Review by JulesJabberwock

"Suffers from "movie-sequel" syndrome; or, I walked out of it far before the climax"

So, here's the next installment in the Tactical half of the Final Fantasy series. Does it live up to the name?

The answer to that hypothetical is an emphatic "no." Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is one of my favorite games and I may be in a minority when I say that I like it a deal more than I like its predecessor (that being Final Fantasy Tactics for the PlayStation). FFTA was a deep game that was thoroughly enjoyable. The combat system was fun, engaging- simple, maybe, especially for an attempt at a strategy game, but it certainly reveled in that simplicity. And the same could be said of the story- simple, but charming in that simplicity. The job system was where the game shone- with diversity impressive even for a Final Fantasy game. It gave the game a customization factor not oft paralleled in the sometimes stagnant RPG genre. And all of that built up my expectations for this release.

Let's breakdown why FFTA2 so failed to live up to those expectations:

Story: 3/10

The first game's story was simple and charming. This game's story is also simple, only it's no longer so charming. Why? Because it's the same story from the first game, rehashed with some new names and faces; and if there's one rule of charm it's that it wears thin with age. I'm going to use an impressive Pokemon anime analogy from my childhood. Remember the episode with Teddiursa? Well, if you don't, or if you're too cool for Pokemon (I can't blame you not watching the show) then here's a general breakdown: Teddiursa is essentially a cute little bear cub who charms the heroes of the show with said cuteness. At the end of the episode, however, it evolves-- transforms, grows us, whichever you prefer-- into the not-so-cute-and/or-cuddly Ursaring: a giant, angry grizzly bear with long sharp claws and teeth. Still the changed Ursaring tries to rely on the cuteness that it no longer has, which is, in a word, pathetic. It's like thirty year old men who still play Dungeons and Dragons in their mother's basements. This story is the awkward adolescent stages of a story that refuses to grow up. It's Michael Jackson without the facial reconstruction surgery or dubious legal issues. Now, I'm not saying I wanted a story written by the Marquis De Sade--- I would have settled for one that took a natural progression instead of the stagnant reissue that I received.

Sound: 5/10

Same sound from the first game essentially, except it sounds slightly beefier coming over the higher quality DS speakers. Sound can gift a game, it can curse a game; it can never make a game. The soundtrack is forgettable but it doesn't interfere with any enjoyment you might derive from the title. But on one nit-picky note: character's death cries are still ridiculous. I don't expect to hear blood-curdling shrieks of terror when a character falls in battle, but I don't expect the sound of a mountain goat baying either.

Visuals: 6/10

I'm not a gamer who holds graphics in particularly high regard. The graphics in FFTA2 are crisp and cartoony if only slightly pixilated at times. One complaint I have is the over-dramatics of certain spells. For instance a number of Adelaide's Heritor spells- or techniques if you prefer considering they're not exactly magical in the classic RPG sense- look really, really cool and then do minimum damage, leaving the player wondering what all the fuss was about. I haven't been this disappointed since I watched all the build up for the dreaded “Meteor” spell in FFIV only to see a bunch of vaguely flame like pebbles plummet from the sky and kind-of-sort bounce around at Golbez's feet. And then, conversely, some of the Parivir's techniques don't do much to appease the eyes and end up doing massive damage. There's no consistency. Also: What is wrong with the character-model designers at SquareEnix? Seriously, the character models for the Final Fantasy series are bad even by anime standards. The character designs for this game look like they want desperately to appear in the next installment of Kingdom Hearts. I mean, honestly, a big fluffy beret and overalls? Really, Square? Really?

Gameplay: 5/10

Let's get to the bulk of any good game: the gameplay. In all honesty this game, on its own merits, probably deserves something around a 7.5-8 (a far cry from the gameplay of FFTA which would have gotten an 11/10 in my book). But such is the price that comes with being a part of the Final Fantasy franchise; there are expectations for greatness and failing to clear the bar of those expectations results in shake-your-head-in-shame failure (whereas if this were a stand-alone title it would have gotten a pat on the back at least for the effort). The trouble is that this game isn't all that different from its predecessor- the key phrase there being “all that different”. It's the subtle changes that ruined the game for me. Call me a xenophobe if you like but when I play a sequel to a game I'd even prefer complete rehashing to a bad attempt at reinvention.

What happened to the accuracy system? FFTA: Facing enemy = decreased accuracy, Side-of-enemy = Improved accuracy, Back-of-enemy = best chance of hit. You know why that system worked? Because it made sense. Facing enemy: They see you, obviously they're going to have a better chance of getting out of the way. Side of enemy: Well, now there's a chance that they might not see the attack coming, but also may be able to catch it in the periphery. Back of enemy: Unless they're Owl Ninjas from Phantom Brave they probably aren't seeing your attack coming. COMMON SENSE+BASIC PHYSICS= SOMETIMES THEY MAKE A BETTER GAME. Now every attack seems to have a set accuracy that neither decreases nor increases and is based solely on the stats of each unit involved instead of a combination of other factors that we got in the first game. That would be all well-and-good for your basic run-of-the-mill RPG but what it looks like in this game is regression. (It's true they didn't entirely dispose of the directional game mechanics; now the amount of damage done is dependent on the direction the enemy faces instead of the aforementioned accuracy system. That makes less sense: “Sword slashes hurt less when they're coming from the front. You know where I have all those important organ thingies”).

