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• Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

developed by Square-Enix/published by Nintendo
1-2 Players/Gameboy Advance/2003.09.08

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is the strategy game starring four friends, each troubled by real-life problems, who read an incantation found in a strange book in the small town of St.Ivalice.  Reading the children’s hearts, the enchanted book transforms the sleepy town into the Final Fantasy world of Ivalice, where their dreams become reality.  Some of them decide to stay in the fantasy world to escape their troubles, but Marche decides he must face reality.  To do so he must destroy the crystals holding together the World Thread.

The hundreds of characters and political in-fighting of the first game are gone.  This makes the game more accessible, but lacks the intrigue of the previous game.  Characters don’t die much in this fantasy world, they die in the real world of St.Ivalice, which is precisely why the children want to forget it.  Gone are the cool specialty characters who would join your party after you complete a sequence of events.  The new FFTA places little emphasis on specialty characters – and those that you encounter won’t join until after the game is completed.

Strategy

In Ivalice there are five races: Humans; Moogles; and three races new to the Final Fantasy universe: Nu Mou (similar to the sages from The Dark Crystal); Viera (all-female bunny-eared vixens); and the Bangaa (proud all-male reptiles).  These spice up the look of the game and the battlefield – each job class is exclusive to a specific race (with a small handful being shared across the board).  While many jobs classes return such as fighters and magic users, there are plenty of new classes to master.  Every available slot in your clan can be occupied by a specialty character of your making.

Rival clans appear on the world map, and when engaged a random battle occurs.  This “Clan system” effectively removes the sometimes pesky random battles of the first game, allowing players the choice of running away or chasing down engagements.  Clans fight for turf, which in turn results in cheaper prices at the shops.  Sometimes previously liberated areas come under attack, and it’s up to you to save the area by going there and fighting a random battle within a time limit.

Laying Down the Law

Laws (which change every day in Ivalice) punish and reward characters for performing specific actions, and some laws carry a heavier penalty than others.  For a light offense a character will receive a Yellow Card; for a heavy offense a Red Card.  When a character receives too many yellow cards, their next criminal action results in a Red Card.  A Red Card, under any circumstance, sends that character immediately to jail (removal from the battlefield).  At the end of a battle, any character who received a card will be fined.  Sometimes they must give up an item, which is annoying, but it can be as bad as losing abilities or experience levels!  An imprisoned character can ride out their jail sentence (usually the length of two battles) or you can bail them out of prison for a fee.  While bailing a character out of jail is a quick fix, that character will retain any cards they have received and the next time they break the law, the punishment will be harsh and swift.

The laws are enforced by the judges.  For performing favorable actions, or for dealing the finishing blow to an enemy judges award JP.  Judge Points can be used in two ways: characters in proper formation can “gang up” on their enemies to create bone-shattering combination attacks, or summon race-specific “Totemas” (protective guardians not to be confused with summon monsters) to weaken all enemy combatants’ HP or MP.

As they say, all rules are made to be broken – and the Laws of Ivalice are no different.  As you play the game you’ll rack up Anti-Law cards.  These can be used during battle to cancel or add a law to balance the odds in your favor.  Certain enemies (which carry a Judge’s medal) can break the law and the judge will turn the other cheek.  There are also certain areas which exist outside the law (called “Jagds”) where, when a character dies and is not revived before the end of battle will be lost permanently!

Final Thoughts

All of these new game play systems take some time to get used to, but time is all you’ve got in the world of Ivalice.  With over 300 missions to complete (half of which are the non-active “dispatch” type) and countless random encounters with other clans, plus all the new races, job classes and abilities to master, Tactics Advance will take at least 80 hours to beat (and many more to fully complete).  The long anticipated multiplayer mode has also been added; connect with a friend to fight cooperatively or competitively, or swap characters and items.  Unfortunately, the linked battles take a long time to play out, and players can have only 2 characters on the field apiece.

Players familiar to Final Fantasy Tactics will quickly learn the value of the Law System.  In the previous game, players were free to use the most powerful and convenient abilities to win battle after battle.  With Laws, players are forced to come up with new strategies or fight tougher battles every time they play – and for any tactician, this makes things more interesting!

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • New Races & Job Classes
  • Law System spices things up
  • Good for short bursts of play
  • 50+ hours of game play
  • Solid graphics & music

CONs:

  • Story lacks interest
  • Characters lack dimension
  • Weak challenge

One Sentence Review: An enjoyable portable game, but the weak story and characters pale in comparison to the first Final Fantasy Tactics.

One Word Review: Tame.

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