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Developer:
Square
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: GBA
Release Date: September 9, 2003

by Tony Ames




There are times when a game seems to need little introduction. This is one of those times, because the flat fact of the matter is I have been looking forward to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for a very long time. For those who have not been following the game, Tactics Advance is Square Enix’s first effort on a Nintendo platform in quite some time, as well as the successor to the fantastic Final Fantasy Tactics on Playstation. And while I feel that the game fell just short of the expectations a pedigree like that put on it, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is still immensely likable and well worth playing.


Graphically, Tactics Advance is what I have come to expect from Game Boy Advance games. The game appears a little shrunken down, but still looks nice, with solid artwork in both the characters and their environment. The game is also rather colorful and cheery. My gripes here are few. The game does not allow you to rotate the maps. Although care was obviously taken with the different areas so that visibility would not be an issue, there are enough exceptions that the lack should be noted. Also, the sprites of units in the same Race are too similar even when they are in different Jobs. The potential for confusion in battle is limited, but the fact that it exists at all is annoying.


Tactics Advance carries it's visual theme over into it's audio experience. The pieces that comprise the soundtrack are by and large very cheerful. While this lends the game some consistency, it felt very odd to be marching around pummeling enemy warriors with upbeat, cheery music in the background. Still, the sound quality was good, and the pieces were if nothing else catchy. The sound effects also got the job done satisfactorily.


In terms of Plot, Tactics Advance is reasonably simple. The player is introduced to Marche, Ritz, and Mewt as they participate in a snowball fight. The classmates later meet and discuss their fondness for Final Fantasy while examining a magical book they cannot read. That night, the book opens and the town of St. Ivalice becomes the fantasy realm of Ivalice. The player assumes control of Marche, who soon dedicates himself to trying to restore things to normal, even as his friends decide that life in Ivalice is far better than their real lives.


As a summary like this should tell you, Tactics Advance is a distinctly lighthearted game, rather than an epic quest. Of course, being lighthearted in no way means a game will not be gripping, and Tactics Advance is another example of this. While playing, I had a definite desire to continue and reveal the story. As well, Tactics Advance is a more personal story than many games, revolving around the fates of individual people rather than the fate of a world, which proves to be the real hook of the game. The only real flaw of the story is that it starts off extraordinarily slow, standing out as a slow starter even among other RPGs, which are slow in general.


Gameplay in Tactics Advance is very much focused in combat. In fact, the game does not have another mode of play. That said, the basics of combat are similar to what one would find in any Strategy RPG. Units move around a map, attempting to outmaneuver each other. Various attacks have different ranges, plus the basic ‘fight’ command which requires a unit be right next to its’ target. Additionally, a unit is far more likely to evade an attack if attacked from the front, while attacking from behind nearly guarantees a hit.


Into all this Tactics Advance injects Laws. Each game day, a different ability/weapon/element will be banned, and using them will result in penalties, ranging from sacrificing the spoils of battle to the offending unit being jailed. Though the Laws seem limiting on paper, in practice they offer another element to the required strategy, which is always welcome in a Strategy RPG. Especially since there is a definite mechanic behind the laws, thus it becomes possible to use them against your foes, rather than simply suffering under them. For example, say you find a difficult battle in which the opponents enjoy Charming (a Charmed unit temporarily acts as though it was on the enemies team) you. In this case you could simply wait until Charm is a banned ability, at which point you go into the battle and slaughter your near-helpless foes. And then laugh greatly at their expense.


For all the complexities of combat, however, the heart of Tactics Advance is building your party (which the game calls a Clan). Potential Clan Members come in 5 different races, with each race being able to access different Jobs (essentially the fighting style of a unit), although many jobs can be accessed by more than one race. The Job of a unit dictates what it can equip and what Abilities it can learn. In Tactics Advance, the two are tied together, with Abilities being contained in Equipment. An Ability can be used so long as the necessary Equipment is used, and eventually be mastered and available without the Equipment. As a unit masters more Abilities, it also gains access to more advanced Jobs. A Soldier can become a Paladin after learning 2 Soldier Abilities, for example.


Progressing in the game, in contrast to playing it, is simple. You send Marche to the Pub, select a mission. Completing that mission makes more missions available. A select few missions are marked ‘No Cancellations’, meaning that once that mission is accepted, it must be completed. Such missions are the “Story Missions”, those you must complete in order to finish the game. Aside from the battles done as part of missions, occasionally enemy Clans will move around the map, allowing you to either engage them for the experience and spoils, or avoid them so you can continue on whatever mission you have, although doing so is only in the interest of time, since your Clan automatically heals after every engagement.


Finally, the menus in the game work well, but require getting used to. You can check the abilities a piece of Equipment contains by pressing R, which is valuable when purchasing equipment. When equipping, you have to press Start to see how the Equipment affects it has on the unit’s stats. Lastly, in battle, make sure you press L while not selecting a unit in battle to check the turn order. Knowing when your Clan members will get turns is valuable. Again, all of this is awkward initially, but works well when actually playing the game.


Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is packed full of extras. Although the “Story Missions” can be finished reasonably quickly, there are 300 missions total, making for a lot of game to play. Should you manage to complete those, the potential inherent in the Jobs can add a great many replays that are still a distinctly unique experience; a game with a balanced party will play very differently than a game played with all black mages, for example. Even better, though, is that Tactics Advance has Link Cable support. Specifically, you can trade party members or items, or play in cooperative and competitive engagements. Unfortunately there is no head to head battles, but what is there is still something that can eat up a lot of hours.


Although I enjoyed both, I preferred Tactics to Tactics Advance. Specifically, I missed the ‘Best Fit’ option, Tactics Advance has small maps that tend to make battles a little hard to follow, gaining abilities from Equipment just does not work as well as the previous system since you are at the mercy of the stores in terms of getting abilities, and as I mentioned before, ranged attacks being affected by the position of the attacker does not sit right with me. I did like the addition of Laws, and Tactics Advance is definitely faster paced than its’ predecessor, but I have a definite preference for Tactics.


As a huge Tactics fan, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was not quite as good as I had hoped. Still, I not only had a great deal of fun with it, but I still am, and likely will be for quite some time.


Final Grade: 88%




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