Friday, July 11, 2008

Final Fantasy Tactics A2 - Review

This review originally posted on Gamers' Temple.

Player(s): 1-2
Extra Support: Wireless multi-card play

Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is another RPG title developed by Square-Enix's Ivalice Alliance that once again takes us back to the world of Ivalice. Ivalice was first introduced in Final Fantasy Tactics when the world was shown in much greater depth in the later Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. The original Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was the story of a young boy and his friends that found themselves suddenly plucked from their normal lives and whisked away to the world of Ivalice. Final Fantasy Tactics A2's story follows a similar path, placing the player in the role of an energetic boy by the name of Luso who happens upon a strange book and then suddenly finds himself thrown into the world of Ivalice after signing his name to the book's pages. Basically the book keeps a journal of his adventures and tells his story while in Ivalice.

The tactical RPG gameplay of Tactics A2 plays out much like Tactics Advance. The player is still offered control of several races ranging from Humes and Bangaas to Seeqs and Nu Mous plus other types. Battles take place in environments that resemble chessboards as each move from two opposing sides is played. Each party is granted turns based on each individual party member's stats or action from their last turn. Much of the action is showcased on the bottom touch screen of the DS while the top screen displays the sequence of turns for each ally and foe along with the stats for the currently active player and the rules for each particular battle.

Once again, a knighted figure (a Judge) sets the rules for each battle. The Judge will impose certain restrictions for the player's party and those restrictions are best followed. A Judge may set up a rule of no ice elemental attacks or may even go as far as to say that a certain race may only use physical attacks. Some of the rules imposed by Judges can really make for some difficult battles at times. The temptation to break a rule can easily take over when the forbidden element happens to be the weakness of all enemies on the field or your party is composed of mainly attackers that can only attack to the sides or in front of them and the Judge lays forth a rule of no adjacent attacks.

The Judge will also allow the player to choose from a range of bonuses that will only remain in place if the player follows the rule set forth by the Judge. Rules may be broken, but the Judge will withdraw from the battle and the player will not receive any type of bonus at the end of the battle nor will the player be able to revive his fallen comrades. Following the Judge's rules will allow you to obtain bonus items and possible points at the end of each battle so it is usually in your best interest to follow the rules.

There are no random battles in Tactics A2. All battles are fought through quests that may be engaged in through buying information at the local pub. Each pub contains a few quests as the adventure starts out but will quickly fills with a variety of other quests as the game progresses. There is always a main story quest that will further your progress through the main game and there are also tons of extra quests that can be engaged in for extra items. Each quest has a number of days in which the quest must be selected except for story quest which never disappear. Not all quests are battles - there are a few that are fetch and retrieve quests that will yield a special item. Some quests require certain levels based on the overall clan ranking in order to engage in so not all quests on the pub list are necessarily available once they appear.

Even if you are the type of gamer who likes to progress through the main story and avoid all extra side quests like yours truly there will come a time when you will simply have to engage in some extra quests in order to level-up your party. You're basically buying your random battles used for leveling-up, which I actually preferred since there is little to worry about when traveling on the world map - thanks to almost no unexpected random battles to annoy me as I moved from one space to the next. There are a few battles that pop-up randomly on the world map but you can always see them beforehand and just take a different route around them.

The battles started out very easy but they did get complicated enough to where I had to choose my turns very carefully or suffer the consequences in the long run. The game has plenty of normal battles and there are some boss battles as it progresses. The boss battles require a good bit of teamwork from your party since the boss usually has one big attack that can ruin the entire battle for an unprepared party. There are a few battles where "Guests" will help out your party, though. Much like in the original Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, Guests are uncontrollable and usually join your party for only a single battle.

The world map is composed of different territories and can be traversed very quickly. To make moving even quicker, you can actually elect to travel over an entire territory to another territory instantly instead of having to tread through each individual area in a territory. Later in the game, each clan may buy territories. Your clan can engage in an auction mini game at the local auction house to bid against other clans for control of a specific territory. The auction mini games cost a specific amount of clan points to enter - clan points are received from battles. Once entered, your clan will be given a certain amount of coins.

Auctions are showcased in timed rounds and the coins laid forth by each clan are presented at the end of each round. The auctions quickly turned into game of paper, rock, scissors for me since there is little way to foretell what another clan's turn may bring. It is possible to see the amount of coins that a clan holds but you have no way of knowing what they might bid per turn, so you'll almost always want to bid as much as you can, which will make you less likely to enter numerous auctions each auction time. Auctions only come once every several days (game time), so you won't have to deal with them much however. Buying territories will grant your clan special random bonuses for traveling in that land at times.

