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Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Game Boy Advance

Published by Nintendo
Developed by Square Enix
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99

It could be argued that if the Nintendo 64 had been a CD-ROM based console instead of remaining with cartridges then the PlayStation might never have become console it turned out to be. Why's that you might ask? Well I suspect you probably know the reason, as it was the decision to remain with cartridges that saw Square taking their legendary Final Fantasy series to Sony's machine. That first game on the PlayStation was the amazing Final Fantasy VII which is quite rightly regarded as one of the finest console games of all time. However that's all water under the bridge and Nintendo and Square (or Square Enix as they are now known) are now best of friends and Final Fantasy has arrived on GBA and is shortly heading for GameCube. This review looks at the first Final Fantasy game to arrive on a Nintendo console in a good many years; Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (we'll call it FFTA from now on) is not your typical Final Fantasy RPG. FFTA is actually a turn-based fantasy strategy game that offers plenty of depth in terms of gameplay although it offers little in the way of a story, at least compared to what you would expect from a Final Fantasy title. The game begins with a snowball fight that's actually a very basic tutorial. You play as Marche (or whatever else you change his name to) and at the beginning of the game you're with your friends Ritz (I'll resist the urge to say she's a cracker), Mewt and Melissa as you have a snowball fight in the school playground with some bullies. After the snowball fight Mewt asks Ritz and Marche if they want to go with him to buy a book but Marche tells Mewt that he can't because his little brother is due to come out of the hospital. Marche asks Mewt and Ritz to come round to his house later on and to bring the book with him. Later that day Mewt and Ritz arrive at Marche's home with the book and they all look through it but can't read it. That night the book opens itself and the whole town is transformed into the fantasy world know as Ivalice. In order to reverse the transformation Marche is going to have to fight battles and travel every square inch of Ivalice.

On arrival in Ivalice you're greeted by a young moogle boy named Montblanc. Montblanc will be the first member of your party, or clan as they are known in FFTA, and he will also act as a guide to show you the finer points of the FFTA battle system. You'll learn about the law system (more on that later) and various other gameplay conventions almost immediately after arriving in Ivalice. The game does a good job of not thrusting too much on you in one go and the learning curve is quite a smooth one. Battles are the heart and soul of the game and throughout the game you'll take on missions that almost always involve battles (although there are non-battle missions but they are not that common). Throughout the game you'll roam the various locations in Ivalice with your clan (you can acquire new members as you progress through the game but initially it's just you and Montblanc), gaining missions from the local inns and taking on rival clans. Initially there aren't many locations you can travel to but after you've won certain battles you'll be able to place another location on the map so that you may travel to it. You're able to place the location in a variety of places but where you place the locations doesn't seem to make any difference.

The battle process is actually quite simple and takes only moments to master. You'll begin a battle by selecting the members of your clan that you wish to participate. Of course it's always wise to check what the laws will be for the battle so you don't pick a clan member that's going to be ineffective. Once you've picked your clan members and placed them the battle will begin and you'll be issued with the victory conditions. You'll move each unit one at a time. Basically you move the unit then perform an action, such as an attack, and then finally you'll decide which direction the unit will face. Of course this seems simple and depending on the type of unit you are controlling (there are various classes and races in the game) all kinds of magical and melee attacks are possible. As with all strategy games there are various things to consider. Attacks from the side or behind are more effective as you would expect. Spells only have a certain range so unit placement is all important. The battles are not carried out on flat terrain but whilst this usually makes obtaining the high ground very important in games of this nature, in FFTA it doesn't really make any difference and to some degree this is a little disappointing. The battles can last anything from a few minutes to over half an hour. Thankfully though you can save mid-battle should the need arise.

One of the main concepts in FFTA is the law system. Laws are what determines the rules of a battle. For instance swords may be prohibited in a battle or missiles may be prohibited. This all seems simple enough but after a certain point in a game law cards can be purchased and these can be used to modify the laws of a battle. Law cards can cancel out restrictions as well as impose them. The whole law system helps to prevent the battles becoming all the same although it could be argued that the law cards can render the law system useless on occasions. The battles are presided over by a judge who will issue warnings (via yellow cards) and will even remove repeat offenders from the battle (via a red card). Units that are removed from a battle will end up in prison and will stay there for a certain number of battles. To acquire a pardon from a prison you're going to have to pay Gil (the games currency).

FFTA is not just a single player game as it also has a few fairly impressive multiplayer elements (for 2 players). The multiplayer elements require a link lead and a game pak for each player and allow you to not only trade items but also to trade units. Trading units will only trade the unit and not the equipment they are carrying. You can even team up with a friend to take part in co-operative battles/missions or see who has the best clan by taking part in competitive battles/missions. As a single player game FFTA is immense and the multiplayer side of things could have easily been left out but it's great to see that Square Enix included such great features.

For the most part the graphics look impressive but there are a few problems. The game is played from an isometric point of view but whilst this looks good it does hamper your view at times especially as you can't rotate the view like you can in so many isometric view games. The top down view used in the Advance Wars games offers a much clearer picture. Having said that though most of the time there are no problems. The units do look good and are impressively detailed although they are not of Golden Sun quality. The various magic effects have been nicely done and unlike a lot of other Final Fantasy games they don't take a few minutes to carry out.

FFTA is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. As you would expect from a GBA game there is no speech so all dialogue is delivered via text. All information in the game is either relayed via text or icons. The manual does an excellent job of explaining what all the icons mean. In the game itself pressing select on any command will bring up a description of what that command does which is very helpful. During conversations you'll see a picture of the character, who is speaking, placed alongside the text so you'll always know who is saying what.

The only way you could possibly be disappointed with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is if you were expecting a classic Final Fantasy story and didn't realise that the game is actually more of a strategy game than the usual Final Fantasy, plot heavy, RPG. As a turn-based strategy game it's excellent, although not without it's flaws. You're at least looking at 50 hours play and there are many battles to get through. If you don't like turn-based strategy games (and you didn't like games such as Advance Wars) then this may not be the game for you but if you do enjoy your turn-based strategy games this is one of the best games you can buy on the GBA. It takes time to get going but once it does, it'll keep you playing for a very long time.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10
Final Fantasy arrives on the GBA and it's one of the best games on the console to date. Fans of turn-based strategy games are going to love what's on offer here.

Deaf Gamers comment:
All information is shown either with text or icons. There are absolutely no problems at all for deaf gamers.