Mostly light-hearted stories and fun tactical battles
(www.plasticpals.com) Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is another installment in Square-Enix’s turn-based strategy role-playing franchise. As expected it shares more in common with its GBA predecessor than the PlayStation game (now available on the PSP and iPhone). It’s one of the best examples of its genre, but each game in the series requires a big time commitment.
Taking a page from The Neverending Story, a young boy named Luso is transported to the fantasy world of Ivalice when, during detention at the school library, he opens a magical book. What follows is a simple story that can be kept on the back-burner as you complete literally hundreds of optional quests – some of which have multiple episodes that form little side stories. It’s a good enough excuse to spend hours steeped in tactical battles, but I do wish they’d return to the darker atmosphere of the earlierTactics games.
One thing that’s nice about the Tactics Advance series is the inclusion of a variety of races which appeared in Final Fantasy XII (further bolstered by cameos from that game’s cast). From top to bottom in the above image: Humes, the lizard-like Bangaa, the bunny-eared Viera, the sheepish Nu Mou, and the lovable Moogles. At the bottom, A2 brings a couple of new faces to the party: the hoggish Seeq; and the winged Gria, but they’re specialty races limited to just four job types each.
Some jobs are shared between races but there are plenty of unique ones for each race, and a few new ones to keep things interesting. Among my favorite new jobs are the Chocobo Knights for the Moogles and the long-ranged Cannoneers for the Bangaas. Recruiting the right number of units and juggling all of their jobs, all while maintaining a well-rounded clan, is a big part of the fun and the challenge of the game.
Generally speaking the game mechanics haven’t changed too much, but there are some new systems introduced to the DS game. For starters, the game allows you to use the touch screen for just about everything (though you’ll probably find it is easier to just use the standard buttons). The top screen is used to display the turn order and other useful information during battles.
New to this version of Tactics is the Auction House, where players can win discounts in town as well as rare items. Each round, competing clans bet 1, 2, 3, or 5 coins and after four to eight rounds the one who has bet the most coins wins. You have to be careful with your purse, because there are several auctions that play out back-to-back. A little strategy can save you coins to win the later auctions and rare loot. It’s an ok diversion that comes up once per game year (see next image).
One of those love it or hate it aspects of the Tactics Advance series is its Law System. Of course, laws in the world of Ivalice have to do with the vagaries of combat in order to force players to try different strategies. Upholding the law has its benefits, so you’ll want to do so most of the time: you’re rewarded with extra loot and you can equip buffs or stat bonuses (earned by completing clan trials).
If you break the law you forfeit the extra loot and you won’t be able to revive fallen units for the rest of the battle. It sounds bad, but breaking the law really isn’t a big deal except in a small number of quests where you must uphold it or lose instantly. The system has been simplified to the point of being a shadow of its former self, likely because so many people seemed to hate the way it was implemented in the previous game.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 isn’t much prettier than the last game, aside from the spell effects. Most of the character types are recycled. Players will miss the rotatable 3D battlefields of the PlayStation version, but the backgrounds are noticeably more detailed, colorful, and varied compared to those seen on the GameBoy Advance. Hopefully in future titles some of the animations will be shortened to keep things moving quickly. The music benefits the most from the new hardware, and Hitoshi Sakimoto’s music company (Basiscape) provides yet another excellent score with a handful of excellent tracks.
If there’s one thing this game doesn’t skimp on, it’s content. With 300 non-randomized quests to complete, there’s at least 120 hours of strategic battles to wage if you have the patience and the desire to see everything through to completion. It’s certainly possible to complete the game more swiftly if you stay focused on the story quests, but even then you’ll likely spend a good 40~50 hours with the game.
And if you thought the previous Tactics Advance game was too easy (as I did), A2 has a “hard” option available which bumps up the difficulty to provide a more enjoyable challenge. All things considered, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is probably the best turn-based strategy game available for the Nintendo DS. If this is your type of game, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth.