Review by bluej33

"Quest: Read this Review; Reward: A Pile of Bangaa Crap"

Square-Enix is a pretty deceptive company, and one of the most heinous things they've done revolves around Final Fantasy Tactics. It's not the series itself that gets me; it's the naming. “Tactics” is more a direction that the game takes rather than an actual mechanic, and the games feel traditionally role-playing through and through. The GBA iteration of the series had its share of flaws, but the DS sequel has thankfully fixed many of them. Sadly, for every hole that's been plugged, another leak is found.

As a game, Grimoire of the Rift is not particularly impressive; on many levels, it feels little more than an expansion pack for the first Tactics Advance. The story is nearly the same, a handful of classes and a couple of new races have been added, and there are a few new gameplay mechanics. Grimoire never really figures out exactly what it is: a progression of the Tactics series or a crippled old SRPG leaning on its predecessors for support. Sadly, this lack of identity is one of its biggest problems.

While it isn't great as a game, Grimoire still managed to keep me engaged -- I had fun playing, for the most part. This counts for something, surely, as having fun has to be one of the more important criteria for judging a game. But while it's true that all told, my experience with Grimoire was probably a positive one, it wasn't an easy game to enjoy. Every time I found something to like about the game, Square Enix spoked me in the eye and I stumbled upon sometimes-infuriating flaws that discourage you from even playing.

Tactics A2 has so many problems that I don't even know where to begin. Perhaps the first issue is one that the original Tactics Advance had as well: an unfairly and deceptively deep learning curve. When you've got a story about a little kid who got stuck in a library from hell and ended up in a fantasy world that's all about completing monotonous quests for your entire life, having a gameplay mechanic that takes a brain surgeon to figure out just feels downright wrong. Alternatively, if you happen not to be a brain surgeon, you'll probably do just fine if you've suffered through one of the two previous Tactics games.

The game advertises even more classes and even more skills than the first tactics -- whoop-dee-crap! The game is so freaking confusing that if you're new to the series you probably won't even realize you can unlock new classes until you beat the game for the first time. And while we're on the subject of lies printed on the back of the box: the boasted hundreds of hours of gameplay spread out over more than 300 quests is in many ways a pile of crap. While there are indeed a ridiculous number of quests, many of them are dispatch ones where you don't actually have to do anything; just select your six strongest party members and ditz around for a while and wait for them to come back.

But when you get to the actual combat missions, things get even worse. The mechanic itself isn't terrible; it's pretty solid and while it doesn't do anything new for the SRPG genre it manages to be confusing enough to satisfy hardcore fans of this niche genre. Where the fights become seriously annoying is when you realize that they last FOREVER. A little skirmish worth two hundred gil and a rat's ass could easily take half an hour, because the pacing within battles is just so bad. Characters will move, attack, use lengthy and ultimately useless skills, then chose the direction they face…it's so monotonous and every move takes too long. At the end of five minutes, you can look back and think how fun it was to watch that cat-hybrid-woman-mix move two squares and shoot an arrow at a fat white dog standing upright. What?! You don't think that sounds fun?

And then there's the problem of the skills; it's not actually the skills themselves, but rather how you go about obtaining them. As with the two Tactics games before it, you earn skills in Grimoire by equipping certain items. But rather than giving you a bunch of items and periodically updating the laundry list every four plot points or so, Grimoire wants you to actually earn your weapons. Rather than receiving gil and weapons/items for completing a quest, you'll now gain gil and loot/items. Loot is then cashed in at the bazaar to make new items available. Sounds good, right?

Wrong. This system may very well be single-handedly responsible for sucking out most of the fun from Tactics A2. The problem is that it's just far too constricting, and for most of the game your different jobs will be based less on personal preference and strategy decisions and more on which gear is currently available. Admittedly, for a few hours in the middle it opens up and works out quite nicely. But for the rest of the game, it fails to impress. At the beginning, you don't have enough loot to unlock many weapons. And at the end, you'll have unlocked a lot but you'll be missing one random little loot item and as a result won't be able to get a new item. It's particularly annoying when you're missing a loot item that would unlock a new weapon that would teach a new skill that would allow you to upgrade to a new class. Plus, it's in no way gratifying to receive a bottle of green liquid in return for beating the crap out of a horde of monsters.

As a result, you'll end up accepting a lot of boring, time-consuming side quests solely in an attempt to obtain loot. And because you play so many six-on-six battles, it's hard not to notice the weird dips the difficulty takes. The AI is not particularly strong; for example, there are some quests when you're racing a rival clan to take down a target. After bragging how they'll destroy the enemy and mop up its remains with your polka-dot hat, they promptly go about attacking every enemy except the target. Way to go, idiots. But on the other hand, despite the fact that the hit rates have been ramped up a lot in this game, you'll be missing constantly. Some jackass programmer over at Square Enix is messing with my head by placing far too many 100s in the random number sequence. When my hit chance is 99%, I shouldn't miss more than once in a blue moon, much less three times in a row.

If you're a fan of the series, however, take what I say with a grain of salt. After all, any fanboy will happily look past the faults of his new favorite game and proudly deign it “the best EVAR!”. In all seriousness, however, if you like Tactics games you'll probably enjoy Grimoire more than I did. It offers the same “strategic” action of its predecessors and the Ability Points system has received a dramatic overhaul that makes it a lot easier for characters to learn new skills. Thenew quests, new races, new classes, and new skills will also appeal to fans of the series, and from a technical standpoint Grimoire is pretty impressive with good-looking graphics and great-sounding if ridiculously-repetitive music.

But at the end of the day, I disapprove of Final Fantasy Tactics A2. It's not by any stretch of the imagination a “bad” game; it just happens not to be a particularly good one either. While its invidual parts are better than the parts of its predecessors, there are also just too many problems with the game to really provide an enjoyable experience. And ultimately, despite not really liking the first Tactics Advance, I still like it more than Grimoire. Why? Because Square Enix should have learned from their mistakes and patched up the adventure of Marche & Co. to provide a better experience for players. That's generally the idea behind sequels. But instead, for every little problem that the dev team has fixed, another one pops up in its place, much like whack-a-mole.

And no, that's not a particularly flattering comparison.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/08/08

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

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