Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 09/08/03 | Genre: Strategy RPG
Fans of Square will probably have fond memories of the Strategy RPG they released on the PlayStation. Final Fantasy Tactics became one of the most popular games they released during the PSX days. Since the game was released, Square has not developed a follow-up even though it has been sought after by fans. However, in a surprise move, Nintendo and Square announced that Final Fantasy Tactics Advance would be the first Square developed title published by Nintendo since the days of the SNES. While we have had to wait a long time for a follow-up to FF Tactics, it was well worth the wait.
When I first heard about Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, I assumed it was a remake of the classic PSX version with a new opening battle and a few other new battles. Not only did I assume this to be true, but almost all people I spoke with about FFTA thought the same thing. While this title is similar to the original PSX version, it contains a completely different storyline, characters, new combat rules, new job system, and with the new job system comes new abilities.
While you control a vast number of characters, the main character in this story is Marche who makes friends with a couple of other kids at school who seem to always get picked on. The game starts off with them getting into a snowball fight where you have not shot of winning. While you will ultimately be outnumbered and the fight will be broken up, this leads Marche and his friends to meet up at his house where they open up a magical book. The next day, Marche finds that he is no longer in the same world but in a completely new place. Could this world be connected to the magical book he and his friends read? Marche sets out to discover the truth. Along the way to the truth, Marche runs into a moogle named Montblanc who lets our main character join his clan and help him get home.
During the course of your adventure, you can enlist the help of up to twenty-three different clan members. You will sometimes be asked by a new character to join your clan after a big battle. Depending on if you have room or what their level is, you may or may not want them to join you. If your party becomes full, you can ask certain characters to leave in order to make more room. In addition, if any of your characters die during battle and you do not revive them before completing your objective. Although if you are anything like I am, you will turn off the GBA and restart it if you lose a character--especially if it is one you have grown attached to.
Lets discuss the gameplay a little bit. If you have played Strategy RPGs in the past, you will instantly recognize how to play. Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced is very similar to Tactics Ogre Knights of Lodis on the GBA and titles from the same genre on the PS2 and PSone. You are allowed to choose a certain number of characters, depending on the specific map, and place them wherever you want in a specified portion of the map. After placing your characters, you must also select the direction they face. After these choices have been made, you take turns making moves between your characters and the computer controlled enemies on the map. Most of the time the objective is to kill all the units on the particular map. However, sometimes, you are asked to just kill a particular unit. This may sound very simple. But the gameplay is much deeper than this.
In between battles or before you place your units on the map, you can change your character class. This class determines the particular skills you can learn. Certain classes are only available to certain races of characters. To further complicate things, in order to achieve the more advanced classes, you have to learn enough skills from other classes. Because this can get a little complicated, I recommend picking up Nintendo's Official Strategy Guide. Besides showing you how to obtain the more advanced character classes, you can easily look up the weapons, armors, and accessories each class can use.
This brings up something that frustrates me about Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced... When purchasing any items for your characters, you cannot tell which character can use which item until you go to equip them. There also is not an "auto-equip" feature that equips the best weapons, armor, and accessories for a particular character. This is a feature that is normally found in Strategy RPGs and I am surprised it was not included here.
Once the battle begins, you will gain AP (Ability Points) for attacking, using special abilities, or casting magic. As you gain abilities, you can equip them to customize your character. This means that a White Mage can cast Black Magic if they have already mastered some of the Black Mage skills. The problem with this system is that you can only equip one of the special skills. So you are very limited in what you can do in a battle. While this adds a lot of replayability, it also makes spending time learning skills to be an unnecessary task unless you are learning them to gain access to a different character class.
Randomly throughout the game, you will be forced to obey different laws. These come in play when you are on a map in a battle. With a judge on a chocobo enforcing them, players must abide by these rules or be sent to jail. Jail is a place where you are not allowed to participate in a select number of battles and your clan must pay money to get you out after your sentence is up. Laws can do things like allow knives but outlaw swords. Demand that fire magic is illegal and ice is recommended. While you can get around these laws with particular items and certain enemies are never forced to obey them, check the laws and learn to abide by them or face the consequences.
The story will find you trying to make your clan the superior one in the world while attempting to find your way home. Along the way, you will have to fight against other clans to become more powerful and have more territory. The player will also take on different jobs by paying a local bartender in a pub money for information on where to find a job. The completion of jobs and clan wars brings more glory to your clan, increases your abilities, and gives you the necessary funds to upgrade your equipment.
Overall, Final Fantasy Tactics is a very deep Strategy RPG that will please fans of the series and genre. While this game is definitely not for everyone, it is very well done and if you can handle the slow-pace of the game, you might just become a fan of the genre. This is arguably the best GBA game to be released in North America and I don't see anything on the horizon that will steal this title away from Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced anytime soon. Handheld games just don't get much better than this.