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Shut up, Judge!
Towards the end of the 16-bit era, Square and Nintendo’s relationship dwindled significantly, with the former company emphasizing development for the rising Sony Playstation, giving it such masterpieces such as Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics. It seemed that both companies would never renew their relationship, with Square even having vowed never to make another cartridge game. In 2003, however, Nintendo evidently fed the folks at Square some sort of drug, compelling them to break their word and create a follow-up to Final Fantasy Tactics for the Gameboy Advance. Being the successor to what many have called the greatest TRPG ever made, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance naturally had large shoes to fill. Unfortunately, the developers decided instead to maul those shoes like rabid dogs and create a game that was far less enjoyable than its predecessor was.
Most notable is the combat system, which one can easily describe as downright dull. While it does contain many improvements over the battle system present in Final Fantasy Tactics, the fact that battles are painfully sluggish, chugging along like overworked mules, mostly cancels out these improvements. Among these improvements are that before battles begin, you now place your characters directly onto the battlefield in a designated area rather than on a separate screen, that magic no longer requires more than one turn to cast, and that you can revoke a character’s physical movement and thus experiment before finally performing that character’s command.
Now I shall explain the major downfalls of the battle system. The class system returns, although many classes are now race-exclusive; for instance, only Viera can become Red Mages. Furthermore, characters must now learn skills from items, a la Final Fantasy IX, which quite honestly doesn’t fare well in a large party such as that you’ll have in this game, with characters having to wear weak equipment for some time until they’ve learned their skills. As an added insult, the game now has an annoying Judgment System, where Judges preside over most battles, imposing draconian restrictions on what commands your characters can and cannot perform in battle, such as not being able to perform physical attacks. Special cards you acquire throughout the game, however, can alter existing laws, and in battle, if a character performs a forbidden command, he/she receives a yellow card. Two yellow cards means a character goes to prison, where you must bail him/her out. However, Judges do have “Recommended” commands, which, when performed, result in them awarding your characters JP that they can use for Combos and Totema attacks (a bit like summons), with a cap of 10 JP per character, and all points being consumed after you perform either move; killing enemies earns JP, too. In the end, unfortunately, combat is barely enjoyable, with certain battles taking forever.
Interaction is equally weak. Aside from a decent translation, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance bears what many have called the interface from hell. Indeed, simple tasks such as changing a character’s class, changing skills, and changing equipment take forever, and worse, stores have sadly dumped the Fitting Room, and you can thus no longer see how equipment will affect a character’s stats before purchasing it. Additionally, this installment features a rebuild-the-world system a la Legend of Mana, where you place new towns and regions on the world map however you please. The game also emphasizes a mission system, with missions coming in a few varieties, such as story missions and dispatch missions, the latter where you send one of your characters to perform certain tasks alone, with that character returning successfully or unsuccessfully after a certain number of days, enemy kills, or battles. Finally, figuring out how to progress the game, thankfully, is a no-brainer, as with most other TRPGs.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is moderately original. It borrows heavily from Final Fantasy IX, Legend of Mana, and especially its predecessor, but then again, the race-exclusiveness of the classes and the Judgment System are original.
Story, too, has received a bit of diminishment. A boy named Marche has just moved to a town named St. Ivalice and attempts to adjust to his new life, making two friends at school, Ritz and Mewt. After a snowball fight at school one day, the three discover a strange book, Gran Grimoire, which transports them to a different land, the Kingdom of Ivalice, where they separate in the new fantasy world and have strange experiences. The story’s pretty confusing and unfocused, though I did appreciate the unique races in the game, such as the reptilian Bangaas, diversified Moogles, the lapine Viera, and the Nu Mou, who resemble Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh. Noses have now come into fashion among the human populace, as well.
Hitoshi Sakamoto’s soundtrack is a mixed bag, despite being one of the game’s stronger aspects. Nobuo Uematsu helped, too, though only with the title theme. Anyway, the soundtrack unfortunately suffers highly from the Gameboy Advance’s rather poor audio, with a heavy degree of buzzing and distorted notes. Most of the tunes are okay, though their quality is in some instances borderline NES. Overall, the developers could’ve made some sort of effort to make the music sound better. Sound effects are nothing special, at that, although humans actually sound human when they die for once.
The graphics aren’t overly spectacular, as well. Environments are gorgeous with pleasant color schemes, though sprites are rather simplistic, in many cases being inconsistent with character portraits; for instance, all Moogle sprites look a bit like chickens. Generally, Final Fantasy Tactics doesn’t really maximize the Gameboy Advance’s visual capabilities.
While some others consider Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to be easy, it was in my experience an unbalanced game, what with the constantly fluctuating difficulty of combat; victory is in many instances a matter of having the right classes in battle. Furthermore, while the game can take as little as fifteen hours to complete, it can very well consume over two hundred hours. I managed to clear the game after seventy hours, although I had only cleared about a third of the 300 missions.
Overall, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is an unworthy follow-up to what most have called the greatest TRPG ever made, what with a sluggish, soporific combat system and the interface from hell, among other aspects, yet a fitting symbol of Square’s broken word against ever making any new cartridge games, and exemplifying their growing affinity for profit over quality. Unless you’re an aspiring developer who wants to see what not to do in a TRPG, there’s very little to recommend in this game.
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