Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift – Staff Review

When you’re a kid, summer vacation is the best time for riding bikes, and playing outside or swimming in the pool which even have solar pool heater sometimes so people can swim at all times. But for Luso, the main character of Final Fantasy Tactics A2, summer vacation is about leading a clan, fighting monsters, and saving another world. It is the making of an epic “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay.

Then Luso turned the page to see that the next questions were 'Know you his quest?' and 'Know you his favorite color?'

The first thing one should note about Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is that it is highly derivative of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. It’s not a tremendous shock that FFTA2 borrows a lot of sprites, music, and game mechanics from its predecessor. FFTA2 takes place in the very same Ivalice as Final Fantasy XII, a fact that is bolstered by certain FFXII characters showing up in the main story and the sidequests, so in a sense FFTA2 derives from at least two titles in the Ivalice Alliance.

The similarities begin right at the title screen; the music is a remix of the FFTA introduction music. This trend continues throughout the game; some of the better FFTA tracks have been borrowed and enhanced for their reappearance in FFTA2. There are also a few great pieces transplanted from Final Fantasy XII and plenty of new tunes as well. A few of the new songs are catchy, a couple of them are really great, and only one – a faltering piano piece – seems out of place. Overall, it’s not Hitoshi Sakimoto’s best work, but while the soundtrack probably isn’t worth a purchase, the quality pieces from FFTA and FFXII blend with the new songs to create a mostly pleasant array of background music.

Visually, FFTA2 is a little above its predecessor. Many of the graphics from FFTA are reused in FFTA2. Some sprites are identical, though there are new terrain tiles and job portraits, not to mention the additional races, enemies, jobs, and characters. Animations have improved and colors are richer and truer, but overall it’s not a huge upgrade. Sprites act out all the cutscenes, so there are no movies or still image storyboard scenarios, and the DS’s top screen only holds an image of the grimoire. Considering the DS’s capability, more could have been done with the visuals though it wasn’t necessary.

Game mechanics are mostly enhanced transplants from FFTA. Progression still relies on accepting and completing quests posted in pubs throughout Ivalice, but quest objectives include collecting objects, setting objects in the field, and solving riddles to determine which monsters should be killed, instead of just the usual “kill the leader” or “kill all” assignments. Fortunately, one major change is that dispatching members is now optional; you can attend solo quests as Luso, and you can even choose to dispatch a whole party to deal with a quest that requires such.

Pocket-cop is watching you play your DS with one hand.

There are some additions, however. The Bazaar system, much like the one in FFXII, allows players to sell battle spoils and quest rewards to create new products for purchase in the shops. Unlike the one in FFXII, this bazaar is more user-friendly, as it actually lets you match up ingredients for items, rather than having you sell everything and hope that you eventually get something. However, it does mean that you have to go do quests to get materials in order to make new items; new weapons and armor are not going to be in the next town over. You have to unlock them via the Bazaar, which means that quest completion is the only way you can access new abilities.

Another addition, Clan Trials, allows you to unlock bonuses like increased Power, Agility, or Speed in battle and discounts at the pub on quests. None of these are truly necessary and some of the Clan Trials are annoying and confounded by Ivalice’s often-senseless law system.

Yet another new feature is the Auction House, which is simply the new way to acquire clan turf. You bid with tokens, try to predict what the others are going to bid, and then outbid them in order to win a particular territory. This will yield bonus items, discounts on quests, and opportunities to beat up rival clans in that region, provided you can put up with the hassle. Auctions only come up once per in-game year, so only a couple of rounds will occur within the average playthrough. Unlike the Bazaar, the Auction House feels more like a useless timesink, particularly since a universal quest discount can be unlocked through a relatively easy Clan Trial.

The job system is yet another FFTA transplant with some modifications. There are new races and jobs – a staggering number of jobs, in fact – but some jobs are quested and the two new races are recruit-only, so if you aren’t in the right place at the right time of the year, you’ll never have access to them. They aren’t necessary anyway, as they are just variations on strategies of supporting allies and disabling and defeating enemies, and battles are not difficult or complex enough to warrant specific classes and strategies. It just comes down to aesthetics – that is, how badly you want a cute dragon-girl smashing enemies for you with her sword.

Survey it with fire!

Combat is largely the same, except that there are now special Opportunity commands – limit breaks, essentially – and a revised law system. Judges no longer clog up the turn order by prancing around the field. In FFTA2, they are portable, mystical pocket-cops assigned to each clan, and they are packed with even more ridiculous laws guaranteed to spoil your day. Many of the classic laws – bans on specific types of weapons or magic – are still on the books, but the new laws range from obsessive-compulsive – every unit must move exactly three squares each turn – to the ridiculous – units cannot miss. That’s right, folks; the Ivalice Nanny State won’t let you whiff. What’s more, laws only apply to the playable characters and not the enemies because, for some reason, the pocket-cops only police the clan to which they belong. Enemies get to do what you cannot do, and this is complicated by the fact that laws sometimes forbid having something done to you. For example, one law prohibits giving and receiving debuffs, and this law occurs in an event fight that pits you against a pack of Tricksters, a debuff class. In another instance, it is illegal to have your gil stolen while you are facing off with a band of thieves, and we all know the saying about thieves and honor. Thus, the new law system creates too many “sucks to be you” situations. In FFTA, you could actively choose to obey or to break the law; in Soviet Russia– I mean FFTA2 Ivalice, the law breaks you. However, take note that while the laws are harsher, the penalties are a little lighter. Breaking a law means that you lose your clan privileges – the bonus boosts and post-battle loot, which is sometimes just garbage – and you can no longer revive characters who have fallen in combat.

Another combat change is the addition of obligatory stylus controls. It probably seemed like a good idea in development – or at least like a good way to make Nintendo happy – but in actuality the menus are easier to navigate with button controls. The stylus functions properly in the menus as long as you keep going forward. The cancel “button” is separate from the menu – about an inch or so away from the menu cluster – and the targeting was too imprecise for the game’s isometric view.

While the story of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance dealt with games as escapism and the importance of accepting reality, FFTA2 has less navel-gazing and more adventuring. Marche was obsessed with getting back to the “real world,” but for Luso, that’s just something he’ll get to once he’s through poking around Ivalice and having an adventure. This key difference is that Luso is actually likable, and he charges toward every opportunity as if it’s an empty swing at recess. One drawback – if you consider it as such – is that he never really takes Ivalice completely seriously, as if he doesn’t believe it is a separate reality. He’s a kid through and through; he thinks like one, acts like one, and approaches the world like one.

But even a likable protagonist cannot totally salvage the story of FFTA2. It’s not bad, but it’s not good. It’s very thin and underdeveloped. The developers should have scrapped, say, the ridiculous Auction House and invested more time in filling out the story. The localization has that distinctive Alexander O. Smith polish: a number of references to other Final Fantasy games and pop culture, clever phrasing, and virtually no errors.

Simply put, Final Fantasy Tactics A2 feels like an FFTA mulligan. It’s not bad for a second attempt; there are both good and bad qualities. Those who enjoyed portable strategy, character-building, and seemingly endless questing of FFTA will also enjoy FFTA2, but those who despised the first most likely will not be won over by the second.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.