BY NINTENDO & SQUARE ENIX, 2003
25 WORDS OR LESS:
FFT goes 2D in a story where a group of kids find themselves inside the fantasy world of Ivalice.
Judge not, lest ye be judged (then you’re screwed)
Well, they’re back. After a few years of humping Sony, Square’s finally returned to Nintendo’s arms, bringing with it a game as big as the news of the reunion itself. But Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is important other than being a long-awaited sequel. After all, it’s the first Square game on a Nintendo system since Treasure Hunter G, and the first since FF1 that’s published by Nintendo. In the end, though, it’s the game that counts, and it’s more than worthy to be on the Game Boy.
FFTA opens on St. Ivalice, a burgh that’s a sort of blend of mid- and late-20th century America. The story focuses on Marche, the new kid in town who participates in an overly organized snowball fight at school. It’s here where you’ll grasp the basics of FFT and of course, learn a bit about the characters. Afterward, the shy Mewt buys an elaborate new book, so Marche and the headstrong Ritz decide to check it out with him. It’s in a weird language, so the kids think it must be a book of spells. Night comes and everyone heads home to bed. When Marche wakes up, he finds himself in an antiquated world also named Ivalice. As he quickly discovers, it’s not unlike the kids’ favorite game, Final Fantasy, filled with swords and monsters.
Unable to find his friends at the moment, Marche teams up with Montblanc the moogle and helps build a clan of warriors, all the while hoping to find a way back to his home world. Clearly the story is a mite pedestrian compared to the wartime drama of the original game, and indeed will turn off those who dismiss anything reeking of prepubescence, but for normal people it’s not that big of a deal; the game has "Tactics" in the title after all, and that’s all that matters.
Progression in the game is made by taking up missions of various types; clear a series of them and the next set pops up, with plot development moving along a few missions at a time. Most of them are just regular battles, but you can also send your clan members out on certain missions that they complete after a couple days of away time. Since signing up for a mission requires purchase, managing money becomes key, so spending all your gil on equipment isn’t entirely smart. Missions are not the de facto way to bulk up, though: after a couple hours of play, outside encounters will begin appearing to help you raise levels and cash on the side.
In terms of gameplay, FFTA isn’t too far removed from the original, but there’s still differences. The first one you’ll run into (almost literally) is the Judgment system. Every battle in the game is watched by a chocobo-riding judge, who makes sure the laws are abided by. Laws can be as broad as forbidding sword usage and particular as making sure no one uses sleep spells. However, each law has a recommended alternate that will earn you JP (Judge Points) if you do them. JP can also be earned by defeating enemies, and is used to perform special combos and summons.
By disobeying a law, you receive either a yellow card or a red card, just like in soccer, except not. Yellow cards are warnings and will usually result in losing a mission’s reward, but red cards send the offending member to prison, where you’ll have to bail them out. Yellow cards can also be pardoned in exchange for a few days’ stay in the big house. As the story moves along, you’ll eventually get access to Law cards, which will allow you to "disable" laws or set your own to your advantage. Although much of the game’s story revolves around the Judgment system, in play it seems rather unncessary, almost as if the designers couldn’t think of anything else new to add.
Making a return is the job system, a staple of FFT and just as much of one in Advance, thanks in part to the onset of new races. Humans, moogles, viera and two other sets of bipeds make up the mix on the battlefield, some with specialized jobs. New jobs in fact, like Fencers, Alchemists and Hunters, who in particular can capture monsters and let you raise them in the local Monster Bank. Abilities are learned through equipment this time, which will require frequent trips to the shops and at times force you to use weaker equipment just to get that one last neat ability learned and done with. Not to mention that previewing equipment is not as streamlined as in the previous game: you can see the basic stats for each piece, but to see how it affects the character’s stats you have to buy it and check it out in your main inventory. Aside from that, the rest of the menus are pretty easy to deal with if you’re familiar with the genre.
There’s also the obvious link-up features, which let you and a friend trade things like items to the clan members themselves. You can also team up together and go co-op on missions, but unfortunately there’s no head-to-head fighting, so if you’re looking for a few bouts of HARDCORE PVP AKTION, you’ll have to stick with Advance Wars.
Musically, FFTA really shines. While the songs don’t exactly sound perfect due to the limits of the GBA, what returning composer Hitoshi Sakimoto and Square’s sound techs did manage to squeeze out of it is impressive, ending up with a similar mix of jovial and tense mini-suites that typified the original. In fact, if this game didn’t exist, they could have easily passed for lost tracks. Import-savvy individuals are encouraged to pick up the official soundtrack, which features the original GB sounds plus a second disc of much nicer arrangements.
The GBA is (and has been) getting a flood of strategy games lately, but FFTA is the only one most folks care about. And why wouldn’t they? We’ve all waited six years for this, and thankfully Square hasn’t let us down too much. It’s in 2D, sure, but the abscense of camera rotation barely hurts the game as much as some people would like to think. It also doesn’t have quite the epic feel of the original FFT, but it doesn’t have the rickety English translation either. On the whole it plays just like you’d expect, and that’s good enough for us. —Ray Barnholt
FFTA official site