Final Fantasy Tactics A2 Hands-On

The popular strategy series is making its debut on the Nintendo DS, and we've got a first look at the game.

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MAKUHARI, Japan--The original Final Fantasy Tactics on the PlayStation has proven to be more popular than perhaps anyone could have predicted. Though it's been almost 10 years since the original game was released in North America, the Tactics series is picking up more steam than ever. The sequel of sorts to the original, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, was released in 2003 in North America; a remake of the original game for the PSP was just released this week in Japan; and now, with Final Fantasy Tactics A2, the series is making its debut on the Nintendo DS. We had a chance to try the game out at the 2007 Square Enix Party in a stage setup that was utterly unique. Instead of a line of kiosks, the demo for A2 took place in a room constructed to look like a small schoolroom, complete with brick walls, a library of books on the back wall, and school desks and chairs.

Tactics A2 is the sequel to the Game Boy Advance's FF Tactics Advance, and though the game plays similarly to the original, the setting isn't exactly the same. In Tactics Advance, the characters began in the town of St. Ivalice, only to be transported to the magical realm of Ivalice (setting of other FF games such as Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings) after discovering a magical book. By contrast, A2 seems to start out immediately in Ivalice, where a small party is exploring a forest, only to run into a monstrous-looking Chocobo.

Luckily, the party of adventurers is being led by a guide (whose name you might recognize: Cid), who goes through the basics of combat to defeat the huge Chocobo and his buddies. This stage is mostly a tutorial, and if you've played the original Tactics Advance, you'll be right at home here. As in the older Tactics games, you move your character around the battle map, which is organized into a grid. Your characters can only move so many grid places during their turns, and the range of each character is illuminated on the grid, giving you an idea of how far each can go.

When it comes to action, it all depends on the character and his or her job. The party we started out with consisted of a black mage, a soldier, a summoner, and a white mage (as well as Cid, who wasn't playable in the tutorial). As you may expect, these different jobs mean different abilities for each character. At the start of the battle, we sent our soldier and summoner into the fray and positioned the black mage behind a rock where he could fire magic in relative safety. The soldier was good up close against the enemies, as was Cid, a warrior who really dealt damage at close range.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before our summoner got into some trouble and became surrounded by two smaller enemies. After retreating the summoner, we sent the white mage over for support. She had three spells available: heal, cure (for status ailments), and revive, and as with the black mage's spells, each had a mana cost to them. With a well-timed heal spell, we had our summoner back in tip-top shape, and it was now time to see what he could do. In a word, it was impressive. After choosing a particular demon to summon, the map zoomed out dramatically to show the summoned creature, a huge beast that took up both screens of the DS. The demon's attack--a nasty-looking punch that set the entire battle map briefly off-kilter--proved to be very effective against the collected enemies.

After the battle was complete, we were taken to a new set of screens. The upper screen showed a tantalizing menu, including a "clan skill" option as well as a diamond-shaped structure with four color-coded points that could refer to your character's elemental strengths or attributes. Because of the Japanese text, we couldn't make heads or tails of these menu options--but we hope to find out specific details on these options in the near future. On the lower screen, there was a minimap that showed where our main character could travel to--the only available option was to a nearby town.

Unfortunately, as soon as we traveled to the new area, our demo time with Tactics A2 ran out. Like we suspect you do, we've got tons more questions about how this game works and how it ties into the story of the original Tactics Advanced. Perhaps the game's subtitle--The Sealed Grimoire--is a clue that the mysterious book that opened up the world to Ivalice in Tactics Advance will return in the follow-up. The game is due for release in Japan in just a few months, and we'll be keeping our eye out for more information on the North American version.

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