tiistai 14. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (2003)

Genre(s): Strategy / RPG
Released: 2003
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Square Enix
Publisher(s): Square Enix, Nintendo
Players: 1-2

In June 1997, six months after the release of Final Fantasy VII, Square published Final Fantasy Tactics - a cult classic in tactical role-playing directed by series veteran Hiroyuki Ito and the creator of Ogre Battle, Yasumi Matsuno, who went on to direct the highly acclaimed Final Fantasy spin-off Vagrant Story and was also the original director of Final Fantasy XII before he dropped out of the project. In 2003, as the first sign of newfound friendship between Square and Nintendo, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was introduced. Unlike the rest of the Advance series, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a whole new stand-alone game instead of a remake. Although I find it enjoyable in a certain state of mind, the game once again goes to show that tactical RPG's aren't my thing. It takes a lot from me to look at it from the view of a strategy gamer... but I'll try, since I want to end the Final Fantasy marathon with a high note!

Life's lessons, some shameless promotion and a little art o' war

A group of bullied school kids discovers an ancient tome that changes the city of St. Ivalice into the kingdom of Ivalice known to the kids from the Final Fantasy game series. In this parallel universe, bullies have become monsters, the crippled can walk, the poor have become royalty and races live as one. In other words, it's a dream world. Marche must find his little brother and friends, and a way to restore the real world, since he's smart enough to know that reality is a thing every living person must face some day.

When I first got the PlayStation, I got Konami's Vandal Hearts as sort of a freebie along with Gran Turismo and Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. I didn't play it at all. I tried, believe me, a couple of times in fact - I tried liking it, too, but tactical role-playing hit me as something RPG haters see standard J-RPG's as: fighting and talking. I'm fine being the "great tactician" every once in a while, but I don't buy a game to read lengthy dialogues and jump from battle to battle, 'cause that's exactly what this is even if they try to disguise it. It's simply not my thing, and I'm not sure if I'm even qualified to review this game. On the other hand, I kind of respect the game and it's not all that bad. I'm probably never going to return to it, but I enjoyed this run to some extent.

I could've reviewed the Mana series, Chrono Trigger, Mystic Quest, Vagrant Story, and the SaGa series - at some point, all of these games have been strongly linked to the Final Fantasy series, and I have access to all of them, but only Vagrant Story is a real Final Fantasy spin-off, while the rest have been promoted as Final Fantasy-related games due to the brand's success. Also, just imagine how insane I would be right now if I'd included all of these games in the marathon - that's ten additional games on a quick count - I would probably never play a Square RPG again. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a game I had to include due to its close relation to the main series in terms of setting. Yeah, sure, Vagrant Story is also set in Ivalice, but it's not namely a Final Fantasy game. Also, if we have a genre - or style - which I've never personally liked, AND a ridiculous plot which involves modern-day school kids who have a thing for video games including the Final Fantasy series, tons of bad moogle humour and the rise to power of a downtrodden loser called Cid, how can I simply resist the urge?

A little bit of self-lovin'.
The look of the game is colourful and cutesy, and technically it looks quite OK. It could be a bit more lively, but it's basically a strategy game, so it really doesn't matter. It's very true to the series and feels like a 16-bit Final Fantasy game, with the main difference being that it's all delivered to us from an isometric view. Some of the sprites were directly carried over to appear as trophy avatars in the Sky Pirate's Den in Final Fantasy XII. It's nice to see them in action. The music is really not too interesting, or memorable. Nobuo Uematsu contributes with one single track, while the rest is written by Hitoshi Sakimoto and two other assistants, Kaori Ohkoshi and Ayako Saso.

Like any other tactical RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is split into two different parts; one's for dialogue and one's for fighting. You can't move at all, in the traditional sense. Even on the world map, you just pick your destination and you're taken to that spot automatically, after which you choose an action from a text menu. There's absolutely no point in following the plot, if you're seriously not into life's lessons for kids or shameless plugging of how they love their Final Fantasy games, so the dialogue is pretty meaningless. The game's all about the missions. There are two kinds of missions; storyline missions and random tasks given to you by a shady pub owner in just about every inhabited area - which could be categorized as sidequests in any traditional RPG. There's a hefty fee on each mission, with the primary rule being that the tougher the mission, the more expensive it is. It's quite easy to weed out the missions you aren't ready for yet.

