Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Review

Final Fantasy Tactics A-2: Grimoire of the Rift
Platform: Nintendo DS Developer: Square-Enix Publisher: Square-Enix

Box Quote: “Final Fantasy Tactics A-2: Grimoire of the Rift is as needlessly convoluted as its title!”-- Iroquois Pliskin,

Full Disclosure: It is difficult to express my lifelong affection for the tactical turn-based RPG genre without drawing on my rich storehouse of boner-stroking imagery. I frittered away countless, irreplaceable hours of my youth on Shining Force 1&2 for the Sega Genesis. X-Com: UFO Defense was, so far as I can recall, designed to replicate the effects of crystal methanphetamine addiction on my brain. I did not play X-Com: UFO Defense so much as go on X-Com: UFO Defense benders; I would start up a session, and by the time I had my next coherent, non X-Com: UFO Defense-related thought would occur, several days had passed and the back of my throat would taste metallic. Should Al-Quaeda ever distill the fiendish magic of that game they will no doubt bring Christendom to its knees within weeks by putting it in the water. Advance Wars: Dual Strike is among my favorite games of all time, as its sorcerous, time-telescoping properties have gotten me though many a redeye over the last few years. I never played the original Final Fantasy Tactics for the Playstation too much, but I was fairly certain that this potent mixture of two of my childhood obsessions would lay me low, if I gave it a chance.

Gameplay: There is no end of joy to be got from strategically positioning chocobos in a ¾ isometic perspective. It's a good thing, because the design goal of the game seems to have been the imposition of as many menus as possible between the player and his strategic positioning of chocobos in ¾ isometric space. The game's basic mechanics are woefully under-explained-- it seems to have been designed, as many Japanese sequels are, to cater solely to the consumers of the previous games in the franchise who are familiar with the game's basic mechanics. Without this background it's hard to figure out how you achieve the most basic objectives, and the number of steps you must go through are almost never explained. For example, getting your individual party members to acquire the weapons necessary to new abilities, one of the most basic tasks in the game, requires about 6 steps and 11 menus. While other turn-based strategy franchises have used sequels to refine the basic combat mechanics, it seems that the crew behind FFA2 has just decided to agglomerate more and more mechanics onto the original gameplay-- an irritating “laws” system that governs each battle, a bazaar system that mediates your access to items, a clan system that acts like a meta-game, and an auction system that relates to the clan system in some way I cannot make out. Perhaps the abuse of Ritalin confers the necessary patience to navigate this dizzying array of sub-systems, and the game will no doubt furnish limitless depths to its devotees, but my basic attitude towards all of these systems is that they are standing between me and upgrading my dragoons, and I don't like it at all.

Story: Your protagonist's been imprisoned in a book and transported to Ivalice, a setting within the Final Fantasy cosmos that heretofore has been distinguished from the rest of that world by the quality of its storytelling: Ivalice has been a safe harbor of well-wrought political intrigue in a sea of emo nonsense. FFA2, however, holds nothing of narrative interest to those over the age of twelve. I would find it easier to sympathize with the hero's plight were it not for his hideous red crushed-velvet beret. He spends most of the game poncing around in his hideous vest and being tirelessly chipper. It's not as if narrative richness is a really needful thing in this genre, but the quality of the story relative to the other Ivalice games I've played (particularly Final Fantasy XII) was a letdown.

The Takeaway: Only if you really like this sort of thing.


Josh said...

Advance Wars: Dual Strike? Fantabulous turn-based strategy game. Final Fantasy Tactics A2 PBJ BBQ? Not so much. Slow, unnecessarily complex menus--who decided it was a good idea for the basic attack to be in a sub-menu?--and quests that were frequently nonsensical. I think even fans of previous installments would have a hard time getting into this one. I found the AI to be terrible as well. The nail in the coffin was when I saw an enemy try to use an ability on me that had a 0% chance of success. Zero! At least use a basic attack and whack me for a few points instead.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

@josh: Seriously! Why does FFA2 have to be so cumbersome? You go back to playing AW:DS and it really hits you how buttery-smooth and intuitive the Advance Wars series is. Fire Emblem (which I didn't mention, but is also a great game) is also smooth, and FFT is so difficult to figure out. Blame nintendo for making everything so easy to control and making everyone else look bad. Maybe I should just go back to playing the first Final Fantasy Tactics, or await the inevitable DS remake.

