Review by 9NineBreaker9

Reviewed: 07/09/08

One Is Ill Fated to Fill a Great Game with a Horrid Story - Know You His Name?

Now that I think about it, I have only beaten one Final Fantasy game, and that would be the original remake on the GBA – every other time I’ve tried one, I’ve played it up to a point and never finished it. And, now that I think even more about it, I generally don’t like the mainstream Final Fantasy games, but the offshoots or spinoffs more. A while back, a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics was released on the GBA, and fans of the PSX title were disappointed. Me, I rather liked the Advance game, even moreso than the original, and have been faithfully awaiting a sequel for quite some time now. I’m very, very excited to say that it’s just about as good as the last.

Our story begins with Luso Clemens anxiously awaiting the school year to be over so that he can finally be out for the summer, free to do whatever he wants. But, just before he can get that get out of jail card, his teacher stops him and assigns him one last round of detention for showing up later more often than not. Luso is to clean the library and, while doing so, he stumbles on a quite old book filled with text about magic and strange worlds, but ending halfway though. Ever being the prankster, Luso completes the last sentence saying something like “The following is doomed:” with his name, causing him to magically whisked away to the mystical land of Ivalice, a realm where chocobos, black mages and judges roam free.

It’s after two missions that we come to the conclusion that the story is complete and utter trash, filler of the highest caliber that makes Pong looked like a fully developed epic. The rest of the game boils down to Luso doing whatever he pleases to fill the rest of the book in an attempt to have it bring him home, meaning that, beyond the final and obvious finale that everything will be hunky dory and everyone will live happily ever after, Luso can do whatever the hell he pleases, and does that – who in their right mind thought that a story following a tourist whooping it up, going around to all of the sights and helping a few people along the way would be good? At all?

Seriously, why?

Thankfully, everything else found in the game is much, much better than the piss-poor story, though, as it exists, it is inherently better.

The flow of the game beings on the overworld map, where Luso is free to wander about the lands, looking for his next destination. Here, we can see sites like towns, as well as easily locate where the next quest is to take place, and improvement from the blind search in the first game. Each quest or important happening is labeled with a convenient balloon, meaning that it’s pretty hard to miss where you are supposed to go. Unfortunately, there is no way to actually pass over these balloons on this scale – if you move over the tile with a quest, you must perform it, and there is no way to reorganize quests should they occupy the same space. This can, thankfully, be avoided by traveling on the world map.

Ivalice is magically shrunken and expanded so that you can travel around on two different scales – a local scale the includes cities and various different locations, or on the world map, which lets you skip over the small sites of the local scale and simple move from region to region. This is a nice change from the previous game, and also adds a nice level of detail to the game, but you’ll oftentimes be forced to play around with the world map so that you can walk around unavoidable battles – it’s not too much of an issue, but should the ability to not perform a mission had been added, things would be a lot easier.

Cities offer a number of different services, chief of which is the Pub, a bar that apparently has no age limit and offers up the various and numerous quests, as well as an assortment of rumors and notices for you to check up on. Things here are a bit more organized than before, as rumors get taken off of the list once you look at them (and are backed up for later reference), and quest information is a bit more streamlined. A thankful addition, or possible removal, is the dispatch mission, where you had to send off a clan member to complete a task. Now, every mission must be completed in person, but some allow for you to send off a party of up to six members to clear the mission otherwise, making repeatable quests much easier and annoying quests much less of a headache.

The shop has been a standby of every game, especially RPGs, but a noticeable change has been added to FFTA2 in that the shop doesn’t stock new items. Ever. Well, at least by their lonesome. Now, in order to have the ability to purchase new and necessary equipment, one must trade set of miscellaneous trinkets in a Bazaar – by trading in up to three different category items of the same rank, the store stocks a new item, which becomes available for purchase.

This is both a blessing and a curse, but more so an annoyance than anything. Forcing you to find a bunch of rather random items in order to buy a new piece of equipment is pretty bad by itself, but the additional fact that items received are fairly random, the abundance of these ‘loot items,’ even within each individual category, as well as the fact that the item’s identity, stats and skills remain a mystery until you buy it all add up to an aggravating system that forces you to play as the classes that have equipment available, and not as the classes you actually want to use. There’s an addition kick in the testes in that some items can only be bought once before using up the loot items in the Bazaar again.

The only noticeable good thing is the removal of quest items and the chance to royally screw your game and make it impossible to clear all missions. There is an idiotic option to sell loot items, however, so be sure to not pawn them off, lest you face a very bad headache for lack of equipment or regents for quests.

Two new additions can be found in towns now – Clan Trials and the Auction Houses. Clan Trials are tests for your clan, the sort of group that completes missions together, that raise one or more of four clan stats. These stats may need to be so high for certain quests, and earning the titles given out for completing them are extremely useful, oftentimes providing various discounts or offering up new Clan Privileges. Trials are, however, purchased via Clan Points, a secondary currency earned by completing normal quests, but you’re sure to always have a surplus by the time you are ready to actually boost these values.

