Soldiers of Fortune are usually a B-list affair in video games, hanging around with the likes of western stars, boxers, and poorly written thug types that populate games like Saints Row 2. Yet so many games actually star a mercenary, be it one man or a team. Let’s take a look at some of these games, and see how they compare.
Final Fantasy Tactics has had a checkered history over the years. After a long hibernation from the amazing debut on the Playstation, we are treated to some game boy advance ports that follow the rules of the popular FF XI MMORPG in terms of its character classes and design, with a simpler, light-hearted story dealing with children in a fantastical setting. Final Fantasy Tactics A2: The Sealed Grimoire, attempts to combine the more “adult” frame of mind of the first game and the “child like” innocence lost” feel of the second. The result? A really deep yet often times overly complex tactical game for the DS.
In FFTA2, you star is an unnamed child who, after messing around in school, is denied the start of his summer vacation and forced to help clean up the school library. Upon discovering a mysterious book with blank pages, the child is transported into Ivalice, where he is taken under the wing of Cid, a leader of a fledging clan, which performs odd jobs to generate fame and wealth. While Cid is helping you attempt to find a way home, sudden turns of events begin to unfold, leading to a long, deep story that touches on themes of growing up, inner strength, revenge and trust.
While the standard FF themes apply, the implementation of these themes is well executed. Despite being considerably shorter than the other games in the FFT series, FFTA2 has a well crafted story with actual developed characters, something that is highly desirable, especially in a tactical RPG. But with these well-crafted characters is a problem of complexity in the entire narrative, something that many are turned off of in this series, especially since it’s grandfather on the Playstation still has one of the most complex stories ever written for a game.
And while the DS system is implemented into the controls, it really is not necessary. The crux of the game is taking jobs and building up your teams experience by successfully competing jobs. Jobs have a wide range, from finding something hidden to protecting a specific character, and give a greater diversity then the similar objectives of “kill all enemies.” Jobs also offer new rewards in rare materials. Some of these materials can be used to take and perform other jobs and fetch quests, while other materials can be collected and used to create and buy new weapons and armor.
Buying weapons and armor is the meat-and-potatoes of the game, because equipping weapons gives your characters abilities based on their subsequent class. For example, giving a soldier a broadsword will give them the tackle ability, allowing them to tackle opponents and pushing them back a square on the grid. After some battles, abilities can be permanently learned, and transferred over. So if the said solider is turned into a Black Mage, that rush ability can still be used, with different results now comparing to the stats of the Black Mage.
Mixing and matching through the twenty plus character classes also adds a degree of strategy to the game that is highly welcomed. To gain most of these classes, however, you must perform specific jobs, which begrudgingly is an annoyance to unlock a specific class you may want or need. Not to mention some classes have better uses than others. For example, the Geomancer has the ability to hurt enemies or hurt the whole party, primarily based on the luck of the draw in terms of its power. Harkening back to the odd job classes of Final Fantasy Tactics here is somewhat daunting, and only a truly skillful player can master every class in the game with a LOT of patience and a little bit of luck.
While the variance of missions and the class/skill system is nicely implemented, the game’s unforgiving difficulty is a major problem. Like the original FFT, you may be spending hours grinding it out before you tackle story missions just to power up your starting characters. Finding new characters to add to your clan is also an odd and time consuming task, primarily focusing on luck rather than direct hiring with a seemingly tacked on time and date system. Another tacked on system is the judge’s stipulations, returning from the previous game. This time, using specific abilities takes away bonuses you may implement for your clan at the start of the engagements, such as increasing experience, defense, speed, etc. It also removes any rewards gained after the end of a battle, instead of removing a character outright for X amount of turns. The judge system adds some strategy to the game, but also makes the game frustrating, creating a scenario that may be impossible to beat at times with a major disadvantage.
The game does improve on the graphics slightly from the GBA version, offering a wider color palette. The characters are still 2-D sprites with simplistic animations, but the animations are fluid, colorful and very expressive, akin to classic games like Chrono Trigger and old school Final Fantasy RPG’S. The world environments are not as varied as I would have hoped, but they do their job adequately and offer some nice, if not still, screen shots. The games sound is somewhat disappointing, borrowing tunes from the previous GBA title, almost verbatim in terms of background music, battle music, sound effects, and text sprawling. And since it has been proven that the DS can handle voice over’s, I was surprised that FFTA2 didn’t have at least some degree of voices in the game. Instead we get the grunts and groans you become accustomed to in Final Fantasy.
Still, the world of Ivalice is vast and the amount of characters and missions are daunting to say the least, and at its core, FFTA2 is a major success. For such a complex game in a complex series of tactical strategy, FFTA2 is able to provide enough fun over frustration that often comes from these type of games, and delivers a deep experience for the inner strategist in you, proving enough play time to fully sedate you until the next Tactical RPG comes out on the touch screen.
Final Score- B+