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Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Game Boy Advance) review

"As sacrilegious as it may sound, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance falls flat on its face when it comes to delivering the epic storyline expected of any Final Fantasy title to date. But whereas the premise fails, FFTA makes up for it with a battle system that works... really well. In that sense, FFTA is an example of a game driven primarily by its gameplay, as opposed to its storyline. Although considerably overshadowed by its superior predecessor, Final Fantasy Tactics, FFTA still manages to do a t..."

As sacrilegious as it may sound, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance falls flat on its face when it comes to delivering the epic storyline expected of any Final Fantasy title to date. But whereas the premise fails, FFTA makes up for it with a battle system that works... really well. In that sense, FFTA is an example of a game driven primarily by its gameplay, as opposed to its storyline. Although considerably overshadowed by its superior predecessor, Final Fantasy Tactics, FFTA still manages to do a ton of things right.

The game sets off in a schoolyard, located in the sleepy town of St. Ivalice (a name which some may recognize from FFT), where a group of young students are outside prepping up for a snowball fight. You are the new kid, Marche. FFTA takes this opportunity to introduce the player to the fundamental battle system through a brief tutorial. The first battle of the game is a quick snowball fight in a rather joyful and pleasant scene. That night however, the blissful aura dissipates after one of the young boys, Mewt, opens a magical book, releasing a spell that transforms St. Ivalice into a vastly unfamiliar world, where combat engagements are rampant and laws govern the land. Playing in the role of Marche, it becomes your job to work your way through this mysterious continent while familiarizing yourself with the surroundings and most importantly, the rules of battle. Eventually, Marche comes across some people he recognizes from the old St. Ivalice. Among them is his crippled brother, Doned, who happened to magically attain the ability to walk in this new world. Although Marche slowly finds that he's growing fond of this new Ivalice, he still seeks to discover a way back home.

The story drags on from there in a rather clichéd and predictable fashion with our protagonist struggling to somehow find a way home.

But, as I said, although FFTA may not deliver the greatest of storylines, it succeeds tremendously with an innovative battle system that really ticks. Engagements are carried out on a large grid with a bunch of tiny tiles. A single character can occupy a single tile. Once a character's turn comes up, he or she has the option of moving, perform some sort of action, or wait until the next turn. Needless to say, a unit's position determines what a character can actually do. Obviously, a soldier cannot hit another unit from halfway across the field with a melee attack. This system draws out the neccesity to strategize effectively or suffer a severe beating from your opponent. Well, that may be somewhat of an exaggeration considering how brainless the AI can be at times.

Because of the many job classes you can choose from, FFTA can become very open-ended. Not one character has a set job he or she must fulfill for the entirety of the game. Even Marche can freely alternate between whatever job you'd prefer. As the game progresses, random characters will come to you and ask to join your clan. It's up to you to shape up these recruits as you see fit. Each job class has its own unique stat build and set of skills. Said skills can be mastered by equipping the weapons or armors associated with that specific skill. For example, the soldier skill, First Aid, can only be used by equipping the designated weapon, Shortsword. Skills can be mastered after the unit acquires the required AP (gained from winning battles) assigned to the skill. As a unit masters more and more skills, higher end job classes (Gladiator, Paladin, Summoner, etc.) become available, thus unlocking a whole new set of higher end skills for your units to learn. This whole setup ultimately allows you to build up a team molded to your liking.

And then the law system comes into play. During any engagements (with the exception of the lawless Jagds), a judge will always appear to oversee the battle. Laws are basically a set of skills that are banned or "recommended" for the battle. If a character happens to execute one of the banned skills, the unit will be presented with a yellow card (if executing the banned offense results in the KO of the enemy unit, a red card is received in its place). A second offense would yield a red card, which automatically sends the offending unit to prison. In that case, you'll be obligated to bail the unit out of jail for a fine. On the other hand, the "recommended" skill of the day is the opposite. If a character happens to use a "recommended" skill, the unit will be rewarded with a judge point, which are beneficial to your team.

Though the law system is tough, don't think there isn't a way around it. After progressing a bit into the game, you'll be introduced to law cards. These cards can be used in battle to nullify or enact laws, thus allowing you to alter the daily laws to your liking. Every card has its own specific function; for example, a dark card marked "Missile" will only wipe off the "Missile" law from the list. Every card disappears after a single use, but you can obtain cards from winning battles and trading them in. Law cards certainly give you a good deal of power.

Of course, the law system will surely make some battles a bit irritating, but it presents an extra challenge to overcome. Moreover, with the proper law cards in stow, the system can be effectively manipulated to create a strategic advantage in your favor by restricting your opponent. Depending on how you look at it, the law system can be considered a hindrance at some points, but a blessing at others.

FFTA isn't too long of a game. There are a total of 24 storyline missions that must be completed in order to move through the game. However, there are also about 276 more side quests with 88 optional battles, each with their own side storyline! The remaining side quests are in the form of dispatch missions, which involve sending a unit off for a designated period of time (example: 30 days, 2 battles). The outcome of said dispatch missions can be determined by a particular unit's overall stats. Though it is completely plausible to rush through the game without finishing any side quests, a lot of amazing items would be missed in the process. The game keeps track of your completed missions, so you can easily log your progress.

In that respect, the amount of time it takes for you to finish FFTA is entirely based upon how deep you delve into the game.

One of my primary gripes with FFTA however is the lack of difficulty. Sure, around the beginning of the game, some battles can get a bit challenging, but as your characters slowly attain better skills and achieve more powerful job classes, most engagements become a joke. Typical enemy units are usually inferior to your units, usually holding fewer skills or lower stats. Much of the time, you'll have no problem kicking the crap out an enemy team in two rounds tops. The only challenging battles are those against boss monsters, for they actually use skills that can deal some damage to you. Apart from those though, engagements are mostly pushovers.

I was certainly curious about how FFTA would perform on a portable GameBoy Advance when I first picked it up. FFTA really pushes the rather limited capabilities of the GBA to the max when it comes to its visual presentation. Colors are bright and vivid with every individual texture detailed and unique. Due to the constraints of the battlefield tiles, the various landscapes do look a bit blocky. Even so, the detail on each map masks the inevitably geometric shape, giving the battlefields a natural look. Character models, too, are drawn very well with every different job class different from the other. You won't see many "recycled" textures at all.

In retrospect, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance isn't as bad a game as some cut it out to be. Sure, it deviates from the path of most Final Fantasy games in that it follows a somewhat "kiddy" storyline, but there's so much to be lauded at the same time. The battles were fun, albeit a bit too easy, and the graphics are among the best on the GBA. FFTA is certainly no Final Fantasy Tactics, but it was a good effort on Square's part nonetheless.

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Community review by redemption (January 14, 2007)

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