Review by FeralBerserker
"SquareEnix goes with Quantity instead of Quality"
Upon submitting my initial review for this game I proof-read the review. It was harsh, non-objective and downright whiney. After my dissatisfaction I decided to jump into FFTA2 one last time, and try to provide readers with a more compelling review that would illuminate both sides of the story.
While I noticed some great things that I was too stubborn to recognize before, this game only gets one additional rating point compared to my previous review of a 3/10. Despite the lack of objectivity, my previous review did a fair job of trying to dissuade people from playing this game. Sadly, that is still how I feel. Regardless, this will be an objective review, and should provide you with the information you need to make your own decision.
Gameplay - 5/10
More or less, the gameplay can be summed up in a single sentence. There is the old saying, "Quality vs. Quantity." FFTA2 definitely went with quantity, overwhelmingly void of quality.
Battle plays out, for the most part, like most isometric tactical RPGs that I've ever played. Turn order is determined by the characters' speed stat. Upon getting a turn, you can move and perform an action. Actions consist of attacking or using some special ability that can heal, support, or damage it's target. A new feature that has been implemented is the Opportunity Attacks system. In addition, on certain missions you will be required to perform other actions that will allow you to complete the mission, such as searching the area or gathering items from the ground.
The class system is severely flawed, in my opinion. While there are several different races and dozens of classes to choose from, many of the classes are not worthwhile. The main problem here is that the class you are when you level up directly impacts your character's stat growth. While some classes might have great abilities to learn, they will undoubtedly have terrible stat growth. Meaning that the longer you are said class the longer you will be ruining your character's stats in the long run.
Of course, there are several classes that get great stat growth while having excellent abilities. As far as the abilities go, most of them are taken straight from either FFTA or the FF franchise. You'll see Fire 1, 2, and 3 (or fire, fira, and firaga) for the seventeenth time (or so). Of course you'll see new abilities like the sneak attack ability, which deals more damage depending on the facing of your enemy. There are many new abilities which are absolutely fantastic, and other new abilities which are absolutely terrible. I find balance to be an issue when dealing with classes, and conclude that each race really only has two to four good classes.
This problem with stat growth vs. abilities can be remedied to some degree with the system of gaining AP (or JP, can't remember what they called it) and experience. Even your party members who don't take part in combat will gain as much AP as those in combat, as this amount is determined by the overall battle and not a particular character's actions during battle. This also means you can keep high level characters out of battle (they just get AP, not EXP) to try and even out the levels among your party.
It should be mentioned that you will still be fighting the trademark of FF games, the status ailment battle. Almost any enemy will be able to inflict a wide variety of status ailments unto you, while about half the classes you can choose from will be able to do the same to them. More times than one you'll probably get locked into these status ailment battles, which provide no joy and will waste an excessive amount of your time for no good reason.
Regarding my original point about quantity vs. quality, classes can be added to that list as well as maps. Just as there are many classes of low quality, there are many many maps of low quality. In addition, this game is still plagued with one of the problems from the original FFT. When engaging on a map your enemy will almost always (if not always) start on the high ground, leaving you initially at a tactical disadvantage. However, unlike FFT, this advantage takes place for no good reason. You won't be sieging castles or engaging in ambush situations where the enemy would logically have such an advantage, they will simply have the advantage because the programmers saw fit to make it so.
Map design is pretty terrible, really. You'll often be fighting on flat, mostly even ground with few landmarks to provide you with chokepoints or high ground. It boils down to somewhat of a battle royale on a field battle, except that it'll be about 6 vs. 6, rather than hundreds vs. hundreds. As you can imagine, there is little room for tactical application when fighting with such low numbers. The most intricate tactic you can really execute is to form a line so that you can't be attacked in the back or flanks. Sadly, this is the most basic tactic in the book.
In regards to character's classes and abilities in a tactical sense, there really isn't any. Most warrior classes are basically just cut and paste versions of other warrior classes. They'll have the same (or massively similar) abilities, and almost every class will have some form of a ranged attack. This negates any point to bringing an archer, or several of the other ranged classes. With infinite MP (it regens at 10 MP for each turn, while many spells cost less than 10 MP) you'll find magic to always be exceptional as a form of ranged attacking. Of course, with all the many ways to build a character, your mages will have no weakness. This greatly diminishes the value of tactical gameplay.
