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Ever since Final Fantasy Tactics was released for the PlayStation back in 1998, instantly beating all other TRPG's to the top, the fans have been longing for a sequel. If not a sequel, most fans would at least have wanted to see the same development team back in action, creating yet another spectacular TRPG for us to enjoy. And it did happen.... now, in 2003, the sequel to one of the gaming worlds most famous RPGs ever has finally been released; Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
As expected, FFTA had a lot to offer. However, save for the very similar battle system, there are many differences in FFTA compared to our old gem. While the original FFT took place in a world filled with war and corruption, FFTA returns to the more fairy-tale-like style of storytelling. The player follows a young boy called Marche, who is suddenly drawn into the world of Ivalice through a magic book. Since he's quite lonely in this strange world, Marche starts to find a way back home. However, this seems to be harder than he thinks...and he is instead dragged into a great battle between things which originally didn't even concern him. While the plot has nothing of the depth that the original FFT had, it is still quite an unusual story. It develops way too slow though, and with all the sidequests the game constantly packs upon you, the player will often find him/herself forgetting about the actual main plot.
When it comes to the battles, not much has happened since FFT. The basics are just the same; you get to place out up to 10 characters on the field in the beginning of a battle, and then simply defeat the enemy. The job system is back, with a few differences from before. Players can now make use of the classic Red Mage, as well as a whole lot of other jobs we haven't seen before. Much like in Final Fantasy IX, the different characters learn new abilities for their jobs through their equipment. For example, most spears would have abilities to learn for the Dragoon job, while certain swords would have abilities for the Soldier. After each battle you clear, your party receives a certain amount of AP, which is needed to actually learn these abilities. After a character has learned a particular ability, he or she can use it at any time with the correct job.
Another thing that is totally new in FFTA, are the Judges. In each battle, there is always a Judge around to check that there is no cheating going on. Depending on where you fight on the world map, you have to pay attention to certain laws. For example, in one area using swords might be forbidden, while it's at the same time recommended to use Ice spells. If you break the law, the Judge will punish you by giving you either a yellow or a red card. If you break the law enough times, that character will be sent to prison. If you do something that is recommended (in this case, casting an Ice spell) you'll earn Judge Points from the Judge. These are used to perform combos with the certain characters together. Later on, you can also use the Judge Points to perform powerful summons. The Judges might be the most annoying thing about FFTA though. They make battles more frustrating and prevent you from making full use of your characters.In my opinion, FFTA has two great flaws that keep it from getting the higher scores. First off, it's the Interface. While the battle controls are nice, the menus outside of battle are extremely frustrating. For example, when I'm about to buy new equipment for my characters, there is no way to see how it affects the stats until I have bought it. Instead, I have to memorize the attack power of the new weapon, and then check if it's higher or lower than the one I currently have equipped. It's very annoying. Luckily, there is a function to check out which abilities the new equipment has before buying it.
The second greatest flaw in this game is most likely the music. While two of the greatest names in gaming music history (Hitoshi Sakimoto, Nobuo Uematsu) composed the soundtrack for this game together, I have no idea of how they could've come up with something so crappy. Sure, when playing a Tactical RPG, you have to be prepared to hear the same tracks over and over. However, the tracks in FFTA are so repetitive and annoying that I started hating the soundtrack before I was even 10 hours in. Seriously, some of these tunes are exactly the same from the first second to the last. Is this the work by two of my favorite composers? If I hadn't read it somewhere, I would never have guessed.
As usual, when it comes to Square, the translation is good. While the dialogue might not have the magic touch games translated by Working Designs usually have, there are no obvious spelling errors or grammatical errors anywhere in the game. I could always sense how the characters felt, in what mood they were in, etc.
The graphics gave me some seriously mixed feelings. Having just finished off the Golden Sun series before finishing this game, I was a little disappointed about the special effects. Not even the mightiest spells in FFTA impressed me even a little. The battle fields and cities were very beautiful though, and I especially enjoyed the detailed character models. Even now, a few years after its release, I'm still quite amazed over how beautiful certain games can be for a tiny handheld system like the GBA.
I replayed the original FFT a few times, but I'll probably never play this game again. The plot is decent, but nothing that memorable. Unless you like light-hearted plots, or simply want to create a different party the second time, I see no reason to play through this game again. The game is also way too easy. I never really leveled up or fought lots of random clan battles to learn more abilities, yet I still managed to finish the game totally without trouble. Normally, games become harder the closer you are to the end. FFTA is quite the opposite; it gets even easier towards the end. Depending on how many extra missions you want to do, the completion time ranges from 20 to 80 hours. I'm sure that some people could keep going for well over 100 hours, as there is a whole lot to do in this game, if you're up to it.
In conclusion, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is an okay game. It offers a lot of gameplay, which can be a real blast if you can handle the interface, ignore the Judges and put on a good CD instead of listening to the terrible battle music. While the plot has quite a few original things in store for the player, it offers nothing of the depth its predecessor had. I had fun with this game, and I don't regret buying it. While not the best game out for the GBA, I still recommend it if you don't have anything else to play for the moment.
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