Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is the much hyped “sequel” to Square’s 1998 smash-hit Final Fantasy Tactics. Though Square surprised everyone by announcing the sequel for the Game Boy Advance, the finished product proves to be a worthy follow-up to the original, though not without a few minor quirks.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (FFTA) once again brings the gamer to the world of Ivalice. However, it looks much different; electric street lights illuminate dark, paved roads where cars bustle; there is no trace of the medieval atmosphere found in FFT. The game opens with a snowball fight at a local school, where the gamer is introduced to the main cast: a young bunch of schoolchildren. Soon thereafter, the plot thickens: Marche, the main character, invites two of his schoolmates over, where they look over an ancient magical text. After declaring that they love the “Final Fantasy” videogame world, they leave…only to be transported to medieval Ivalice that night!
If it sounds somewhat limited and childish, that’s because it is. The plot starts exactly in that fashion, with multiple references to the world being “like Final Fantasy”. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance remains simple, and mainly revolves around Marche’s desire to return to his home world with his comrades. There is no complex political statement or religious symbolism. I have no issue with simplistic plots, but FFTA executes it poorly. The characters’ obvious knowledge of “Final Fantasy” and amazement that they are in such a world almost turns the game into a frame story. Rather than the gamer being immersed in FFTA because it creates a whole new world, they takes another step back and watches as Marche and gang are amazed at being immersed in a videogame world. This does not draw the gamer close to the events of the game, but rather continually pushes them away. The other limiting factor is that the game rarely focuses on the plot, but continually throws missions at the gamer. The game is basically completed by going to pubs and paying for information on missions. Just about 99% of every mission is simply a battle that requires gamers to defeat all the enemies. Repeat this fifty times and you’ve plowed your way through FFTA.
Thankfully FFTA retains the addictive strategy-RPG gameplay of its forefather. Battles are the key focus of the game, as it’s the only way gamers take direct control of Marche (other than navigating where to go on the linear world map). Battlefields are moderately sized, and battles usually end up being six on five matches. Battlefields are basically large grids where characters move about depending on their stats and attack enemies. It’s rather straightforward in design, but the strategy elements come into play when a gamer must determine where to move to, what attack to execute, and leverage the worth of spending a complete move doing so. It changes little from the classic FFT style system, so veterans will feel even more at home.
Even though battling is enjoyable, it is not without quirks. FFTA features a “law” system, where every day a new law comes in effect, prohibiting some function in battle. For example, when assigning units to deploy for battle, pressing the SELECT button on the Game Boy will show that for this battle, SWORDS are prohibited. That means if one of your characters attacks an enemy with a sword, the judge (who basically watches over the battle) will blow his whistle and penalize your character soccer style with either a yellow or red card. If Marche happens to be imprisoned, it’s game over, but for the rest of your clan it will simply lead to jail time and monetary fines. Though this definitely forces the gamer to rethink a strategy, it far too often leads to frustration. It seems like more of a cheap method to force different strategic methods rather than true difficulty. Another frustration is the percentage system employed in battle. Before making a decision on a certain attack or ability, the game will give a percentage on the chance of that attack being successful. Far too often attacks with 80% or even 90% chances will fail. I must stress how often this happens, and soon gamers will realize anything under 73% will usually fail.
Another issue would be how Square made little effort to improve the battle system itself. Though enjoyable, it remains exactly the same as its PlayStation forefather’s, a title that is over five years old. There is the old adage that says “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but with recent S-RPG releases such as Disgaea building upon what has already been done, it’s not hard to see how aged the Final Fantasy Tactics system has become.
The Job system returns from FFT. Characters in the gamer’s clan begin with specific jobs: Marche starts as a soldier, and others are anything from archers to black mages. As the characters gain experience through battle and learn more abilities, different jobs become available, such as dragoons, snipers, ninjas, paladins, and animists. Each job has different specific abilities; the thief is can steal items from enemies, and ninjas have excellent evade stats and are extremely fast. This leads to a great deal of fun gaining experience and building a diverse clan of characters who all rely on one another for specific abilities.
The soundtrack is classical in composition and very appropriate. Though the battle theme gets extremely repetitive, the MIDI quality is surprisingly high and the songs are catchy, much like the amazing songs in Final Fantasy Tactics. The sound effects are simple, but compliment the game well; successful attacks usually sound the same but they rarely get irritating. There are no ridiculous battle cries and the menu beeps and blips are subtle enough that they don’t grind or rattle the brain.
Visually, FFTA features very bright sprites and attractive landscapes. The battlefields are colorful and vibrant, and the characters and enemies have smooth animations. Character portraits are clear and well drawn. Honestly, the game looks just as good if not better than the PlayStation classic. The backgrounds, especially in modern Ivalice, feature so many colors and small details, such as cobblestone roads, they rarely fail to impress.
One other annoyance is the clunky menu system in shops. Items do not have specific attack numbers listed, and though it’s usually safe to assume the more expensive it is, the better it is, there are instances where this does not apply. There is no “try on” room or way to see how certain items affect stats until after an item is bought, so it can become a guessing game for gamers.
Albeit the aforementioned flaws, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a fun game, but may disappoint veterans who loved the original FFT. The plot is weak and the gameplay aged; but there’s no denying that it still has that addictive aura that will keep gamers mission after mission. It’s not a classic by any means, but it’s a worthy sequel.