Enemy AI is an important thing to mention. In FFTA2 you will have problems calling it AI, and will probably just want to call it A, as there is no intelligence involved whatsoever. Countless times I've left a mage's back open for attack, but rather than hitting my mage in the back for massive damage the AI chooses to attack a character they have a 0% (literally) chance of hitting. Other times I saw enemies who were greatly outnumbered and outleveled try to steal money from me several times in a row, rather than fighting for survival. The closest thing you can call AI is when the enemy attempts to hit your character in the back, but half the time they will instead opt for hitting one of your strongest warriors in the face.
Now, I've seen bad math in plenty of tactical RPGs, pretty much all of them. I have never seen such BROKEN math, however. That is the only way to describe the math in FFTA2. It's so terrible that they ought to have not even put your percentages in the game. You'll see 99% accuracy miss about 10-15% of the time, while a 90 or 95% accuracy actually simulates an approximate 60-70% accuracy. If you're dealing with a 50% accuracy it can go two ways: If it's the enemy's accuracy you may as well mark it as 90%, if it's your accuracy you might just mark it at 30%. While this might not be an issue for you (maybe I've just got the worst luck in the world?), it definitely needs mentioning.
There are hundreds of quests in this game (the box advertised over 300). Some quests might as well be required, while others might as well not exist. It definitely is quantity instead of quality. For each quest you will have to listen to an absolutely pointless dialogue with no depth, then complete the task. Tasks can range from killing all enemies to collecting items from the map. Collecting items is pretty terrible, and is done to death. There will be glowing things all around the map and generally enemies who are many levels below you, you must go next to each glowing square and use the search action. You won't be required to kill enemies, so they might as well not be there (since they're usually so weak). There are tons of quests just as terribly joyless as this, but I will refrain from mentioning them.
Also, to make questing worse (since there's actually only about 15 main plot quests, making the actual game the tiniest tactical RPG ever), some quests will be required to unlock certain classes. A good example is for Humes, or the human race in this game. They did not have a good class unlocked until level 20, meaning they had terrible abilities and terrible stat growth. It also means that they will be running around simply attacking enemies in the back every battle, which doesn't provide any amount of fun. Among the two new races, they won't be very useful until you're about level 30ish. Since the game can be beat at level 35-40, this leaves little room for their use (very reminiscent of gaining T.G. Cid in the original FFT).
Pacing also needs to be mentioned. This is one of the slowest playing tactical RPGs I've seen since the original Shining Force. Battles that should take 5-10 minutes will take up to half an hour to complete. Not because you'll have to spend time thinking, but because moving, attacking, and special abilities take far too long to display. Unlike Fire Emblem games (where you can turn battle animations off to save overwhelming amounts of time), you will spend more than half your time in battle waiting for animations to be completed, rather than thinking of your next move.
Hand in hand with pacing goes your menu system. Of all the tens of hours it will take you to play this game, there is a good chance you will be spending approximately half that time in your clan menu. Due to the ability system (you learn abilities off of equipment, that you now have to create by combining items you obtain from corpses and quest completions) you will have to go to your clan menu after almost every single battle to re-equip your troops. Also, when it comes time to make some new weapons (obviously, so you can learn new abilities) you'll spend a ton of time pointlessly going through the huge list and selecting things that are highlighted to make new items. Since everything is highlighted, showing you clearly what you need and what you can make, it seems there is little reason to actually have to manually do it. This task could have been automated, as far as I'm concerned. It will waste a lot of your time.
It should be said that I played this game on hard mode (they have normal and hard), and it was byfar the easiest tactical RPG I've ever played. Among the few tactical things you actually can do, you'll never need to do any of them. Even on hard mode I ran around with no regards to my team's safety, leaving everyone's back open for attack and separating my troops from each other. Your only real worry is status ailments (which will be involved in every battle). Of course, due to the overwhelming amount of ribbons you receive in this game, the status ailments won't be a problem towards the end of the game. So the only threat in the beginning of the game will be gone in the end of the game.
