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, versusclucluland.blogspot.com
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.