adc's Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (Nintendo DS) review

One of Generation 7's best tactical RPGs.

Nobody could have predicted the popularity of Final Fantasy Tactics when it dropped in 1998. It was a highly complex game in a genre that was not well-known in the United States and required a higher level of tactical thought than any previous game in the Final Fantasy series. Its character graphics were 2D sprites in an era that demanded 3D models. Its story, while engrossing, was difficult and covered some very dangerous ground. Surely it would be a one-time shot for Square, set out in a limited pressing and then forgotten.


Ten years later, the game has been re-issued on the Playstation and ported to the PSP, and its gameworld of Ivalice spawned several new games, including a spin-off called Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. That game was underappreciated but had significant flaws that prevented it from becoming a classic, not the least of which being its sometimes labyrinthine and obscure manner of presenting information onscreen. The good news is that its sequel, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, fixes those issues and becomes a quite excellent tactical RPG.

FFTA2 throws you back into the world of Ivalice as presented in FFTA, with all manner of strange and wonderful people running around. Luso Clemens is sucked into Ivalice while reading a book in his school's library, and what should he immediately see but a huge "Mark" enemy bearing down on him. His only hope for survival is to join the clan that is trying to fell this enemy, so he does join and, with some help from the clan, he completes his first mission by chasing away the Mark. Once you've gotten Luso through his first battle, you're given a great deal of freedom in choosing how to proceed through the game. One down, 399 to go!

That's not exactly true. There are 400 missions available in this game, but all but the most dedicated gamers will probably be able to finish the game without seeing the majority of those. Some of the missions are battles, of course, while others require you to go from area to area or deliver an item or even stand in for a would-be Casanova who schedules multiple dates on the same day. There's quite a variety of material to cover, and you're free to play as much as you wish or ignore any and all of the non-essential missions. Along the way, as your clan gains reputation, you'll acquire new clan members — including as many as four familiar faces from Final Fantasy XII, and the alliteration just happened that way.

It is likely that you will choose to play quite a bit of this game. The battle system remains largely unchanged from FFTA, so you are going to have a lot of customization for your clan members — to the tune of 56 character classes spread across seven races. Along with the existing Humes, Moogles, Bangaa, Nu Mou, and Viera, you can now take control of the Seeqs (porcine land-sharks introduced in Final Fantasy XII) and an entirely new dragon-ish race called the Gria. Perhaps to make things easier on the developers, or perhaps to aid the gamer in certain battles, the Viera and Gria are all female, while the other races are all male. Balancing the races was not entirely successful, as you'll find the Bangaa and Moogles in particular to lose effectiveness as you get deeper into the game; also, the Seeqs and Gria each get four character classes, making them somewhat limited in flexibility. These are minor quibbles, and I would expect them to be fixed in time for the inevitable FFTA3.

Classes, however, are actually quite well balanced. Only a few of the 56 classes are either too powerful or not powerful enough, and there are similarly few ways to "break" a class to your advantage. Depending on your existing skill at "tactics" games, you'll find that you can win most battles regardless of which classes you choose, so long as your levels are high enough. Unfortunately, that does take away from the challenge of the game to some extent, but anybody who needed 10 or more tries to beat Belias in FFT will probably be glad the game doesn't get that hard. Those who really need to be challenged will prefer to choose Hard Mode right from the start, but I found that Normal difficulty was reasonable.

Aiding the gamer during battles is a significant re-tooling of the Judge system, which was so reviled in FFTA. This time, there is a tangible reward for following the law, in the form of extra rewards at the end of a battle, and you are able to choose a privilege such as increased speed or persistent HP regeneration to make the battles a bit easier. Breaking the law doesn't result in the player's ejection from battle, but you do lose the privilege and extra rewards, and any clan member KO'd in battle stays KO'd until the battle's over. You do not have to worry about some draconian law rendering the battle impossible to complete; indeed, only a very few battles demand that you follow the law, and all can be won without breaking it. It's far more carrot, far less stick than last time. And once you're done with the battle, you take the loot you acquire from the enemies and the Judge, go to the shop in the nearest town, and unlock new weapons and armor to purchase. As with FFTA, new character skills are unlocked by equipment, so you need to take advantage of all the rewards and spoils you get.