To do these missions, you'll need a clan. After the first couple of tutorials, you'll have a clan. For each mission, you need to assemble a party which suits your personal needs best. The main character Marche (erm... fag... erm) is kind of an all-around guy by default, and there's a White Mage, a Black Mage, a Monk, an Archer and a Soldier available to you from the beginning and you can assign them all to a job if you want. With time, you can - and must - hire new guns to your clan, and you can manage and maintain them in any way you like. You can change the clan members' specialties, abilities, and of course, equipment, by spending some of your hard earned money at the many shops around Ivalice. It's all quite cool, IF you like these kind of games. Every once in a while, you can "return" to a previously visited location to do a treasure hunt, but it's not really that much of a hunt. You just keep a keen eye on the map, and if a location icon shakes, it means there's a treasure. Haul your ass down there, and choose "Treasure Hunt" from the list, and you'll get whatever was shaking the foundations of the place. One of the main reasons I'm not into these games is just that everything besides fighting and talking is just brief extra.

I so totally agree.
Although confusing menus tend to clutter up the screen for the duration of the whole game - shopping is pure hell! - the fighting's really not that hard, once you take a good look at all the stuff in a standard battle screen, and don't just attack aimlessly. It takes some time for your eyes to get used to the scheme, but after a few missions, you should have passed the learning curve. It's really not that different from a standard battle menu, it's just a bit more stuffed. The very basics of fighting are taught from the very beginning; you move on an invisible grid, and the distance you can move is defined by many factors, such as class. The possible range of your attacks is a no-brainer. Ranged combatants and mages can execute commands from a distance, while all others need to get right next to the enemy to attack. Each race has its own Totema, though - that's Esper for you traditional Fantasy fanatics - which can be used to a limited extent (explained later) in battle by any class. As logic would have it, getting behind an enemy or to his side and being able to execute a short-range attack does the most damage - and using black magic on an enemy who has a clan member right next to him isn't too healthy for you, since it will do damage on a radius based on the strength of the spell. Ohhh, so that's what the "Tactics" stands for.

Each battle, except incredibly tough battles fought in lawless territories known as Jagds, is overseen by a Judge Magister. What's his purpose? To fuck with you. Seriously. The CPU rarely makes mistakes - read: never. You, on the other hand, are in trouble. Each mission has its own laws, which should be carefully reviewed in the beginning of each mission. There's no automatic lockdown on specific commands, for example Item or Combo Tech - you can use them, and if you do while they're deemed illegal, the character pulling a Judas Priest goes to prison immediately, and you need to get 'em out of there to be able to use them in battle again by "bribing" the authorities for a full pardon. Oh yeah, "prison" is a place where people are taken to when they break the law. Imagine that... thanks, Montblanc, for clearing that out for me.

There are many detailed specifics to battle and the grand scheme of the game which I will not go over to save some space, but I have to mention Judge Points to give the bastards some due. Each time you defeat an enemy, you get a Judge Point, which enables you to perform special attacks, or "Combos". They're kind of like Limit Breaks of some fashion and they can do quite a number even on the stronger members of the opposing bunch. Acquiring certain numbers of JP will also enable you to use Totemas in battle. You need to defeat each Totema before being able to use its aid in the first place, though.

Fran, darling, is that you?
The game starts off all nice and easy, or should I even say automatic, but it gets difficult very fast for a casual gamer who's not used to its style. The gap between many missions of the same rank in terms of difficulty level can be pretty damn big. The use of menus is mercilessly hard, probably the truly hardest part of the game, and I don't believe that has quite been Square Enix's intention. It needs a lot of getting used to, but the game's basics are not too hard to learn.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is truly a game that I probably won't take for another round ever again, but it has taught me to like and understand tactical "role-playing" a little, and like I said, I do respect the game; I can see at least some of the things that some people like about these sorts of games. In other words, I would most definitely recommend the game for a choice audience.

Graphics : 7.5
Sound : 6.5
Playability : 7.0
Challenge : 8.8
Overall : 7.2


GameRankings: 87.64%

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