A Great SRPG Adventure
The story starts out like a child's fairy tale and is as unbelievable. However, everything, including the witty dialogue, is delivered with such a fine polish, and the story snippets sprinkled throughout battles (as well as the rest of the game), offer a great deal in terms of keeping A2 interesting and entertaining the whole way through. It's no epic adventure, but all the same, the game offers a fun and endearing tale, if not a bit too jolly at times. The story's pacing, though, is probably its strongest feature, and it actually takes a short while before the real adventure gets underway.
The battle gameplay is fairly standard fare, as far as SRPGs go, though A2 offers perhaps the most well-rounded example we've seen on the DS. The AI is quite good – even in the Normal difficulty (there's also a Hard setting) battles are often quite a challenge. There are a number of great options, offering depth to battles, but gameplay is also very accessible and fairly straight-forward. One interesting addition to the otherwise traditional SRPG formula is that of random combat rules, which are tacked on at the beginning of each battle; they're usually something of the "can't use spells or weapons that have lightning" or "no spells or attacks that target more than one tile" variety. For the most part, the battle-rules feature is a welcome addition and mixes things up in a fun way.
A2 also has a somewhat strong emphasis on building up your clan. When the game begins, your character is thrust into a clan, and along the way, you'll be able to take on clan trials. These trials are actually cleverly disguised tutorials, and by completing them, you'll earn stat bonuses for the clan. Additionally, the Job system has made it back into this Final Fantasy game, and it's implemented quite well. You'll really have to dabble with various jobs in order to gain both advanced skills and access to greater job titles.
As with most other SRPGs, you'll travel by way of a simple overworld map, jumping from region to region, as more areas become available. Most of the actual story is self-driven, though, in that most times you'll have to actively seek out quests, which can be attained at any local pub. Each main town or city also offers a shop where you can buy and sell goods, as well as trade in "loot" you've collected. In turn, offering loot to shop owners will allow them to put up new items for sale.
There's a lot to do in the world of Ivalice. Though the battling takes up perhaps the lion's share of the experience, there are also a bunch of other, cool features that set this game apart from the rest of the pack. Stuff such as area auctions, which allow your clan to take control of a given region. When your clan becomes the "champ" of a region, you'll get discounts on the cost of taking on quests. The savings perhaps isn't great (or necessary), but participating in the auctions is fun and adds a neat distraction when you want some respite from combat.
The graphics, sound and overall production of A2 are really all quite beautiful. There's not a rough edge to be seen nor heard. I'm not a huge fan of the whole cutesy 2D thing, but I'd have to be pretty darn jaded not to appreciate the wonderful feel the game's combined production is able to convey. The 2D sprites over 2D backgrounds are very detailed, though of course, a bit static. But the 3D cloudscapes layered behind landscapes, along with some gorgeous special effects, really help define A2 as a bonafide DS game.
The real cherry on top, though, is A2's soundtrack. If you've played either Final Fantasy XII (PS2) or its companion game, Revenant Wings (DS), then you'll likely recognize many of the delightful variations of these now classic themes. Yeah, again, it's all pretty jolly, but it works extremely well with everything else the game has to offer. Also noteworthy is the text scroll; it's not annoying! Other sound effects, too, such as the crashing of the Meteorite spell, or the piercing ice shards of Blizzard, sound great, and all of A2's audio comes across with surprising fidelity on the DS' tiny speakers.
In all honesty – and with respect to what seems to be legions of hardcore Final Fantasy Tactics fans – I wouldn't call the game a masterpiece. The battles can become a tad repetitious and there's no real multiplayer to speak of (though you can do a bit of trading). However, A2 is one of those great pocket companions and one of the best SRPGs currently available on DS. Though the story is light and lilting with little depth, the game, undeniably, has a ton of personality. It's also a very tight package with sturdy-as-nails gameplay. There's lots to do, lots to see, and A2 is a bit less daunting than many other games of its kind. Most DS owners should find a fair amount of enjoyment out of this wonderful, little fantasy romp.