Review by Aerial_Pursuit
"If you liked FFTA, you're likely to find more joy than disappointment"
Note: A large part of this review compares the game to its predecessor on the GBA, not as much to the original Playstation version, and less to people who haven't touched the Final Fantasy Tactics series.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift (boy that's a hefty title) makes a satisfactory sequel to the original FFTA. It's not outstanding; more like an expansion pack added to the last game, as well as a new storyline. There'll be a lot of the same, but a lot of new things as well. Lots of changes, some welcome, and others less so.
The Looks: 8/10
Say, these characters look familiar... At first glance, FFTA2 will look VERY much like its predecessor. Admittedly, it took me playing FFTA once more to realize that there had actually been an update to many of the character sprites. Any class carried over from the last game looks pretty much the same in the new installment. Even the pub's bartender and shopkeeper seem to be exactly the same. Characters' portraits though (seen at the bottom of the screen when they talk or take a turn in battle) look totally new, and can range from awkward and stupid-looking to amazingly badass (I particularly love the appearance of the juggler in the new game)
Steroid-injected effects Though for the first several minutes of playing FFTA2, it looked like something that has been on my screen before, I noted an obvious boost in nearly every attack's special effects. Just casting a simple spell like Fire made me ooh and aah, and I was blown away when I saw some of the more devastating attacks like the alchemist's protometeor and the "scion" attacks.
More varied, though sometimes muddled battlefields. Contrasting FFTA, the battlefield environments of FFTA2 look a bit more natural, rather than appearing as though designed for a tactics game, with noticeably cubic terrain shapes. There are also now slanted squares in the battlefield, rather than a bunch of flat platforms. A problem now though is that some of the battlefields are poorly constructed in that it will often look as though two tiles are right next to each other, when in reality one is far above the other, or there's one more tile in between the two, or for some reason, there is nothing at all between these squares so you have to walk around where there IS ground and take a thoroughly cumbersome path to something that looks a hop away. Maybe M.C. Escher would like this game, but I find it hard to get used to some battlefields in my first visit.
The Story: 5/10
Say, this story sounds familiar... The basic premise of FFTA2 starts similarly to the last game. Little schoolboy finds magical book, gets transported into the world of Final Fantasy (though they aren't actually saying "gee whiz, look at that, this is a Final Fantasy game" in this one) and ends up joining up with a clan and trying to figure out how to get back home. It isn't generally anything emotionally compelling.
Hooray for the many subplots! Unlike the last game, the main character doesn't have the same sort of single-minded determination to get back to his own world and ruin his friends' happiness as soon as possible. In fact, this game's main character is the only one plopped down into the Final Fantasy world, and is not too disappointed by that. For this reason, there is a lot more story development within the fantasy world. A large number of the quests you take will branch out into other subplots with several subsequent quests. There are many more significant characters now who all have their own place in some story. To be honest, there are several subplots that I enjoyed a great deal more than the "real" story of this game.
New characters: meh. Old characters: yay! Before I say anything in this section, know that this is probably where, if anywhere, people will disagree with me... But these are my own honest thoughts, and people tend to be split pretty evenly on lots of these opinions. The new characters in this game's main story I find pretty unappealing. It's difficult to elaborate on this subject without spoiling any kind of story elements, but they just seem to me like annoying pseudo-humor mixed with unnecessary melodrama. As much as I think back at my annoyance with characters from FFTA, I actually found it very refreshing seeing them making guest appearances in the new game. Again, I don't want to give away who any of these reappearing characters are, but somehow they seem like better people now. I understand that there are also several characters and other references carried over from Final Fantasy XII, but I haven't played that game, so I couldn't speak for them.
The Sound: 7/10
Good familiar songs. In battles and places like the shop, you'll hear quite a bit of the music from FFTA, often with some kind of a new twist to it. There are also several new songs encountered in battle which aren't so bad, but my main complaint with the music is that in the especially long battles, it gets to be sort of tiresome. Really, spending a long time in any one place in this game gets to wearing on the ears with the music's repetition.
