Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
The first fruit of the relationship thaw between Squaresoft and Nintendo is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the Game Boy Advance. Initially, the title was announced as a port of the original Playstation sleeper hit, then as a “remix” of the original, then as a completely new title.
Like Final Fantasy Tactics, Advance is a tactical/strategy RPG (also known as a simulation RPG in Japan). Instead of puzzle solving and dungeon crawling that are part and parcel of other RPGs, from Zelda to Final Fantasy, tactical RPGs concentrate on the battles. Like its predecessor, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance sports an extremely complex battle system with a steep learning curve.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a much brighter, more upbeat game than the original. It starts out with the main character, Marshe (note: the names here are taken from the Japanese release of the game. Some of the names will very likely be changed for the U.S. release) saving Mute from neighborhood kids. Along with Ritz, the game’s female protagonist, Mute and Marshe (who looks suspiciously like Ramza from the original Final Fantasy Tactics) beat the bullies in a snowball fight. The snowball fight serves as a quick tutorial to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance’s gameplay.
After the snowball fight, Marshe and company go home and Mute brings a book about the fantasy world of St. Ivalice. The kids read about world’s various races, before Marshe falls asleep. When he wakes up, however, he finds his world has become Ivalice from the books.
Like traditional RPGs, FFTA features a point-based system for various character attributes; a character with high “Jump” stats can reach higher ground more easily, while a character with high “Attack Magic” stats can create powerful magic spells. As characters fight, they gain more points in each attribute (these include Movement, Jump, Evade, Physical Attack, Defense, Attack Magic, Magic Defense, and Speed).
Like Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, the original Final Fantasy Tactics, and even Final Fantasy X-2, FFTA features a “Job” system. Unlike, say, Final Fantasy X, where each character had a predefined set of abilities (more or less), with one character as the black mage (Lulu) and one as the knight (Auron), the job system allows any character to earn any job. Naturally, each job or class has different abilities. For example, thieves can steal, while black mages cast powerful destructive magic. Unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, but in line with Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy IX, characters can gain new abilities when they equip weapons. Unless the ability is mastered, however, the character will be unable to use the ability unless the weapon is equipped.
FFTA differs from its predecessor in a number of other ways; instead of the genders or Zodiac signs, characters are organized by races. There are five races in the game: humans (all around characters), Banga (lizard men, adept at physical jobs), N’mou (supernatural), Vierra (an all female race, experts at athletic job classes), and of course Moogles (adept at magic). Each race can also summon a special Divine Beast, which can do massive damage to other enemy units. The race system is among FFTA’s most exciting additions.
Another exciting change from Final Fantasy Tactics, is the “Judgment System.” During battles, a judge will appear on the battle screen, and may stipulate rules for the battle. These rules are guidelines for battle; for instance, a character may not use magic, swords, or items during a battle. If a character breaks the rules, the judge may yellow card them (as in soccer) – the character will have to suffer consequences at the battle’s end. Continued rule breaking or an especially severe infraction can lead to red carding, which will land a character in jail. A jailed character must be bailed out (at a large cost). If Marshe is jailed, the game will end. Later in the game, a player can acquire Law Cards, which allow the change of rules within a battle.
Graphically, FFTA differs a bit from the original. The backgrounds are extremely detailed and bright, bettering those of the PSX game. The worlds are extremely crisp; however, the character models seem much less detailed than those on the PSX (owing to, perhaps, the GBA’s poor screen resolution). The character artwork, used when a character speaks, is much brighter and detailed than the original game. The game’s sound is competent; for the GBA, the music is extremely catching, capturing both its epic and upbeat fantasy elements. The music and sound effects, however, sound somewhat tinny through the Game Boy Advance audio system.
Final Fantasy Tactics also takes advantage of the GBA’s link system. By linking two GBAs and game carts together, players can trade characters, weapons, and fight battles together. There are several modes of cooperative play, including a mode where two players must fight a powerful boss, who alternates between being weak against Player 1 and Player 2. Another mode allows two players to compete in a free-for-all; the player who kills the most monsters win. In another mode, both players can fight against ultra powerful characters from the game.
Final Fantasy Tactics was an incredibly addictive game. In fact, before Sony was forced into re-releasing it as a “Greatest Hits” title, it went for as much as $80 on Ebay. More recently, FFTA was bundled with a special edition Game Boy Advance SP (and numerous other goodies) for $150; 200,000 units were scheduled for release and all of them were sold out within five hours. There is no doubt, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance will be a major title for the GBA for 2003. To quote the badly translated Engrish from the original Final Fantasy Tactics, “I had a good feeling !”