Review: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Game Boy Advance)

System: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Strategy RPG
Developer: Product Development Division 4
Publisher: Square-Enix
Released: 9/8/03

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god. Do you see what I do for you people? Do you see what hells and tortures I am willing to suffer so that you can get every bit of video game information you need from 411mania? It doesn’t matter that for four days I have been trying to not rip my eyes out of my socket or set fire to my new Flame GBASP. I have been trying to put up with a game whose storyline can be best defined as “Otherkin and Furries meet ‘Ron Jaffe’s Mazes and Monsters’.” I have tried to accept the evil that is a Final Fantasy game being in my home. And why? All for you people. All for you.

Okay, martyr rant done. Let’s talk the game.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The first game put out in the US by Square since it was eaten by Enix, creators of GOOD games like Dragon Warrior and Valkyrie Profile. Kidding, kidding. Squaresoft has made some good games, most notably the Mana series and also Threads of Fate, the latter was proof Square could actual create a game with a cohesive and well written plot. What, you clicked on this and weren’t expecting subtle jabs at this company from me? Okay, so they?re not that subtle?

The original Final Fantasy Tactics was widely considered to be one of, if not THE best Final Fantasy game ever made. The irony there is that Squaresoft didn’t make the original FFT game, Atlus? Ogre Tactics team did. And then Square went out of their way with the PR machine to try and hide the fact that Ogre’s series was first. Along with games like Shining Force and Fire Emblem. Boo Square. But the irony remains that whenever a new tactics game comes out, even one by Atlus, the comparison is made to FFT.

And truthfully the original FFT isn’t that great compared to the others out there. Ogre Battle and Shining Force has infinitely better plots, more characters to choose from as well as use in battle and better character classes. Over all FFT was a mediocre tactics games compared to everything from Koudelka to Kartia. Yet thanks to the Squaresoft PR machine, people assumed the game was the greatest thing Square had ever made, little realizing the irony in that statement.

Is the original FFT the best FF game ever? I still prefer the original, but FFT is a close second, but certainly not because of plot. I love the Ogre series, but the Ogre team created a tale with enough swerves to make Vince Russo blush (sorry, I’ve been playing WMXIX a lot for that review). It was good, but far heavier and longer than it had to be. And could at least ONE person not have betrayed someone else? Yeesh.

I know, I know, I should be talking about THIS FFT. And I will. It just takes a lot of will to get into the pathetic horror that is the plot of FFTA.

Now. Your main character is Marche. A young boy who moves to the town of St. Ivalice, and looks alike like the main character from the first FFT, right down to the rat tail. Recognize the name longtime FF fans? Here in St. Ivalice he meets Mewt, a pathetic teenage who carries around his teddy bear with him everywhere. Realize this kid is a teenager or so! There’s also Ritz, the morbid and brainy bitch. Three outcasts that form a pathetic mockery of friendship because no one else can stand their sorry asses.

Now in reality these three kids would probably start listening to Marilyn Manson or London After Midnight, writing horrible sonnets about what an angst ridden and sorrow filled existence they have has middle class kids in single parent homes. That’s right! Mewt and Marche have only one parent! Marche’s parents recently divorced while Mewt has a dead mother and a liquor-minded father. Even more tragedy! And Ritz hair is secretly?all white! She’s an Albino! Even more sadness and grief.

And because NO ONE ever has to deal with any home life issues like these at all, these kids plunge themselves into a world of fantasy and imagination after Mewt buys a Dungeon and Dragons Player’s Manual that turns out to be the secret and lost book: THE GRAN GRIMORE. Barf. Just barf. And by reading the book, all three are swept into an alternate fantasy world where Marche’s brother is healthy, Mewt’s mom is alive and his dad isn’t a groveling alcoholic looking for quarters, but a brave and virtuous knight.

Never before has a video game plot ever made me so violently sick before. Even FF8 was better than the crap spewing from this game. I’m sorry people but this game had to have been written by some 30 year old virgin who played Battletech in his High School cafeteria with a group ?of friends? whose only social interaction with each other involved rolling dice to ensure their character made ‘saving throws.? You know, the kids picked on in high school not because they were different, but because their lack of hygiene and social malformities were so bad, that even the other geeks mocked them for being such complete and total losers. The kind of people who cries when their 5th level ranger died at the hand of a beholder or whose elven decker bought it in a game of Shadowrun. The people who take fantasy and roleplaying so serious even LARP’ers cringe at the thought of them. And these are supposed to be your HEROES people! The characters in the game you identify with. What the hell was Square thinking???