The new MP system I didn't mind so much—at the most I was ambivalent to the change. Characters start off with base 0 MP and regain ten MP every turn (or maybe it's five, I don't remember exactly). But they actually made good use of the change, having a number of techniques/spells that increase MP; adding another dimension to the strategy aspect of the game. (Although, every other change seems to have been made to restrict that exact same element). If the new system has a flaw it's that now characters with huge MP totals don't really have that much of an advantage. You're spending too much time building MP if you get one of your Nu-mous to its maximum.

The level-up/experience system is also brought back from the last game. You earn a certain amount of EXP for actions executed in battle, and a level-up for every 100 EXP earned; it's a fairly cut and dry system. Learning techniques goes hand-in-hand with your equipment (weapons, armor, etc.). You equip a weapon, it gives you an ability and you earn AP at the end of each engagement that will help you to master said ability (supposing that you're in the proper job class to learn the ability). It's an easy, effective system that needed no tinkering, so I'm not complaining. But then there was the job system. Someone save me from the job system. Let the Gaming Gods steal the memory of it from my mind. Do something, anything, before I turn into one of those twitching lunatics at the end of a Lovecraft story. Now, don't get me wrong. The job system is essentially the same as it was in the last game… essentially. But, you- ah- you remember how the jobs were relatively diversified and, barring a few outliers for each race (Assassin with Concentrate anyone?), there was a goodish amount of balance among them? Yeah, about that, in this game… not so much. All of the jobs are still there in body but they're just not there in spirit. To put it another way, Square sucked the life out of most of them and left us with hollow trudging mockeries of the classes from the last game. It really limits the customization factor of the game when you have a choice between using the best class for each race or being hilariously outclassed by it. Sure there are some new jobs you may want to toy with- most of them will leave much to be desired, but there are a couple welcome additions: Parivir and Master Monk come to mind. And there are two new races, each with their own set of unique jobs. It's really too bad that those races seem like absolute last second throw-ins, each coming with a meager four jobs.

I think I might have grown to like these new races if it weren't for their obvious fallacies. The new Seeq race is vaguely Bangaa-ish, except that they look like cartoony versions of Pig-Ganon from the Legend of Zelda series. Plus they come with the Viking job. I mean, how potentially awesome does a Viking class sound? Ninjas? Pfft. Samurai? Pffffffffft. Paladin? Go back to writing poetry and admiring roses, you flowery medieval-chivalric-era pansy. I'll be rolling with my Viking crew, rowing across vast expanses of ocean in a rickety boat, landing under cloak of the night on unsuspecting villages, proceeding to wreak total havoc on the villagers; burning down churches, killing old people, and enslaving children. Oh yeah, that's so much cooler than- Oh wait, you mean to tell me the Viking Class is heavily reliant on spells using the Seeq's abysmal MP and Magic Power stats. Son of a- alright, alright, I apologize Mr. Paladin, I didn't mean to toss you aside so willy-nilly. Come on, no, I think your poetry is really- er- good. (I am awash with the disappointment of it all). Well, let's move on to these Gria things. They have wings, plus obvious hentai potential, so what can they do exactly? Ah, I see, it appears that their only real advantage is high movement meanwhile they get completely outclassed by the physical jobs in the human, viera, and bangaa races. It should also be noted that you won't even see the Gria race until midway to the latter half of the game, and even then won't unlock its one slightly useful job until sometime after that; which is also a problem with the jobs in general, as many of the more useful jobs won't be available until you've cleared certain missions. That means that you'll have to do a certain amount of grinding if you want your characters to have all the techniques you want for the endgame.

And those poor, poor judges. I feel so bad for them. Imagine if every officer in the NYPD was demoted to the rank of Mall Cop. That's kind of like the judges in this game. I'm sure those judges remember the good old days, mounted on their giant, armored crack-chickens; putting the fear of the law into every unit on the field; dashing madly while blowing a shrieking whistle at the smallest hint of indiscretion; wielding those giant, menacing red cards that warp ill-doers directly into a dank cell guarded by creepy lizard men and seemingly empty suits of armor. Good times, good times. Now what have they been reduced to? “Move along sir… Don't be spitting your gum into the fountain… No loitering… Move along sir… I'm being super-serious guys, you'd better start listening to me. If you don't I'll… I'll… Er… Maybe raise my voice and take a step in your direction exuding the slightest hint of menace.” They're even a deal less menacing than all that. You don't even see the judges except as a little symbol that appears at the beginning of engagements to explain the rules. And the punishment for breaking one of those rules? I imagine the judge just gets so super-angry with your indiscretion that he at once picks up his dignity and run far away from the field of battle, to find his mother and cry about how super-mean the guys at work were being. And he takes all of his oh-so-useful benefits with him. Looks like you won't be getting that 5 Bonus AP for this engagement. How will you ever go on? This addition to the game, I suspect, was made because people complained about the judge system from the last game. And the only people who complained about that system were people too lazy to hit the “select” button and check the laws at the beginning of a battle.

Overall: 5/10

All in all, this game is good if only for one play-through. To put that in perspective, I've played through FFTA some seven or eight times, not just the main game, mind you, but all three hundred missions, even going above and beyond on a couple of those play-throughs to max level a character for every job available. I love that game almost to the point of obsession. This game, I beat and didn't want to look at it again for a very, very long time and then when I got the itch to replay it, I decided that another round with the original would be much more satisfying and decided against this edition. As more time passed, I realized that I would probably never get an itch strong enough to overcome my preference for the first game and ended up trading the game in for store credit at Gamestop. Maybe you can go and pick up my old copy if you're feeling inclined toward disappointment—unless you didn't play the original, in which case I'm sure you'll be more satisfied with it than I was.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 05/14/09

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

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