A multitude of jobs is once again made available to your party members - Soldier, Archer, Black Mage, White Mage, Green Mage, Thief, Warrior, Animist, White Monk, the list goes on. Each member can be given a specific job then, once that member has mastered a few skills, a new job may be started and that member can carry over some mastered abilities from the last job. Jobs can be obtained by completing battles or sometimes they simply open by mastering skills while using another job. Weapons carry skills that may be mastered for each particular job by gaining Ability Points (AP) through battles, so there is a bunch of character and job customization available to the player. Having the right customized character for each specific party member can play a major role in some of the later battles.

All shops now have a Bazaar option that is similar to the Bazaar in Final Fantasy XII. Offer up items (or loot) to the Bazaar in a certain sequence and new items can be made from those items. Unlike Final Fantasy XII, your party actually gives up the loot without receiving any gil in return if you want the items that can be gained from the loot. Bazaar weapons and items are added to the shop list and are available for a certain fee just like other items. Loot may also be sold freely to gain gil if your party has numerous amounts of a certain type of loot. Gil can be gained easily from completing quests however, so there is never really a shortage of it.

The Bazaar system adds some unique twists to the normal shop list much like it did in Final Fantasy XII. Not all is well with the Bazaar however - there is no way of knowing what job requirements each new weapon will bring, so there will be times where you'll make a weapon or armor that you cannot equip. This is more noticeable early in the game though because later in the game your group will have tons of loot saved up from various quests, so you'll be able to splurge a bunch of the piled up loot at the Bazaar. There is also a multiplayer trading game where players can buy raffle tickets and use those raffle tickets to gain rare items.

The graphics haven't changed that much since the last Tactics Advance. Much of the character models remain just about the same except for some new job outfits. Magical effects have been given a slight graphical enhancement with the glowing presentation of each magical incantation, ability or summon spell. Environments are full of color and detailed surroundings. Sometimes environmental objects can get in the way of your characters when moving to another area, and without the ability to move the camera or rotate the battlefield it becomes a slight annoyance during some battles. This is really just a minor nitpick though since it is rarely a big deal.

There is plenty of remixed music from other FF Tactics games found in A2. One remixed piece actually had music from original FF Tactics and there were a few tunes from Final Fantasy XII. The shop tune and clan customization menu have the same, but slightly remixed, tune from FF Tactics Advance. Other stage music consists of pleasing tunes that matched each battlefield rather well. The game can be controlled with the d-pad and buttons or it can be fully played with touch commands via the touch screen. I found that using the touch screen made battles even longer than they usually are, so most of the time I used the more familiar button controls to select each action.

The story is once again just as lighthearted as it was in Tactics Advance, which leads me to my biggest complaint about the game. While the gameplay is stellar, the moments that I spent in between battles were pretty boring when most of the story was comprised of simple small talk between the characters. The hero has little worry about getting back to his own world and would much rather journey on to the next fight with a giddy, self-assured attitude rather than have any concern about his current situation about being stuck in a foreign land. Even when the story appeared to be on a slightly serious route, I always found myself thrown back into the same small talking scenario filled with mostly boredom seconds later. Individual quests sometimes have some interesting story elements however. There were a few quests with some recurring characters that weren't half bad since they delved into the characters' past a bit.

Even with the story complaints, RPG gamers that focus more on gameplay rather than plot will find a very addicting game in Final Fantasy Tactics A2. The game will easily last you quite a number of hours before the full game's completion and even then you will most likely still have tons of extra quests that will require your attention. There are tons of customizations realized from the different jobs and abilities that can be carried over from job to job. Final Fantasy Tactics A2's gameplay is well worth the price of this RPG for fans of the last game or anyone in need of a good tactical RPG and an overall enjoyable "pick up and play" type game.

The Good:

+ Fun gameplay that is quite addicting
+ New Bazaar system adds a new twist to normal item shopping
+ Game last for quite a while with all the available quests

The Bad:

- Story is very lighthearted and can get boring


Final Fantasy Tactics A2 once again takes us to the world of Ivalice and brings along the same addicting tactical gameplay from the last game with some new additions to keep it feeling fresh.

* You can find a full list of jobs and their corresponding abilities at Sephirosuy's blog.

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