Final Fantasy Tactics A2 Review
Whooo! Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is here and it's time to party! Combat party that is. Get ready because if there's any handheld title on the shelves this summer that's likely to give you a serious case of DS elbow, this is it.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift has a lot in common with previous FF titles with a few new-player-friendly innovations. The story will be familiar to Square Enix aficionados, involving the adventures of a young hero battling evil with the aid of his talented group of multi-racial friends. Yeah, it's not the most inventive idea but no matter how many times a hero walks through fire and learns the value of loyalty and friendship, it gets me right here.
For turn-based tactics veterans, the game is pretty straightforward; for those new to gaming or new to the genre, it's extremely complex, even off-putting. The objectives are simple enough—it's preparing to meet those objectives that's a little hairy. Fortunately, along with adding new races, new jobs and a new Clan system, FFA2 has made some marked improvements in the interest of helping new players get their game on.
The one thing new players won't have trouble with are the controls. Maps are navigated with the Control Pad; the A button is used for selection and activation and the B button is used to back out of an action. Unit, equipment and quest menus are easily scrolled through using the L and R buttons and although Nintendo claims you can use the stylus to control the game, it only works in a limited, unreliable fashion. The button scheme is much easier.
The game is non-linear so you can do the story quests in order or run around doing side quests but in either case, the core point of the game is combat. To win battles, your party needs members who do lots of different jobs. Whether healing, magic casting or dealing damage, each member has unique abilities. For your party members to become big, brawny Warriors, Monks, Mages or Bards, they have to grow their skills and to do that, they need powerful gear. With up to 24 members in your party, where do you turn when you don't know whether to buy the leather knuckles or the battle rapier?
Previous FF titles haven't had much of this information, making learning to play an exercise in internet research. FFA2 has done more though it still has only minimal tutorial elements. The sheer complexity of this type of game begs for a better solution but as yet it looks like developers haven't found a good way to ease the new player's pain.
That said, the UI provides fairly good info in the form of Y-button-accessible help text for just about every menu item there is. In addition, the Clan Primer tracks your past and current objectives as well as acting as a reference for helpful hints and tips. And hey, if all else fails, read the manual! Brace yourself though. At 63 pages, you're in for a good long read.
Aside from tutorial improvements, FFA2 has done several things to minimize the inherent annoyances of a tactical RPG. Unlike many another RPGs, quest levels make sense. This helps you avoid frustrating strings of embarrassing ass-kickings, by being able to choose the right kind of quests for your party. And no matter what the level, the AI enemies are smart enough to make on-the-fly adjustments that cause amazing last-minute reversals and skin-of-your-teeth victories.
Leveling, for the most part, is done in an organic way by performing any of the 400 quests. This removes the dreaded difficulty-spike phenomenon which can force you to spend hours in random battles, grinding for experience. And yippee—the camera's been fixed! FFA2's stationary camera and carefully constructed combat maps remove the possibility that you'll be unable to target an enemy hidden behind a tree and be forced to set your DS on fire.
Aside from refining the difficulty, leveling mechanism and camera placement, FFA2 has added some new elements: the Bazaar, Clan Trials and Auction Houses, which significantly up the fun factor. The Bazaar allows you to trade loot for new weaponry, and is a game in itself. Seriously, I could do it for hours. It's just too cool throwing random loot into the hopper and seeing what comes out.
Less enticing but potentially more rewarding are the Clan Trials and the Auction Houses. Clan Trials are combat tests your party takes that if won, grant your party both fancy titles and combat bonuses. Auction Houses give you the thrill of bidding against other clans for territorial control and the satisfaction of winning the discounts and benefits associated with those territories.
FFA2 is a solid baby step in the evolution of the turn-based RPG, however, if you're looking for advancements in audio-visuals, you might be let down. The sound, character art, environments and visual effects are adequate but not particularly better than games from years ago. The game also has no multi-player mode but over DS wireless you can enter a raffle with other players for the chance to win rare items. Those who own Final Fantasy Tactics Advance can plug that into the GBA slot on their DS to access even more bonus content.
The Good: New races, new jobs, well-balanced, tons of gameplay, help for newbies
The Bad: So-so visuals and audio.
In spite of the standard-fare visuals, FFA2 is a game no RPG fan should miss. Besides, it's summer time and what better way to celebrate summer fun-and-sun than staying inside for a hundred hours with your DS? Too much UV is bad for you anyway.