gain enough experience points in battle. Using a certain sword can grant the character the ability to dual wield weapons, while others can negate status effects, provide supplemental powers, or provide more effective means to take out certain enemies. Once youíve learned enough abilities, youíll unlock more powerful character classes and their respective movelist. Thus the real strategy of the game is based on how you mix and match the abilities to create the most effective combinations to suit your playing style. Given how long it takes to acquire enough experience to learn some of these jobs, itíll take quite a while before your ideal team will be perfected.
Itís easy to take shortcuts, though. With random battles and hundreds of side missions available at different points of the game, there will be plenty of opportunities to develop your characters. Since you can dispatch lone characters or small groups to take care of some missions, itís easy to rack up experience points and your parties quickly. Given how the story missions ignore the power-leveling you might do, itís possible to finish Lusoís main quest while being twenty or even thirty levels over what youíre supposed to be. If you spend your time amassing a huge collection of post-battle prizes, you can use them to make unique items in the various bazaars throughout Ivalice. Thereís even a simple auction system that can grant you even more item bonuses and random encounters. Since there are so many ways to easily acquire get money and craft items, it wonít take long to find whatever weapons or equipment you need to develop your perfect team. Such easy access is balanced out by the ridiculously slow-paced battles and high leveling requirements, however. Making an ideal doesnít take a lot of effort, but requires hours of play time.
While the sheer amount of gameplay required to finish the story adds to the gameís longevity, there isnít much in terms of multiplayer action. There may be hundreds of missions to complete, dozens of character classes to master, and a countless array of items to find, but you wonít get a chance to pit your best creations against other gamers. There are no online multiplayer options, which cripples its replayability when compared to other DS tactics games like Days of Ruin. Never mind challenging other gamers in battle; there is nothing in terms of downloading extra missions, bonus items, and plenty of other stuff that could make the game so much more than an extended single-player crusade. The only saving grace comes in the form of an item trade system via the wireless local option. While that enables some interactivity between gamers, it hardly lives up to what the multiplayer could have been.
The presentation isnít exactly ideal, either. Rather than creating an entirely new game, Square-Enix decided to use most of the sprites from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Itís an understandable choice, but it hardly shows what the DS can do in terms of graphics. New classes aside, youíre still treated to the same assortment of pixilated mages, assassins, gladiators, and whatever else veterans of the previous game might recognize. Though fighting through cobblestone town streets or in the ruins of some castle might sound fun, none of the settings are particularly impressive. The only significant jump in graphics comes with the attacks; elemental spells are depicted with plenty of flashy animations and bright colors. Youíll eventually gain access to some higher-level summons, which are depicted with highly detailed designs spanning across both of the handheldís screens. A hulking monstrosity bury the battlefield under the blade of his skyscraper-sized sword is definitely worth seeing. However, the top screen is wasted throughout much of the game; it only displays the order of charactersí turns, KOed party members, or the current law in effect. Though it is somewhat helpful, it comes off as some feature that was tacked on at the last minute.
That doesnít mean that Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is a bad game. Far from it; itís one of the best single-player games on the DS. Though the story and characters are terrible, itíll take you several hours to complete the main quest. That aside, youíll have hundreds of secondary quests, tons of jobs to master, and massive collection of items and abilities to acquire. Fiddling around with your charactersí moves and strategically developing your party can be a rewarding experience. While the law system from the previous game is still around, it is far less annoying. Despite having a ton of stuff to do, the gameís lack of online features or multiplayer options kills much of its potential. The underutilized DS features donít help matters much, either. But hey, youíve still got one of the most extensive and long-lasting SRPGs available on the system. Thatís got to count for something.
Community review by disco (July 23, 2008)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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