Me gusta Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Si, si, mucho.
Now a new game comes along. In these times, they are no longer Squaresoft, Nintendo has made a lunchbox that can play video games, and magazines openly print Final Fantasy VII's main plot twist openly. And Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is on the GBA. We sure have come a long way.
FFTA's graphics rarely stem from the level it sets when you first play the game. Although decidedly uninteresting, the graphics have a style and appeal that makes it all the more playable on both the TV with the Game Boy Player and the bright light of the DS. The character portraits which pop up when you hold the cursor over a character are well drawn and show off the cleanliness that the GBA's small dark screen has to offer. They are fully fleshed out and can not be differentiated from a paused anime movie. The rest of the graphics involve a strange combination of chibi-like, deformed characters, and a full person icon. They have a chibi appeal, and yet they aren't stocky or disproportioned. The swings of the weapons and the brandishing of the magic spells are well animated and give a clean feel to each attack. Criticals are animated with an additional wince of the victim, as you would expect, but from a Strategy RPG on the Game Boy Advance, it's all the more of that polish which Square-Enix is known for. Although not perfect, the graphics are one of the bright sides of FFTA.
If there is any game that is more full and alive than this game in the strategy market, somebody better point it out to me. FFTA's excellent chess-like battles are what keep its fans coming back to it over and over again.
The main map of the game is a big, messy grid filled with small circles. As you progress in the game, you fill these circles up with places in the world. Once you get to a certain point, your party discovers a new area and you place it on a circle. Certain combinations of the places might warrant a reward or two, though it usually isn't anything worth worrying about. If you play the game a second time, perhaps you might do what they say on Gamefaqs, but otherwise it's a piece of common armor or the like. Once you have the place down, you go to the nearest town and buy a mission at the pub. The missions usually involve your party going to one area and battling from four on one, to six on six, depending on the mission. Once you win, you get a prize, usually with Gil, the game's currency, as well as armor or a weapon. Other missions require you to send out one of your people to do some work alone, and that only takes time or battles before they come back. It's the luck of the draw, and sometimes you may fail without any say in it. Some of these missions are story missions, and they are usually identifiable because you can't cancel them. There are about 26 of them, but to win the game you'll have to do much more than just them.
The battles are turned based in an unorthodox way; the character's speed is pitted with every other character's speed, and then they are mashed together, with enemies and friends moving in a seemingly random order. This is a very well-designed system, because you don't have to wait for the computer to take a move with every character, which takes long enough for one alone. Each character can do several things after they move: a basic swing of their weapon, or two sets of job-specific attacks that vary greatly. These are where the fun lies. They do area-wide damage sometimes, or they enhance stats, or they heal, depending on what set it is.
This system gives a more personal feel to the battle, compared to Fire Emblems epic clashes. Those games are based on the levels alone; if you are stronger, are you have more people attacking at once, you will overcome. FFTA's battles are different in the way that you can fight a clan that's a level or two ahead of you and still win, if you battle the right way. It's less of the RPG as it is the Strategy genre. It's very good and will keep you at your GBA for MONTHS. It just doesn't get old.
The sound's alright. Compared to some GBA symphonies like Golden Sun, Square-Enix dropped the ball on this one. It isn't bad by a long shot, it's just not great. It has a preppy tone, sort of alive and making the battles seem like a happy chess game at the park rather than a fight for your life as you try and find out why Ivalice, the game's setting, is the way it is. There are a varying range of instruments, and the melodies are recognizable, but in the end they just aren't memorable. The Black Mages won't be rocking out to "Giza Plains" next time they have an album.
Better than some other games, the story's very personal and not as epic as you would expect from a game with the name "Final Fantasy" on the cover. It deals with a total of four or five main characters, and these people are probably the deepest handheld characters ever made. And don't you let anyone spoil a minute of it. There are some plot twists and some really intense moments that make you wonder if you are really playing a game or reading a short but powerful fantasy novella.
Some kids, Marche, Ritz, and Mewt, open up a book that Mewt found (The only name you can change is Marche's, dang it. They're all kind of silly). They look through it in a neat sequence where strange writing and pictures are displayed in a cool cutscene, for the GBA's standards. After they are done, their conversation gets sidetracked (I know the feeling exactly) and Mewt says "I wish Final Fantasy was real." Not exactly that way, but anyway, the next morning, Marche wakes up and he's in Final Fantasy Land, a country names Ivalice that is loosely based on their hometown of St. Ivalice. He meets a moogle names Montblanc, and he tries to come to terms with the world while learning what the heck happened.
FFTA's strong suit is the way this story is done. There is no voice-over or facial expression, but the character's lines are so powerful, there is no doubt that you know what emotional state they are in. This game would have benefited with some voice-over work, because there is a lot of text to cover, and most of the cutscenes cannot be skipped. But the first four or five times you play you will be so entranced by the characters you won't care.
If there is anything else I can say about this game, is that it will last you a very long time. The first time around, you can expect about twenty hours to beat the main story, and around forty to fifty to beat every mission. Couple that with a great replay value, and this game can last you nearly forever.
Your party can have up to 32 people in it, and each of them can be one job. Some jobs are exclusive to the specie, like only vieras can be summoners. Each job has about five to ten skills to master, and these are only learned by winning enough missions. So each character can learn about fifty to a hundred skills, although only two job sets are available any given battle. This set-up adds a great deal of customization to an already complex game, and I think Electronic Gaming Monthly put it best when they said "deeper than the deepest ocean." Every time you play the game, you have a chance to go with a different route than the one before, like, instead of melee, you go with magic. Personally, I think I have played this game more than any other game I own, except for Pokemon back in the day. That's saying a lot when you are playing on a handheld system.
Kiddies Level: Low There's not much to worry about in this game. The violence is minimal, because no one really dies except on certain levels, and there is no blood. The alcohol note listed on the box is pretty exaggerated; I saw no one actually drink anything. There are some bottles sitting on a table in the pub's background area, but they are fixed and no one touches them. It's kind of jumping to conclusions to assume there is booze inside.
Guide or No Guide: No Guide
This is a kind of game that you don't want the easy way out, which there isn't, from what I've seen on Gamefaqs. Any battle can be overcome simply by leveling, which means taking part in more side-quests. This is a positive point to the game, because it shows you that with some time, you can make your little Marche really kicking. But it's bad as well, because anybody who wants an easy way out will be out of luck. But in general, there isn't much the guide could tell you.
Honestly, I haven't found anyone else with this game, but there's co-op and well as a versus mode. I hear it is plagued by long loading times, but I'm not sure. It requires a link cable, a rarity now that the DS has taken over Nintendo land.
I recommend FFTA to: Final Fantasy fans, Strategy or RPG fans, or people without jobs or who have lots of time on their hands.
FFTA brings something to the GBA that it could have used more of: a true, honest game that captures the mind as well as any console game could. Bravo, Square-Enix, bring on the sequel!