Review by Mykas0
"Play it for personalization, but forget about the storyline."
If you're a fan of the Final Fantasy series, by now you've probably noticed that each of the main games is placed in different worlds. However, back when the twelfth chapter was released, players could recognise the world of Ivalice from previously-released titles, the ones of Final Fantasy Tatics. Like the other tactical chapters of the famous series, this new game takes place in that same location, and some familiar faces even make cameo appearances. Unfortunately, these may also end up being the main reasons for you to purchase this game, which is a lot more flawed than its predecessors.
Your adventure starts when Luso, a young kid, opens a book (hence the name of this game) that magically transports him to the world of Ivalice. Shortly after, he meets a few inhabitants of that world and, to make it short, starts hanging with them. Now, splitting the storyline into small (and rather infrequent) sequences, often found at the end of particular missions, may sound like a good idea, but that also decreases your general interest in the plot, as you'll be too busy managing your party to fully enjoy the dialogues. Many of the events that take place in the game are too predictable, and they lead to many sequences where the player may think been there, done that. Even though the adventure starts with a rough boss battle, which is unappealing to those who aren't familiarized with these games, from there on the storyline tends to go all the way down, to a point where players may feel truly disappointed, since this is usually one of the major features of the series.
Fortunately, not only of story lives this kind of game, and what may be its biggest asset is visible even before you get to see your main character. Initially, you're asked three multiple choice questions, with your answers being used to customize a minor portion of the game. Then, even if your main characters have specific job classes, you can actually change them to what better fits your style, turning all characters into unique experiences that can be fully personalized. You can not only change their jobs but also their abilities, skills, armor, weapons, accessories and their selectable commands. In fact, you can even choose not to develop some of your characters, completely dropping them (if they're not required for storyline purposes) or merely storing them for future missions. Since characters are even able to learn new abilities when they're out of your favoured party, their development isn't halted even if you don't play with them, allowing you to further develop your main characters without neglecting others. While they won't gain any experience points, they receive AP, required to learn skills and abilities, which adds some extra value to the game. Since you can only take six characters to the battlefield at once, you can later send your extra characters in missions of their own, which they'll face by themselves, without any kind of direct input from you.
Now, you may be wondering what are missions all about. Like what happened in the original Gameboy Advance game, to which this is a sequel, your adventure takes place in a world where your party (which you get to name) has to perform missions in order to gain money and items. There are 400 different missions to be fought, each with particular targets and rewards, and such wide possibilities make this game an extremely addictive experience. Sometimes you're asked to protect a particular character, but there are also missions where you have to prevent enemies from reaching a certain point, along with ones where you have to defeat all enemies, beat a particular creature or simply stay alive for a set number of turns. For more than once, players will feel the need the stop playing and claim just one more mission, only to keep on playing for a few more hours, all thanks to the way that missions are designed, making you feel like you can't just play a single of those without giving a look to the next ones.
The famous judge rules' system makes it way back to this game, and by respecting their statements you will gain further bonuses, although their judgement hardly ever gets you an instant loss in the heat of battle. Instead, failure to follow what you're told to do simply deprives you of some added bonus, which generally come in the form of rare items awarded at the end of battles. Unfortunately, this system is misused, and even if some classical rules make their return in this title, there are also plenty new ones that are just plain awful. Some disallow you to use fire magic, which may sound easy to accomplish, but when you're asked not to perform any critical hits, it all becomes harder to manage, and just because such a random event happened you may be losing a well-deserved item. Rules such as No long-range attacks make perfect sense, but the same can't be said about not using the attack command or, as odd as it may sound, not hurting a particular species. If you're not allowed to damage particular foes, and you really want that extra reward, how are you supposed to defeat your enemies? If this wasn't bad enough, when enemies fail to comply to these rules your reward isn't awarded either, making it even harder to achieve your goal with all the possible rewards.
