Review by DarkGea
A Gem Not Without Flaws
First and foremost, make no mistake that because I gave this game a 7/10, I do not enjoy it. That couldn't be further from the truth. The entire genre of SRPGs are amazing to me and some of my favorite titles span from FFT to Nippon Ichi (and beyond). My method of scoring sees 5/10 as *average*, unlike nearly every reviewer who thinks 7/10 is "average."
A Familiar Tome
Taking place in the increasingly familiar world of Ivalice (just as FFTA and FFXII did), FFTA2's plot also does not tread fresh, new ground. An unpolished, half-cloned story of FFTA is layed out before the players.
Luso, the only namable character in the game, is a soft-hearted hooligan who gets pegged for misconduct minutes before Summer vacation and is forced down into the library of his school. Upon defacing a book, he soon finds himself in a magical world with Moogles and Chocobos.
The introductory battle commences as Luso shows off his skills with a sword (and for never having picked one up is quite adept) after being initiated into a clan by Cid, a kindhearted fellow with a mysterious past. Cid, for reasons little than curiosity, attempts to help Luso find his way home. It is soon discovered that Luso's only chance to return home rests in filling the pages of the very book he defaced.
Ironically, Luso hates reading and school so it would seem natural that this device of the story would force Luso to write his way home and ultimately grow, but in fact the book does any sort of cerebral activity entirely for him. In fact, Luso is practically unconcerned about everything except having adventures with little direction.
The difference in the quality of story between FFTA and this game is simply motivation. Marche was in a world that was used as an escape from reality for his friends and thus was put in a position that required choice. Should Marche stay in this fantasy land and let his friends be happy with their escape from reality or should he force them to face the real world? Marche's friends helped mold the plot and at least give the player a sense of progression and direction.
There is one aspect about FFTA2's story that was really enjoyable and is not done nearly enough in games. While the player is encouraged to do side quests, they are optional and can be skipped. However, many of these side quests link together to form their own stories. Very reminiscent of FF:CC, reoccurring characters are easy to become attached to as they actually flow with personality unlike your own quiet troupe.
Not to give away too terribly much, but the large cockatrice fought in the first battle becomes a reoccurring battle within these side quests and introduce you to a cast of characters with a bittersweet history. While not all dialogue can escape being cheesy, it still remained better than the forever cheerful Luso who seemed overenthusiastic about everything. Seeing someone actually face their fears and act like a human was refreshing and pushed me to want to see more of the side quests, which was good since they make up the majority of the game.
Assuming you've never played an SRPG before, the majority of them are played exactly like this game, on a grid. You have a starting point to place your units at the start of a battle and from there they get turns based on their speed stat. Generally units can only move and perform one action during a turn. Thankfully, FFTA allows you to do actions and then move, a feature which many titles overlook. This allows for mages, archers, and even melee units to attack and then retreat to safety.
While the possibilities may seem staggering to first time players, veterans to SRPGs will find FFTA2 simplistic and relatively easy. Actions, like attacking, magic, and techniques, never have any sort of delayed effect that forces you to manage your sequence of attackers carefully. Anyone used to FFT will be amazed that magic casted comes out immediately.
If you choose to "wait" and not perform an action (or move) a turn, your character will come back up sooner to have their next turn. Certain magicks (yes, magic k s) will also effect how often your unit's turn comes up, while certain classes have to "ready" their attacks a turn before being able to perform them upon their next turn.
Ultimately, anyone can jump into the battle system and be successful, but veterans may find it lacking in strategy.
What's the Scouter Say About His Power Level?
Besides gaining character levels, jobs themselves gain ability points after every battle. These ability points are applied directly towards learning new techniques based on what equipment your character is wearing. This system is taken straight from FF9 and still suffers the same drawbacks.
Oftentimes you are forced to use crappier weapons (or ones with elemental effects that you may not be fond of) just to learn a technique. Or at times your ability points (AP) just goes to waste as you do not have the proper equipment to learn anything new.