I’m sorry. I’m a roleplayer. I’ve done stuff for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. For White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade. And For Eden Studio’s All Flesh Must be Eaten. I’ve done the horror games. The ones where people act like pretentious gits talking in pseudo-byronic prose. The ones where people think they have to act like stereotypical Goths in order to play a vampire. And you know what? Even those gamers are still an improvement to the kind FFTA is trying to make into heroes for you!

My god people, these are the kids who end up doing nothing but playing RPG’s and living in a total fantasy world. These are the kinds of kids that inspire Chick tracts! CHICK TRACTS! Click on this people! Read it. This is what games like FFTA inspire overly religious nuts to go out and do and write and horribly misjudge the vast majority of roleplayers to be like. It’s the old saying ?A few bad apples ruin it for the rest of the bunch? made into electronic media.

The characters made into heroes in FFTA are the kind of people that give role playing and roleplayers in general the shitty name we’ve had to deal with for many many years. So yes Square, let’s make heroes into people who can’t grow up. Who can’t deal with the bad shit in their lives. Who retreat into fantasy and lose the ability to tell the real world from their fictitious one. The kind who start believing their really are clans of vampires hiding amongst man and go up to Goths saying “Are you Ventrue or Torreador?” And to that once again I say, shame on you Square-Enix. Shame on you.

I’m sorry if I’ve offended diehard Square fans or the kind of roleplayers who were shoved in lockers during their high school years or that dressed up like Tasslehoff Burrfoot for Cosplay activities when it wasn’t Halloween. But this is something I feel strongly about. Something I’m sure WOTC and Eden and Steve Jackson Games and every RPG company out there feels strongly about as well. It is, after all, why every game company puts a disclaimer on their shit that people better not get sucked into the fantasy of the damn GAMES. But FFTA all but comes out and says, “It’s okay to lose yourself in fantasy. It’s okay to let it be more than just a game.” And that’s when someone starts to think they?re a vampire and refer to themselves as Prince of Bumblef*ck Arkansas or joins the SCA or buys a broadsword and cleaves a goblins head in twain only to wake from his schizophrenic trance a few minutes later to realize it was his poor old granny who just bit the big one down to negative 10 hit points. And then the entire tabletop industry suffers a major PR blitz while Square-Enix laughs its portly ass all the way to the bank for suckering in another hundred thousand or so gamers into buying another pretty game with a third rate script.

And yes, I probably am over-reacting, but as I played this game for the second time, all I could think is, “If this even remotely happened for real, these kids’d be doing a Columbine.” Do I think anyone playing this game will do it? God I hope not. Do I think some crazy religious nut who thinks any sort of RPG game will hold up FFTA and say ‘SEE? EVIL!? Yeah, I can see it happening. And that’s what worries me far more than how bad the plot is.

Ugh. And this is just the VERY beginning of the game people. If you?re really that masochistic and can play this game without vomiting, than feel free to continue onwards. But never forget you?re playing a fantasy game about kids from the real world getting lost in a fantasy one. And how twisted that is when that’s happens for REAL.

But enough of the plot. I’m done bitching and moaning about yet another Final Fantasy game with a plot only fanboys and super scary gamers can accept as not being paper thin and horribly written. I’m sure my email will be filled with people claiming to relate to Marche or that also carried around a teddy bear after their pubes had sprouted. Or how plot doesn’t matter in an RPG more some strange reason even though that’s the whole point of RPGS: to have ROLE-PLAY not ROLL-PLAY. And I’m prepared for those letters. But the fact remains is that I’d where people with personal problems actually become heroes, instead of forming the uber scary D&D kliq and only fantasize about having a better life than actually go out and make one for themselves. Losers.