The second addition is that of the Auction House. Every year, the world stops and competes for ownership of the land surrounding each major city. These are peaceful auctions wherein various clans bet given coins in an attempt to beat out the competition, earning the right to call that area yours. These are fun additions that make for a great break from the normal gameplay, and even require a bit of skill and fast thinking to beat. They start out very hard, but, as you win more and use more coins, you’ll increase the amount of coins you start out with and even get the ability to buy more coins, all for Clan Points. A nice addition is that, after sweeping the board and claiming all areas, you own them for life, and replace the normal auctions with bets for extremely valuable, useful, and sometimes end-game equipment. These can be hilariously abused though, as you can skip almost an entire year via sleeping, so you can constantly win these items to give you overly powerful weapons and skills early in the game. Tee hee.

Once you’ve found a quest and run over to it’s location, it’s time to engage in the meat of the game. Battles are by far the best part of the game, and they are thankfully very well done.

Battles boil down to you killing the doods who want to kill you – for each mission, you can place up to six units to do battle, though, many times, an NPC will be present, limiting your total manpower. Once your units are selected, you can also choose one of many Clan Privileges, a variety of bonuses for your little army that can increase their striking power, their movement range, or even prevent status effects. These are nice additions that can give you a delicious edge in battle, or help you out when you’re up against strong foes.

In addition to the clan privileges, there is the return of the horrid judge, now with 33% more not being a idiotic game design move. The judge oversees the battle and also ensures that death is never permanent for characters, but at the cost of a law – for each battle, the judge sets out a law which prevents some sort of action, such as attacking with ranged weapons or restoring MP. If you do break this law, however, the judge revokes your clan privilege and makes it impossible to revive fallen characters in battle (they do, however, remain in your clan, so no Fire Emblem permanent deaths).

This is a much, MUCH better solution to the previous game, making the punishment for breaking laws the loss of a bonus, rather than a serious, detrimental or oftentimes game-breaking (loss of a major, rare, extremely valuable weapon) occurrence, but the laws themselves remain just as bad. Some require that you always move. Fine. Some require you to always move exactly one tile. Okay. Some require that every move use MP. Goodness. Some prevent you from doing more than 50 damage or even from missing a move. Now that’s just ludicrous. It’s better in this situation to just break the law, forgoing your privilege and the bonus that the judge gives you for following the law…

Battles are fairly simple in their execution, but infinitely complicated beyond the simple mechanics. Each character has a number of ways to attack or cast magic as defined by their class, the sort of set of equipments and skills that each individual uses. Some classes, like the Fighter and the Berserker, are focused on dealing damage, while other classes, like the Sage or the White Mage, cast magic to deal damage and aid allies. Each class has its own unique use, and most of them are actually usable and not broken, as opposed to the last game, where certain classes obviously had an advantage over others. The addition of several new classes and two new races give everyone several options for combat, making the combinations many and the mixing entertaining.

A notable addition to the normal battle is a thankful amount of variety, throwing in additional mission types, such as escort missions, item collection missions, investigative missions... okay, so these weren't perhaps the best of ideas, but there are at least objectives other than wail on everything in sight until it dies. This is where the ability to dispatch units for certain quests becomes a godsend.

It’s also in these battles that you’ll notice two of the improvements over the last game – the graphics and the music are far improved from the previous title. The visuals especially are much, much better, being sharper and more detailed. Character portraits are very well done, magic is visually impressive, and every attack and skill is augmented by both visually and technically proficient graphics. The only possible shames are a bit of slowdown when targeting with guns and handcannons, as well as a notable recycle of stages, but these are very minimal issues.

Music in Final Fantasy games has always been great, but FFTA2 really kicks it up a notch with an extremely impressive soundtrack. Many of the songs from the previous game have found their way into the sequel, but are all redone to take advantage of the improved system, alongside a number of original tracks, each being very well done and of a great quality. Some of the songs are actually surprising for their quality, oftentimes sounding like something from a home console game and not just a puny handheld. Unfortunately, sound effects are often reused, but that’s a fairly minor complaint.

Quite possibly the biggest draw is the very robust class system, as well as the wide library of skills, spells and abilities to learn. Each class has several abilities to learn, from offensive attacks and spells, to secondary abilities, such as adding a counterattack or having the ability to wear ribbons, regardless of class. The amount of customization that can be had in your clan and in the units of themselves are what really give the game weight and what really keeps you playing – unlocking new and improved classes and finding out the right combinations of abilities make the hours fly by.

Speaking of hours flying by, they will. At 35 hours, I have 100 missions of an astounding total of 400 missions. This is definitely a game that you will play for many hours to come. And, if I needed to state how much I hate the story, a dismal 25 of those missions are story-related. I honestly feel as if the side-quests – all 375 of them – are better written than the story. Yeah.

Once all is said and done, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, along with having a long title, is a very good game. While it certainly has its issues, mainly a trash story and bizarre Bazaar system, everything is offset by the abundance of customization to be had, great visuals and a surprisingly well done soundtrack. If you liked any other Tactics game, be it Final Fantasy, Ogre or even other strategically RPGs/turned based games, like Disgaea or Advance Wars, you’ll find yourself at home.

Just don’t, for the love of multiple deities, play it for the story. Please. Don’t.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (US, 06/24/08)

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