Title: Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced
Developer: Square Product Development Division 4
Release Date: February 14, 2003
Reviewed On: 3DS
Publisher: Square Enix
The mainline Final Fantasy series has always attempted to stay ahead of the times by pushing hardware to highest capabilities. The result of this has given gamers some of the most beautiful games available on the titles’ respective hardware. However, each generation proves that there are some gamers who don’t require any high definition visuals to make a game enjoyable. Well, developer Square Enix made an attempt to satisfy this group of gamer’s wants with the release of 2003’s Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced brought the tactics and storytelling that seasoned Tactics players longed for, but included new mechanics to keep things fresh. After replaying the game I wanted to remember not only what excited me about the genre, but also if the gameplay and story still hold up today.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced begins with a basic tutorial as the game introduces the main group of characters, Marche Radiuju, Ritz Malheur, and Mewt Randell. It’s quickly laid out to the player that Mewt is bullied for being the new kid in school. However, the player assumes the role of Marche, who befriends Mewt and invites him and Ritz over to spend some time with his brother, Doned Radiuju, a bedridden child who longs to be “normal”.
During this playdate, Doned presents a magic book to the group of kids and resites one of the book’s passages. Evidentally, this was a magic spell that changed the world over and transported the kids to the world of Ivalice. When Marche finally figures out what had happened and explores the world, he’s reminded of his favorite video game, Final Fantasy. When this information dropped I was surprised the developers would give such high praise to their IP, but after getting through more of the story it felt easier to relate to the characters and their situation being a fan of Final Fantasy myself.
Marche’s first friend in Ivalice is a Moogle by the name of Montblanc who explains the battle system. When a battle is initiated, a recognizable grid-based map will appear along with a judge, which becomes more crucial to understand later on. Players choose their party and take turns around the map to set their party members up to attack enemies or buff their teammates.
Pretty self-explanatory right? Well, it’s here that I remember the original Final Fantasy Tactics as a game that was extremely difficult and required hours of grinding in order to progress the story. Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced takes a different approach and significantly turned down the difficulty of the battles. However, the game introduces a new “Judges” feature that gave the battles a layer of difficulty that became more demanding over time.
Judges have the power to implement laws, which change each time you make a move on the map. Towards the end of the game, you’ll be seeing laws that restrict you from using magic, a certain weapon, or healing a party member. Suffice to say, these laws can become troublesome, especially in the later parts of the game where there are 3 laws to each battle, but the most annoying of them all is “No Damage to Animals”. This law makes the game longer than it needs to be as I found myself going back and forth on the map in order to just wait for the law to pass. Supposedly, you’re supposed to use poison or a different status effect on the animal, but that makes for an even longer fight.
Besides the main story missions, players go to pubs to pick up side missions and grow their clan’s rank. Some missions require the player to go somewhere and fight an enemy or protect a hurt citizen, but most of them involve a fight of some sort. There are some exceptions where you can choose not to fight and have a peaceful discussion with the target, but sometimes they’ll fight you anyway. There are also despatch missions where players can send out party members for a certain number of days or battles.
I found the side-missions to vary enough to not become troublesome or repetitive, which makes the entire game have a natural flow about it. The main story unravels nicely next to the clan gaining notoriety across the land. It’s even mentioned how popular Marche is becoming and how he’s changed into a stronger person than who he was in the real world. However, in order to escape this world, Marche must put those feelings aside as he destroys five crystals, each protected by a Totema, for a chance to change the world back to normal.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced offers plenty of Job Classes to choose from and more are offered in the later parts of the game. I have a tendency to build up a party early on and then forget about the other members, but with the despatch missions taking all my strongest characters, I had no choice but to work with my lower level members. In order to learn new Abilities and Arts, you’ll have to equip weapons and armor which have the moves embedded in them. This means that if you want to learn a specific skill then you might not have the most powerful equipment equipped, which makes things a little more interesting.
As the characters learn abilities, new job classes open up, including some awesome summon abilities. I must admit that by the end of the game I still hadn’t unlocked all of the abilities, but after unlocking the Dragoon class I felt like I accomplished what I set out to do. I kept Marche a Paladin but had him learn Counter as an added skill and always brought Montblanc and his high-level magic abilities with me to a fight. However, this is my playthrough and these loadouts and characters can be completely different depending on who is playing the game, which makes Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced a game that changes from playthrough to playthrough.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced’s story has a lot to teach the player about escapism and the longing to feel normal or popular. When starting up the game, I wasn’t expecting to be taught a lesson about how I use video games as an escape. Marche is conflicted with his new friends and popularity, and his mission to get home to the real world. What makes things more conflicting is how Marche’s friends don’t want to go back to the real world for reasons just as selfish as Marche. Sure we can spend hours in Final Fantasy at a time, but maybe the lesson is that it isn’t the real world and as much as we wish it was, it can just never be. In that sense, we must all live with the hand we are dealt and make the most of it.
With multiple endings and a variety of ways to get through the 40-hour story, Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced is what expert storytelling and tactical gameplay combined looks like. The game pushes the expectations players put on a handheld tactics title by making the battles more streamlined and supplying many short burst missions to sink into 10-minutes of free time. The Law system is annoying, but it is the only layer of difficulty that the game has and can also be manipulated in later parts of the game to favor the player in battle. Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced holds up 15 years later as a game that I’m happy to have played.
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