Some better sound effects. The sound effects generated during battle corresponding with your attacks and other moves are for the most part better than FFTA, but not so much so that it's worth making special note of them. A thing that bugs me, though, is that some of the physical attacks make a less satisfying sound, particularly the lack of a resounding pow when you get a critical hit on an enemy.
The Gameplay: 7/10
Magic changed, laws changed Two particular things to note about FFTA2's battles are the changes made to the magic system and the laws. Each unit starts a match with 0 MP to cast spells. When their turn rolls around, they generate 10 MP. Some items and abilities can speed this up, but this is how it generally is. It can be pretty cumbersome to build up the MP needed for something like an ultima move, but some spell costs are lowered. The basic fire, thunder, and blizzard cost 8 MP, fira, thundara, and blizzara cost 12 MP, and the level above those costs 18 MP.
Laws are different now in that (I believe) there can only ever be one law set for a battle. Laws are also predetermined for every battle that you enter. No more wandering around the map for a few days waiting for a more favorable law. So if you get stuck with a ridiculous law such as "You must move 1 square each turn, no more and no less" (yes, that is an actual law) then you're stuck with it in that quest. On the plus side, laws are less harshly penalized in FFTA2. You won't take any stat deductions or things like that, and there are no jails for your units to be sent to. Instead, you just aren't allowed to resurrect any clan mates for the rest of the battle. They'll be alive again whether you win or lose the battle, but you can't revive them during. You also lose your clan privilege upon breaking the law. These are things that you earn through certain quests in the game. At the start of a battle, you get to choose which clan privilege you want to use, such as boosting all your units' speed for the course of the battle, or boosting their power, or giving them health regeneration. Due to the light punishment of law-breaking, I've found that it's easier to just break the law in the first round of battle and fight the way I want to if a law is too strenuous.
AP and the shops Learning abilities works mostly the same way as the previous game. You equip a certain item, and after using that item for a certain amount of time, you'll have mastered an ability which you can then use for the rest of the game. The Ability Point system has changed a bit though. In the past, abilities would take 100, 200, 300 or 999 AP to learn. Now they range in increments of 50 between 100 and 550 (maybe 500) and the super-rare super-good abilities now take 990 AP to master. Another change to the AP system is that a typical quest earns you 30 AP, and only the main story quests will give you 80 AP. For the most part, you gain AP much more slowly, but the big difference is that AP is given to all units, whether they participated in the battle or not.
Of course, going hand-in-hand with the AP and the items is the shop. This game's shop gains items in a majorly different way. No longer will it automatically be stocked with new items as you progress through the game. You have to make the items yourself for them to be sold in the shop (note that you actually give ingredients to make an item to the shop, then they put it in their stock and you can buy it. You don't just make them for yourself). Every quest and every enemy that you defeat will give you "loot." Loot by itself is something useless, like many of the clan items of FFTA, existing only as requirements for certain quests. However, you take your loot to the shop, and they will let you know if they can use your loot to craft a new item by combining two or three of these ingredients. Some loot is rarer than others, and accordingly, some is used to make higher-quality items than others. This is an interesting spin to put on the game... That is, it's interesting around the middle of the game, and it's interesting the FIRST time.
In the very beginning of the game, this process of making new items available is very frustrating. I wanted to have a white mage in my clan, but she was stuck using no abilities but Cure for a very long time, because I couldn't find the proper loot to craft her a new staff for a new ability. For a while, you're better off building your team around the items currently available to you, rather than buying the right equipment based on the members of your team. This system is pretty fun in the middle of the game... Though toward the end of the game, the fun factor drops again, as you will have already acquired lots of the items through quests and other sources, so there will be lots of items that you CAN craft, but won't want to because you'll want to save your loot for more valuable things. Also, if you plan to play through the game a second time, know that you have to start this system all over again. There isn't a way to make your crafted items carry over from game to game. Also, the rarest, best items that you can craft can only be bought once. Most items that you craft can be bought an unlimited number of times at the store, but you can only buy one of the most rare ones, such as the katana that teaches dual wield, or the most powerful armors. You can only buy a second one if you get the right ingredients once again.