Sometimes, however, the dispatch missions were difficult to accomplish, and in many cases I didn't know what I was doing wrong. The game tries to drop clues as to whom to send, but it doesn't always work. One mission in particular demands that you ship out a person to take care of a Moogle's grandmother. I tried this quest four times before I got lucky sending a Viera White Mage. This happened after I had already sent a Hume White Mage and a Nu Mou White Mage. Go figure. There are so many things to do in the game that this is another minor quibble, but it can be frustrating to attempt a mission and not understand why you're failing.

At least failing looks good. (So does succeeding.) The game's graphics are slightly cleaned up from FFTA, with smoother colors in the environments and improvements to the character graphics and onscreen text. Thanks in part to the game's use of 2D sprites and rendered backgrounds, the DS's 3D hardware is used specifically for light effects, making the magicks and technicks look almost as good as you'd expect from a PSP or PS2 game. Some of the very largest effects will slightly slow down the graphics engine, but for the more part this game runs very smoothly. And it looks so good that it's easy to forgive (or even ignore) these infrequent minor issues. The game's not terribly ambitious with its use of the top screen, usually showing the current law, privilege, and conditional turn order during battles and clan information at other times. The greatest summons in the game, the Scions, take up both screens as well, but the normal Eidolons are done in the same style as previous FFT games.

The sound matches the visuals, with an excellent score by Hitoshi Sakimoto (FFT, FF12) and main theme by Nobuo Uematsu. Some of the music will sound familiar to gamers who played previous Ivalice games, but there's also a great deal of brand new music. Sound effects are spot-on. There are no voices in the game, though the Moogles get cute little noises to accompany their dialog in a manner similar to Nintendo's style in the Legend of Zelda games, and everybody gets a death howl, of course. This is a game that deserves to be heard through a good pair of headphones; the DS speakers won't do it justice at all.

The game was built to play just like FFTA, but during localisation they chose to add stylus support to the North America and European Union versions of the game. Also, both Spanish and French languages are included on the NA cart, making this game ready for Mexico and all of Canada. This is a nice feature that should be included in more games, even though I have to admit that I'll never use them. I do hope that those translations were done with as much care and quality as the English version, which is not as florid as FFT's on the PSP but is solid and well constructed. The English major in me was very satisfied.

Many gamers will find fault with the story, which more closely resembles that of a SaGa game with its open structure. Because the game is mission-based and does not demand that you play through the main story at any particular pace, you will sometimes wonder how you're progressing in the game. That said, the stories attached to the non-essential missions are often very good. My favorite was a sequence in which I sometimes ran across a zombie who hadn't realized she'd died and didn't understand why everybody was so afraid of her. Over the course of the game, the zombie popped up here and there, and as I followed that story sequence, it turned out that she was a smokin' hot Paladin, this game's Agrias. While there are many stand-alone missions which never have any bearing on anything else, the game's just about bursting with side stories like this one. But I found that I took on missions without really paying attention to what I was doing, so I didn't notice I was playing the game's final battle until the immense final boss appeared! Surprise! While the structure might be a bit lacking, the material is generally strong and gave me plenty of motivation to keep playing, to the tune of 91 hours. I would wager that the average gamer would be able to finish it at the 60-hour mark, but I was having too much fun for that.

I've been asked on more than one occasion whether this game is worth playing, worth buying. This question often comes from gamers who found fault with FFTA and are hoping that FFTA2 will bear more resemblance to the parent game. Sorry, chums, it doesn't. This is a Final Fantasy Tactics Advance game, with all the strengths and flaws that go with being such. If you did not like FFTA at all, you'll probably be left cold by FFTA2. If you found that FFTA showed promise but did enough things wrong to ruin it for you, you will want to give FFTA2 a chance. And if you just love good tactical RPGs, this is one of the best of Generation 7. Don't allow old prejudice to prevent you from enjoying this one.

Other reviews for Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (Nintendo DS)

    Use your Tactics to the Advance to Seal the Rift of the....what? 0

    So after writing my article on the DS (found in my blog, somewhere), I inspired myself to pick it back up again and carry on playing some of the games I never finished (of which there are probably hundreds, but that’s not the point.) One of these games was Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift. Not only is this possibly the longest title I have ever come across in my life, but it’s also a pretty damn good RPG game, considering it’s on the DS. But then, for a Square Enix game, I w...

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