Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (DS) Review

It's the middle of the week, so I think it's high time we had another review. I've been slowly slogging through my backlog, and I came across a game I got from a trade via CheapAssGamer. (It's a great site for finding fellow collectors to buy, sell, and trade with. Truly.) It's Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, and I've put a lot of dedicated time into it. Enough for a review at the very least. Here's the judge's verdict on this sequel to the original Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

A2, Brutus?

The original Final Fantasy Tactics was a dark, brooding game featuring two rival clans in a fierce war for supremacy. There was betrayal, bloodshed, brutality, and friendships ended. Then came Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for, appropriately enough, the Game Boy Advance. The tone of the game was a complete 180 from the first FFT. The tale was lighthearted, and had a more Neverending Story approach to it with a cast of characters who wished to stay in their fantasy world. However, the main character wanted nothing more than to get everything back to the way it was. It was this clash of ideals that made for a compelling story. In 2008, Square Enix came out with a spiritual sequel to FFTA in Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. Do the pages of this fable make for an interesting read?

Meet Luso, a simple schoolchild who is a troublemaker in class-- always late-- that sort of behavior. It's the end of the school year, and summer has finally arrived. Unfortunately for Luso, his teacher has other ideas for him. In order to make up for his being late habit, his teacher tells Luso to head to the school's library to clean the place up. Who is he to argue with authority? Despite wanting to hang out with his friends, Luso goes to an unmanned library where he finds a mysterious book. It turns out that the book is incomplete. There's blank pages halfway through the nebulous novel. Suddenly, the pages shine and suck Luso into the book. He gets transported directly into a forest where a battle with a giant cockatrice monster is taking place. In order to save his own life, he agrees to ally himself with a clan ran by a human-like man named Cid. After the monster takes enough damage, it flees the scene allowing for Luso to get his bearings and ask what happened. It turns out the book that sucked him into this brave new world is writing itself as our young hero accomplishes different tasks. Luso wants nothing more than to find a way to return to his own world. After all, his folks are probably worried sick about him! The tale of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is decidedly lighthearted, but it does an admirable job of keeping the player interested. While it doesn't have near enough of the narrative depth of the PlayStation One predecessor, it's cute, clever, and localized well. The dialogue is especially poignant and enjoyable to read.

As part of Cid's clan, Luso has an obligation now as all clanmates do. Each pub has a series of quests that a given clan can pledge to complete for gil (the currency of the Final Fantasy series, and it's no different with Tactics A2), raw materials, and items. There's the standard quests that further the story, but there's over one-hundred quests that are purely optional. These are terrific for leveling up characters, earning money and extra loot, and getting some experience in battle. Some quests have Luso's party taking out all enemies, defeating a mark (a foe that, if beaten, completes the quest), protecting an AI-controlled guest, gathering items strewn across the battlefield, beating a set number of baddies, getting rid of traps laid down, or roaming the continent to retrieve an item for a specific person. Certain quests can have the player dispatching a party to accomplish a goal in case they don't want to get their hands dirty. Of course, quests can be failed, but they will pop up again after an in-game month or two.

Apart from pubs where quests are taken up, cities, towns, and villages of Grimoire of the Rift have shops inside them, too. Shops house fitting rooms where players can purchase weapons, armor, and accessories for their clan members. Try before you buy, so to speak. There's also a bazaar section where the raw materials dropped by fallen enemies and collected as gifts from completed quests can be turned into purchasable goods. There's a myriad of raw materials that can be fitted into weapon, armor, and accessories to be worn by a player's party members.

Most weapons have an ability assigned to them. As long as a weapon is equipped to a party member (and as long as that party member holds the job required for said ability), that clanmate can utilize that ability. Through finishing fights and completing quests, everyone in a player's party earns AP or ability points. Earn enough AP, and one's clanmates will master an ability. To be able to transfer to new jobs, a party member will have to learn a specific number of abilities. For instance, to unlock the Ninja job, a party member must learn four Thief abilities. Depending on the race of a character, the jobs allotted to them will differ. A moogle can't become a white or black mage, but they can grow into a gun-toting Fusiler or swashbuckling Moogle Knight. Some races only have four jobs available to them in total, and some jobs must be unlocked through taking on and finishing quests. There's a myriad of jobs that are only available this way such as the Dragoon, Geomancer, Fighter, Beastmaster, Assassin, Chocobo Knight, Raptor, Scholar, among many, many more.