Quests: How you can find a good fight A twist that I find very intriguing about FFTA2 is that on most of the less important quests, you can choose whether you want to actually go out and complete the quest yourself, or make it a dispatch mission. It's sometimes fun getting to see a simple delivery quest play out as you go there yourself, and it's also nice that you can send out a dispatch party if it sounds like a quest will have you going on a frustrating escort mission. Yeah, I said dispatch party. Many quests, when you choose to dispatch, will have you send out not just a single person, but a group of about 3-6 people, and they're usually gone for 6 days, sometimes more and sometimes less. I've yet to encounter a dispatch mission that requires you to win a certain number of battles before it is complete.
One thing sad about the game is that you no longer encounter the rival clans randomly wandering the map. Instead, groups of monsters will appear in a specific location at a specific time, and you may go to fight them if you want. Also, you CAN sometimes encounter other clans on the map, but these encounters are generally triggered by other events at scripted times, not just at random times and in random places.
Character recruitment and development: Summed up in one word: Ugh. This is one reeeeaaallly cumbersome aspect of the game. In the past, you would just complete a quest, and new prospective clan members would come running straight for you! Now, you're the one who has to go out looking for them. The good thing here is that you have pretty good control over what race you'll find, but the bad thing is that you may have to wait a very long time to get them. In certain months (game time here) certain races will appear in certain places to join your clan. If you're in that place, and you want that race, you can take them in.
Now, a huge gripe I have: Many of the jobs are not available until you unlock them! No, I don't mean you have to know a certain number of prerequisite abilities; I mean you don't even have the option of switching to a certain job, even assuming you meet all the requirements, until you complete a specific quest that allows you to do it! This is a real pain because some of the jobs aren't even available until you're about 3/4 done with the game. The job-unlocking quests appear based on how far you are in the main story, so you can't just wait around in the beginning of the game until you've gotten to do all of the quests to unlock all of the new jobs. This is a big problem if you want to do a single-race, or worse yet, single-job run through the game. These jobs aren't unlockable because they're especially powerful or anything like that... I'm not really sure why they need to be unlocked, but it's a pain any way you look at it.
A smaller gripe that I have is that FFTA2 is generous in the story characters being added to your clan. FFTA had two story characters (one of whom can be killed off if you choose to do so) and the rest are people you can take or leave. Currently in my FFTA2 game, I have 4 story characters in my clan, and I hear that there are more still to be added. It's not really so bad, but the thing I don't like is that you're not able to send these people out on dispatch missions. That, and I might like to have other races populating my clan. Perhaps to make up for this, the game now allows you a maximum of 30 clan members. Factoring in the new races and jobs though, it pretty much breaks even... Or is still not enough... Not for me anyway. I like to fill my clan up and try tons of classes, but some people are perfectly happy playing the whole game with 6 clan members.
To look on the bright side... There are two new races implemented in this game. On the down side... They only have four jobs each, and one job of each of them is one of those that you don't get until 3/4 through the game, so for most of the time, they have 3 jobs each. I'm also happy to report that the returning races have gained new jobs, which are fun to play with and offer some interesting new job combinations to try out.
Balance, balance, balance! If FFTA2 were a tightrope walker, it would fall flat on its face just trying to climb the ladder to reach the tightrope. I've found that this is an issue plaguing several Final Fantasy games. Many abilities are grossly overpowered, or grossly underpowered, or so situational that you wonder if you'll ever see a good opportunity to use them. Others are somewhat useful when you first gain them, but later on you'll have abilities that vastly overshadow them. For example, I can have my assassin use rockseal on an enemy, turning them to stone with about a 60% success rate, or for one more round's worth of MP, I can have her use Ultima Masher, with a 99% success rate, and more than enough damage to kill the enemy. Once you have an ultima move, the earlier ones become mostly useless. Another example... Why have my fusilier (that's the new name for gunner) use confushot, a move that may confuse the enemy, making it so they may attack their teammates, when I could have him use charmshot, a move that may charm the enemy, guaranteeing that they will attack their enemies? And why use either of those abilities when I could use stopshot and make the enemy wide open to all of my teammates' attacks? Why should my juggler use gil toss, throwing out my valuable money, when he could use dagger toss, damaging and disabling an enemy? You get the idea. Lots of abilities just blow others out of the water.
