Review by kobalobasileus

"Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Grimoire of Flaws"

Review: Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Grimoire of Flaws

I'd like to start by saying that I have a lot of experience with the Final Fantasy Tactics series, as I have completed both of the previous games. I found the original Tactics to be an interesting game, significantly marred by the difficulty of getting good equipment via Poaching and the ease with which enemy Knights could break said equipment. The first Tactics Advance (A1) corrected the combat flaws of the original but suffered from a comparably weak story.

So how does the second Tactics Advance game fair? Not good.

Starting off with the presentation, A2 comes off pretty well. The sprite-based characters and maps are vivid and appealing. The spell effects are typically Final Fantasy, with plenty of pretty colors and polygonal overlays. The music, however, is not particularly memorable or interesting, which is largely due to the terrible quality of the DS speakers. Without a Game Boy Player-type option for playing DS games on a large screen with decent speakers, a good presentation is meaningless, as it is lost in the smallness of the medium.

Despite a positive presentation, there are two major areas in which A2 just does not deliver: Story and Gameplay. These are the fundamental aspects that make a game a game, so without them, no matter how appealing the presentation, the game falls flat. Let's begin with the story.

The story of A2 is more of the same from A1, only diluted to nothing. The story centers around a school kid in Japan (with the thoroughly non-Japanese surname, Clemens) who is sent to the library on the last day of school to organize books as punishment for being a slacker. He conveniently finds a Magick Book™ that transports him to Ivalice where he is forced to join a clan by a Bangaa (who looks nothing like a Bangaa) or get eaten by a roly-poly cockatrice. Clemens-kun then learns that the only way to get home is to fill his Magick Book™ with records of “his adventures.” That's it. The entire story is just a kid traveling around a small part of Ivalice to fill-up a diary. Sure there are some connected quests which form little sub-stories on their own, but this is not Final Fantasy quality material. At least in A1 the fact that one of the main character's classmates was the ultimate villain made a compelling plot point and some tension between characters. In A2, the ultimate villain just kind of drops out of the sky, deus ex-machina style, and is really quite meaningless. Aside from a resemblance to Ivy from SoulCalibur, there is little that is remarkable about this so-called antagonist.

The gameplay flaws are quite numerous, so it's difficult to find a place to start. One of the largest and most noticeable flaws is that everything in the games moves at a snail's pace. The AI loves to take its sweet time with making moves, targeting, and facing each unit. The graphical effects for spells and abilities, though pretty, take an exorbitant amount of time and are unskippable. There were also numerous times while playing the game that I noticed significant system slowdown, sometime when doing something as simple as looking at menu items! That kind of technical error is completely unacceptable in this console generation, especially when dealing with primarily 2D graphics. All of the afore-mentioned speed issues may seem trivial, but when added together, they make the gameplay crawl. This is a portable game, yet almost every battle lasts at least 20 minutes. That doesn't exactly scream, “Portable gaming in bite-sized chunks!”

Another serious gameplay flaw involves the race and job systems. There are two new races added to A2, the succubus-like Gria and the pig-like Seeqs (first seen in FF12). Of course, you might not even realize they are recruitable, as I didn't get a Seeq to join my clan until 79 hours into the game. Absolutely ridiculous! Most of the jobs that characters can have are completely superfluous. The Pugilism skills learned by Hume Fighters, the Discipline learned by Bangaa White Monks, the Elemental Magic learned by Viera Elementalists, and the Hunting skills learned by Gria or Hume Hunters can pretty much dominate everything the AI will throw at the player. In a completely uncalled for move, Thieves were neutered in A2, removing their ability to steal any equipment besides “Accessories.”

As if the above problems weren't enough, there is yet another gameplay system that just doesn't work. The horrible Bazaar system from FF12 is back! Instead of getting actual item drops from enemies or having new equipment to choose from at each newly-accessed town, A2 expects players to collect “Loot” (i.e., garbage) from every enemy defeated. This loot can be traded in at the Bazaar to gain access to new equipment (which you still have to pay Gil to buy). Unfortunately, many of the better items are limited, so you can only buy one copy before you have to turn in more loot. The Bazaar system has been improved, overall, from FF12, inasmuch as it tells the player when they have enough loot to get an item and which loots to trade-in. It also only requires one loot item from each of three different categories to get an item.

Finally, the Judge System, first introduced in A1 has been completely rethought, and not for the better. Judges no longer ride around the battlefield on a chocobo, handing out yellow and red cards to lawbreakers and sending them to jail. Now the Judge just sits on the top screen, forcing only the player's team to uphold a single law each battle in order to keep a Clan Privilege (most of which are entirely useless). Clan Privileges range from ability boosts to regeneration to extra points earned after the battle (The only one actually worth using is the one that gives triple points toward learning job skills after the battle.). The penalty for breaking the law is that the Judge leaves in a huff and takes the Clan Privilege with him. The clan also loses the ability to revive fallen comrades with Phoenix Down during the battle, but that is rarely ever an issue anyway. After the Judge leaves, everyone is free to violate the law as much as they want. This ability to break the law with impunity is actually good, at times, because certain laws are completely idiotic. “Missing is forbidden!” “Abilities that knock the target back are forbidden!” Who thought it would be a good idea to include such laws in a game where attack accuracy usually hovers around 88-99% and critical hits randomly cause knockback? In these cased, obeying the law is a function of luck, which should never be a significant factor in a TRPG.

Overall, I did not enjoy Final Fantasy Tactic A2. The boring story, sluggish pace, and flawed gameplay systems made it feel more like a chore than a fun pastime. For a game that offers so little enjoyment, it is incredibly long. I would imagine it would take 120 hours or so to complete all 300 Quests, but the game will not hold the interest of anyone that long except for, possibly, a die-hard TRPG fan who has already beaten every other TRPG in existence.

Overall Rating (not an average): 5/10
Presentation (Graphics/Sound): 7/10
Story: 1/10
Gameplay: 4/10

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 02/03/09

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

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