Review by Bkstunt_31
Full on the content, light on the depth.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift (FFTA2 from here on out) is, in my eyes anyways, the third "tactics" game with the "Final Fantasy" name attached to it. Like most tactical games, it features unique, customized parties and turned based battles, with a slew of RPG elements in it as well. Being a big Final Fantasy fan for many years now, I of course had to try out Square-Enix's newest title. Since I've also played the other two Final Fantasy Tactics games (Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance), I will also occasionally compare them to this game, hopefully to point out true gaming progress (or lack there-of). So, be prepared for a monstrous review!
Where do I begin? Hmm, well similar to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, your main character, Luso, starts out in the "real world". It appears that the pre-teen Luso is a bit of a trouble-maker, so, on the last day of school, instead of going home to summer vacation Luso has to clean the library. This is where he discovers the Grimoire. Upon writing his name in it (I have no idea why...), he falls into the world of Ivalice (from Final Fantasy Tactics/Tactics Advance, and FF XII fame). This is how your adventure begins.
Now, I have a few problems with the story, but to be fair I am a little biased. See, I enjoy an actual plot in my games. Also, I am older than 12, so that may also influence my bias, as FFTA2 is clearly aimed at children, similar to FFTA, except that FFTA's story was a tad better. Ok, besides being on the childish side, I will say that FFTA2 is a HUGE game. HUNDREDS of missions await you, if you so choose, and almost all of them are connected to other missions, making their own little side stories as you play. But again, these stories are ALSO childish, and at times feel merely like a re-hash of the previous story "mission". For example, there are at least a half-dozen to a dozen missions where you have to gather ingredients for a chef. WHEE, WHAT FUN! Or you can have fun by trying to find items on the ground for somebody who lost them. Sigh... These missions are mostly just colorful random battles, merely used to gather more ability-experience points (which we will discuss later).
The main characters in the game are pretty bland and uninteresting, and this does include cameo's by Vaan and Penelo, of FFXII fame. Back-stories are really only fleshed out for one or two characters at most. The story missions in the game were OK, but again I think that the first two tactics games did better. I, for one, long for Final Fantasy Tactic's deeper plot filled with betrayals, shifting alliances, and skewed morals rather than today's shallow, offend no-one, pre-teen adventures.
The gameplay more or less mimics its predecessor, FFTA, which varied quite a bit from FFT. As I said earlier, the main gist of the game is to build up a party to wage turn-based wars with. The tactics series of Final Fantasy games perfects what Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy V started: jobs. As you play through the game you will have to recruit clan members of different races. Each race an learn certain jobs and eventually master their abilities. You can also equip a "sub-job", enabling you to use another job's abilities at the same time as your current job, making the combinations of possibilities staggering. But, to be fair, only certain jobs really go well together. The number of jobs is pretty impressive, and has certainly grown, although I did miss some key jobs of Final Fantasy's past, such as the chemist, samurai, and dark knight (to be fair, FFTA2 does have blander replacements for the samurai and dark knight). I did enjoy some of the newer jobs, such as the Chocobo knight and cannoneer. You can also equip reaction abilities and support abilities, allowing for even further character customization. These abilities are learned by equipping your character with armors that feature said ability, and than through battling, your character will eventually master that ability, forcing you to cycle through armors and weapons to master everything. One downside I didn't care for was the fact that characters not in battle received ability points as well, and you no longer have the ability to rack up ability points by making your characters act over and over in battle, like you could in Final Fantasy Tactics.
The gameplay itself is fairly standard, you will always fight on a square-gridded map with movement fields based on how agile your character is. When your turn comes up, you simply move or stay in place, than either attack or use an ability (or wait, I guess). With hundreds of abilities, spells, and reaction abilities, it definitely doesn't get boring though. I did like how the maps made you play realistically, for example you can knock characters off cliffs for additional damage. It goes without saying that you must always consider where your character is, the turn order, and most of all what your enemy is capable of. Successfully defeating the enemy will result in experience, ability points, and sometimes items. For everyone who hated the "law" system of FFTA (ME!), unfortunately it is still present here, though much more bearable. In FFTA2, your clan can learn special bonuses and use them AS LONG AS they follow the current law. If they don't , their bonus is taken away and anyone who dies in the battle cannot be revived. Now, this is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it isn't as stupid as FFTA was, and even if you do break a law, you will probably be able to roll over the enemy anyways. Of course, the blessing pointed out the curse that encompasses the entire game: this game is easy. Early on your characters will become overpowered and unstoppable. All of the missions enemies have set levels, and you will end up being way above them (there are a few missions that were a challenge, but out of the hundreds that weren't that fact is easy to overlook).
The only other thing worth noting is your clan. Not only can you fight for new clan bonuses, but you can also participate in addicting auctions, where you bid on who controls a particular area. Oh, one other thing worth noting is the presence of Espers, the huge boss monsters from Final Fantasy XII (also found dominantly in Final Fantasy VI). After certain missions you can earn pieces of equipment that will let you use them in battle. It's not as cool as it sounds, though, as you will never get to fight them, and in order to use them in battle you have to charge a special meter. And, as we just talked about, the enemy will be dead long before you need to use them.
The graphics in FFTA2 are very similar to FFTA, featuring an innumerable amount of sprites with a vast amount of animations for each one. And all the time, everything looks pretty good, excellent for such small sprites. The story sequences feature the widest variety of animations, but it was surprising to see that Square-Enix didn't include any of their famous animated cut scenes into the game.
The amount of maps is directly related to how many battlefields there are. As you wander through western Ivalice, each region will have 4-8 different battlefields in it. These battlefields are often themed after different locales: the desert, a mine, greenlands, etc. They all looked pretty good as well, with a fair amount of variety in each one and quite a bit of detail. Overall, with how good everything looks and the sheer amount in the game, I was pretty impressed. One of my favorite aspects in the game, in fact, was the descriptions of all of the weapons and armors in the shop. Ranging from basic descriptions to downright awesome ones, I often found myself sitting in a shop reading each and every item's description (one example: "Common blades are drawn to begin battles. Ragnarok is drawn to end them.")
Music/Sound Effects: 8/10
The music is, of course, also similar to FFTA, running the orchestrated, string-heavy gauntlet from catchy town tunes to dramatic scores during battles. These songs are repeated through the duration of the game, so while they may not be as memorable as they could be, you will still have them in your head for quite awhile. Some of the music pieces that they have seem to be inspired from Final Fantasy XII as well. No matter where their inspiration comes from, everything sounds pretty good here.
Sound effects are quite simple in the game, but effective. Battle cries are repeated often, and you will soon get used to hearing your favorite abilities. There's really not too much to say here, again there are a lot of different sounds in a game this big, and they all sound exactly as they should.
While there is only one story path to the game, you can easily sink hundreds of hours into it by playing every single mission, fighting random battles, mastering every job, collecting every piece of equipment, etc. Add to that the seemingly limitless number of ways to fight all of these battles and your re-playability goes through the roof. There is even a New Game + for you once you beat the game, as well as a few "secret" characters (It's pretty hard to miss out on an optional character in this game).
Overall, an ambitious title that excels in how much content it offers, but lacks in any story-related depth or meaning. Any tactical gamer worth his(or her) salt would want to play through FFTA2, despite the lackluster childish story (Square-Enix must firmly believe that only pre-teens can save the world). If you're money-conscience, I would recommend picking it up used, since 99.9% of used DS games are in great working order. And congratulations if you actually read this entire review, I hope I covered enough info for you. Have fun and keep playing!
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (US, 06/24/08)
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