Final Fantasy Tactics A2

Review: Final Fantasy Tactics A2

DS Review


"...the more effort you put in, the more you get out of the game. And the same is true of FFTA2."

On-the-go-gaming is really the perfect platform for glorified chess simulators such as Advance Wars and Drone Tactics. Now along comes the latest iteration in the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy Tactics series, shrunk down but with hidden depth and an often confusing wealth of variety.

FFTA2 sees you take on the role of a small boy magically transported to the world of Ivalice by a creepy old book. There you find yourself in the middle of a battle and suddenly accepted into the ranks of one of the fighting clans of this bizarre world. Monsters, other clans, undead and enormously fat flying chickens challenge you at every turn to prove your mettle as a skilled fighter and brilliant battlefield tactician.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance must rank as one of the highlights of the GBA era, along with such luminaries as Advance Wars, Golden Sun and Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. What all these games have in common is that the more effort you put in, the more you get out of the game. And the same is true of FFTA2.


Yeah, that chicken could feed an army alright.

Battles are fought in a turn-based fashion on an isometric playing field. Your fighters can move and perform one action in a given turn –actions include using assigned abilities such as Magick (why the extra 'k'?), attacking an opponent or using an item on a character. When you finish each character's turn, you choose a facing for them until their next turn and this is perhaps the simplest of the tactical concepts of the game: attacks from the rear do far more damage than attacks from the front, so positioning your units correctly is essential to long term survival. Basic military sense tells you to get your archers or gunners up high where they can rain merry hell down on the advancing attackers, but keep them away from close range fighters as they will go down pretty quickly with only a bow to defend themselves. Simple tactics like this force you to approach superior enemies with care.

The challenge the game offers can be unbalanced at times: some battles such as speed battles hand victory to the clan that downs the "mark" in the quickest time. However, the AI knows this, and instead of attacking adjusts its position to deal the killing blow after you have done all the leg-work, thereby beating you in the challenge. Other battles see you blocking off enemies in a desperate attempt to last four or five rounds without defeat. Some have you escorting a weak –and stupid- AI controlled NPC while fending off the hordes. Battles such as these are immensely fun and make you think about the "Tactics" aspect more and more.

Your success in these battles depends strongly on the team that you assemble to complete your task. Initially you only have 5 clan members other than yourself to draw on, so your decision is made for you. As your clan progresses, you have the opportunity to swell your ranks with more members to add a variety of races and jobs to the mix. Some races, such as Nou Mou and Viera are more suited to magical and magically-enhanced attacks. Bangaa are natural tanks and Moogles (Kupo!) are a good race for playing games with your opponents. Then of course there are "Humes" who prove the jack-of-all trades of the clan.


Isn't that green a little bright for a Ninja?

Different races are naturally adapted to performing different jobs, and there are lots, nay, severals of classes to choose from. There are of course Black Mages, White Mages, Fighters, Thieves and Archers, but also Berserkers, Elementalists, White Monks and Ninjas and many more to choose from. The difficulty here is choosing the right path for each member of the clan: some jobs are pretty much dead-ends and do not lead to the discovery of better jobs and weapons. If you make a mistake, you can always dismiss a member of the clan or leave him or her as a supporting fighter, gaining experience in the "Dispatch" quests that are fought on your behalf by a selection of your fighters. It's a frustrating aspect of a game that is riddled with small annoyances that hold the overall experience back a little, as there is no prior indication whether or not it is worth your time following a particular career path. An echo of real life, perhaps?

Another factor to take into account is the "Judging" system in the game: every battle you fight is governed by a "Law". These laws are enforced by unseen Judges and run the whole gamut of easy to deal with -such as no actions by Moogles or every unit must move one space, to the banning of healing magic. Supposedly these add a tactical aspect to the proceedings, but breaking the law really does not affect the outcome of the battle, only you lose the ability to raise KO'd team members and your clan privilege is negated. It is of course better to keep to the law, but these laws themselves are not properly implemented at times. For example, some battles ban ranged weapons, which is fine. But if you knock back your opponent, the judge views this as a ranged attack and you lose your bonuses. And as knock back is a pretty random occurrence, this leaves you scratching your head in confused anger. An additional frustration is that the battle law does not apply to your opponents –be they clan or monster. So you find yourself strictly adhering to the no-healing law while your enemies blithely restore all their team members to full health every turn.

The graphics of the game are mostly very disappointing. In fact, it's probably true to say they are almost exactly the same as the GBA version. The bottom screen depicts the action, and the top screen displays the turn order. When units are highlighted on the top screen, they become woefully pixellated, displaying the graphical inadequacies of the game. When the units are small, they look good, are well animated and perform some impressive looking attacks. That does not disguise that these are GBA graphics at best however. Disappointing, as we know the DS is capable of so much more than is delivered.

Sound too is a bit of a let down: at first it seems well-scored and interesting. But the music is limited to a few choices that seem to repeat over and over. This is definitely a game to turn the speakers off to, because the repetitive nature of the music can become distractingly predictable. This is something of a surprise, given the fame of the Final Fantasy series for its audio power. What is here is mostly good, but loops too often.


It's not all warfare, there's other things to do also.

Having the extra screen does not seem to make much impact on the game overall. Being able to see the turn order is good for planning your next move, but it's hardly an essential inclusion in the package. Using the stylus is comfortable and easy, yet certainly no easier than controlling everything with the d-pad and buttons. By far one of the worst features of the game is the awkward menu system. This is where the DS should really come into its own in the touch-screen capabilities, but it makes absolutely no difference whether the stylus or d-pad is used: there are too many menus that are so difficult and frustrating to navigate. Also, the stylus appears quite imprecise when making certain selections – a result of the volume of things to choose from.

All these flaws aside, there is a great game in FFTA2, albeit a very well-hidden one. Few games can boast such amazing depth and longevity on a handheld machine, you can easily expect your first run through to last over 20 hours, provided you take on a few of the side quests. Completionists will enjoy more than 40 or 50 hours of gaming the first time round and maybe even a similar amount on a second run through. The story itself is trite and typical Final Fantasy fare, it's mostly irrelevant though as it is up to the player to choose the overall direction that the game takes. Again, you will get as much out of this game as you put in, and casual gamers looking for a fifteen minute fix on the bus or metro should probably avoid it.

Subjectively speaking, the game is great. My personal opinion is that I have rarely had so much value from a piece of software on the DS. But the flaws are too many to ignore, so objectively speaking, from a purely dispassionate point of view, the game is highly flawed in its user interface, frustrating in its execution of battles and frequently repetitive. Final Fantasy fans will most probably love it, and with good reason.

If you liked the previous game, then it really is more of the same, and there is no doubt you will get the same amount of enjoyment from it. However, first-timers should approach Final Fantasy Tactics A2 with a cautiously open mind as this game is in no way easily accessible for those with little experience of the genre.

N-Europe Final Verdict

It's a good game, spoiled by its flaws. It deserves to be hated and loved in equal measure

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability5
  • Visuals3
  • Audio2
  • Lifespan5
Final Score

7

Pros

Astounding depth
Brilliant longevity
Wealth of options

Cons

Frustrating menus
Confusing battle rules
Disappointing sound


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