Gameplay
Right. How that we?re done harping on the horrible story, it’s time to take a look at the gameplay. Now I will admit Square tried some really nice new things here, but they all fall flat. First up are the different races. Excellent touch. Besides humans, there are Bangaam Nu Mou, Viera and Moogles. But some classes are restricted to certain races. A human can’t be a red mage? What the heck? Or an Assassin? Hello AD&D Second Edition. Note to Square: There’s a reason no one actually paid attention to racial limits when playing the game! I mean, the D&D rip off really should have stopped with taking the Dragonlance mage colours and changing them ever so slightly to keep Weis and Hickman off their ass. So in the FFTA world, Raistlin can only be a bunnywoman. Ugh.

So yeah, it’s a great idea to have different races ala Ogre Tactics with Birdmen and it’s good to see FFTA try and take that one step further, but it just falls flat.

Then of course we have the 34 different types of jobs. Again, it’s nice to see an expansion of jobs. But holy hell people 34? It’s quantity over quality here folks, with actual job classes like juggler. Yes, JUGGLER. Behold how the black Dragon trembles in fear of your many plastic rings and foam balls. This is just bordering on the stupid, it’s crossed the line, and pissed on it. It is always nice to allow different types of characters in a game, but 34 jobs means everyone will either try a little bit of time in each or just stay in one or two. Either way players are going to skin the jobs instead of seeing how deep they go.

And some jobs are way too powerful. Take a Veira. Train her in both red mage and sorcerer abilities and she’s unstoppable. Same with the Sage. Some jobs classes are so munchkin based that once again, one has to wonder how much of FFTA Gary Gygax wrote.

Another thing that royally bugs me is the inability to move around on the screen, the lack of an AT list, and slow the actual game plays. Look how long it takes when you start of the game before you can save. A demo/intro should not last nearly an hour people. It’s insane. Even Ogre Tactics didn’t have an intro this long (And yes, I bitched about that too. But at least with that intro, it fleshed out your character via their trademark fortunetelling bit).

So what’s good about the gameplay? Well, it’s a strategy/tactics style RPG. You really can’t beat that, now can you? There’s tons of subquests and a huge array of tactical battles to engage in. Some are so easy you could do them blindfolded, others are pretty hard unless you munchkin.

There are two things I am pretty torn over though. First up is the Law System. Sometimes I really enjoy this as it adds a new factor t the tactics style gameplay. Other times it usually just pisses me off with the niggling annoyance it ends up becoming. Still it’s neat to have to rearrange your battle if you?re fighting some fire creatures and the law turns out to randomly be a no ice spell law.

The other thing is simply the skill gaining system. The fact that certain skills are dependent on one holding certain weapons is so ridiculous a concept I can’t even begin to imagine how ANYONE thought this was a good idea. I’m sorry, I didn’t know thieves learned how to steal from sword. Does it talk to them? Impart the secrets of Fagin and the Artful Dodger? What the hell? How can an ITEM TEACH SKILLS? Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!

Okay, I really do need to start focusing on what IS good in this game. I know I mentioned I loves the variety and plethora of missions. But here are the things I absolutely LOVE about this game. Of course, they all do come from other games?

First off, I love the world creation aspect. This is why Legend of Mana is one of my favorite Square games. To have this in a Tactics game is an incredible idea. And I love even more that if you create a pattern with the land pieces you have dropped, that you can get special items. It creates a harmony and I really enjoy it.

I also like all the things taken from Ogre Tactics. The biorhythms for example. I think it’s awesome that if you take a troop in poor status and he somehow manages to win, that he and your team get a bonus! This creates an emphasis on strategy instead of brute force. And you have to decide if include the poor Gadgeteer who is slumped over it worth it, as he is very close to mastering an ability.

I also love the monster bank. I had a devil of a time with it when I first got this game in Japanese. (Yes naysayers, I have beaten this game twice. I preordered the Japanese one just for the Albino White GBASP.) It’s a great concept and I love feeding them and creating an army of slimy goodness. The only downside is that to truly use your monster bank to its max, you have to have a Hunter AND a Morpher on your team at all times. And there are other classes I’d rather be using. Still, that’s part of the challenge and fun!

Clan Titles and items awarded for clan skills are another excellent concept, even if the former is again from Knight of Lodis. However, like the Biorhythms, FFTA takes it one step further and makes it a lot of fun. There are 51 titles to be had, all of them wacky. But the fact you can get items for certain skills and levels of proficiency really add to enforcing a team of well rounded characters instead of characters skilled in one particular class. But then again, it also leads to Munchkining.