The world you will be playing is quite simple to understand, with several states composed by a short number of locations. Upon accepting a mission, which you can do at the local pub, you'll have to look for its location, which is easy to do, as it will be marked by a small symbol. Upon entering it, your mission will start. It's as simple as it sounds, as there are absolutely no random battles. Instead, under certain conditions you may see events (or enemies) placed in particular locations, which may either provide you extra characters or take you to a different battlefield, where your only purpose is winning the confrontation against a certain number of foes.
Battles, just like in the previous Tactics games, take place in a 3D field, with your party and the enemies being able to do their actions in a turn-based environment. When one of your characters is given their turn to play, you can either strike or move them (not in this particular order) to a new place, but a few scenarios make it harder for you, giving you specific tactical disadvantages that can only be overcome if you pick the right party. All job classes and characters have their strong and weak points, making it all more enjoyable when it comes to pick the party that you're going to take to a certain battlefield. You can move all characters in any way you like, strike with your favourite moves or simply use items, at all depends on your gameplay style and what is your favourite way of proceeding across the missions is. You can, for example, move one of your characters to a particular point, gaining tactical advantage, or advancing him even further, which may allow you to strike a more powerful blow but may put you in a risky situation. It's all up to you, and so is the personalization of your characters.
If you bear in mind that each species has a set amount of job classes that they can chose from, which is improved depending on the way you play, you'll easily figure out that there are tons of different possibilities waiting to be taken advantage of. While the Viera and Moogle species appear to be prolific in terms of magic and indirect attack skills, members of the Bangaa are good for the opposite task. Nothing stops you from, let's say, creating an healing Bangaa (provided he has such classes available), but the final result may end up being slightly more disappointing than you could be expecting. If you're outside of the battlefield, you can change your job at any time you want, and with so many different possibilities the customization factor of this product is extremely high.
Item creation ends up being another clear example of this feature. Each time you pick that option in the item shop, you're able to pass across a simple interface that allows you to check what items you've created and which ones are you currently able to create. However, unlike what happens in previous games, where a created item gets instantly added to your inventory, here you actually have to purchase them, which isn't very cheap when it comes to some of the rare items.
One of the most unexpected features is the presence of an auction system, which you can use to get possession of certain states. No money is spent, as you'll be relying on special tokens, but the result of auctions only lasts for a set amount of time, during which you're able to find new allies in your areas, along with some other surprises.
With so many missions to be faced, it is clear that this is the kind of game that will take you quite a while to complete. The inclusion of an harder difficulty mode, accessible only when you create a new game, is something that surely adds to the replay value, but due to its extreme difficulty that's an option that only those who are more prolific in this genre (or advanced players, after completing the normal difficulty mode) may want to give a look. There's a local multiplayer mode, but since it requires several copies of this game I wasn't able to try it for this review.
Graphically, I doubt the game is going to win any prizes, but its quality isn't bad, either. The drawing is fair to the style shown in previous chapters of the series, and you can easily recognise all the characters presented in the game. Most magic spells, abilities and items have unique visual effects, and there are no major glitches that may deprive you from enjoying the many features available here. Regrettably, the camera angle used to show the battlefield is still the same as in the previous games, making it harder for you to effectively manage your units or detect the position of enemies, since they may be hidden in hard-to-see sections of the scenario.
In terms of sound, this game has nothing to envy to its big brothers, with all songs featuring a quality that could be easily confused with the one of next-generation consoles. There's no voice acting, and the quantity of sound effects appears to be slightly limited, but you'll probably be too busy listening to the great songs, in a way that you won't even notice such flaws.
Even thought this game has an amazing play time and some replay value, its biggest feature turns out being the extreme personalization that you can make to your characters. If that's what you want in a turn-based game go ahead, buy this game, but rest assured that knowledge of the Japanese language is an important prerequisite to fully enjoy it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 10/26/07, Updated 11/02/07
Game Release: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Fuuketsu no Grimoire (JP, 10/25/07)
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