Posted by: Ryan
Noelani and I were browsing a used video game shop, and I saw a copy of Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising
, which might be my favorite Game Boy Advance game. Anyway, I've been trying
to get Noelani into Advance Wars, and so I asked her, "If I buy Advance Wars and let you borrow it, would you actually play it?" Around that same time, Noelani spotted a beloved Game Boy Advance game of her own: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
. I've never played a Final Fantasy game in my life, and all I knew about Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was that it's a strategy RPG like Shining Force
or Fire Emblem
So she and I struck up a little bargain. I bought Advance Wars 2, and passed it to her, and she bought Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and passed it to me. A cultural exchange, kind of. So I'll be posting my impressions of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and maybe Noelani will write about Advance Wars 2...
When you start the game, there's a tutorial level that involves a group of kids throwing snowballs, and after that, there's a good amount of story. The story involves a group of misfit kids who read a book (the book gets a lot of attention and a cool animation, so it's totally important somehow), and then one of the kids (your main character) wakes up in a different town dressed as a soldier. Up until this point, the other kids actually got more face time than your character, so for him to magically transport without any of his friends coming with him is a little weird. I think they might show up later in the story, but by then, I'll probably have forgotten who they are.
Once you're magically transported in the new town, you run into a walking, talking lizard in armor, who challenges you to a duel because you accidentally insult him, then a talking rabbit joins you, and... okay, the story's a little weird for me, but I'm sure it all probably fits in with the Final Fantasy universe. Not that I would know. (Can anyone tell me what "kupo" means?) And on that strange note, the game actually lets you loose to play.
As far as I can tell, there is no exploration, or even walking around towns in this game. All of the towns are just menus. Throughout the entire game, you're either in battle or in a menu, which is by no means a bad thing, but that means that the battle system and the menu managing (armor, items, spells, etc) better be awesome, because that's really all there is to the game.
Starting with the battle system, I have to say, I was thrown off by the fact that the game is isometric. In my head, I was comparing the game to Fire Emblem, Shining Force, and Advance Wars, which all have overhead grid views. I wasn't expecting the isometric view. The more I play the game, the more I get used to the isometric view, but it's weird at first.
With an isometric viewpoint, the controls are slightly weird, because you're pressing up/down/left/right on the d-pad, but all the movement in the game is actually on diagonals. However, because the sprites aren't constrained to a grid, the units have much better spite art. Also, enemies have magic attacks that can hit up to five people all at once if they're standing right next to each other, so that fact combined with the fact that party members can be really hard to see if they're in front of each other makes it feel like the game is trying to tell me something... something like, "Don't put all your party members right next to each other! Spread out!"
Spreading out isn't a big problem in this game because every character seems to be able to move around six or more squares each turn, and even long-distance archers can move and attack in the same turn. In fact, if an enemy is right near your party member, you can attack first, then move afterward (to run away). The game also has an odd system where your evasion is higher if you're facing the same way as the direction you're being attacked from, which would be cool if characters had a more limited movement range. But since most characters can move so far, it's really no big deal to move one more square and attack an enemy from the side instead of the front.
However, the different style of play is part of what helps the battle system feel interesting to me, since it's not the same system that I've been playing for years. Characters take turns moving according to their speed stat, and even this early in the game, I've equipped two of my characters with abilities that reduce an enemy's speed, which is surprisingly useful. I also find myself intentionally equipping party members with items that boost evasion, because if the enemy totally misses their attack, they may as well have not had a turn at all. Dealing with character stats definitely gives this game more of an RPG flavor than the other turn-based strategy games that I've played, and it helps the whole experience feel fresh.
Every time one of my party members kills an enemy, that member gets a JP (Judge Point, but it's more fun to call it a J-Point). However, I really don't know what they're for. Sometimes, my main character can do a combo, and sometimes, he can't, and I really have no idea why. When I start a battle, I have eight spaces to put party members into, I have eight members in my party, but the game only lets me place six people, and I can't figure that part out either. Basically, there's a lot of things that this game doesn't really explain, so I went online and did a search for "final fantasy tactics advance manual" to download a PDF of the game manual. I would've gone to an FAQ, but I was afraid I'd spoil the game for myself. So finding a manual should at least help explain how the battle system works a little better.
My search came up empty, so it looks like I'll be learning as I go. The battle system will probably be awesome once I get a better idea of what it is I'm doing.
(Edit: Since writing this, I've figured out the JP thing and the combo thing. So the "learning as I go" thing seems to be going well.)
When you're not battling in the game, you're preparing for battling by buying weapons, armor, items, managing your party, and getting more missions (missions == battles). You get money for beating each mission, and the only place you can really spend money is in the shops. The user interface for the shops is horrible. The first thing I wanted was weapons, so I went to the weapons, and I got a list. It says to press 'R' for info, so I pressed 'R', and it tells me what classes can use the weapon. I'll move onto a sword or something and it'll tell me that a Warrior or a Gladiator can use it. So that's useful. I know that I'm just starting the game, but there was no way to know whether or not I had a Warrior in my party without exiting the store, going out the the main map, pressing START to bring up another menu, selecting 'Party', then cycling through each of my party members to see what their class was. That's just pathetic menu design.
Now let's say that I do remember that I have a Warrior in my party, but I don't remember what weapon he has equipped. There's also no way to know if the weapon I'm buying is better or worse than the weapon that my Warrior already has equipped without exiting the store, and going to 'Party' in the main start menu. In fact, since being able to tell which weapons have better stats is such a pain in the ass, I've decided to go with the "more expensive items must be better" strategy of buying weapons.
It gets even worse when I try to buy armor, because when I press 'R', NOTHING comes up. If I buy some Chain Mail, I have no idea who in my party can use it, if anyone at all. As far as I know, there's no way of being able to tell without buying the item, exiting the store, going back to the party menu, and actually trying to equip the item on each party member. I wish I could just hold down the L Trigger or something to see who in my party can equip the item in question. Something... anything, other than the NO INFORMATION that the game gives you about armor.
However, one of the fun things about managing your party is the fact that they aren't completely locked into their class, and the game is really cool about it. I had a White Monk in my party who was being kind of useless, and the game gives me the option to turn him into a Warrior. Of course, you have to swap out your items, since Warriors have different weapons than Monks, but other than that, the game didn't penalize me for changing jobs at all. I can decide to try changing my Archer to a Fencer for one battle, and if I don't like it, then I can just change her back. I like having that kind of customization over my party members. Also, if switching your class changes your stats, the game will highlight the stats that change in blue or red depending on if changing your class will make those stats higher or lower. NOW WHY THE FUCK CAN'T THEY DO THAT WITH THE EQUIPMENT! *sigh* ...okay, I'm glad that I got that out of my system.
I can't remember the last time I dealt with an item system that was this annoying, and since messing with your items is really the only thing you do other than battling, that's kind of inexcusable. Unless of course, there are descriptions of all the items in the manual and I just don't know because I don't have one.
So after the intro tutorial stuff, they point you towards a pub and you pay money to take missions, which involve battling, which wins you more money to buy armor and pay for more missions. But what's really confusing is that I've done about 5 battles now, and there hasn't really been any story since the intro. So there's story all throughout the beginning, then they just drop you into some place where you take a bunch of missions that have no story at all. It's not a big deal, but it's a little confusing. I feel like I'm doing something wrong because the story isn't moving, and I don't really feel like I'm getting anywhere. o.o ...is there something else that I'm supposed to do?
I'm a bit lost and confused, but I'm still working my way through.