Final Fantasy Tactics Advance – Staff Review

It’s fairly common for video game enthusiasts to have dreams about whichever game they are currently playing. Sometimes aspects of real life will become blended with the game inside the dream. Some people may even have nightmares in which they are trapped within the game.

In Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the power of a magic book and the memories of a favorite video game combine to form a fantastic world in which four children become trapped. Marche, the lead character, sets out to reunite his companions and find a way to return to reality. The story is very simple, and plot twists are about as shocking as announcing what you had for dinner last night. The limited story segments do address some notable issues, such as using games and fantasy to escape from real-life difficulties like being bullied, disabilities, and alcoholism in the family; the need to accept reality; and using experiences from games to better cope with real-life situations. In addition, FFTA serves as a precursor to Final Fantasy XII by presenting some of the races, locations, and figures that make the latter title so distinctive. It’s nice, but the story is still too short and too thin.

The heart of FFTA is its clan system. Each player manages a clan of fighters and takes on various missions, which include retrieving items, rescuing people, and defeating enemies. Though these add many shiny things to your inventory, the missions are not quite as fun as they sound. Every now and then, an important story-related mission will crop up, but most of the missions are actually dispatches, which require you to ship out a member of your clan for a length of time. There are far too many dispatch missions and not nearly enough combat-based missions. The most well-honed fighters of your clan are the ones with the highest success rate at completing missions, so the game forces you to keep several party members in prime condition and fight without them on hand for extended periods of time.

This Thundaga spell is far more shocking than most of the plot twists.

The game mechanics of FFTA are derived from Final Fantasy Tactics, and while the simple tactical combat is still there, there are also some notable changes. The most striking is the addition of laws; each in-game day has its own set of prohibited and recommended combat maneuvers. Corresponding cards can subvert the laws, though you can also simply adjust your abilities, equipment, and strategies or travel around and let the days pass until favorable laws come into play. Laws are more like annoying plot devices and gameplay hindrances than fun challenges, as some make certain encounters horribly tedious or nearly impossible to win. There’s even an odd spot where using projectiles is both banned and recommended at the same time. Like the laws they enforce, judges are also nuisances on the battlefield. They get their own turns to prance around the field on their chocobos and randomly move around characters who have fallen in combat.

The other notable changes really do not help or harm the gameplay. The job system is now bound by race; certain races have access to certain jobs, which just shows that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not exist in Ivalice. The combinations of jobs and races are fairly well-balanced, though a few of the jobs are quite useless and there’s a bit of job redundancy. The major change to combat execution is that certain moves, such as summoning, firing an arrow, or casting a spell, that took several turns in FFT are executed instantly. Instead of checking the character turn list and plotting your moves, you get instant gratification and no real challenge.

Other system foibles include an abundance of gil and items and a dearth of experience points due to enemies in random encounters not leveling up at the same rate as the party. Game progression is linear and combat is too easy. Enemies usually do not put up much of a fight, and while no one tops Rafa’s tactical genius on the roof of Riovanes Castle, they make their fair share of missteps and mindless choices.

A clan leader walks into a bar...

Visually, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is bright and colorful but limited. Sprites and landscapes are somewhat detailed and character portraits are cute, but while the graphics are of above average quality, they are not top-of-the-line for the GBA. There are some recycled animations and very few monster sprites. Furthermore, palette swaps on enemy characters create some confounding wardrobes: blue Red Mages, red Blue Mages, and fabulous lime green Ninja. The music and sound effects match the bright, colorful world, but one of the battle tunes is far too bouncy and light-hearted to serve as suitable combat ambiance.

The simple tactical combat of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is very friendly toward newcomers to the genre, but its lack of complexity may bore veterans. Its short bursts of action make it ideal for portable gaming in situations that may have periodic interruptions. Pursuing missions and items while developing characters with different combinations of abilities can be a bit addictive and rather enjoyable. It’s not an epic experience, but it’s still a good way to pass the time.

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