Finally, I want to talk about multiplayer mode. As I have two GBA’s and two copies of this game, I was able to test out the various ways two players can interact in this game. It also showed me a few differences between the two games, but I’m sure you can find those at GameFAQS or the like. I’m not here to talk about the import version.

Now, like the rest of the gameplay here, I find FFTA’s multiplayer mode both fun and aggravating. I think it’s a horrible idea to charge both players 5,000 GIL to trade items or units. That’s 10K total just for a sword or a character. And at early levels, this really discourages player interaction. But at the same time it prevents some heavy powergaming. But what I do enjoy is that not only can your teams don’t fight each other, but that there are competition and co-operative modes. You can either see whose tea can kill the most things, or you can have a team up battle against some monsters. VERY COOL.

Overall the gameplay for this game is complex, deep, and sometimes ill thought out by the designers and frustrating. Still, after beating the game twice, I keep finding new and fun things to try, but also new things to annoy me. In truth, I think FFTA has a lot of great and wonderful ideas, but the execution wasn’t the best. Still, that leaves reason to hope the sequel will be MUCH better, right?

Graphics

Hmmm. Well. Normally I’d be gushing of Square graphics. After all, it is what they do best, right? Pretty graphics. But to be honest, this left me cold. I know Tactics games normally don’t have the best graphics, but games like Ogre Tactics, both Golden Suns, and even Phantasy Star Collection show me that an RPG on the GBA can still be pretty and detailed. A few of the backgrounds for battles are very well done, but the character artwork, both in regards to portraits and battle icons seem half-assed. This is Square for god’s sakes! And a 32 bit system. FF7 was done on a 32 bit system! Either Square got lazy graphics wise, or they were afraid to tax the GBASP’s abilities.

Seriously though, as much as Square sucks at story telling, even I am usually wowed by their graphics. It’s why I love Shadow Hearts and Koudelka so much. Square graphics + actual well written plot = happy Alex. But this left me cold. Maybe I was already biased because of the story and frustrating lack of being able to rotate the screen, but I just know I’ve seen a lot better graphics on the GBA.

Of course, I’ve also seen worse.

Sound Fun Factor
I’m sorry. It just didn’t grab me. Not at all. From a crappy story, to music and graphics that were only average at best. To be honest it feels like Division 4 just capitalized on the fact that RPG fans ever where wanted another Final Fantasy Tactics and some one was put out with that label thinking that even a half-assed job would convince people to rush out and buy this game by the truckloads. But at the same time, I know that there would be no real way or reason to compare the two FFT games. The first wasn’t developed in house and was basically an Ogre game with Squaresoft characters and ideas. This was a game created by a totally different team with a different artistic vision.

But the truth is, their vision is one that didn’t synch up with me. I loved a lot of the concepts, but the execution was far less than what I feel it could have been. Most of the game feels like it was made with a great idea in mind, but when it was time to make the dream into flesh, something got lost upon the way.

Is it fun? It can be. And it can suck hard. It is a good game. Yes it is. But I will not call it a great one or a must buy or lie to you and say it’s a masterpiece. It is a good game. You can get Ogre Tactics for the same price or even cheaper. Pick that up instead. You will enjoy it far more as that series has been around a lot longer and the team has experience and precision in terms of making a tactics game. This was an excellent effort by Division 4 to try and recapture the magic of FFTA by using an in-house team. And for a first try, they did well. But compared to the other RPG’s and Tactics games you can get for the GBA, wait until the price lowers on this game. Maybe once it drops from 35 bucks to 19, the fun factor will rise. But right now there are far better games for your dollar that you can take on the go.

Overall
Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 6
Sounds: 5
Fun Factor: 6

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s an average game. Aside from a story that makes me want to gouge out my eyes or develop mad cow disease, the game does everything at a decent level. There is far better out there in regards to every aspect of this game, and if it wasn?t for the Final Fantasy name stuck on the box this game would be quickly forgotten and regulated to a bargain bin of your local Target or Best Buy. Sorry Square fans, but it’s true. If you really need your Final Fantasy fix, here it is. But if you go into it without being a slobbering psycho fanboy, you too will come away disappointed by thoughts of what could have been.