Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was recently released in Japan for the GBA, and we've delved into our import copy to bring you the details on what it's like. The game is clearly inspired by the original Final Fantasy Tactics game from 1997 and shares the original's lighthearted look and underlying complexity. However, the story is entirely original, as is the cast of characters, though this new Final Fantasy Tactics game includes a number of references to its predecessor.
The gameplay is similar and will be immediately familiar to those who played either the original Final Fantasy Tactics or last year's Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis. Though Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is very story-driven--the first half hour of the game is heavy on dialogue--the actual gameplay revolves around turn-based, tactical battles viewed from an isometric perspective. Unlike in the original Final Fantasy Tactics, you cannot view the battlefield from different angles in the new GBA game; in this way, the game more closely resembles Tactics Ogre. On the other hand, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance retains its predecessor's initiative-based movement system, meaning faster characters, such as archers, get to act earlier in a round than slower characters, such as mages. There are a few immediately notable differences to the way combat pans out in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance as compared with similar games, such as how characters do not begin with the ability to counterattack against foes that strike them head-on. However, the core of the gameplay is unmistakably reminiscent of other strategy role-playing games.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has an unusual premise and is undoubtedly the first strategy game in history to begin with a snowball fight. You will meet Marche, the game's young main character, and some of his friends. They're about to engage in a snowball war against a bunch of bullies, and after exchanging some choice words, they have at it. Here is where you first get a sense of the gameplay as you move Marche and company about the "battlefield," chucking snowballs in the ruffians' faces for one point of damage at a time. After a while, the fight is broken up, and the kids go their separate ways.
You will realize here that Final Fantasy Tactics Advance takes place in a modern era--a place with televisions, cars, and cafes. It seems that Marche and his friends aren't exactly well off. The father of one is a drunk, one has a handicapped younger brother, and so on. It's little wonder then that the kids decide to lose themselves in an old, dusty book they bought. They utter some magic words from the book, and then...something happens. The premise of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is similar to that of the German fairy tale The Neverending Story or its film adaptation. The next day, Marche finds himself in a very different place, a fantasy realm called Ivalice that's populated by strange walking lizards and other anthropomorphic animals. He appears to be the only human being around.
Marche soon gets into a tussle with a surly lizardman but is aided by a moogle named Montblanc, who goes on to explain Final Fantasy Tactics Advance's unusual judgment system after the lizardman apparently "cheats" in their fight and is banished to prison by a mysterious referee. During battles, this referee will occasionally prohibit certain types of actions--for example, you may be unable to use items or magic. If a character fails to comply with these laws, that character will be warned or even thrown into jail (you can pay to bail him out, though). This is an unusual system that ties in with the decidedly strange premise of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
The game uses bright colors and an upbeat soundtrack that fits in with the whole storybook feel. It also retains the job system from its predecessor, allowing you to change your party members' roles and assign them to character classes like black mages, white mages, archers, and more. Fans of similar games obviously have a lot to look forward to in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. A North American release date for the game has yet to be confirmed, but for now, take a look at our new media and stay tuned for more coverage.