It's not bad by any stretch, but Square's return to Nintendo is a disappointment coming from such a stellar company.
The Bad: The game is overcomplicated in every facet; the story is extremely spaced out and pretty basic; finding missions that progress the plot makes no sense, and gets old fast; it feels pointless beating about half the missions, since they don't do anything for you; you control lots of characters, but only two or three of them actually contribute to the plot.
Final Fantasy VII was such a massive game that it couldn't fit on just one cartridge or disc. Nintendo's choice to stick with cartridges on the N64 forced Square Enix (or SquareSoft at the time) to have a very bitter falling out with the big N for this reason, and moved FFVII to the PS1. The rest of the franchise followed, along with everything else from Square.
Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI were the last titles on Nintendo systems Square had left behind, on the SNES.
But it seems Square and Nintendo are finally solving some of their problems. While the numbered Final Fantasy titles are still appearing only on PlayStation systems, Final Fantasy itself has returned to Nintendo.
The first game Square's brought over is Final Fantasy: Tactics Advance. The game follows a group of kids who turn their world into the land of Ivalice accidentally, and while some of them want to return it to normal, others prefer it in this new world, where they can live out their dreams.
The idea itself is certainly a good one. Tactical gameplay is hard to get into, but addicting when you give it the time, and Tactics on PS1 was a success. The biggest issues with Tactics are its pacing and how the plot progresses.
The controls are all workable, and there are a lot of choices in how to upgrade your characters. You can pick what attacks they learn, what classes they have, what armor they wear, and even who you want to bring along and who you want to leave your clan. But in trying to allow more customization, the game bogs itself down far too much.
The battle system itself is actually pretty good. You decide where to move your characters, what direction they'll face, and who to attack. And better, you can have such a large party that you have lots of options as to who to bring into battle. It's the stuff in between that'll bore you to death.
The customization is rarely very important. There are even many items that, when equipped, literally do nothing. The items do give you techniques (which only one class can learn, and you can therefore rarely use outside of that class), but it ends up just feeling like it could have been simplified and been much, much more fun. I'm not saying I like it when games are for stupid people. I'm saying that there's a difference between being smart and being more complex than is necessary and just boring people.
It's clear there is an audience for the decisions Square made with the game, but to me, the game bogs itself down far too much. Had it stripped just one or two elements away that really weren't necessary in the first place the game would've been much more enjoyable.
But I'm not saying the game is bad. At it's best, the game can be fantastic. When a story element comes in (which is very rare, another annoying bit to the game), when there's more action than menus, and the game flows, it's really a lot of fun.
The story's concept is good, but it's not handled as well as I would've hoped. The story has about five characters who actually affect the plot, and the game doesn't really focus on the story at all in the end. More often than not you're battling through missions that don't move the story forward.
Fortunately, they do get you money and equipment, but there are dispatch missions that are utterly useless. Sending members of your team out to do something or other for a set number of days or battles gets you money, but serves no other purpose. Had everything been cheaper at the store, it would've taken away a very annoying aspect.
The graphics, at least, are some of the best I've ever seen on the GBA. They're crisp and clean, and not nearly as pixelated as many other titles. Gaming in 2-D rarely looks this good on any platform.
The music is very powerful too. It gets the emotional power of the story across much more than the story itself often does, because the story feels like it was so glossed over. But the emotional power of the game actually exists mostly because the music is so wonderful.
And if you don't mind the overcomplicated, menu filled gameplay, there's a very lasting experience to be had. 300 missions make for a huge campaign, and it can be beaten before even beating 100.
It's good to have Square Enix coming back to this side of the three-way fence. My hopes, though, are higher for the future of the Nintendo Final Fantasy games, and any other titles Square's considerably talented teams can churn out.