Josh said...

I never got into the Fire Emblem series, though I heard it was a pretty solid series. If you liked Dual Strike you should give Advance Wars: Days of Ruin a shot. Same great gameplay, and a decent story to boot. Added bonus: unlike FFT: Less than Awesome(tm) the protagonists are not dressed in some ridiculous outfit--how does he walk, sit, or balance in that getup?--nor do they carry a big... sword. Fan. Sheet metal thingy. Or whatever the hell that awkward thing on his shoulder is.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

Hi Josh,

I played Days of Ruin, and I thought it was pretty good. I think the changes they made to the basic game were fine, but I didn't like the fact that I didn't get to upgrade my COs any more. the thing is the amount of replayability in Dual Strike is nearly limitless.

chesh said...

A2 is actually fairly streamlined and free of annoyances, compared to the first Tactics Advance. Both of them are more accessible than the original PS1 Tactics (which I have never been able to get into, despite the incredible amount of love it gets from pretty much everyone I know. I think it's the combination of dense, convoluted plot and absolutely worthless translation that prevents it from grabbing me).

A couple of examples:
In A2, every job can be mastered, as far as I know, with items you gain from quests. In Advance, at least one job required you to go out of your way to learn a mid-game skill in the beginning of the game, and steal a specific opponent's weapon in a storyline mission in order to learn at least one skill needed to master a job, and gave no indication that by failing to do so you'd lock yourself out of something.

In Advance, every time you unlocked a new location, you had to place it on the map. Depending on where you placed it, in relation to other locations, you'd get certain items -- some of them extremely rare (Genji gear, and I think there may have been one or two items that only come from the map). There were at least two configurations that could be considered "perfect" -- one that gives the best items, and one that makes geographical sense -- and at least one or two others that were still worthwhile. You can see the problem this presents, in a 50+ hour game, for perfectionists such as you

The law system in Advance was also much more complex. Instead of having a specific law assigned to each mission, the laws went through a predictable progression, changing each day. Later in the game, battles might even have more than one law. There were also some four levels of laws, depending on their strength. Law nullification cards, like the one you receive towards the end of A2, were a common item in Advance and came in levels equivalent to that of the laws. They could be played at the beginning of a battle to void a specific law, which was often necessary if you got an unlucky one for your objective or an unlucky combination of laws.
When a unit violated a law, they would be given a yellow or red card by the judge (who was, incidentally, an NPC, who took turns like any other, but usually only to move around aimlessly, or teleport corpses to a random square). Three yellow cards automatically earned a red card, which sends the unit to jail. Which is actually in a city, where you would have to go to pay to bail them out.

Oh, and corpses stayed on the battlefield, both yours and the enemy's, cluttering everything up.

Advance also had both more and less of a plot than A2. While the actual storyline events were more compelling, it was clear that it existed in a void. Instead of being transported by a book, you were transported into a book, and it was nothing more than a story. A2, despite a fairly mediocre storyline, actually does tie into (quite loosely) the main FFXII continuity. A2 really shined in it's quest storylines, though. They may have been, strictly speaking, optional, but I really enjoyed just traveling around the world, righting wrongs and fighting evils, and learning about the various factions and notable people that make up Jylland.

So, ultimately, I realize my love of A2 is sort of like a slave who was sold to a new master who only whips him at dawn and dusk, rather than hourly, but I still really loved it. I don't think I loved it enough to start a new game to get the four or five things that I missed (just as I could never bring myself to get more than a couple hours into a new game of Advance, for better map configurations), but I definitely don't regret most of the 102 hours I spent on it. The last few, where I was trying to delay beating the game to finish a few quests and get some more skills, sure, I could have done without those.

That was way more than I intended to write. Sorry for the novel.

chesh said...

Also, crap, just looked at the date. I am so far behind on my feeds :(

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