Of course, what good is all of this knowledge without the proper strategy in battle? Final Fantasy Tactics A2, as the name suggests, is a tactical RPG where opponents take turns moving across a map with varying elevations. The turn order is determined by a unit's agility stat, and the order can be viewed on the top screen along with an enemy's stats, weaknesses, and strengths. When an opponent is ready to attack a nearby unit with either a next-door straight-up offensive attack or magic spell from a handful of spaces away, the probability percentage that that attack with connect will be displayed as well as a rough estimate as to how much in the way of damage that attack will take off. Some foes have rebound abilities that materialize when they're attacked such as the Counter ability. When a unit is attacked by a nearby assailant, they'll automatically get a return shot in. Another example is when a unit's hit points (or health) is low, they'll cast Regen on themselves, slowly regaining a small amount of HP each turn until the effect disappears.

Unlike the original Final Fantasy Tactics, there is no wait time for magick (as it is spelled in Grimoire-land) moves. Magick maneuvers materialize as soon as that unit selects it. These spells can target a five square area maximum, though it really depends on the elevation of the land. Every character on the battlefield begins with zero magic points (or MP). After each turn, they gain ten MP. More powerful magick and summons require a higher amount of MP than weaker spells. They, however and obviously so, do more damage. After a unit has made their move, they choose one of four directions to face. Usually a back attack will have more success in hitting a foe than one that is directly to their front.

New to the series is the concept of opportunity commands and the smash gauge. As battles progress, this gauge slowly fills. When it reaches full capacity, the unit whose turn it is when it does is able to perform a special move depending on who is surrounding him or her. For example, if one foe is next to the unit who the opportunity command pops up for, they can perform a flurry, essentially attack two successive times in a row, on an enemy. Other commands include casting Hastega on all units, casting Protect and Shell on themselves, and many others.

Returning from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is the concept of judges. Thankfully though, penalties are much less harsh and severe. At the beginning of each battle, the player picks a privilege for their clan from bonus experience to increased power, agility, or evasion. Then the rule of the judge pops up. These can range anything from no weapons or magick that use ice in them to more obnoxious laws like no knockback attacks, no sword usage, no Hume special attacks, no back attacks, no MP restoration, or no non-movement (aka each unit must move at least one square per turn). Each law is predetermined, so there's nothing in the way of randomness. Each fight is built that way for a reason.The penalty in the previous installment was that a violating unit would wind up in jail. This isn't the case with Grimoire of the Rift. Instead, a law violation means that any clan privilege is forfeited, and the player can no longer revive fallen comrades. Fallen units will still be alive after battle, win or lose, so there's no fear in permanently losing a given unit like in past games.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is a definite bump up from its Game Boy Advance ancestor. The magick special effects are particularly impressive, showcasing a glorious showoff-y pizazz to each spell and summon. Maps are isometric and cannot be turned or shifted in any way. This may confuse some players as some battlefields have elevations that fool undiscerning eyes into believing squares are connected when in fact they are anything but. Despite this problem, the maps are wonderfully designed and have lots of extravagant details in them. They're beautiful to look and marvel at. Characters animate about as well as they did in Tactics Advance. There's little in the way of improvement here. Nonetheless, the soundtrack of Grimoire of the Rift is phenomenal, borrowing some musical material from the first Advance game, but most of the soundtrack is brand-new. Yes, it can be repetitive listening to the same theme cycling over and over again, but I find that the music is so brilliant that even hearing a battle anthem for the tenth time through is still something special. Alongside the music, the sound effects have improved as well. Enemies unleash a cry of anguish as they are defeated, and magick spells roar with great goodness.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift does not surpass the original Final Fantasy Tactics, but it does outshine the Advance installment. The quest system is ingenious, and it will have players questing and adventuring as Luso and friends for up to one-hundred hours. The combinations of job and abilities are seemingly endless, the presentation is picture perfect, and the law system is much more relaxed and far less aggravating when compared to the previous game. The lack of consequence for a unit's death may put off some people wanting a sharper difficulty, and the kid-friendly story may turn some away, but for the rest of us, Grimoire of the Rift is a terrific tactical title fitting of the Final Fantasy Tactics name.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

1 comment:

Matt Sainsbury said...

Good review there,

I must admit, though I have this game, I haven't spent much time playing it. It's very similar to the GBA Tactics title, which I sunk hundreds of hours into, and going through that again has always put me off.

It's high on the list of games to get into though when I have the time.