I would make a horrible general. More than likely, my soldiers would be pleading to get out of my unit, running off the battlefield, and waking up in a cold sweat at night with visions of me obliviously ordering them to their doom. For this reason, normally I’m horrible at tactical-type games even though I enjoy them.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was one of the rare games in which I didn’t make my poor soldiers break down sobbing at the mere sight of me, so I was understandably pumped for Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. The first game had a great story, great music, and great graphics all in service of an interesting story with engaging characters, which was married to a ridiculous law system that made later battles descents into madness and migraines.
So how did FFTA2 fare? Did they repeat some of the mistakes? Did they throw out the baby with the bathwater? And will my soldiers quake when they find out I’m taking over their unit?
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance’s graphics were outstanding, so it seems that Square Enix decided to not mess with a good thing for FFTA2. Most of the graphics are exactly the same. They’ve changed up some of the special abilities a little bit, and added some cool effects for some of the spells, but for the most part not much has changed. It’s still excellently drawn 2-D sprites with very lush backgrounds. It looks good, but I’m still disappointed that I saw this all in the previous game.
Some have criticized Square for not moving to 3-D so that the maps can be rotated, but they put a lot of detail into the game, especially the backgrounds. If FFTA2 would have been in 3-D, they would have lost of a lot of that detail. Still, there was no reason to reuse a lot of the same sprites, the same shops, the same pubs, the same menus, and the same maps. You can change things up a little bit, Square Enix.
I have the same complaint here too. Did you love the music in the first game? Well, you’ll love the music in FFTA2, because a lot of it is exactly the same. I can’t quite fathom why they just copy-pasted the music over. However, I also can’t argue, because what they’ve reused is so good. I really want to hate them for doing this, but I suppose there’s worse music to rehash. It’s just very disappointing. There’s a lot of talented composers at Square Enix, and they’ve done great work before. This is supposed to be a relatively high-profile release for them, so logic would dictate that they would make some different themes.
If you use the stylus, you’re in for a world of pain. Remember, you can’t tilt the map, which makes selecting the right unit an exercise in pixel hunting. It’s especially difficult when you’re trying to select one behind another unit or bunched with others. However, utilizing the D-Pad control method, it’s not nearly as difficult.
Since this game is very menu-driven, the menus had better be crisp and clean. Fortunately, they are, because they’re virtually identical to the menus in the first game. I suppose they once again decided not to mess with a good thing, and in this case they were right. It’s easy to scroll through menus and select the right skill when you need it.
The missions in FFTA2 are generally pretty varied. Most of the time you’ll have to defeat a group of enemies to win, but not always. Sometimes you’ll have to get to a specific location and examine an object. Sometimes you’ll have to negotiate with an enemy to get it to leave the map. In one ingenious mission, you have to get to five tree stumps and place pots on each one so that a newspaper editor can take a picture.
The name of this game is also not in gaining experience points, even though you will. Your characters will generally gain 60 XP for each mission, no matter what they did during the battle. This is welcome, because noncombat units would always get left behind experience-wise in the first game.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is more focused on ability points, which unlock different skills for your characters. Every character in your clan gains them, regardless of whether or not they fought in the battle. Once you equip a character with a weapon that will give the character a new skill, they gain points until they fill up the allotted amount. Then they can use that skill no matter what class they are, as long as it’s equipped for battle. These are welcome changes, as they take your focus off of grinding experience, and guide you toward managing your whole clan.
However, I had to restart my game after 6 hours because I hadn’t managed my skills as well as I should have. I ended up seriously gimping my characters by the time they hit level 10. Once I restarted and managed my skills better, I was able to get my characters in much better shape. I can’t shake the feeling that Square Enix wanted people to get the strategy guide, because there were times where I found myself wishing I had one handy.
With all of the things that stayed the same, thankfully they did change the one thing that made me quit the first game. The law system in FFTA was ridiculous. The “judge” of each battle would make some arbitrary restriction, and if you would break the rule, your character would receive a yellow card. Two violations from the same character, and they would be pulled off the battlefield and into prison, where you had to bail them out afterward. It wasn’t so bad at first, but they started piling on more laws, and then introducing anti-laws, and it got totally out of hand.
The law system is much better in FFTA2. If you break a law, it just means that if one of your characters dies during combat, they cannot be resurrected during combat. They also give you some bonus items if you obey the law, so it behooves you to obey it. If you can’t for whatever reason, the penalty is much more relaxed, which is very welcome.
There’s also one more significant change to FFTA2. In the first game, new items would be unlocked after certain conditions were met, like the story advancing onward. In FFTA2, they added the Bazaar. In every battle, you get random loot, which are often metals, cloth, wood, or other baubles. You can trade these in at the bazaar for new items or weapons.
Some have complained that having new weapons be relegated to getting random item drops isn’t a very good idea. I can plainly say that it works excellently. Instead of waiting for the story to move forward in order to get better stuff, you have a list of different items you can unlock. If you decide that you need a new sword instead of a new staff, you can decide to trade in your loot for a sword instead of the staff. Trust me, you’ll like it.
By now you’re detecting a theme with this review: They mostly just copy-pasted Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to Final Fantasy Tactics A2, fixed some of the more annoying aspects, added a bunch of new missions, and called it a day. The first game definitely had a better story and more engaging characters, but the second one improves on a lot of the quirks of the first game without changing too much.
I’ve put in about 20 hours (including my aborted 6 hours), and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s in here. You could end up playing this game for an awfully long time and still not see everything.