Itís kind of hard to pin down why I become such a Squaesoft fanboy back in the day. True Secret of Mana still remains to this day as my all time favorite gaming experience, but apart from that the only other Square game I had played on the SNES was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest which letís face it is not a true Final Fantasy (didnít stop me enjoying the hell out of that game though, might add that to the Games I like that you donít club). So despite not playing a true Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger I had decided I loved Square. And then the Nintendo 64 happened, Square left Nintendo and I was heartbroken my new favorite Developer had left Nintendo for Sony, I was bitter and angry. I tried to make do with what the N64 and Game Boy had, but it wasnít the same, I needed something Square related to feed my Nintendo fanboy RPG loving soul. And that game came in 2003 with the handheld masterpiece Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
Even though I was a hardcore Nintendo fanboy back in the day I had still played Square whenever I could, my brother had a Playstation so I played some of Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8 and I was very close to buying a Playstation at one stage. But I decided at the end of the day I would stay loyal to Nintendo, I didnít need Final Fantasies or Tomb Raiders or Metal Gears, I had my Banjo Kazooies, No Mercyís and Legend of Zeldaís. Looking back now I missed out on a lot, mainly the RPGs but I would still stick by the choice I made. And to be fair my dreams of having a Nintendo system with many great RPGs was just around the corner with the Game Boy Advance and with that came back Squaresoft albeit now known as Square-Enix. It had been near 7 years since a new Square game had hit a Nintendo system and if youíre going to come back you do it with style and thatís just Square did.
As much as Iím in love with the DS, itís an amazing system, I donít think it wowed me as much as the GBA did. When I first plugged in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 into the GBA, I was amazed at just how close to the console version it was. And you had stuff like Advance Wars, Golden Sun and so on, just light years ahead of what the GBC had been putting out. And then I played FFTA and I was freaken blown away. I honestly could not get my head around how they could have fitted something so big into such a teeny tiny cartridge. Finally Final Fantasy had come home to Nintendo and my beloved Square Enix and I could be together once more. It had everything I could want, an amazing soundtrack, some breath taking sprite work, a great storyline and some of the most in depth SRPG gameplay I had ever played.
One of the most amazing things about the game is the way it sets everything up. You play as Marche a young boy who just moved to the town of St Ivalice with his brother Doned, as with any new kid moving to a new school he has a hard time fitting in and the school bullies start picking on him, it is at this point we get introduced to the games battle system via a Snowball fight. I thought that was amazing way to introduce to the basic concepts of the game with how important positioning is and trying to attack via the flanks and rear. After that we then get a scene where Mache, Doned and his 2 new friends Mewt and Ritz are looking over a new book Mewt found called The Gran Grimoire and they all decide it would be great if the world in the book was real. As they all fall asleep the Town of St Ivalice transforms into the world of Ivalice, a land full of Moogles, Magic & Mystery. Marche awakes to find his friends and his brother missing, scattered across the land. He soon bumps into the Moogle Montblanc whose clan you join and thus your mission to find your friends and restore the world begins.
When you start the game itís just yourself and Montblanc in your party but as you go on new characters will join your party. New characters will join at random and come from one of 5 races, each of the 5 main races have access to different jobs. Firstly you have Humans, they are the most versatile of the races and have access to a lot of good variety of Jobs ranging from melee to magic to missile. Nu Mouís are magic users with access to some great jobs like Sageís and Morphers. Bangaa are your combat guys having access to classes like Dragoon, Defender and so on. Vieraís are your race to go to if you need something with speed, they are kind of like Humans in that they have access to a wide variety of jobs both Combat and Magic and their Snipers are amazing. And of course lastly it wouldnít be a Final Fantasy game without them are Moogles who Iím still not really sure where they fit in, they are able to use I guess the odd job classes like Jugglers, Gunners and so on.
Iíve always had a great fondness for the Final Fantasy Job System, I enjoyed FFIII and I adore FFV so itís no surprise that I love the job system in FFTA, it just allows for so much customization in the game. You can train a Human up as a White Mage, learn all you want to and then switch him to a Ninja having a great all round fighter who can heal if you need. Or you could train a Nu Mou up in Black Magic and then make him into a White Mage before you train him in Time Magic, there is just so much you can do with your characters. As they learn new skills in each Job they will be able to unlock other more powerful Jobs such as Summoners, Ninjas, Mog Knights and so on. Each class has access to certain weapons/items/armor, itís from these that you learn your skills. So learn the basic Fire/Thunder/Blizzard spells a Black Mage needs to equip a certain magic staff or for a Ranger to learn the Block Arrows skill they need to equip a certain item of headgear. More powerful skills take longer to learn but once youíve learnt them you know them forever even when you unequip an item. If you change class you can take some of the skills along with you so say with the above example with a Nu Mou who changes to a Time Mage he can take still use all his White Mage skills while learning Time Magic. Its soo god damn in depth and so much you do with it, you can have a character who can be you main melee fighter but also have healing spells as a back up or you can make an unstoppable magic dealing death machine. As I said I love to death the Job system, itís one of my fav things from the classic FF games and this is by far my fav implementation of it, you can spend hundreds of hours playing this game and still find new awesome combinations of classes to do. And the whole ability to change skills is vital to the next new twist in the game, the Law System.
I see the Law system get a lot of hate and to be fair I can see why, the whole idea of it is to put restrictions on what you can and cannot do in a battle. However I find it makes things even more challenging, and changes the way you have to think from battle to battle plus it forces you to change the way your party works on the fly. For a good part of the game I was swaying heavily towards lots of Rangers and Hunters, I loved using the Aim: Arm skill which would disable your opponent so they could not fight back, was a great way for picking guys off. However I came up to a mission and one of the Laws at the time was no Missiles so I had to change my team around, use some of my more magic heavy guys to plus a few melee fighters. You get laws ranging from the above no missile weapons to things like a ban on all magic, using the Fight command, using items, using target area attacks and so on. Breaking a law in a mission will result in you getting issued a warning from the Judge who is present at each battle, youíll either be Yellow Carded in which case youíll suffer stat penalties or red carded in that the character who committed the breach will have to spend some time in Jail for a few missions. You can get Law cards which allow you to overrule or change the laws for a battle, I tend not to use these as much, mainly because I forget they are there. So yes while the Law system does stop what you can and canít do I find it more makes they battles more unique and different, changing the way you play the game on the fly.
Man this is getting long but there is just soo much I love about this game, I could go on for ageís hell I havenít even gotten really in depth on the actual gameplay, or the mission structure or the map gah. I love the amazing 2d sprites they just look soo good on the screen. I love the soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto and the main theme done by Nobuo Uematsu is fantastic. I love the way in battles that you can check the outcomes of each move and attack before you commit to doing them. The storyline is light hearted while still being amazing and making me want to play more of it just to find out what happens next.. I feel like I havenít even scratched the surface talking about how great this game is. Even to this day I still canít get over how god damn big this is, sure Iíd played Advance Wars and Golden Sun on the GBA prior to this and they are huge games, but FFTA is just I mean damn its massive. I was stunned that they were able to squeeze that much win into such a small GBA cart. This truly was worth the wait for Square and Nintendo to stop their petty fight and bring us Die Hard Nintendo loyalists some more love. Itís a great game, I donít feel Iíve given the game the love it deserves with this but this will have to do for now. All I can really say from here is if youíve not ventured into the land of Ivalice with Marche and his friends in tow I suggest you do, you wonít be disappointed. Hopefully wonít be too long before next addition to the Handheld Hotel, I think a somewhat simpler game may be required, thinking along the lines of a port of one of my fav arcade games to the small screen might be a good idea.