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Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Package Art
 GENRE
  Strategy-RPG
 DEVELOPER
  Square-Enix
 PUBLISHER
  Nintendo
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-2
 CONNECTIVITY
  No
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Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has easily been one of the most anticipated Game Boy Advance games throughout the year. Not only is it the first Squaresoft-developed title on a Nintendo console in years, but it is also the successor to one of the most critically-acclaimed games to ever hit the market. This massive title has finally arrived in North America, but does it live up to its lofty expectations? Unfortunately, such standards are rarely met and this is no exception. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a truly great game, but a few major issues prevent it from reaching the level of excellence achieved by its predecessor.

visuals

One thing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance doesn’t have a problem with is its graphics. Tactics is definitely one of the best looking games available on the Game Boy Advance. The colors are bright and vibrant and the attention to detail is stunning (look for the boiling tea pot in the pub). Each battle map has its own unique look and design; the placement of water, elevated areas, trees and shrubs are all different depending on the map. Tactics’ visuals have plenty of variety and charm. Although some, myself included, may dislike the androgynous character designs, the overall visual style of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is magical and enchanting.

audio

As with the visuals, the audio elements of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance are well-done. The musical score may not be as epic as previous Final Fantasy games, but the tunes are still fitting and pleasing to the ear. Sound effects are your typical grunts and slashes mixed in with a few nice details that add personality to the characters. Love it or hate it, your companion Montblanc’s “kupo!” sound effect is a major piece of his character. Make sure to wear headphones while playing this game.

gameplay

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is not your typical role-playing game and is actually in a separate genre. Tactics, as the name suggests, is a strategy-RPG which focuses on battlefield tactics and strategy. For those whom have never played such a game, this means that you are essentially playing a much more advanced version of chess; you move your “pieces” around a tile-based map and take into consideration your advantages and disadvantages. This is far different from standard console RPGs, including the Final Fantasy series, wherein the position of the combatants is arbitrary. Despite these differences, the game still gets lumped into the RPG genre because it uses many role-playing conventions. These include the use of various types of magic, healing and performance enhancement supplies, random encounters with enemies, etc.

Another convention is the heavy storytelling that sets RPGs apart from most genres. The story of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a lighthearted tale similar to the popular novel and movie The Neverending Story. Beginning in a modern-day setting, a small group of school-age social outcasts band together to help eachother cope with their miserable lives. One day they read a mysterious book and with a simple wish their town is transformed into an exotic medieval kingdom called Ivalice. You take the role of Marche, one of these lost children, in his quest to find a way home. I severely truncated the beginning of the story so you can experience it for yourself, but I will say that it does a fine job setting up the action.

Tactics' center lies in the strategic battles. As stated above, the meat of the gameplay is an advanced version of chess, and the keys to victory are proper use of strategy. Factors such as the geography of the map, the direction your units are facing, the units of the enemy, what your expendable resources are, etc. must all be taken into consideration. Another factor is the odd “laws” that govern the battles. Special judges reside over every battle and act as a referee and if you break a law you will be penalized. Laws can be anything from the banning of the use of swords in a fight to jailing combatants who gang up on one target. These laws may sound odd, but they are rarely annoying and actually provide plenty of interesting challenges. With all these considerations and nuances, how well do the battles come together? Almost flawlessly. The battles in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance are fun and addictive. The pace may be slow, but the sheer amount of depth on the battlefield is staggering. Position your archers up at a safe elevated area; protect your white mages so you have a constant source of healing; use your beastmaster if your enemies are animals that can be controlled; always make sure to protect yourself from attacks from behind; try not to attack an enemy directly - attack from the sides or the back. These examples are the type of thinking Tactics promotes. It may be overwhelming at first, but the battle system is quickly learned with a nice tutorial and fairly easy beginning battles. This is a strategy game, and the game rewards careful strategy and planning both on the battle map and outside of combat.

What happens off the battlefield is just as important as what happens on it. Although strategy is necessary during the battles, you simply cannot succeed if you don’t use strategy outside of the battles. You are not stuck with the same three characters throughout the game. Instead, you must build an entire clan, one that is both balanced and powerful, and this can be a daunting task. You determine every unit’s job (which is based on their race), and their abilities are advanced through the use of certain weapons. In order to succeed you must carefully manage every character to maximize his or her potential, and the way you build your units into a formidable clan is completely up to you. It is difficult to describe the insane amount of depth this game offers, as there are an absurd amount of jobs and abilities to master.

As if there wasn’t enough depth for you, Tactics also has incredible replay value. There are 300 total missions in the game. Yes, 300 missions. Not all of them are actual battles, rather some are dispatch missions where you send one unit away to get some quick cash and experience. Still, it is easy to spend upwards of 60 hours on this rewarding game.

What Final Fantasy Tactics Advance does right it does it remarkably well. The battles are addictive and thought-provoking, the customization is incredible, and the amount of depth and replay value is ridiculous. Unfortunately, there are still a few major problems that undermine much of the fun. First, and most problematic, is the atrocious menu interface. The menus are functional during the battles, but even then they are somewhat clunky. Outside the battles is where the menus become annoying. For whatever reason, the menus make use of all the buttons on the Game Boy Advance and they still do not provide necessary information. Instead of showing you what abilities you will learn from a new weapon right away, you have to click on the ‘R’ button to pop up an additional menu. Instead of simply showing you what weapons you should purchase, you have to follow a confusing chart of icons to see if any of them match one of your current units. Instead of making the menus easy to use, the menus are difficult to decipher and navigate, which is a fatal flaw in a game that is controlled primarily through the menus themselves.

There are other major problems. Once you change a unit’s job that unit will lose all of its equipment. This means that you have to go through these painful menus and re-equip the character. Remember that you aren’t controlling only a few characters; you are responsible for an entire clan of around 16 characters. Thus, you have to go through this tedious process many times.

The other major flaw is the occasional confusion in crowded battles. At times almost every unit on the map is located in one area, and the static camera angle and elevated geography make it difficult to see everything. This issue, although not as severe as the menu interface problems, is recurrent enough to be notable.

Despite these major problems, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance’s core gameplay is wonderfully executed and a joy to play. The menus are still functional during the battles and the fighting is still incredibly addictive. There is so much this game has to offer, for me to go into any more depth would make this review a strategy guide. By the way, make sure to pick up a strategy guide for this one, it will help plan and organize your clan.

multiplayer

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance supports two-player cooperative and competitive play. In addition, players can also exchange items and units for a fee. These modes are solid fun, and the item-exchanging feature can be quite handy if you need a special item.

overall

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance had the potential to become something truly special. It looks and sounds fantastic, its core gameplay is remarkably addictive, and there is plenty of game to last for quite some time. Unfortunately, major design issues severely damage much of the fun the game has to offer. Even with these major flaws, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is an experience that deserves to be played.

final score 8.7/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Christopher Reed
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"You can't swing without the bling."


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