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Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Review
Posted: 5/11/03 by King_Ghidra | Comments (36)

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (FFTA from here on in) is a Strategy RPG, a genre which really began with the release of Shining Force for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis all the way back in 1991. Since then there have been many different strategy RPG’s on many different systems and this sub-genre is now fairly well established. FFTA itself is the second final fantasy tactics game, the original – a vastly different game - being released for PSOne. This incarnation has been designed for the Gameboy Advance, which has been blessed with. Having played Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis recently, a game that seemed the crowning glory of the strategy RPG genre, I was certainly looking forward to FFTA.

The strategy RPG is most often compared with games like chess in order to describe its differences from the D&D, turn inspired fare of many RPG’s. In strategy RPG’s an isometric view of the action is most common, and the player’s units move around a grid on a ‘board’ (albeit one which resembles terrain and which has multiple elevation) much as chess or draughts pieces do. Most strategy RPG’s have a concept of ‘facing’ which will be familiar to anyone who has played any kind of strategy game, and attacks initiated at the enemy’s side or rear facing are accordingly more effective.

Whereas the military strategist might be familiar with deploying tanks, artillery and troops for battle, and attempting to play to their particular strengths and weaknesses, the strategy RPGer employs the same process with his party of warriors, mages and other adventurers. As opposed to modern RPG’s, which allow players to explore and interact with their environment to a greater or lesser degree, the strategy RPG is generally structured as a series of set-piece battles, tied together with an RPG style plot.

Similarly, strategy RPG’s tend to have complex character occupations and paths available to allow the player to customise and develop his team for his own play style.

FFTA has a few twists on this format, but very much conforms to these general rules. The game starts with the hero, Marche, at school in a present day world. His adventure in the magical world of Ivalice begins when he, his disabled brother Doned, and their friend Ritz read a magical book that has been purchased by another friend, the school wimp Mewt. The next day Marche awakes in a strange land, with no recollection of how he came to be there.

The story begins as Marche is befriended by a Moogle (a kind of cat person) named Montblanc. After assisting Montblanc in a battle against some Bangaa (a kind of lizard man) he is invited to join Montblanc’s clan. There are many clans, all made up of various different adventurers, all undertaking seeking missions for various customers or occasionally warring amongst themselves for turf and power. As Marche adventures with the clan he finds that he and his friends have all been transported into the fantasy world, but things are very different to the world they know, and Marche is forced to make some tough decisions in his new home.

One of the fascinating elements of the story is the twist on the classic Dungeons & Dragons cartoon plot. The heroes of FFTA have been sucked from our world into a world of fantasy and magic, and unlike the cartoon teens, these guys don’t all want to come home. The dilemma is easy to sympathise with and adds a nice subtext to the general progress of the otherwise fairly typical story arc.

The battles themselves are always governed by strange figures called Judges, who enforce laws on the proceedings. These laws range from the frustrating (no fire magic, no sleep spells or suchlike) to the ridiculous (may not use items, may not use the attack command). If the player violates these laws the judge will take action, either showing a yellow card to the offending character for a minor infraction, or a red card for a major infraction. Characters that have been red carded are sent to prison and may not be used in further battles unless they are bailed out. In story terms, the laws are set by the Royalty of Ivalice. In game terms the laws change on a monthly basis in a strict cycle. Thus it is possible to wait for certain laws to come round before beginning any particular mission. As a further twist, the player eventually gains access to Law cards, which may be used to add or nullify laws for one battle. These Law cards may be won on missions and may even be traded in one of the towns.
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