Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Marche Radiuju has a problem. As the new kid in St. Ivalice, he is both shy and withdrawn from his fellow classmates. Instead of experiencing his childhood, he spends his time caring for his younger brother Doned, whose crippling illness has left him stuck in a wheelchair. Then there’s Marche’s friend Ritz, who is utterly insecure over her appearance (because having weird hair is so much worse than being handicapped for life). Lastly, there’s Mewt, a wimpy bully magnet with an alcoholic father and a severe lack of confidence. These four kids are left to deal with the hardships of their meaningless adolescences with only a hope of better things to come.
At least, until Mewt comes across a magical book and unlocks its powers. In a cliched plot twist akin to several children’s fantasy movies (and a far cry from the wartime epic of the original Final Fantasy Tactics), the kids are whisked away into the realm of Ivalice. This world is crafted to cater to the wishes of its creators; Mewt is now a prince, and father is the most respected man around. Ritz is finally as beautiful as her skewed judgment allows, giving her confidence to join a band of female hunters. Doned has ditched his wheelchair and joined a militia. The only person truly out of place is Marche; despite having found camaraderie in a clan of mercenaries, he is well aware that this place is merely an escape from his friends’ abysmal lives. Regardless of their desires to live their fantasies, Marche begins a quest to bring them all back to reality.
Yes, the hero of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is unintentionally evil. But before he can shatter the dreams of his closest friends, he’ll have to avoid getting killed by the roving bands of warriors strewn throughout the countryside. In Ivalice, tactical combat isn’t used for war, but as a popular pastime. With his crew of mercenaries backing him up, Marche will have to endure several turn-based battles during his quest. These fights involve the standard grid-based gameplay found in nearly all other handheld tactics games; you place your characters on the battlefield, then move them around based on the range of their attacks, the limitations of the terrain, and distance from the enemies. Don’t worry about the technical details, though; the game conveniently points out a character’s movement and attack range by highlighting the appropriate areas. A few well-placed attacks and a few deathly moans later, your opponents will (hopefully) collapse and gain Marche a victory.
In order to differentiate Final Fantasy Tactics Advance from other generic strategy RPGs, the game makes use of a strict law system. Since tactical combat is common enough to be a sport in Ivalice, the government sends out a bunch judges to enforce the rules. Upon entering the battleground, these fellows will decree that certain attacks can’t be used for the duration of the fight. You know that badass dual-wielding swordsman that you’ve been using in all your battles? Try using him with a “No Swords” law in effect, and you’ll find yourself penalized and eventually incarcerated. The same goes mages, healers, and whatever else happens to be in your party. The game tries to balance things out by providing you with anti-law cards to use in battle, but you won’t really need them. Beating the law system becomes a trivial affair once you realize that the rules change with every move you make on Ivalice’s world map; all you have to do is keep wandering among battlegrounds until the law works in your favor. Despite their game designers’ intent to use the system to make the game more difficult, its poor implementation makes for little challenge.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t develop your team, however. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance provides a handful of races with different skills. See that talking fur ball? It can sling fireballs, snipe enemies with a little revolver, and even stop time once you’ve unlocked some of its higher-end classes. Then there are the Viera, whose distance attacks can range from inflicting multiple status ailments (because there’s nothing more satisfying than disabling an enemy limb by limb) to one-hit kills. Other beings have more generic RPG roles, like Paladins, Summoners, and Thieves. The trick is learning the appropriate skills from a certain class, and then combining them with other movesets. A Black Mage can have an absurd amount of attack power behind his spells, but his accuracy will be pathetic until you acquire an accuracy skill from another moveset. Once you’ve obtained a wide variety of abilities, you’ll be able to mix and match them to create a truly fearsome team.
It’s not like you’ll need one, though. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is both brief and easy. Advertisements boast that the game features three hundred missions. While they are technically correct, only a little over twenty are actually playable. This small handful is dedicated to the progression of the story, which packs in plenty of cheesy dialogue and predictable plot twists between each fight. Should you spend your time leveling your characters via random battles, you’ll find that several of the story-based missions are ridiculously easy to beat. Story stuff aside, the other 270-ish missions require you to send one of your teammates on a quest. Should they succeed, you’ll be rewarded with some special item that can be used to obtain rare treasures and weapons. Sadly, such extra features don’t make up for the brevity of the lackluster adventure.
The game tries to distract you from its shortcomings by showing off tons of eye candy throughout the game. Despite the game’s use of an isometric camera angle, you’ll get to see several details. Marche and his pals will get to wander through a few ornate (albeit fairly small) battlegrounds, ranging from bustling towns marked with cobblestone roads and palm trees to the marble floors and curtained windows of Ivalice’s palace. The game takes great strides to show the differences of the characters; you’ll be able to make out the pointed snout and lizard-like tail of your Bangaa fighter, or the floppy ears and stylish skirts of your Vieran archers. Greater emphasis is placed on the main characters’ sprites, however; while other humans look all effeminate models, you’ll be able to make our Marche’s brightly colored garb and golden locks with ease. The game also boasts plenty of flashy attack animations (including a few epic summons) that show off what kind of graphics the GBA can really dish out.
Too bad the overly cheerful and repetitive battle music will make you twitch in discomfort.
It’s not that Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a bad game. It’s just lacking in a few areas. The story is laughable; one could argue about the themes of escapism and loss of innocence, but a group of kids getting sucked into a book pales in comparison to what this game’s predecessor showed off. The combat and leveling system is varied and deep, allowing you to mix and match different abilities to create a well-rounded team. The problem lies with the difficulty; the law system is easily exploitable, allowing you to beat an already easy game with little effort. At least the graphics put much of the GBA’s other titles to shame. This may be one of the better handheld tactics games out there, but it leaves much to be desired.
Seven out of ten
- Extensive leveling system
- Plenty of character variation and customization
- Graphics are excellent
- The story is short and easy
- Exploitable game mechanics