A better method would be learning new techniques at "job levels" gained by AP, or better yet, just allow you to use AP to buy techniques for your jobs. The only real plus to the system put in is that it forces you to use many different weapons instead of skipping ahead to the most powerful ones immediately.
Throughout the game you will obtain many component parts to new items. By going to a shop and trying different combinations, you can yield new weapons, which then allows you to learn new skills for your jobs.
I must admit it is a thrill seeing what new item you can create next with your hard earned loot, and it gives you even more incentive to do every side quest before continuing the story so that you can have the best equipment possible.
The downside is that you do not know what you're about to make with your parts. Often times you will create new weapons utterly useless for your current units as they hurt for a new weapon so they can continue learning new techniques for their jobs.
Often times you will find yourself switching to new jobs just so your ability points aren't wasted as you hope to find the parts so you can finally learn more than fire, ice, and thunder for your black mage. Perfectionists or those who just want to focus on certain jobs will probably want to have a guide with them as to not waste precious, rare components on items they do not need or are not interested in.
Of Clans and Quests
Your clan is merely your group of units. Clans have their own stats, points, and titles.
Clan "stats" only serve to be prerequisites to obtaining the ability to take on challenges to obtain new titles.
Clan "points" are the currency that can be spent in auction houses and to take challenges for new titles.
Clan "titles" are gained through special quests with harder restrictions than normal battles. New titles affect your clan stats in a big way. However, these challenges can also net you new clan abilities such as receiving more power in battles or getting health back every turn. They also lower the prices of quests and items.
The auction house is a minigame to control parts of the map through auctions. Owning parts of the map net you additional bonuses. An easy way to think about this is like risk. It is more of a sidequest than anything else but definitely adds replay to the game.
Quests. Quests make up the bulk of the game and can be accepted at any town for a price. Gil, the currency of the game, is rather easy to come by though, and quests are cheap, so the price is not even noticeable the majority of the time. Quests only last so many "days" before going away and coming back after so many more days. Some quests can be repeated, most are one time only.
Quests come in a variety of colors that involve just slaying everything in sight, killing a certain monster, searching for a specific place on the battlefield, making simple deliveries, destroying traps or keeping other units alive. Up to fifteen quests can be accepted at any given time and you can send units in your stead to attempt quests, though I prefer doing them all myself. Rarely even quests will appear on the map as you travel about. The only kind of "random encounter" this game will ever throw at you, which is much appreciated when you just want to get from A to B.
The game gives you a large variety at any given time and the rewards are components to making new equipment, clan points, clan stat points, and ability points. The only complaint about quests is minor. Only main quests give you an indication of where on the world map you need to go, the rest must be checked through a series of slow menus. Coupled with taking on many quests at a time and going into the menus to check where your next quest is can be a chore.
If the Shoe Fits...
Ivalice is home to a rich tapestry of races that all stand apart from one another. In actuality, you will have access to 6 races, including Humes, Moogles, Nu Mou, Vieras, and Bangaas, along with two new races, the rotund Seeqs, and the winged Gria. All races are gender specific (excluding special characters) and has their own list of jobs they can use.
Each job has a list of techniques that can be learned and used. Every unit is able to equip one additional job's techniques they have learned previously. This allows for combinations that complement each other such as a white mage knowing offensive magick. This system is not new but is a welcome return and deepens the game's possibilities and strategy significantly.
Certain races, such as Bangaas and Seeqs, excel at physical combat. Nu Mou on the other hand, are given caster jobs. While in theory this works fine, the poorly implemented recruit feature makes this frustrating. You find new units on the map screen "randomly" (the game gives you hints on finding them) that are roughly the same level as Luso. Seemingly knowing the inaccessibility in acquiring specific new units, the game starts you with a good variety of units (one of each of the returning races). Either making jobs more evenly accessible or units easier to come by would have smoothed over this bump.
Speaking of irritations, the inability to personalize units is a letdown. Naming your units? Forget about it. Good luck becoming attached to such names as "Killetheth." I wish I was kiddinging.