There are also some new jobs (and some old ones) that are nearly useless. For example, the scholar is something like an illusionist. Illusionists have magic that will harm all enemies currently on the battlefield. Scholars have magic that will harm all enemies and allies on the battlefield. I've heard from others that one good idea is to equip your team with armor or weapons that will absorb whatever element his spell is, but the problem there is that you have to plan your whole team around this one unit, and then he has only one useful move. Gadgeteers and all their uselessness are back (they're called tinkers now). Sure, they're useful about 50% of the time, but why use one of those when I could make my moogle into something useful like a fusilier? I'd like to mention other near-useless jobs like the Chocobo Knight, but you can research things like that in the FAQs if you really need to know.
JP? Smash Gauge? Opportunity commands? Eh? These are new elements thrown into the actual battles of FFTA2. Job Points or Judge Points as they've been known in the past games are gone (since there isn't a "recommendation" to go along with the laws now, only restrictions) and they've been replaced by this idea known as the smash gauge. For most of the game, this smash gauge is just a useless bar you'll notice filling up during battle. This is another thing that you can't make any use of until you're about 3/4 through the game. Anyway, during the course of any battle, this little bar next to your character's HP and MP and all that will be slowly filling up during each turn they take and each action they make. Once it gets to a certain point (it does not need to fill up, but will be more effective if it is) and if the particular unit has a certain item equipped, they may use a move known as "Scion's wrath" and they'll summon a great mighty esper (similar in nature to the totemas of FFTA) and through some dazzling graphics, it will perform a supermove that will target all enemies battlefield, harming people or inflicting them with status ailments, and other things of that nature. I think, though I can't currently recall, that there may be some as well that will give some aid to all of your teammates, healing them and/or removing status ailments. Again, I hear that some or all of these espers are carried over from Final Fantasy XII, but I can't confirm it since I haven't played that one.
Opportunity commands are another bit of a twist on battle. These happen at random times determined only by luck. A certain unit (always one on your own team) will go into their ready-to-fight battle stance and utter some kind of a statement letting you know that they're ready to do something great. Depending on where they're standing, this move may strike all surrounding enemies (if two enemies are in adjacent squares) or cast hastega on teammates (if two of your teammates are in adjacent squares) or give the character shell and protect (if no units are in adjacent squares) and various other things. It's usually great when these things come along, but sometimes it'll be such a situation that you won't even want to use the opportunity command, like when your white mage is only within walking distance of enemies.
The Lasting Appeal: 6/10
You may want to go for a second ride, but you'll have to wait in line again. I believe that any game with enough lasting appeal to compel you through one full play of the game should get at least 5/10, and more than that if you'd want to play through again, or pursue extra non-main-story gameplay. FFTA2 definitely keeps me wanting to play through the full game, not that I'm driven by the storyline, but by getting to experience the full array of jobs to use in battle, and to peruse some of the interesting sidequests. Playing through a second time might be met with some reluctance on my part though. With FFTA, I started a new game several times after beating it once, but differences in FFTA2 will make it more of a pain to do so. Specifically, the need to unlock jobs all over again and unlock the appropriate weapons that'll be sold in the shops does not sound like something fun to go through once more. If the game came with a feature that let you start a new game with everything already unlocked, I'd want to go through just as many times as I did with the last game, maybe more, but sadly, there is no such feature.
(no pun intended)
-New races with new jobs, and new jobs for old races
-Remixed, remade, and sometimes entirely new music
-Compelling sidequests and more developed characters in the game world
-Laws, while still ridiculously annoying to follow at times, punish less harshly.
-More variation in quests, some allowing you to either dispatch or go personally
-Wondefully revamped graphics.
-The main quest and main characters still aren't much to speak of
-Too many things must be unlocked, and won't carry over into future saves.
-No wifi battles or things like that (seems obligatory though, doesn't it?)
-No more real random battles
-Battlefields can be visually confusing
-A few jobs and many abilities are so bad that you'll never use them, or so good that you'll never use something else.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 08/06/08
Game Release: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (US, 06/24/08)
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