The back of the box for this game says, "Unparalleled strategic depth..." and, "Over 300 quests offer hundreds of hours of gameplay." Realise before you buy this game that neither of these statements are true. You will not be presented with ANY strategic depth, and the game can be completed from 20-30 hours, about the same as the original FFT. However, should you choose to do all those pointless quests, FFTA2 can last you about 70-85 hours. If battle animations could be turned off this amount of hours would probably be more like 10-15 and 35-45.
Overall, this game has some great features and some excellent classes. The lack of any required tactics, good maps, depth of story, and mathematical functionality greatly depreciate the value of a game that could have been good. Overwhelming amounts of status ailments, pointless dialogue, slow battle animations, and filler quests greatly hinder the pacing of the game, as well as other things. The gameplay in FFTA2 is the worst I've seen in a tactical RPG since Onimusha Tactics for the GBA.
Story - 1/5
Utterly insulting. That isn't even when comparing it against FFT, which I thought had the best story of any game I've ever played. Simply put, the story of FFTA2 is slow, shallow, thoughtless, and may as well have not existed. The most interesting part of the story was the backstory to two of your party members, which is vague and short at best. Dialogue is simple and pointless, yet comes in piles and piles.
Yet another aspect of FFTA2 that was delivered in Quantity vs. Quality style. Despite the high quantity of dialogue, it provides absolutely no depth. It might be interesting for a small child or someone who is easily amused. Other than that, I don't think it would interest anyone.
Graphics/Sound - Nil
The graphics in this game really burned me. They were of great quality, but drastically hindered by poor character design. The terrain looks astonishing, and some of the characters do as well. The big flaw is that character design must have been done with small children in mind. The artists must be extremely skilled, while those who actually designed the characters must really like Dr. Suess. Some special abilities looked very nice, others looked terrible and boring. Regardless, even the nice looking special abilities become tiring as you see them for the three thousandth time.
Sound was just the worst. Music was bad, with only two songs I heard that even piqued my interest. Sound effects were annoying and childish, at best. Even the menu sounds were annoying beeping noises, reminiscent of FF games in the early nineties. I would state the music and the special effects for battle to be the two most annoying facets of the sound.
Play Time/Replayability - 3/5
Despite being advertised as, "...hundreds of hours of gameplay," this game was not that long. Any length to this game was added by animations and menu time. As far as the main plot goes, it was the shortest tactical RPG I've ever played, boasting only about 15 main quests. When compared against other tactical games (which I find average from 30-40 main missions), FFTA2 is sorely disappointing. With a lack of any difficulty or tactics, and an overabundance of repetition and menu time, the hours you spend on this game very well might feel wasted.
Replayability is questionable, at best. Even FFTA, which I found average at best, didn't provide me with any incentive to play it twice. FFTA2, which I find greatly insulting, provides even less. The main incentive to play this game twice is the difficulty level variance. Of course, Hard mode was so easy I can't see it giving any incentive to play the game again, especially if you played on Hard mode the first time around.
Other than difficulty level, I'd say the randomness to which you acquire ingredients for equipment would provide the incentive for repeat play-throughs. Since you can acquire totally different equipment by the same point in the game, this might require you to advance through classes in a different order or at a different pace.
Overall, I'd say this game is average, at best, for play time and replayability. Once should be enough, and if you like it a lot I still don't see reason to play this game more than twice. Most the sidequests you do will feel like repeat quests anyway, so doing a lot of side-questing would simulate a second play through quite well.
Final Recommendation - 4/10
Some good classes, and character customization that allows you to truly become masterful (killing level 90 enemies while at level 40) are among the pros. The cons is a list so long I hate to repeat them, but here goes: Too easy, no tactics, lots of menu time, tons of status ailment battles, many worthless classes, broken math, terrible maps, slow pacing, bad AI, joyless sidequests, tiny main quest, special characters obtained too late, some classes get unlocked by sidequests, poor character design, shallow story, and very annoying sounds.
This is the second worst tactical RPG I've ever played (Onimusha Tactics for the GBA is probably the worst) and the worst Squaresoft/SquareEnix game I've ever played. It had great potential but like most games with great potential, fell flat on it's face.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Originally Posted: 02/04/09, Updated 02/20/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (US, 06/24/08)
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