Perfectionists will find themselves carefully switching from class to class before leveling because each job has its own effect on stats when leveled while that job. Some jobs have much better overall stat gain than others. Couple this with the fact that new jobs can be slow to come by and the perfectionist can get somewhat frustrated.
To be Judged
Players of FFTA will remember the judge system. At the start of every match you are given a rule that you are not supposed to break. Some rules are simple such as, "No moves with an ice effect," while others can be absolutely frustrating like, "no attacking units a lower level than yourself."
Certain rules are not clearly defined (X Not using MP means you can't NOT use MP during turns yet normal attacks which don't use MP are not flagged) or poorly implemented (you get a random critical attack on an enemy when your rule is no knockback, and thus you break the rule based on dumb luck).
Often times the rules make certain units worthless for that battle (no use of MP, no ranged attacks, no actions made by Moogles, etc) but with a proper combination of jobs on every unit you can oftentimes find solutions to these rules.
However, the rules can be too restrictive for the player to have any creativity. It can boil down to *possible* or *not possible.* How are you supposed to get around level restrictions? You can't. Even when recruiting new units (a tedious task) they will be roughly your level.
However breaking the rules does not usually mean you fail the battle. Instead all that happens is you lose the ability to raise fallen teammates, extra post-battle spoils, and your clan bonus.
The bottom line here is that half the time you'll ignore the rules exist and the other half you'll curse under your breath and go out of your way just to scrape by. At the very least the rules are now always displayed on the top screen, so players now have no excuse for not seeing it at all times.
Sound, Graphics, and Presentation
There really isn't too much to say in this department. If you are familiar with either FFT or FFTA, then consider the sound the same. Music is not quite as catchy as the previous titles, which could get you humming along (or made for epic battles in FFT), but it does the job. Sound effects are crisp and clear and sound appropriate.
Ah, a mixed bag here. On the bottom screen you have the map, while on the top screen has character info, movement order, the laws, and a blown up sprite of the target. The sprites on the bottom screen look exactly like GBA quality, but are still pretty and detailed at that size. When blown up on the top screen they look pixilated and ugly. The backdrops, terrain, and effects of techniques all are superior to the GBA. Colors are crisp and vibrant, while spells are actually eye candy.
Controls, Menus, and Pace
If you were expecting stylus controls to be fluid and easy to use, you will be shocked to find a half-assed attempt at that. Using the stylus can end up being slower than just using the D-pad and very frustrating to boot. However, using the D-pad and buttons work wonderfully and are 100% preferred. L and R switch between units fluidly and all four buttons face buttons are used effectively.
A lack of soft-reset (at least, I could never get the button combination to work) was disappointing, but not unbearable.
Options are few but involve text speed, the way your cursor behaves when pressed "up," and the ability to select "normal" or "hard" mode when creating a new file. You can have up to two saved files at a time.
The menus are my least favorite thing about the game. Most SRPGs have slick interfaces which are easy to navigate. The issue here is too many sub-menus. In battle everything is fine and easy to navigate. Out of battle or before battle though...
Instead of giving you a nice list of options from the get-go, you choose between your units, your clan, or data (saving). Selecting Units brings you to a menu where you can adjust your jobs, their equipment, and their abilities. Clan gives you all of your quest information as well as all of your territorial information. After getting used to where everything is, the menus are still sluggish to navigate. All button presses have a delay before another button can be pressed and having to go down three layers into a menu just to equip a new sword takes longer than trying to save.
Speaking of slow, the pace of the game is horrendously slow. The menus are sluggish and unintuitive, the character animations are slow, and the AI takes its time as well.
If you really do enjoy SRPGs, don't pass this one up. It definitely suffers from flaws, but the flaws are in the polish of the game. They irritate, but never stop you from wanting to play more.
If you are tight on cash though, I would consider waiting until Disgaea comes out for the DS.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (US, 06/24/08)
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